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The Expectant Mom’s Guide to All Things Organic

The Expectant Mom’s Guide to All Things Organic

expectant mom's guide to all things organic, organic while pregnant

Since September is Australian Organic Awareness Month, we’ve combed through the vast sea of research for you and offered up our key takeaways, focusing on organic standards in the United States, where Kindred Bravely is based. In this guide to organic products for expectant moms, we’ll look at the pros and cons of choosing organic food, beauty/personal care products, and clothing.

With the confusion over natural vs. organic, no consensus on the need to use organic products, a gigantic list of “probable carcinogens” in our environment, and a “safe until proven otherwise” regulatory approach, the best you can do is consider the available research, talk with your health care team, and make the right choices for you and your family. We hope to make that process easier for you!

Organic Food

GMOs, genetically modified, organic food

According to the USDA, “The use of most synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, growth hormones, sewage sludge, irradiation, and genetic engineering (genetically modified organisms or GMOs) is prohibited” for organic food.

Note that the word “organic” doesn't mean farmers don't use any pesticides - it means they aren't allowed to use synthetic pesticides. Also, keep in mind that audits have found weaknesses in the enforcement of these standards. The rules are also subject to change in the near future; farmers want the new USDA Certified Organic seal to indicate that additional conditions were met, such as improved standards for livestock, soil management, and greenhouse gas production.

Why Should I Eat Organic Food?

Fear of the unknown is one of the reasons some pregnant women choose organic food. As Dr. Nancy O’Hara, a board-certified pediatrician, puts it: “Over the last 25 years, the modern food supply has become exposed to more and more unsafe chemicals. Currently, the FDA has standards that allow more than 10,000 different additives in food that simply were not present 50 years ago, when children were much healthier on average.” Among them are chemicals like Bisphenol A (BPA), dyes, preservatives, synthetic sweeteners, and hormone disruptors. Dr. O’Hara continues, “The health impact these additives can have on a developing child remains largely unknown; only some of these permitted substances have ever been scientifically studied for safety.”

Here are a few other reasons to consider eating organic food:

  • Organic foods may pack more antioxidant punch. The antioxidant compounds found in organic fruits, vegetables, and cereals tested 19 to 69 percent higher, according to Newcastle University researchers. The increased levels of antioxidants are equivalent to “one or two of the five portions of fruits and vegetables recommended daily.”

  • Current conventional standards could be better. The Neurological Health Foundation has taken the official position that the EPA “needs more well-defined and stricter standards on how chemicals are evaluated rather than ‘safe until proven otherwise.’” The European Union has banned a number of food additives that the US hasn’t, including livestock antibiotics, food dyes like Yellow 5, and brominated vegetable oil.

  • Organic may mean less exposure to pesticides. A large-scale study by Environmental Health Perspectives found that eating organic foods corresponded with a “significantly lower” amount of pesticide exposure. 

pesticides, organic food

Do I Need To Eat Organic Food?

Here are a few reasons some people don’t go organic:

  • Cost: Organic foods may cost at least 25 percent more in big cities like Boston and San Francisco and could be double the price in some locations, says the USDA.

  • Shelf Life: Do organic foods have a shorter shelf life? It depends on the product. Organic lettuce, broccoli, and chicken, for instance, contain more bacteria that contribute to spoilage than their conventional counterparts. Ultra-pasteurized organic milk, however, lasts much longer.
  • Taste: One test found that consumers tasted no difference between organic and conventional salad greens, but they ranked conventional tomatoes much higher than organic tomatoes in the categories of sweetness, juiciness, and strength of flavor.

  • Lack of Evidence: Allison Enke, a registered dietician for Whole Foods Market, points out: “There’s organic sugar, organic butter, organic cookies, organic lots of things,” but these foods are not necessarily healthy.  In fact, a Stanford University review of 237 separate studies concluded that there are no statistically significant nutritional differences between organic and conventional foods. The American Academy of Pediatrics issued the following statement: “In the long term, there is currently no direct evidence that consuming an organic diet leads to improved health or lower risk of disease.”

Quick Guide: 10 Tips for Organic Food Shopping

do I need to eat organic food?

Eating organic doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing deal. You may want to buy organic for some foods but buy conventional for others. We pulled together the following advice to help you navigate all the choices available to you at the grocery store: 

  1. Check the labels. If you’re buying organic, make sure the food you choose is “certified organic,” meaning that 100% of the ingredients qualify as organic. Items simply labeled “organic” may contain only 95% organic ingredients.

  2. Buy foods with thick peels. If organic produce is unavailable or too expensive, try to buy produce with a thick peel/skin/rind, like avocados, pineapples, oranges, and bananas.

  3. Choose organic for “the dirty dozen.” The Environmental Working Group, an independent organization committed to helping consumers make more informed choices, put together a list of produce with the highest levels of synthetic pesticides: apples, bell peppers, celery, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, grapes, nectarines, peaches, snap peas, spinach, and strawberries.

  4. Choose conventional for “the clean 15.” The EWG also lists fruits and vegetables with the lowest levels of synthetic pesticides: asparagus, avocados, cabbage, cantaloupe, cauliflower, eggplant, grapefruit, kiwi, mangoes, onions, papayas, pineapples, sweet corn, and sweet peas.

  5. Consider organic, grass-fed meat. It should be free of antibiotics, lower in calories, lower in fat, and higher in protein than conventional meat.

  6. Choose organic for items consumed in abundance. If your family eats kale like there’s no tomorrow, consider buying organic kale. If you eat a carrot once in a blue moon, you probably don’t have to worry about synthetic pesticides from carrots potentially compounding in your body over time.

  7. Save a buck when you can. Organic coupon sites include Mambo Sprouts, HealthESavers, and All Natural Savings. When organic items are on sale, buy double the quantity you need and freeze the extra.

  8. To save money, don’t buy pre-cut or prewashed produce. Organic baby carrots may cost a lot more than organic full-sized carrots, which you can cut later.

  9. Choose simple ingredients. Ingredients are listed in order by weight, so the first few items make up the majority of what you’ll be eating. Look for foods with unprocessed, recognizable ingredients. Steer clear of additives and preservatives by avoiding foods with more than five ingredients.

  10. Opt for local and domestic. Imported produce may come from areas where synthetic pesticides are used in greater abundance. Shipments are not always tested to confirm that they meet the destination’s “organic” standards. When possible, eat locally grown foods. The less distance food has to travel, the lower the need for preservatives and other chemical additives.

Organic Beauty/Personal Care Products

organic beauty products, do I need to use organic products when pregnant

Why Should I Use Organic Beauty Products?

Here are a few reasons to consider going organic for your beauty products:

  • To Reduce Possible Fetal Exposure: Whether you have suffered the hardship of miscarriage in the past or you’re a nervous first-timer, there’s nothing inherently harmful in playing it safe with the ingredients you and your baby are exposed to. We know for sure that many chemicals can pass to growing babies through the placenta and, later, through breast milk.

  • To Reduce Possible Risk of Emotional/Behavioral Challenges: One European study has linked prenatal exposure to ingredients like BPA, triclosan, parabens, and dibutyl phthalate (DBP) with latent hyperactivity disorder, emotional symptoms, peer relationship problems, and conduct disorders in children at three and five years old. Research is far from showing a causal link, but if you’re concerned, it may be worth discussing with your doctor.

  • Fear of the Unknown: As we mentioned earlier, there’s still so much we don’t know for sure. Dr. Phil Landrigan, Director of the Children’s Environmental Health Center at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, put it this way to CNN: “For 80 percent of the common chemicals in everyday use in this country, we know almost nothing about whether or not they can damage the brains of children, the immune system, the reproductive system, and the other developing organs.”

Do I Need to Use Organic Beauty Products?          

Are organic beauty products better? It depends. Here are a few reasons some people don’t use organic cosmetics and personal care products:

  • Labeling Ambiguity: According to the FDA, words like “natural,” “non-toxic,” “clean,” and “safe” have no official meaning. Cosmetic labels use these buzzwords all the time, but no one’s examining these claims for accuracy. Beauty products labeled “organic” must have a minimum percentage of organic ingredients, as mandated by the USDA.

  • Effectiveness: Manufacturers don’t put chemicals into their products just to load them up with junk. They use surfactants, foaming agents, and shelf-life enhancers so products will work well and last longer.

  • Safety: No one wants to put mold, bacteria, and fungus directly onto their bodies. “I worry about a lot of those products that say [they’re] preservative-free,” says California-based cosmetic chemist Bruce Akers. “If it’s oil-based that’s fine,” he says, but if it’s water-based, be cautious. Some products are made by people without advanced knowledge of chemistry or how to prevent microbe contamination.

  • Scent and Feel: You may find you just don’t like how natural products smell or feel. Natural or organic products may not work well with your body chemistry and could leave you feeling dirty even after you’ve taken a shower. Like so many other things, the use of beauty/personal care products comes down to what works best for you.

Quick Guide: How To Read Organic Beauty Labels

organic beauty products

  1. Know the Dirty Dozen in cosmetics.  If you’d like to reduce the number of synthetic ingredients in your beauty products, start by trying to eliminate some of the biggest offenders.

  2. Look for familiar ingredients. If you can recognize and pronounce most of the ingredients in your beauty products, you’re probably safe. Keep it simple!

  3. Latin on the labels is okay too. Many beauty products use the Latin names of ingredients when selling internationally, so before you decide to avoid Rosmarinus officinalis (rosemary) and Lavandula angustifolia (lavender), look them up.

  4. Get added peace of mind from the USDA. A “USDA Certified” label means the beauty product contains at least some government-classified organic ingredients, though the finished formula may contain additives.

  5. Check the EWG’s Skin Deep Cosmetics Database and Verified list. The Skin Deep Cosmetics Database rates more than 70,000 products based on their ingredient lists. You can also look for the EWG VERIFIED mark, which identifies products that are responsibly manufactured and marketed and free of ingredients found on EWG’s unacceptable or restricted lists.

  6. Shop at a holistic specialty store. Most chain drugstores sell chemical-based beauty brands. Natural retailers like Ayla Beauty vet the ingredients for you.

  7. Look for safe preservation. Some organic brands use safe, natural preservatives like vegetable glycerin, neem oil, and alcohols like organic ethanol, grape alcohol, benzyl alcohol, and witch hazel. Sometimes you’ll see food-grade preservatives like potassium sorbate or sodium benzoate on the label or antioxidant essential oils with preservative properties like turmeric, rosemary, oregano, and thyme. Check for vacuum-sealed packaging and an expiration date.    

Organic Beauty Brands Moms Love

You’ve got a lot on your mind. We get that. If you want to cut to the chase and see a list of what other moms have already researched and love, take a look at recommendations from Allure, Dermstore, Stylecaster, and Well + Good.

KB Moms love 100% Pure, Avalon Organics, EO, Primally Pure, Root, Schmidt’s, Shea Moisture, and Soapwalla.

If you’re looking for the best baby products too, check out POPSUGAR’s 2018 list.

Organic Maternity and Nursing Clothes

Organic maternity and nursing clothes

Why Should I Wear Organic Maternity and Nursing Clothes?

Here are a few reasons to consider buying organic maternity and nursing clothes:

  • To Save the Planet: Food for thought: about 25 percent of the world’s insecticide use and over 10 percent of the world’s pesticide use go directly to cotton crops. Did you know it takes almost one-third of a pound of chemicals to produce enough cotton to make one T-shirt? By reducing the amount of chemicals in our clothing, we also reduce the amount of chemicals leaching into groundwater, streams, and oceans. Another option is to choose hemp – a hardy, drought-resistant, sustainable plant that thrives without pesticides and doesn’t contaminate groundwater or decrease soil fertility.

  • To Promote Fair Trade: Organic cotton and hemp are certified under Fair Trade USA’s apparel program, which ensures that farmers receive fair living wages, adhere to high working standards, and invest in community development projects.

  • For Comfort: It’s not backed by scientific studies, but some people swear organic cotton and hemp blends simply feel lighter and softer.

Do I Need to Wear Organic Maternity and Nursing Clothes?

Here are a few reasons some expectant mothers don’t buy organic clothing:

  • Greater Cost: Unfortunately, organic cotton is more expensive to grow, harvest, and manufacture – especially if it’s Fair Trade, where workers are not employed in overseas sweatshops.

  • Limited Selection: Finding maternity clothes you like can be a challenge in and of itself, let alone finding organic maternity clothes. You may have to shop online to find the organic clothing you seek.

  • “Greenwash” Danger: Many clothing makers market their products as “natural” or “made from organic material,” but there’s no guarantee you’re getting 100% organic apparel.

  • No Guarantee: Is it possible for your 100% organic cotton shirt to contain some harmful toxins? Yes, say researchers from Stockholm University. In 2005, they found that cotton contained high concentrations of benzothiazoles (a known thyroid disruptor) – even clothes made from organic cotton.

  • Resource Consumption: Was saving the planet among your chief reasons for buying organic clothing? Well, not so fast, say environmentalists. Organic crops technically take up more space to grow. From a water conservation standpoint, it takes about 290 gallons of water to grow and produce a conventional cotton T-shirt, versus 660 gallons of water for an organic cotton T-shirt. Some say the answer is to buy better clothes and wear them longer. 

Quick Guide: Best Organic Maternity and Nursing Clothing

organic cotton bra

Kick-start your organic maternity and nursing wardrobe with Kindred Bravely’s organic line:

If you’d like to buy organic clothing for your baby, check out Wellness Mama’s rundown of brands.

healthy baby, organic maternity clothes

Taking Baby Steps Toward a Healthier Future

Expectant mothers want what’s best for their babies, but the path to making the right decisions isn’t always clear. You’re only human, and it’s impossible to avoid every danger. Fortunately, we are a resilient species. Perfection isn’t required to lead a healthy, happy life. Learn what you can and make choices that are right for your family. We hope this guide helps you sort fact from fiction as you grow and nourish a life.


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