Eating Organic Foods During Pregnancy
By Laura E. Stachel
Have you ever wondered whether you should be eating organic foods during your pregnancy?

Over one billion pounds of pesticides are used in the United States each year to protect crops from insects, weeds and pests. Unfortunately, the same chemicals that allow farmers to grow abundant, attractive produce also contaminate our land, air and water. We consume these chemicals in the form of pesticide residues on fruits and vegetables and through eating affected dairy, poultry, and meat products. If you're pregnant, these chemicals reach your baby as it grows and will later pass through your breast milk.

Pesticide exposure in farm workers has been linked to a variety of health problems including skin and eye irritation, lung problems, neural problems and cancer. Agricultural exposure to pesticides has been associated with higher rates of miscarriage, birth defects and stillbirth. Animal studies have related pesticide exposure in newborn rats to changes in brain development. The effect of prenatal exposure to pesticide residue from food is unclear. However, a developing baby goes through critical stages of development and does not have a fully mature system for excreting chemicals. Pesticides have been found in amniotic fluid, umbilical cord blood and breast milk. It seems plausible that a growing baby could be sensitive to low levels of these chemicals, though research is needed in this area.

Organic produce is grown without using most conventional pesticides or synthetic fertilizers. Organic meats, eggs, poultry and dairy come from animals that are given organic feed, allowed access to the outdoors, and have not been given antibiotics and growth hormones.

Organic foods are not only good for your health, they're good for the environment. Organic farmers use methods that work in harmony with nature (such as crop rotation and pest management) and avoid the use of toxic chemicals which can persist in the environment for years. These farming methods protect our water sources, land and air from contamination. Buying organic promotes sustainable agriculture, and protects the earth for all plant and animal species.

Why doesn't everyone eat organic foods? Organic farms must adhere to strict standards, and the costs of food production and handling are higher. This means organic foods are more expensive to buy. It can also be more difficult to find organic products in your local supermarket. Also, the produce may not always be picture-perfect, and may initially seem less appealing to some consumers.

Avoiding pesticide exposure during pregnancy is preferable if your budget will allow this. If you can't afford an exclusively organic diet, there are ways you can reduce your exposure to pesticides
  • Wash all fruits and vegetables, then rinse well.
  • Remove the peels from fruits or vegetables that aren't organic. Also, remove and discard the outer leaves of foods like lettuce.
  • Choose organic when buying conventionally grown foods that have been shown to have the highest levels of contamination. These include strawberries, peaches, grapes, cherries, blackberries, winter squash, green beans, apples, spinach, pears and tomatoes.
  • Choose domestic produce over imported produce; pesticide use may be heavier in other countries with fewer pesticide regulations.
  • Remove visible fat from meats and remove skin and fat from poultry because pesticides accumulate in fatty tissues.
  • Buy organic butter, cheeses and milk for the same reason or choose low-fat milk products.
  • Reduce other sources of pesticide exposure. Avoid insecticides (bug spray) in the home, insect repellants, flea collars for your pets, and lawn and garden products containing synthetic pesticides. Ask for safer alternatives.

Unfortunately, even with the best of care, low levels of pesticides can show up in any foods. Some organic foods contain small amounts of pesticides from chemicals sprayed on nearby farms (environmental drift), from contaminated runoff water, or from pesticides left in the soil from prior years. However, organic foods will have substantially less pesticides than conventionally grown foods.

Eating organic foods can benefit your baby in many ways. You'll be reducing your own exposure to potentially harmful chemicals, you'll be protecting your baby from these substances, and you'll be contributing to a healthier environment for the future.