Fact or Fiction? Avoiding products in pregnancy

11 Aug 2015

When you're trying to get pregnant, or when you finally get that 'BFP' (that's Big Fat Positive, for those who haven't become obsessed with pregnancy forums and terminology), the last thing on your mind is probably how being pregnant will change your life on a day-to-day basis. We all know the basics; you (might) get morning sickness, you'll put on weight, you'll end up with swollen ankles and bigger boobs, etc, etc, etc. You'll soon find out that a few foods are a complete no-no during pregnancy, too, like runny eggs and rare steak (both of which I miss insanely and have requested be cooked for me as soon as I've given birth). But what about products? Surely products don't make a difference? Maybe not...

Just like any aspect of pregnancy, there are a lot of old wives tales out there which do nothing more than make pregnant women worry and panic. As my partner says, women have been having babies for 200,000 years (minimum, if we go back to before modern humans) and didn't avoid the things we're told to avoid now. Of course research and scientific evidence backs up a lot of the reasons we're told to avoid certain things, but most things are, if not backed up and recommended by health professionals and medical institutions, in my opinion unnecessary to avoid and have become a hot topic purely because of conflicting advice and over-worrying. When it's come to my own pregnancy and the things I avoid? I have gone with official advice given with enough scientific evidence and ultimately, gone by actual real medical advice. As my midwife says, it is all advice - it's not gospel, it's not 100% guaranteed, it is advice.

I'm going to share my thoughts on products you should and shouldn't avoid during pregnancy, but I do want to make it clear I am not a medical professional, this is simply information I have gathered over the first half of my pregnancy and something which left me so confused when I first found out we were expecting, that I hope this post will be helpful to other expectant mums and dads out there.

Before I get into this post, I do want to get my own view across about avoiding products in pregnancy. There are of course somethings, just the same as alcohol, smoking, runny eggs and rare meat, that I think it makes absolute perfect sense to avoid using. After all, you're pregnant for 9 months, it's not like you can never have/use these things again and for the safety of your unborn child, it's not a lot to ask that you give certain things up for 9 months. That said, there are a few things I personally think aren't as dangerous as they are made out to be, which I haven't and wouldn't avoid just because I'm pregnant.

Admittedly, this is something that I have only recently started to take on board myself. I have spoken to a few women who have suffered recurrent miscarriages that will point blank refuse to touch any household products whatsoever, which is completely their right to do, but it wasn't something I'd personally considered. The NHS itself actually finds that research conducted thus far is more on a 'be cautious' basis than fact and evidence based; even research itself states that it cannot provide a link between using household products and pregnancy issues. You can be cautious about everything in life, it doesn't necessarily mean you are going to get the result you want because you don't do something. Would you refuse to ever cross the road or get in a moving vehicle again because of the risk of a crash or being run over? Doubtful. 

This week one of my ever-helpful pregnancy apps (did you catch last week's Helpful pregnancy apps + websites post?) suggested that certain cleaning products should be avoided during pregnancy; mainly spray detergents such as your bathroom/kitchen cleaners, as the spray method means you could inhale some of the chemicals which then go through to your baby. You don't have to avoid them altogether (although if you want to get out of any chores, make your other half do it instead!) and instead it's recommended you simply make a few changes; clean rooms with windows open for good ventilation, wear gloves where possible. Simple! I'm still going to clean and keep the house in order, the only job I've passed on to my partner is cleaning the bathroom as we have some pretty strong cleaners and the last two times I've ended up wheezing due to my asthma, so he's taking that job over just to be (overly) cautious. 

It is worth noting the NHS does not recommend avoiding cleaning products and you can find out more on their stance here. The only things the NHS recommend you avoid, which have been proven to have an effect on pregnancy, are; smoking, drinking alcohol, using drugs, certain medications and certain foods. You can find out more here. If you're really unsure then a simple solution would be changing to natural cleaning products which will not have the same chemicals and high percentages as standard non-natural cleaning products. These would be much kinder to use if you did want to avoid anything overly-chemical based. There's nothing wrong with being overly-cautious, but there's also no need to panic and change your day-to-day life completely. 

Now, this is something I take a little more seriously but something which I also find is so 50/50 when it comes to evidence and medical advice. There's a couple of things the NHS recommends you avoid; such as bleaching your hair, which I already knew about as an ex-stylist (but in the 2nd and 3rd trimester, colouring your hair is seen as A-OK, it's more the strength and nature of bleach you need to worry about), and certain ingredients such as Retinol A, which I'll go into more detail later in the post.

It is important though to understand that like with household products, it is advised and not gospel. What might affect one women and her baby may not affect another. I think most people's main worry when it comes to avoiding products is a worry that they will contribute to a miscarriage. Yet no evidence has been produced via studies to suggest there is a link between using products and having a miscarriage. At most, small links (based on small studies with small populations, so not evidence which can be applied to the general population and taken as fact), have shown certain ingredients or products can affect things such as lung development and respiratory issues in some cases. You can Google until you can't take in any more information and either be reassured that medical professionals and institutions such as the NHS would wholeheartedly advise pregnant women against using certain products if there was factual evidence to suggest there was a link, and until then you can use things at your own choice, or you can avoid things 'just to be sure'. At the end of the day it is your body, your baby, your lives; you make the final decision and there is nothing wrong with that.

The most talked about ingredient in beauty products, which in large quantities or when it is a high percentage of a formula is advised against, is Retinol A. This is an ingredient which I have in a few of my skincare products and just to be on the safe side, I've stopped using. That said, it would have to be in large quantities to cause issues and brands have a responsibility to label their products as unsuitable during pregnancy if there is any risk of their products affecting a pregnancy. I used to worry about Retinol A a lot more before watching this video on A Model Recommends channel featuring Caroline Hirons, which is very informative. The same goes for Salicylic Acid. The key thing with these kind of ingredients is how they are administered and in what quantity.

The thing I have found hardest to give up, and the type of product I find has the most warnings for against use during pregnancy, is bath and body oils. Specifically, we're talking aromatherapy and essential oils. Some oils are actually OK during pregnancy and can even be recommended as good for relaxing, de-stressing, soothing aching muscles and sore backs; citrus oils, German camomile, lavender, frankincense, black pepper, peppermint, ylang ylang, eucalyptus, bergamot, cypress, geranium and spearmint are all recommended as safe to use throughout pregnancy. That said, like with ingredients in products it is how you use them. I wouldn't advise chucking a whole vial of any type of oil in your bath, but a couple of drops diluted with your bath water shouldn't raise any problems. Essential oils which are recommended to avoid during pregnancy include; nutmeg, rosemary, basil, jasmine and clary sage, safe, rose, juniper berry, laurel, angelica, thyme, cumin, aniseed, citronella and cinnamon leaf. Why? Some of these can stimulate contractions, which particularly if you are not at full term can be dangerous for you and your baby. Other oils can affect blood pressure, bleeding and affect kidneys. You can find out more here. For me it has meant avoiding some of my most used bath products and massage oils, and boy can I tell you I am looking forward to using them again once the baby is born!

Ultimately the easiest, safest and best way to approach beauty products is to check the product itself. Does it have a warning against use during pregnancy? If you can't find anything on the packaging but you think it may fall into the do-not-use category, check the product information on the brand's website. Still can't find an answer? Pop them a tweet or contact them via email. Brands are more than happy to advise on the use of their products, and if you can't reach a brand directly to confirm, ask your GP or midwife who should be able to give you a definitive answer.

There are tons of products formulated and advertised specifically for mums-to-be that can make great alternatives whilst your usual favourites are popped back on the shelf, so you don't have to miss out entirely - and I'll be sharing my thoughts on a few pregnancy specific products I've been trying out very soon!

Other things to avoid in pregnancy include cosmetic procedures and body modification; tattoos and piercings are a big no-no due to risk of infection and you'll find any good, reliable and well-trained piercer or tattooist will point blank refuse to work with pregnant and (but not always) breastfeeding women. There's tons of websites out there which suggest other products and ingredients to avoid; but most of these are on hearsay rather than factual evidence. By all means follow their advice, but don't worry if you decide not to or even if you use something without knowing. It would take a large quantity of a certain product or ingredient to have a detrimental effect on you and/or your baby. If you are worried, seek advice from your midwife or GP, even ask your local chemist, who are all there to advise you where possible as to what the right course of action would be.

Have you avoided any products, household or beauty, during pregnancy? Do you think there are any products or ingredients which should be advertised as ones to avoid by medical professionals that currently aren't seen as dangerous? Or do you think advice given to expectant mums is over the top? I'd love to hear your thoughts on the topic!

Last week: Helpful pregnancy apps + websites
Next week: Why we want the gender to be a surprise