As a midwife, part of my job is to talk to women when they’re newly pregnant about what foods they need to avoid, how to maintain a healthy diet, what supplements to take, smoking, alcohol consumption and work hazards amongst other things. We (most of us) accept these changes but did you know there is growing concern about certain chemicals in everyday products that may impact our unborn child, not just in the short term but for their entire future? I have been given the chance to collaborate with the charity Breast Cancer UK for breast cancer awareness month in their campaign to prevent Breast Cancer. They believe prevention is possible.
There is an important stage of breast development when a baby is growing inside its mother which is sensitive to lifestyle and environmental factors. Breast cancer is the most common cancer – 31% of cancers diagnosed in women are breast cancer – and 1 in 5 cases of breast cancer are in women under 50, with a significant increase being recorded in the past 50 years. The use of man made chemicals is thought to be a factor in this increase. Some chemicals damage our genes directly, whilst others affect our oestrogen levels or disrupt our hormone balance which in turn can lead to abnormal breast growth.
Chemicals to watch out for and avoid if possible
- Bisphenol A
- Paraphenylenediamine (PPD), Nonylphenol, Resorcinol, – Ammonia (found in some hair dyes)
- Pesticides e.g. glyphosate
Where can these chemicals be found?
- Personal care products such as shampoos, moisturisers, soaps, deodorants
- Cleaning products
- Processed and canned foods
- Some plastics
- Certain types of new flooring
I feel it is important to note that using an anti-perspirant in itself is not a risk of breast cancer, more the chemicals they can contain may affect us.
What can we do to reduce the risk during pregnancy?
- Check the labels on products and packaging
- Minimise the use of personal care products and cosmetics during pregnancy
- Discard old plastic products
- Eat fresh food and organic where possible
- Wash all fresh food
- Use a stainless steel water bottle to drink from
- Avoid storing and reheating food in plastic containers, especially those made from PVC (3), polycarbonate (7), or PET (1)
- Use an eco friendly range of cleaning products
- Wear gloves and a mask if you need to use flea powder, garden sprays or fly sprays
- Avoid using pesticides, fungicides and weed killers
- When you’re buying new clothes, blankets, sheets and bibs, wash them first and consider buying organic cotton
- Only take pregnancy specific vitamins and supplements
- Check your breasts regularly, there’s a guide on the NHS Choices website
I had a look through my cupboards at my plastics and all mine are BPA free or number 5 which counts as safe (what a relief!). Breast Cancer UK has a great guide to avoiding hazardous chemicals in everyday products where you can check the different kinds of plastics as well as an in depth guide, get your free copy here.
A lot of expectant Mothers want to decorate the nursery during pregnancy; I know I did. We changed the rooms around so that my older two were sharing; we decorated their room and then the baby’s room – I knew that I needed to keep the room ventilated and avoid using gloss paint, but I’ve since been enlightened on the more technical aspects! Here’s a guide to the dos and don’ts of decorating:
Use water based paint without any biocides and ones which have a low Volatile Organic Compound (VOC).
Ensure adequate ventilation.
Wear protective gloves, mask and clothing whilst decorating.
Try to use natural products when choosing flooring and furniture like wood, cork, ceramics and stone.
Air new furniture.
Remove paint, especially if it contains lead.
Install new carpet or laminate, especially if they contain biocides and waterproof sprays – it can wait until baby’s born.
Once your precious baby arrives, you can carry on with these principles with the products you use, think about the toys you give them, especially teething toys, and avoid plastics where possible. If you bottle feed, try to minimise the use of canned formula, and check the packaging for any of the chemicals listed above.
How Breastfeeding reduces your risk of Breast Cancer, especially if you feed for longer than a year
It is well documented and researched that breastfeeding reduces your risk of getting breast cancer, the reasons thought to be are:
Breast cells become even more mature with breastfeeding.
Breast feeding means you are making milk 24 hours a day, due to structural and functional changes that take place in your breast tissue during lactation. These changes also mean there is less likelihood your remaining breast cells will become cancerous
The lack of periods means lower oestrogen levels.
Most women maintain a healthier lifestyle during breastfeeding which helps prevent breast cancer.
Please don’t feel guilty if you couldn’t or didn’t breastfeed, or did for a short period, research shows that if you can breastfeed even for a short time you can reduce your risk by up to 10%, and being pregnant itself reduces the risk of Breast Cancer – going through a full term pregnancy makes the breast cells mature, making them more likely to grow normally and less likely to become abnormal and go on to cause cancer. The younger we are when we have a child, the better when it comes to preventing breast cancer, but lifestyle and career factors and just not meeting the right man obviously will affect that decision.
European Code against Cancer 4th Edition: Breastfeeding and cancer: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.canep.2014.12.007
Protecting you and your baby in pregnancy leaflet from Breast Cancer UK: http://www.breastcanceruk.org.uk/reduce-your-risk/helping-to-protect-your-baby-during-pregnancy/which-chemicals-are-considered-harmful
Think Pink campaign by BreastCancer.org
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