Dr. Jennifer Ashton, the Chief Women’s Health Correspondent at ABC News, has delivered 1,500 happy, healthy babies and now she’s here to help yours, compliments of her new book, Eat This, Not That! When You’re Expecting. In this Q+A, she talks about the most dangerous chemicals to avoid when you’re pregnant.
Q: Doctor, I’ve heard mercury’s bad for my baby, so I stopped eating swordfish.
Dr. Ashton: Bravo. Good call. Do you know the other fish to avoid?
Q: There are others?
Dr. Ashton: Also skip shark, king mackerel and tilefish. All could be high in mercury. But enjoy fish in general! Studies show your baby will have a higher IQ if you eat two servings a week, especially if it’s high in Omega-3s, like salmon.
Q: Got it. So what other chemicals should I avoid?
Dr. Ashton: Well, there’s a complete list in the book. Research shows that an estimated 739 chemicals can be found in our urine, blood, fat, brain, muscle, and bone. And more than 200 of those chemicals have been determined to have an effect on the human brain—yet most are not regulated, even to protect pregnant women and their unborn children.
Q: So, what’s real? What’s just hype?
Dr. Ashton: Well, one biggie to avoid is Bisphenol-A, otherwise known as BPA. It’s a chemical that was originally developed in the 1930s as an early estrogen replacement therapy. Today it’s used to make polycarbonate plastics, mostly the hard clear shiny kind. It’s commonly used to coat cans and bottle tops. Most alarming is that, until fairly recently, baby bottles were made with BPA—meaning that used plastic baby bottles are one gesture of kindness you should not accept!
Q: Why is it bad for me though?
Dr. Ashton: It’s bad for your baby. In one study, the NIH found that significant levels of BPA in pregnancy to be associated with children who later displayed behaviors such as depression and withdrawal, anxiety, and Oppositional/Defiant Disorder. Another study found that prenatal BPA exposure negatively affected lung function in kids up to five years old.
Q: Jeez. So I should, what…?
Dr. Ashton: Drink from glass containers, not plastic. And check the book for brands that don’t use BPA in their products, like Amy’s, Annie’s Homegrown and Lucini Italia.
Q: Is it also true that my non-stick pan is a non-starter?
Dr. Ashton: Yup. Ditch it. PFOA appears to remain in the human body for a long time. A cohort study conducted with 665 Danish pregnant women and published in a 2012 Environmental Health Perspectives report found that PFOA exposure during pregnancy was associated with a higher risk of obesity for their children at 20 years of age. In animal studies, the EPA found that exposure to PFOAs caused problems such as preterm birth and low birth weight.
Q: So in other words, cook my hot dogs in a stainless steel pot?
Dr. Ashton: Yes, and make sure your hot dogs are nitrate-free! The World Health Organization has found that eating nitrite-containing meats increases your risk of cancer, and other organizations have found that consuming these meats while pregnant may be associated with increased incidence of brain tumors in children.
Q: I wish my OB/GYN told me that—she’s awesome and cautioned me about some of this, but she’s not a nutritionist.
Dr. Ashton: Nutrition isn’t part of most doctor’s formal training, believe it or not—that’s why, after becoming an OB/GYN, I got my Master’s in Nutrition at Columbia and am Board-certified in Obesity medicine. My philosophy is for my patients to take control over what you can control. Just follow the advice in Eat This, Not That! When You’re Expecting! and you’re making the best choice for your baby—and you!