I’ll be honest – I was never concerned with how healthy my tap water was when I was growing up. Even into my 20’s, it never crossed my mind that tap water was anything but regulated and safe. It wasn’t until I became pregnant with my daughter that I purchased a water filter. You see, after 5 unexplained miscarriages I realized that the only thing I could control was what I put into my body. With that in mind, I purchased my first home water filter and ate and drank as cleanly as possible. I finally gave birth to two happy, healthy babies and I learned that I could not take any more chances with possible environmental factors.
Unbeknownst to many, many of the heavy metals and contaminants that may exist in the water and food we ingest can pass through the placenta. When the news came out that 13% of Toronto homes have dangerous levels of lead present in their drinking water, the city of Toronto warned pregnant women to avoid drinking unfiltered tap water. Lead is one of those heavy metals that can pass through the placenta; therefore, limiting lead exposure through pregnancy is important. The main issue is lead, like many other heavy metals and chemicals, builds up and is stored in the body in what is called the “body burden”. This means that, unfortunately, simply removing lead from your drinking water while pregnant does not prevent the lead already stored in your body from passing through to your baby.
A study conducted by the Environmental Working Group tested umbilical cord blood for industrial chemicals, pollutants, and pesticides. Of the 10 umbilical cord blood samples collected, 287 chemicals were detected. Of those 287 chemicals discovered, 217 were chemicals found to be toxic to the brain and nervous system and 208 chemicals have been shown to cause birth defect in animals. They even found levels of DDT and industrial chemicals that were banned decades ago! Chlorine, lead, arsenic, mercury, aluminum, PCBs, and fluoride are all chemicals found in drinking water that will build up in your body and pass through the placenta at different rates.
What are the long term effects of this body burden on babies? As of today, we don’t fully understand the effects of chemical build up in babies. What we do know is that, pound for pound, the body burden of a baby is much higher than it is for an adult. During the crucial early stages of child organ and brain development, these chemicals can have a much greater effect.
The body burden continues after birth as well. Many of these harmful chemicals can pass through both breast milk and baby formula (chemicals are present in both the powdered formula itself and tap water used to mix). Tap water from lead pipes might not seem like a worry if you have been drinking it without experiencing any ill effects for years. However, for an 8 pound baby who is drinking 20-30 ounces of formula mixed with tap water each day, the pound for pound effect of these chemicals is much higher.
While eating and drinking cleanly throughout your pregnancy is vitally important, it is equally important to change your habits beforehand to limit the amount of chemicals that will build up in your system. If you do this as early on as possible, you will greatly decrease the amount of harmful chemicals and metals that are passed on to your baby.