My Plastic-Free Pregnancy

Guest blog by Kathryn Nelson, Plastic-Free Mermaid

Who is Plastic-Free Mermaid?

I haven’t used single-use plastics in over a decade (13 years and 4 months to be exact!) and I’ve phased out most other plastics from my life in that time as well. I make most of my own products, track down natural materials to replace common plastic items, and when I can’t find a substitute, I settle for repurposed or second-hand plastics. It is such a rewarding lifestyle.

I feel fortunate to have learned about plastic in college, and that my career took me into conservation work. Today, I continue to lobby for change and communicate about how toxic plastic is to our environment and our bodies.

During my research on plastic’s impacts on the human body, I learned that little developing humans are the most susceptible to the toxic effects of plastic—meaning pregnant people and their fetuses, babies, and children. 

With so many polluting elements linked to plastic’s long, disastrous life span, plastic pollution can feel overwhelming at times. For support over the years, I have attended many of the plastic science and activism events hosted by Plastic Pollution Coalition and other organizations, joining a diverse group of people collaborating to create a safer world. I always dreamed of raising an ultra crunchy, garden dirt-covered, vegetable-eating, naked, nature baby, but I wasn’t there yet, let alone able to support other parents and their children. When Plastic Pollution Coalition published its Healthy Pregnancy Guide in collaboration with Made Safe, I was relieved to read and share a fabulous resource for learning both risks and solutions.

Mermaid to Mama

My pregnancy began in October 2021, when I was living in Byron Bay, Australia, a gorgeous little surf town. The quaint town had a flourishing local food system, hills filled with organic farms that grew fruit, nuts, veggies, and had regenerative agriculture projects. It’s where I learned that raising animals could actually be carbon positive if done with well-planned regenerative design. At local markets, clever makers of wooden spoons and homemade soaps and natural beauty products all gathered to share their plastic-free gifts and their goods. I also had a little garden where I grew my own food, and worked with nearby farms to order paper bags of oats, flour, rice, lentils, and other grains and legumes. My community was nature-oriented, and living in alignment with the Earth off the grid was our shared dream. 

It was manageable for me to live a plastic-free, zero-waste, low impact lifestyle. Over the seven years making Byron my home, I had found my rhythm, knew my sustainable allies, and had established systems for maintaining a balance of growing, making, and supporting community members. 

With me being freshly pregnant, my partner Dylan and I decided to leave this nature-lovers paradise. COVID had just struck the town, and lockdowns were very intense in Australia. We were worried it would be hard to leave, access medical care if needed, and impossible to see friends and family outside of our state. We packed up and moved to Oahu, Hawaii, halfway between mainland U.S. and Australia—so our friends and family could still visit us. Plus Dylan’s parents live on Oahu, so it made sense to be close to our baby’s grandparents. 

Oahu is, of course, also a nature-lovers paradise! I arrived in my first trimester with immense brain fog, low energy, and zero knowledge of the island’s food systems or ecological state. I quickly realized I had to let go of my expectations for an immediate perfect sustainable lifestyle on my new island home. 

Nourishment

It took me a few months, but slowly I was able to identify my plastic-free allies around the island. I visited a few farmer’s markets and got to know what grew locally and which farmers would sell me their organic produce without plastic. Eventually, I visited all the grocery stores in my area and learned what I can get plastic-free and organic at each. I can get flour, rice, and lentils in paper sacks and organic heirloom tomatoes, carrots, cantaloupe, apples, and kale from one big chain grocery store. I can get fresh baked sourdough, organic bananas, juice, peanut butter, and a few other plastic-free items from another major retailer. I get fresh eggs from a friends’ farm. I get cheese from the local dairy and they let me bring my own container. Fresh sourdough pasta is sold in small batches at our local pizza shop. I get fresh macadamia nuts in my own jar from a farm by Dylan’s canoe club. Everything else I order from the island’s farm co-op that delivers in a cardboard box. 

When I am near any one of these places, I stop by and stock up. I don’t always have fresh pasta or organic fruit in the fridge. Sometimes I have to plan meals around what I was able to collect and buy, instead of what I am craving. I am happy with this system; it serves me. And when I want a treat, we bring our reusable forks to the food trucks that serve food on compostable paper plates. Or we go to a diner to lather some fluffy pancakes in syrup and pray they don’t serve butter in single-serve, single-use packets.

On occasion, a cafe would not want to serve us with our own cups or bowls, so I would politely leave and bring my business elsewhere. I used to argue (with a polite tone and cheeky smile) for the planet in such situations, explaining how I am supporting our shared resources of water, air, and earth by abstaining from convenient plastics and would appreciate some cooperation for my efforts. After the past few years, I feel more compassion for the stress people are under and that people have their own health concerns that might compel them to use plastic—though I want them to know there are alternatives out there.

Early in my pregnancy, I couldn’t keep down vitamins and couldn’t bear the idea of eating sugar-packed prenatal vitamins, so my midwife made me a special iron tonic (yellow dock root, nettle leaf, red raspberry leaf, dandelion leaf, dandelion root, molasses, water) and a bitter green tea with much of these same herbs. I found a glass jar of calcium and magnesium derived from marine plants. I was drinking tons of water and even inherited a gigantic stash of coconuts from our neighbors, so my body was teeming with natural electrolytes.

I had my nourishment covered. I felt good. 

Toxin Free

We are already exposed to a plethora of environmental pollutants on a daily basis that we would never consent to being exposed to, yet we are never asked and are rarely informed by polluters. Our soil and plants are sprayed with toxins to kill weeds and bugs, toxins seep into our groundwater that are irretrievable, and then more chemicals are added to our drinking water. Not to mention the plastic microfibers that make their way into our water systems from each household and business washing synthetic clothes and linens. Our air is filled with harsh, unknown fumes from industrial activities. We breathe in plastic particles from tires at stop signs. We breathe in toxic chemicals when we smell someone’s shampoo or perfume or washing detergent that contains the nasty ingredient “fragrance.” 

We are bombarded by toxins. Instead of falling into a pit of despair, I do my best to minimize exposure. I take what I can control and I do my best to keep things simple and natural. We don’t need fancy products for every task or room of the house. Simple ingredients that we can pronounce and recognize keep our bodies safe. 

As I prepare for a precious little being to join us, I wanted to ensure our family’s home was as safe as possible from toxins and any chemical threats. I cannot rip up the existing carpet, which looks synthetic, so we laid some rugs made from natural fibers atop it. We removed the synthetic curtains and replaced them with wooden blinds. We invested in linen sheets and organic cotton mattress covers. Our wooden furniture is sustainably grown and organically treated. We bought mostly second-hand furniture and appliances, opting for the safest materials—like metal, wood, ceramics, or glass—over plastics whenever possible. 

We filled our home with plants and keep our windows and doors open to help filter the air and prevent any plastic dust from hovering. I sweep regularly to get in the habit of having clean floors where our baby will soon be crawling around and exploring his brand new world. I use diluted vinegar with a few drops or tea tree or eucalyptus oil to mop my floors, clean my counters, toilet, shower, and windows. I cut old towels from the thrift store into squares for my washing and wiping. I bake sodium bicarbonate into washing powder for my dishes and laundry. More of my plastic-free, toxin-free cleaning hacks can be found here.

Baby Stuff

Nothing could have prepared me for the extreme amount of STUFF—lots of it brand new and made from plastic—that people buy for their babies. So much of this feels unnecessary and another toxic trait of our consumer culture. 

If we were still in Australia, I know that I would have received many second-hand clothes and other items for my baby, complete with instructions from my helpful friends. Here in the U.S., I’m a bit more on my own and in the dark. Building my registry was a research project I didn’t budget time for! Slowly I came up with a list of things we could use with links to secondhand items from online thrift sites. Some items I recommend are here if you are curious. 

I navigated intense marketing and fear-mongering warning me what would happen to my baby if I didn’t make the purchase. My best friend in Australia keeps it super real with motherhood; she said all I really need is a carseat, and maybe a baby carrier—that’s it. Strap baby to you, and carry on with life, she explained. I do plan to exclusively breastfeed for as long as possible to invest in my son’s immunity, our bond through skin to skin contact, and as a birth control method. We are studying elimination communication, so we can learn our baby’s rhythm and cues for when and how he needs to relieve himself. We will use cloth diapers in these early days as we all get to know each other; however, it seems many cloth diaper brands have switched to using cheaper plastic! That was disappointing, although I did manage to find some wool diaper covers to fit over the old school 100% cotton cloth prefolds.

Doing vs Being

I slept a lot in my first trimester. By the time I rounded the corner into my second trimester, I was so ready to be exploring and enjoying the island. I wanted to stay active to keep up my energy levels, strength, and fitness. I was going on walks, surfing, big swims (keeping my freediving quite shallow), practicing vinyasa yoga, lifting weights at the gym, and going for a weekly run.

I do believe that when we invest in our health and fitness, we are drawn to healthier foods. But I certainly had days and even weeks where I had no energy to cook or prepare any of my favorites. We ate out to avoid messing up the kitchen and just kept it easy. Nachos, green curry, veggie burgers, pad thai, sourdough pizza. I had to work through some guilt around eating so much food that I didn’t know much about—was it local? Organic? Plastic-packaged? Cooked in seed oils? 

My midwife reminded me that this is all a part of the process of letting go. Surrendering. Trusting the process. Receiving. Not focusing on what I think I should have, but what I need in the moment. Presence. This is all the wisdom I will need when our baby decides it is his time to arrive and my home birth adventure begins. 

Now, at nine months pregnant, with 20 days until our due date (right, I thought I would birth at nine months too! This extra month business is wild!), I take it day by day, hour by hour. I get in the ocean at least once a day for a little swim to experience the weightlessness and move my body. I still get to my yoga practice a couple times a week. If a friend calls from Australia, I take a walk and can still manage a decent distance. Mostly, I am resting, reading my books on Hypnobirthing and Elimination Communication (Diaper Free Baby), or watching a show. 

I have made a surprising comeback to the kitchen, where I’ve been whipping up fresh scones, cookies, and cakes from scratch. And the nesting phase has struck, where I am sweeping, dusting, and mopping regularly! 

And I have been allowing myself rest. Allowing myself to surrender to this initiation into motherhood. Releasing my ego’s attachment and identification with all of the activities and things I do, and instead, just being. Being present with how I feel. What my needs are moment to moment. Talking and singing to baby. Meditating. Resting. Less doing. More being.

Nine Months

He will join us soon. So I am enjoying these last weeks, days, moments with a big belly, knowing he is growing inside of me and I am nourishing him with every breath and bite and blissful emotion. 

It’s a gorgeous unraveling of self to make space for the new identity. The girl I was must die for the woman to birth her child. I honor this incredible rewilding. I honor this beautiful primal experience where I feel my ancestors and the women before me like I never have before. I honor this divine opportunity to trust my body to do what it is designed to do. I honor this rite of passage into this next season of my womanhood. 

Join my community where I teach natural living and will soon share my experiences in mothering.

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by Greenpeace International

The health experts  — joined by Greenpeace USA and UPSTREAM, both members of the Break Free From Plastic movement — emphasize that disposable products are not inherently safer than reusables and that reusable systems can be utilized safely during the pandemic by employing basic hygiene.

“Public health must include maintaining the cleanliness of our home, the Earth,” said Dr. Mark Miller, former director of research at the National Institutes of Health’s Fogarty International Center. “The promotion of unnecessary single-use plastics to decrease exposure to the coronavirus negatively impacts the environment, water systems, and potential food supply compared to the safe use of reusable bags, containers, and utensils.”

The statement endorsed by scientists, academics, doctors, and specialists in public health and food packaging safety around the world, notes that household disinfectants have been proven effective at disinfecting hard surfaces, such as reusables. The statement follows several temporary pauses on plastic bans across the world and increased bans on reusables by shops amid COVID-19.

“It’s been shocking to witness the plastic industry take advantage of the pandemic to promote throwaway plastics and scare people away from reusable bags and other items,” said Greenpeace USA Global Project Leader Graham Forbes. “It is crucial for businesses, and governments to know that as they reopen, reusable systems can be deployed safely to protect both our environment and workers and customers. To keep people safe and protect our planet, we should listen to the best available science instead of underhanded marketing from the plastic industry.” 

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the plastic industry has worked to boost profits and demonize reusables. Pauses on plastic bans followed a significant PR push from the plastics industry, using older industry-funded research to claim that reusables are more dangerous than disposables during COVID-19. 

“Over the past few months, there’s been a lot of conflicting information about how the virus is spread, but we now know that surfaces are not the main way we’re exposed,” said Matt Prindiville, CEO of UPSTREAM – a nonprofit sparking innovative solutions to plastic pollution. “Plastic harms our health along the entire supply chain. Fortunately, COVID is easily destroyed by proper washing, so restaurants, grocery stores and other businesses can still serve us using reusable items in ways that protect health without harming the environment.” 

The full statement signed by health experts can be found here.

Driven by science, MADE SAFE® and Plastic Pollution Coalition partnered to provide information, tools, and product recommendations to help parents-to-be protect their families from toxic chemicals and create a healthier environment, especially during these unprecedented times.

Nonprofit organizations MADE SAFE® and Plastic Pollution Coalition announce the release of the new Healthy Pregnancy Guide. This guide was developed to help navigate the challenges of preparing a nontoxic home and making healthier living choices for babies and the planet.

Parents-to-be are often unaware of their family’s exposure to a multitude of toxic chemicals on a daily basis, and as unborn babies are more vulnerable to toxic exposure, information is key to providing the safest environment possible. During pregnancy, there are choices a mom-to-be can make to positively affect the baby in utero and for years to come – and these can even impact future generations.

The Healthy Pregnancy Guide was developed with experts, citing more than 200 scientific sources, essential research, key recommendations, and latest resources, all distilled into an indispensable guide of easy and doable tips.

“Our goal is to inform and educate, providing actionable ways for readers to reduce exposure to a variety of toxic chemicals from harmful pesticides to those in plastics,” said Amy Ziff, Founder and Executive Director of MADE SAFE. Ziff added that, “By making small but impactful changes, we can take meaningful steps toward better health for people and the planet.”

This easy-to-read guide is organized by categories including kitchen & diet, cleaning & laundry, beauty, and essential self-care tips that can help achieve little wins – that lead to big ones – by doing something as simple as avoiding certain habits or making healthier purchasing decisions. These small but important changes will not only improve the health and wellbeing of the new baby, but the whole family.

Download the Guide here.

Julia Cohen, MPH, Co-Founder and Managing Director of the Plastic Pollution Coalition said, “Our hope is that this guide empowers women with tools for positive change, particularly vulnerable populations who are more at risk of exposure to toxic chemicals.” Cohen added that in the guide, “There’s a chapter on self-care, which has never been more important.”

The Healthy Pregnancy Guide takeaways include how to:

1.     Reduce toxic chemicals in food and kitchen
2.     Ditch single-use plastic in food, home, and products
3.     Find safer and healthier personal care products
4.     Lower stress, and initiate self-care rituals
5.     Go deeper into the various categories in this guidebook and get started!

A growing body of research demonstrates that chronic childhood diseases are on the rise. The new Healthy Pregnancy Guide is a resource for prospective parents, caregivers, and educators to use during pregnancy, one of the most profound times of change in a person’s life, for making changes today for a healthier tomorrow.

About MADE SAFE
MADE SAFE is America’s only nontoxic seal for products across consumer product categories, including baby, personal care, household, and beyond. MADE SAFE certified means that a product has been made from a base of safe ingredients or materials and has been vetted using a scientific process in order to certify that products are not made with ingredients known to harm human health or ecosystems.

About Plastic Pollution Coalition
Plastic Pollution Coalition (PPC) is a global alliance of individuals, organizations, businesses, and policymakers working toward a world free of plastic pollution and its toxic impacts on humans, animals, waterways, oceans, and the environment.

Are you pregnant? Trying to conceive? Just thinking about expanding your family?

Sign up now to receive a digital copy of the new The Healthy Pregnancy Guide – an indispensable guide for hopeful parents due to launch June 2.

Babies today are born into a polluted world, from the farthest reaches of the planet to our homes, the food we eat, and even our own bodies. But by making small but impactful changes, we take meaningful steps towards health – for both people and the planet.

From kitchen and diet, to personal care and water quality, MADE SAFE and Plastic Pollution Coalition have combined expertise to bring you a compilation of essential information, tools, tips, and product recommendations. With 200+ cited scientific sources, the Healthy Pregnancy Guide will inspire and empower hopeful parents to find healthier solutions for themselves, their developing babies, and the planet.

A new study by the German Environment Ministry has found almost all children tested have traces of plastic byproducts or plasticizers in their bodies. Some of the chemicals found have been shown to harm health and development.

The study tested the urine of youth, ages 3- to 17-years-old, and residues of 11 of the 15 tested substances were detected in 97 to 100 percent of the 2,500 participants.

“Our study clearly shows that plastic ingredients with increased production also occur more in the body,” said Marike Kolossa-Gehring, one of the authors of the study and toxicologist at the Federal Environment Agency, to SPIEGEL magazine. “It is really worrying that the youngest children are most affected as the most sensitive group.”

One of the chemicals of concern is PFOA, known as a “forever chemical” because it can persist in the environment and in human and animal bodies.

“This is not good, and if you know the ‘science’ of risk assessment today, you know it’s actually much worse,” said PPC Scientific Advisor Pete Meyers, Ph.D, Founder and Chief Scientist of Environmental Health Sciences. “The tools used by regulatory agencies like the EPA, the FDA and their European counterparts to assess what plastic is safe and what is not are poor, outdated imitations of what modern, 21st Century science can supply. They guarantee that the actual tests of toxicity of exposures like those reported in this new scientific finding will continue to be performed on children, infants, and babies in the womb. We owe it to the next generation and beyond to do a much better job at protecting them from health problems.”

To learn more about plastic and children’s health visit our Healthy Baby Guide.

by Sandra Curtis

The American Academy of Pediatrics’ (AAP) most recent policy statement recommends limiting exposure to chemicals for infants and children. The first two chemicals of increasing concern on their list are used in the manufacture of plastics:

  • Bisphenols

  • Phthalates

These chemicals are present in food containers, canned food, plastic bottles, and many other items that are used for food preparation and storage. They are the specific class of chemicals on which ReThink Plastic (2018) focused. The ReThink pilot study conducted by Plastic Pollution Coalition (PPC) in partnership with Child Health and Development Services (CHDS), showed significant results with an intervention strategy focused on many of the same recommendations as the AAP in their new policy statement.

Infants and children are more vulnerable than other age groups to chemical exposure. Children may be particularly susceptible to the effects of these compounds because not only is their exposure relative to their body intake per pound is higher, but their metabolic systems are still developing and are less efficient at detoxifying what they ingest and are vulnerable to disruptions.

A lack of data on food additives exists stemming from the food regulatory system itself. First, neither the FDA nor the public have adequate notice or review new food additives. A system referred to as GRAS (Generally Recognized As Safe) has become the standard by which all new food additives enter the market. However, this process was intended to be used only in limited situations. The Government Accountability Office conducted an extensive review of the FDA GRAS program in 2010 and determined that the FDA is not able to ensure the safety of existing or new additives through this approval mechanism.

The new policy recommends parents and caregivers:

  • Prioritize consumption of fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables when possible.

  • Avoid processed meats, especially maternal consumption during pregnancy.

  • Avoid microwaving food or beverages (including infant formula and pumped human milk) in plastic, if possible.

  • Avoid placing plastics in the dishwasher.

  • Use alternatives to plastic, such as glass or stainless steel, when possible.

To learn more about toxic chemicals in plastics and to get safe product recommendations download the free Healthy Baby Guide created by Plastic Pollution Coalition and Made Safe. 

Join our global Coalition.