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Deodorant dangers, part two (especially for pregnant and breastfeeding mothers)

When it comes to personal care products, especially deodorant, there are two main areas of concern for pregnant women and mothers of young babies:

Toxins in breast milk and the womb

Some of the most dangerous chemicals are those known as persistent organic pollutants (POPs). These resist environmental degradation, and instead accumulate in the environment. They tend to bind easily to animal fat, and so concentrate in animal foods, in human fat, and in breast milk. An example is triclosan [1], one hazardous chemical commonly found in deodorants (and several other personal care products). POPs accumulate specifically in breast adipose tissue and in milk, and are passed to nursing babies at many times the levels of the mother’s exposure. Breastfeeding is undoubtedly best for babies, but the fact that toxic chemicals [2] are turning up in breast milk samples [3] shows we need to take this issue seriously. Deodorants and antiperspirants, as I discussed in part one [4], are of particular concern, both because of their ingredients and because of the area they are applied to. Along with the concerns raised in part one, and the potential link between parabens and breast cancer [5], applying synthetic chemical compounds to skin so close to the breast seems particularly risky for nursing mothers.

The studies of breast milk samples also indicate that babies in the womb are being exposed to an array of toxic and questionable chemicals. Indeed, a study [6] looking at the umbilical cords of ten newborns identified 232 toxic chemicals that the babies had been exposed to in the womb. The brain and nervous system develop out of a string of delicate cells, and the blood-brain barrier is not fully developed until children are six months old. Many toxins (including aluminium and triclosan) can cross the blood-brain barrier. But developing foetuses and young babies are far more vulnerable to the negative effects of toxins, especially brain disorders. Of course, deodorants are by no means the only culprits in exposing foetuses to chemicals and getting toxins into babies’ breast milk. Toxic chemicals [7] are in many personal care [8] and household cleaning [9] products, as well as pesticides and industrial pollutants. Avoiding toxic deodorant is just one step towards protecting yourself and your child.

Disturbing smell

When it comes to breastfeeding and bonding with an infant, there are other important reasons to avoid deodorants and any strong, especially synthetic, fragrances. It has long been recognised how important the sense of smell [10] is to the newborn. Smell helps the baby with attachment and in the establishment of breastfeeding. The foetus starts becoming familiar with her mother’s smell even in the womb, where the mother’s specific diet etc. gives the amniotic fluid an individual smell and taste. After birth, newborns [11] are calmed and initiate feeding in response to the smell of their mother, and specifically the smell of their mother’s breasts and breast milk.

Likewise, strong and unfamiliar odors can interfere with bonding, disrupt breastfeeding, and confuse infants. The chemicals that make up what is merely listed as “fragrance” on commercial products, come from a group of 4000 chemicals, many with serious health risks. Symptoms of exposure can include exhaustion, weakness, “hay fever” symptoms, dizziness, difficulty concentrating, headaches, rashes, swollen lymph glands, muscle aches and spasms, heart palpitations, nausea, stomach cramps, vomiting, asthma attacks (inability to breathe), neuromotor dysfunction, seizures, and loss of consciousness.

Babies love your own, unique natural smell, and experiencing it is part of what they need in order to feel safe and content, as well as to trigger the responses they require for normal functioning (such as feeding). Later, their sense of smell remains important as they become familiar with the smells of their home environment and family. Bombarding this sense with fake fragrances and confusing messages can certainly contribute to distress and result in a confused, unsettled baby.

image of deodorant being mixedAgain, strong and synthetic fragrances are not limited to deodorants, and I would encourage you to consider taking up the spotless [12] approach more widely if you are pregnant or have a baby. Deodorant is a good place to start. The deodorant recipe [13] I suggest on spotless will prevent the growth of the bacteria that allow sweat to get smelly, neutralise bad odours and absorb some moisture. But it won’t stop the skin from respiring, and it has a very delicate, natural fragrance that won’t interfere with your body’s own scent. You can add a few drops of essential oil [14] for fragrance, but I would not advise even this if you have a newborn.