Pregnancy is one of the most important times in a woman’s life, a time when her health focus shifts to include the well-being of her developing baby. It is also a critical and vulnerable time during infant development. While most doctors will talk to expectant moms about making important dietary and lifestyle changes, a new study published in the Public Library of Sciences ONE journal shows less than 20 percent of obstetricians bring up a subject that can have significant and lasting effects on the health of their unborn children: environmental toxins.

Dr. Naomi Stotland and a team of colleagues from the University of California San Francisco surveyed more than 2,500 members of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and found that although pregnant women are often unaware of the dangers of prenatal exposure to toxic chemicals, their doctors rarely bring up the subject—even thoughalmost 80 percent of the obstetricians surveyed said they could likely reduce their patients’ exposure simply by talking to them about it.

When asked why they weren’t counseling their patients about environmental health hazards, many of the physicians said they didn’t know enough or lacked the right training to talk about toxins. Even more concerning, many simply dismissed the conversation because they didn’t think their patients would be able to do anything about reducing their exposure—or they believed there were other more important topics to discuss. To me, this is unacceptable.

“We have good scientific evidence demonstrating that pregnant women are exposed to toxic chemicals, and there’s a link between these exposures and adverse health outcomes in children,” said Tracey Woodruff, PhD, MPH, lead author.

No matter where they live or what their financial or social situation may be, a five-minute conversation about the risk of exposure is worth it. Consider this: in two studies, researchers at Environmental Working Group (EWG) found almost 300 different toxic chemicals in newborn babies—chemicals linked to a broad range of serious health and behavior problems. Babies were exposed to those chemicals (including BPA and flame retardants) in the womb as their mothers came into contact with things in their everyday environment.

Because even the smallest changes can make a big difference in the health of developing babies, it is so important that pregnant women receive as much information as possible about reducing their exposure to toxins. The ACOG is on the right track, just last year recommending its physicians talk to their patients during the first prenatal visit about identifying specific types of exposure that may be harmful to a developing fetus.

The following tips from the University of California Toxic Matters guide will help you reduce toxin exposure during pregnancy.

1.    Prevent Exposure at Home

Don’t smoke
Use non-toxic personal care products
Choose safer home improvements
Keep mercury out of your diet, home, and garbage
Eat organic food when possible to reduce your exposure to pesticides
Avoid canned food and beverages to avoid BPA exposure
Reduce toxins in drinking water
Avoid lead exposure
Test your home for radon

2.    Become a Smart Consumer

Use non-toxic products
Don’t buy products made with soft PVC
Don’t use plastic containers for hot food or drinks

3.    Prevent Exposure in Your Community

Drive less
Never burn trash
Don’t use pesticides
Never throw toxic substances down drains, in toilets, or in the garbage
Clean floors with a wet mop or cloth to remove dust, which collects toxins
Clean your home with non-toxic products
Don’t dry clean your clothes

4. Prevent Exposure at Work

Get information and training about hazardous substances in your workplace