Moms Clean Air Force: Seafood and pregnancy

  • October 23, 2012 8:41 am

My latest post for Moms Clean Air Force is about the dangers of seafood for people–pregnant or not. Has your OB or doctor ever warned you to be careful about which fish you eat?

Q&A: Glucose Tolerance and Screening Test Alternatives?

  • October 3, 2012 8:13 am

Question:

Hi Alexandra,

I’m entering my third trimester and know I am going to have to take my glucose test [for gestational diabetes screening] at my next OB visit. Is there any (organic?) alternative to that standard gross dyed orange drink loaded with high fructose corn syrup? I have been avoiding foods containing dyes and HFSC when pregnant and would prefer not to have to drink this stuff.

Best,

Holly

Answer:

Hi Holly,

First of all: congrats! And jinx. I’m outing myself here as I haven’t really been talking about this publicly, but I also just began my third trimester and dealt with this recently, so good timing.

If you’ve been avoiding dyes and HFCS for your whole pregnancy, one drink certainly won’t harm you and your baby, but I totally get where you’re coming from. That’s how I wound up in my doctor’s office eating 47 organic jelly beans at once. Oh the heart palpitations. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The answer is yes, there are alternatives. The wild card is if your OB or midwife is willing to let you try them. Basically you need 50-grams of glucose for the test and there are any number of ways to get that into your body, wait the required hour, then take the blood test. I’ve read anecdotal stories about pancakes with syrup and orange juice doing the trick. Same goes for cinnamon rolls or other sugary treats.

I also found this study about jelly beans as an alternative to the beverage and shared it with my OB who was happy to let me eat them instead of drinking. Keep in mind that while the study says it takes 28 jelly beans, you need to look on the “nutrition” label on the back of the jelly bean brand you choose; the glucose level is different in different products. We did the math together and I wound up having to eat a whopping 47 of  the beans I bought for the purpose. Kind of gross and I would have preferred something else but I suspect it would be harder to measure out the exact grams of glucose in a pancake breakfast. I was so jazzed I left the office during my hour wait and did 5 errands before I came back for the blood draw.

While my OB was open and willing to let me swap where I was getting the glucose from, the nurse who took my blood did look at me like I had three heads when I mentioned I had eaten jelly beans instead of had the drink. Her bias didn’t phase me. I drank the glucose drink when I was pregnant with my daughter, now 6, and vowed never to do it again. I’m glad I didn’t have to.

I know people who are allergic to various food dyes and I think this is a great alternative for them, too.

Let me know how it goes.

Best,

Alexandra

Q&A: Recycling Baby Items?

  • September 19, 2012 9:08 am
Question:
Alexandra,
I attended a Montclare seminar in April on Greening and I was wondering if you had any suggestions where locally one can recycle breast pumps and children car seats as well as strollers.  I found this website that recycles old car seats, strollers, etc.  But you have to mail your items to Texas.  I was hoping there was something more local.  One thought perhaps Montclare can sponsor a green drive for used baby / toddler goods like high chairs, strollers etc.  Though we would need to find a place to recycle it all or do a bulk ship to Texas.
Anyway, if you have any suggestions, I appreciate it.  Many thanks.
- Karen
Answer:
Hi Karen,
Thanks for reaching out. You’ve hit on a frustrating situation. I share your frustration. There are definitely places to recycle items such as those, but it requires work on your part to do the right thing. Unfortunately, Goodwill does not accept any of these items (anymore), but anyone should technically be able to find a local organization that accepts car seats and strollers. Baby Buggy, for example, is local here in New York City, and it accepts both strollers and car seats–but only if the car seats have never been used (!).  Little Essentials also accepts both strollers and car seats.
Recycling breast pumps is a little trickier, to say the least. You can’t donate breast pumps as they really should not be shared from one mother to another; breast milk is a bodily fluid and can contain the sort of things any bodily fluid can contain that aren’t exactly the sort of thing you’d like to share (HIV, hepatitis, etc.)–especially with your infant. My understanding, which I wrote about in The Complete Organic Pregnancy,  is that milk can get backed up into the parts of individual home pumps (industrial pumps have mechanisms that block this from happening and that’s why they’re safe to share). The FDA calls them single use products. I asked my intern Kelley to call Medela, a well known single use pump manufacturer, to ask them what they suggest parents do with breast pumps that are past their useful life or are no longer needed. She got the runaround and wound up calling four times! Basically all of the customer service people told her to just throw them out. Sad but true. She asked if they could be recycled and was told that some parts might be recyclable. The only way to find this out, of course, is to check with local municipalities to find out. So you’d have to look and see what number plastic it is and then call 311 here in New York to see if there is a place that takes oddly shaped plastic parts made out of that kind of plastic. It’s not my understanding that these can go in regular NYC plastic recycling bins. It would be a special drop off situation, if anything at all.

I don’t like this response anymore than you like reading it. A while back a group of consumers petitioned Brita to make their water filters recyclable. I think it is high time someone–you?–starts a petition asking breast pump manufacturers to do the same. It should not be this hard to not add tons of breast pumps to the landfill.

Best,
Alexandra

My intern Kelley’s thoughts on the documentary Toxic Baby

  • August 15, 2012 8:42 am

Kelley and I went to see a screening of Toxic Baby together and I asked her to let me know what she thought. I loved what she wrote to me so much, I asked her if I could post it here. (I’ll admit that part of why I loved it is that interning with me, which isn’t exactly the most gain-office-experience-traditional internship, is adding  a new layer of information and insight to her studies.) And she agreed. Her thoughts are below. If you haven’t had a chance to see Toxic Baby, I urge you to find a way to do so, or organize a screening near you. You can also see Penelope’s TED talk online. It’s worth a watch.

—-

“I had the great opportunity to view a screening of Penelope Jagessar Chaffer’s documentary Toxic Baby. After screening this film about the health hazards of chemical exposures, it would not be an exaggeration to say that my mind was blown.

As an environmental studies student in college, you would suspect that the majority of the film would be a reiteration of what I have previously learned in class. However this was not the case. The majority of what I have learned in class has been mainly focused on the food system and global climate change. Though these two topics are extremely important, Chaffer’s documentary does not focus on these. Instead, Toxic Baby’s main focus was the toxicity of chemicals in products and in the home – aspects that have not yet been covered in my course of study.

The film follows Chaffer and her discovery of the dangerous effects that certain chemicals can have. It was not until she became a mother that she discovered this information and made it her duty to protect her child from these toxic chemicals. The film consults with experts on the dangerous effects that chemicals such as phthalates, parabens, and flame retardants have on pregnant mothers and their children. All of these chemicals are endocrine disruptors and exposure to these chemicals are linked to an array of health issues, such as cancer, many different birth defects, and many more.

Reading about these issues, you can sometimes get very lost, and that is why seeing Chaffer’s journey as a mother exploring these issues is so great. It lays out the information easily for the everyday person and with the perspective of a mother.

What concerned me most after viewing this film is really the lack of public knowledge of the subject. As I stated before, my own academics have not touched upon these environmental health concerns – and I’m an environmental studies major! Imagine the lack of knowledge of the general population in regards to this problem.  And in the film Penelope’s knowledge on the subject only came about during motherhood. Hopefully, as this film gains notoriety and is seen by the general public, we can raise awareness of this serious issue and get these chemicals out of our homes.”
Thank you Kelley for coming to see the film with me and for letting me share your thoughts.

Call Your Senator About Safe Chemical Act Vote Tomorrow!

  • July 24, 2012 1:33 pm

I blew off two hours of work this morning because I was glued to my computer watching the live streaming Environment and Public Works Committee hearing “Oversight of EPA Authorities and Actions to Control Exposures to Toxic Chemicals.” Today’s hearing came right before tomorrow’s vote on the Safe Chemicals Act, which Senator Lautenberg, among others, has been working on for years and years.

These hearings aren’t always the most riveting things to watch, but I laughed, I cried, I even cheered. Too bad it wasn’t on national television. It was good stuff. There were some incredible moments (Senator Barbara Boxer telling Marshall Moore, Director of Technology, Advocacy and Marketing Great Lakes Solutions, A Chemtura Business, to take an ethics lesson was a highlight) and some amazing testimony (I’m partial to moms and so was particularly moved by the strong words from Dr. Heather Stapleton, an environmental chemistry assistant professor at Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment, and from Hannah Pingree, former Speaker of the Maine House of Representatives, who is currently 6 months pregnant and knows more than a few things about body burden).

This is such a crucial moment. The fate of America’s public health is in government hands. So I’m writing this quick post to urge you to call your representatives and ask them to support the Safe Chemical Act being voted on tomorrow. The current legislation, the Toxic Substance Control Act, from 1976, is wildly outdated and ineffective (and wasn’t strong enough to begin with). If you don’t know who your senator is, you can call 202-224-3121 to be directed or look it up online.

The science and the evidence are undeniable. As people pointed out today at the hearing, the majority of Americans believe chemical companies must have unbiased proof that their products are safe before they come on the market, much like pharmaceutical companies are required to provide. This currently isn’t the case in our country.

If you think the burden of consumer product safety should be on the manufacturers and that humans—especially kids, who are more vulnerable than adults—should not be guinea pigs, please pick up the phone. This isn’t about anything other than common sense.

I was typing notes quickly as Senator Boxer posed the following closing question, so forgive me if it’s a bit paraphrased: “Do you believe that chemical manufacturers should have to show through unbiased studies that their products are safe for pregnant women…. If someone can’t answer that question with an affirmative response, they are putting special interest before the health of people, their own kids, and the first responders.”

Even if I missed a few of her words, it’s well put.

Now go make that call, please.

Q&A: Sealing Particleboard Furniture (Including Cribs)

  • September 22, 2011 8:07 am

THE QUESTION:

My superintendent is coming by today to set up the crib for baby #2. Last time around, I recall that you warned me not to put the kid in a (standard commercial) crib without applying some kind of sealant to keep it from . . . off-gassing, was it?

If so could I trouble you to remind me what that product was?…Thanks so much….
AK

THE ANSWER:

Thanks for the great question; lots of expecting parents have had similar inquiries. I answer this in The Complete Organic Pregnancy–and again in Planet Home!–and have excerpted a few paragraphs from the former below. Congrats on #2 and good luck!

When setting up a nursery, keep in mind that items you might want from small organic stores will take longer than you think to be shipped.  Allow plenty of time, or you’ll be running through Buy Buy Baby in labor with a plastic changing table in your shopping cart.  All the furniture in your nursery, and ideally the entire house, should be made of solid hardwood with a nontoxic finish.  Avoid particleboard and plywood, which are held together with toxic formaldehyde-based glues, as well as plastic.  We realize that plywood is ubiquitous.  If you have something that’s made of plywood, you can seal it with Safecoat Safe Seal, a water-based low-gloss sealer for highly porous surfaces.  Or speak to a Safecoat salesman about the best product for wood you want to seal.

Our basic advice is that you really won’t need half the stuff everyone insists you and your new pumpkin-sized roommate will need.  We prefer to spend more money on fewer items.  If you’re having trouble finding certified or recycled wood furniture for your baby, try to buy secondhand, or inherit hand-me-downs.  Americans use about 27 percent of the wood commercially harvested worldwide.  Much of it is harvested in an unsustainable (not naturally regenerating) manner, making the burden on forest ecosystems that much greater.

Q&A: Juice Bars And Pregnancy

  • September 16, 2011 12:30 pm
THE QUESTION:

Hi Alexandra,

Just recently finished [The Complete Organic Pregnancy]. My husband and I have been recently trying for a baby and prior to that I probably devoured a dozen books on pre-pregnancy and I have to say your book is the most substantial and downright fantastic out of all of them! What I appreciated most from your book was how easily your research and tips could translate into everyday life and also how to truly make both your body and the environment both inside and outside the most optimal possible.

In saying that, I am left with a few questions:

1. Juices: I now know to avoid them, but what about smoothies, ingredients consist of whole fresh organic fruits, organic milk and ice??

That’s it, thank you so very much! Your book is the best gift I could have asked for and consult it regularly!!

With gratitude,

Meika

THE ANSWER:
Meika actually sent a few questions, so I’m answering them in separate posts.

You’re so welcome! Thanks for writing in.

The juices you’re referring to are the ones found at juice bars and smoothie shops.  Often these juices are from conventionally grown fruits and vegetables and the juicing machines are breeding grounds for dangerous bacteria like E. coli. You cannot guarantee that the juicers have been cleaned regularly (or with what–i.e. chlorine bleach or other chemicals that leave residues that get into your drinks).  Because juice bar juices are unpasteurized, they’re a major concern if you’re pregnant.  Even organic juice products are suspect. Odwalla faced a total recall of their products in the 1990s due to E. coli.  It’s just not worth the risk when you’re expecting. Far better to get your fruit and veggie fix from the actual thing. Or, as I mention in The Conscious Kitchen (excerpted below), you can make your own at home. That way you know what the ingredients are, where they came from, and that your juicer is clean.
Fresh squeezed, 100 percent juice is fabulous in moderation.  Thankfully, it’s so expensive at my local organic organic juice bar that moderation isn’t a problem.  If you’re someone who really likes juice, look into buying an energy-efficient juicer.  Having your own means  you can control what kind of fruit is used (local or organic or sustainable), how much and what kind of sugar is added, and how the machine is cleaned.

Alternatives to fresh squeezed are a mixed bag.  Most store-bought juice actually contains very little juice, so it’s up to an adept label reader to find the real deal.  Otherwise, you may suck down a lot of unnecessary and expensive sugar water (along with other unexpected additives, like synthetic fragrance).  Organic jarred or cartoned juices are sometimes guilty of containing as much sugar or sweeteners as their conventional counterparts, but at least it’s not derived from genetically modified corn.  When it comes to artificial sweeteners, all bets are off.  I don’t put those things in my body, and suggest you don’t either.  Real sugar is vastly preferable, unless, of course, you have a medical condition that means you can’t tolerate it.

Hope that helps!
Best,
Alexandra

Q&A: Stuffed Animals

  • July 28, 2011 9:42 am
THE QUESTION:

Hi Alexandra,
I was really interested in your post about buying safe toys for your daughter.  I found this extremely timely, as I’m expecting my first child momentarily (literally; due date is tomorrow!).  I’d love to know your philosophy on stuffed/plush animal toys– most all the ones we’ve received as gifts are made in China.  My husband and I are trying to avoid products made with harmful chemicals, sketchy manufacturing processes, etc. through product research and just buying LESS stuff (which dovetails nicely with our having no place to store it anyway).  Stuffed animals don’t (hopefully) contain lead paint, which I feel like is the concern I’ve read most about with toys made in China.  But are there other concerns with stuffed animals you’re aware of?
Best regards,
Carter
THE ANSWER:

Carter,
Get off your computer and enjoy your final moments of freedom! Kidding! Well, not really.
Still here?
Fine, I’ll answer. Great question–you’re right to wonder. Stuffed animals often contain questionable/unhealthy flame retardants and are filled with random plastic pellets–also potentially unhealthy. It’s difficult to impossible to know which contain what. The dyes are also of concern, especially as young children mouth everything.
When you introduce a “lovie” to your baby, start with one made from certified organic cotton. Usually a company that bothers to use  organic cotton on the exteriors of their plush toys is doing ok on the interiors as well as the dyes. But there is no guarantee here;  unfortunately there is no one standard/third party certification families can turn to to be sure. Ask questions about materials, interiors, flame retardants, and dyes as well as read the fine print when you shop. I also like to consult HealthyStuff.org.
As for the stuffed things you have already gotten as presents, use them for toys when your baby is a bit older. Or do as I did–exchange them! I spent hours with a sleeping girl strapped to me wandering around town in the delirious haze of early motherhood exchanging gifts for things we might be able to use. It was an amusing way to spend the time and stock up–we really hadn’t bought much of anything before she was born as I was convinced we needed nothing more than my breasts, love, some diapers, and a blanket. Plus we also have little room for stuff. Makes me laugh to think of it now. You could also always exchange a few stuffed items for glass bottles or other staples to donate to mothers in need.
Enjoy your babymoon. There’s nothing like it.
Best,
Alexandra

Q & A: Taming Toxic Furniture

  • April 28, 2011 8:17 am

THE QUESTION

Hi Alexandra,

I have a question for you.  I am coming to you because I actually didn’t know who else to ask. I am about to have a baby and in March we got new furniture from Restoration Hardware.  It clearly has a toxic smell.  I try and avoid the room and keep the windows open but the smell has not gone away.  First I would like to know- what do you think the smell actually is?  Second, how dangerous is this to my bay in my belly?  Thirds, how would you get rid of it? (air purifier, etc.)  Obviously I will keep the baby (when born) out of the room, but I am freaking out that my new furniture is really hurting my baby.

Please Help!!

Thanks!

Carrie

THE ANSWER

Dear Carrie,

Thank you for taking the time to send me your question. What kind of furniture are you referring to? I can’t tell you what the smell is without smelling it myself, unfortunately. And even then I might not know. That said, your nose knows. Truly. If it doesn’t smell good, it likely isn’t good. And you’re right not to want your growing baby around a seemingly questionable unknown. There are all kinds of things that can be lurking in furniture that would be best avoided, including formaldehyde–a known carcinogen–in the glues binding particleboard.

You can avoid this by carefully shopping for furniture. Once you already have a stinky table/cabinet/whatever in your house, there is one way to seal in offgassing chemical emissions from new furniture that has porous surfaces: in The Complete Organic Pregnancy and Planet Home I recommend AFM Safecoat Safe Seal, a water-based low-gloss sealer. Call the company directly to describe what you’re contending with and they can advise you. They also sell a variety of paints, stains, and more.

Ventilation (open your windows!) and air purifiers also help. So can taking the furniture outside if you can (make sure you have it under somewhere in case of rain). And the strongest offgassing will diminish as time goes by. If it continues to bother you, you might want to cut your losses and seek something else.

Good luck!

Thanks,

Alexandra

Here’s a passage from Planet Home where I discuss Safe Seal:

Much new furniture is made of composite woods like particleboard and medium-density fiberboard, which are temptingly inexpensive but best not brought into the bedroom; these can off-gas formaldehyde.  Though the vapors from new furniture containing formaldehyde glue diminish over time, they remain in high concentrations in smaller and improperly ventilated rooms.  If you have reason to suspect the fumes in your home are too high, there are inexpensive kits available that have been used by the Sierra Club to test levels in FEMA trailers.  For less serious levels, there are also houseplants known to act as air filters.  If you have a piece of composite wood furniture you love and don’t want to part with, move it to a room in the house where you spend less time.  You can also seal in the emissions…[from] composite wood parts with a product proven to reduce formaldehyde emissions, such as AFM Safecoat Safe Seal.

For more on which houseplants to use, check this out.

Kids Around Canada Mentions The Complete Organic Pregnancy

  • February 15, 2011 2:25 pm

Thrilled for this delightful mention of The Complete Organic Pregnancy in a baby basics post on KidsAroundCanada.com

“I strongly recommend you get your hands on Alexandra Zissu’s The Complete Organic Pregnancy.  This book preps you for the “before, during and after” of pregnancy and guides parents-to-be through everything from the safest laundry detergent to safe household cleaners, to organic baby food recipes. I promise you won’t let this book stray far from your nightstand.”

Thanks!