Pregnancy is a time of great change in your body, as it adapts itself to the needs of the developing child rather than your own. This has a wide range of effects, from changing your cravings to introducing new allergies.
It's also a time where you're likely very concerned about your health and the health of your child. It makes sense that you might want to investigate a detox cleanse of some form or another. Toxins are scary, so getting rid of them throughout your body sounds like a good idea.
Is it healthy? Is it dangerous? The answer isn't really black and white.
The trouble with a detox is that, if it works as advertised, it's stirring up toxins in your body. This means they circulate through your blood, the same blood that your body uses to feed your child. If they don't work to stir up toxins, then you may be making large dietary changes that can have an effect on your child as well.
Some detox programs are safe, or moderately safe, for pregnant women. Others may be exceedingly dangerous, to your child, yourself, or both of you. It's essential that you know what you're getting into before you start, and you avoid anything that could jeopardize the health of either of you.
Here are our fifteen tips for staying healthy and safe while considering a detox during pregnancy.
1. Keep in Touch With Your Doctor
The number one piece of advice for any large health concern is to keep in contact with your doctor throughout the whole process. You're probably seeing them regularly for checkups relating to the health of your child, so simply extend the discussion to talk about your diet and any supplements or cleanses you might want to take.
Whenever possible, bring in an ingredient list or dietary plan to your doctor to discuss. They might not be familiar with a specific detox tea you want to take, but they can analyze the ingredients if you bring it to them, or show them a website that lists the ingredients. This allows them to advise you on the possible health effects, alternative supplements you might consider, and other concerns.
2. Be Aware of Any Special Nutritional Needs
Different bodies behave differently in similar situations. Pregnancy induces major changes to the body, and tends to increase your need for certain vitamins, minerals, and nutrients. In some cases, it may also bring to light certain issues you may have, like blood pressure, anemia, or a vitamin deficiency. Through discussion with your doctor, you can identify any deficiencies or excesses you may have, and what you should look to consume or avoid.
This is important if you're choosing a detox program, because many such programs include a multivitamin or a series of supplements to replace what you're not consuming with your regular diet. If you end up taking too much of certain vitamins, or too little of some nutrients, you can jeopardize the health of you or your baby. Obviously, this is something you want to avoid.
3. Avoid Fasting-Based Detox Programs
There are a lot of different kinds of detox programs out there. Some of them are additives you consume to start a detox process. Some of them require fasting and consuming only a regulated amount of certain foods, like a juice cleanse or something like the maple syrup diet.
Remember that, while your body has stores of fat and energy it can burn to survive a short-term period of fasting, your baby does not. During development, your fetus needs a steady supply of the proper nutrients. Fasting disrupts this intake, and the set of supplements and vitamins provided to accompany meal replacement detoxes won't cover what you and the baby need. Pregnant women require a higher than average number of calories to support both themselves and the developing child, and fasting can cause significant problems.
4. Carefully Research Detox Supplements
Any detox you're going to take needs to be researched as completely as possible before you begin.
The reason for this is one of pure caution. Most detox programs, teas, and supplements are not regulated by the FDA. They may list their active ingredients, but they might have a wide range of additional "inactive" ingredients that nonetheless have some effect on your body.
You need to be aware of everything that is in your detox, both active and inactive. Remember, inactive does not mean inert; it just means those ingredients are not part of the intended set of results for the cleanse.
Learning all of the ingredients in your detox will help you make decisions about what is and isn't safe to consume.
5. Be Aware of Possible Herbal Interactions
Herbs and herbal medicine sound healthier than synthetic drugs, but that's not always the case. Many herbs are slightly toxic themselves, or can be toxic in large doses. Under normal circumstances, this isn't going to hurt you, but when you're pregnant, your body is extra sensitive to such problems. Some herbs in excess can cause problems, either for you or for your child.
For example, cilantro has some natural anti-clotting properties. In normal culinary amounts this will never be impactful, but if you're taking a supplement that includes an excess of cilantro or cilantro-based derivatives, it can lead to a higher risk of miscarriage.
Vitamins are generally healthy and required for the proper development of your child, but all vitamins are typically toxic in extreme doses. Some, your body is able to process out, but your fetus is extra sensitive to these excesses. This page has a great chart of the different major vitamins and their recommended and upper limits for intake.
6. Make Sure to Drink Enough Water
Detoxing is hard on the body, especially if you're limiting your food intake. Even if you feel like you're drinking enough water, you probably aren't. It's always a good idea to drink more water when you're detoxing, and that's doubly true when you're pregnant.
A typical healthy amount of water to drink while pregnant is 50-60 ounces per day. That's 6-8 eight-ounce glasses per day. This varies, though, depending on external factors. If you're very active and exercise a lot, or if you live in a warm climate, you'll want to drink more water. Likewise, detoxing can put excess strain on the liquid in your body, so you want to replenish it more frequently.
7. Avoid Harsh or Abrupt Detox Programs
It's hard to quantify what constitutes a harsh cleanse or a very abrupt detox, but you can typically identify them by their instructions. If they require abrupt intake of large amounts of supplements, an abrupt decrease in the amount of food you eat, or another extreme, sudden change, you want to avoid them.
The reason is that your fetus is very sensitive to changes in your body. A sudden shock to your system can lead to a wide array of possible negative effects from inhibited development to a birth defect to a miscarriage. Obviously, you want to avoid these complications, so avoid any extreme shocks to your system.
8. Avoid Unpasteurized Juices
One of the most popular cleanses or detox programs is the juice cleanse. Indeed, eating a health amount of fruits and vegetables can be difficult when you're pregnant, especially if you become food averse to specific kinds of produce. Juicing your fruits and vegetables, alongside a tea or detox supplement, seems like an ideal solution.
The primary risk here is actually not with what you're consuming, per se, but with how it's processed. Juices you get from, say, a juice bar, are not pasteurized. This means they are not processed to make sure the bacteria within them are destroyed. Under normal circumstances this isn't likely to be a problem, but when pregnant, your immune system takes a nosedive and you become more sensitive to bacteria.
Typical advice is to buy your produce and juice it yourself, but we disagree. Due to recent regulatory rollbacks, the safety processes for produce harvest have declined. This has led to a dramatic increase in the number of food recalls due to contamination with listeria, e.coli, salmonella, or other diseases. It's going to be generally safer to make sure you're just buying pre-pasteurized juices instead.
9. Watch Out For Caffeine
Caffeine is a common ingredient in detoxes, particularly the harsh kind of detoxes that leave you lacking energy and feeling miserable. Since caffeine is a stimulant, it gives you energy and helps counteract the negative effects on your body. A the same time, it's a diuretic, which is a common goal of detoxes; get your body to process out toxins and expel them more readily.
Caffeine also circulates through your blood and can cause blood pressure and heart rate issues. It also crosses the placenta and affects your baby. If caffeine is a stimulant for a healthy adult, imagine what it's doing to a fetus that barely even has a heart to stimulate yet. While a small amount of caffeine isn't too dangerous, the excessive amounts found in supplements can cause dangerous issues.
10. Learn the Alternative Names
Many vitamins, nutrients, and drugs have alternative names that come up in supplements all the time. This happens primarily due to the lack of regulation. Caffeine is a big offender; since people know caffeine is dangerous, supplement manufacturers will say their supplements are caffeine-free, while including other ingredients that are chemically identical to caffeine. For example, "trimethylxanthine" is a name for caffeine. Guarana is a seed included in supplements and energy drinks, but the primary active ingredient in guarana is caffeine. This happens constantly with all manner of different nutrients and chemicals, so always research the ingredients in your detox before you take it.
11. Avoid or Stop Other Unhealthy Habits
Rather than relying on an external detox, you can also simply adjust your existing habits to help limit your environmental exposure to the toxins you're trying to avoid.
For example, you can:
- Avoid synthetic perfumes and fragrances that include chemicals that can build up in the body as a toxin.
- Avoid plastics that leech BPAs. Instead, look for packaging that uses recycle #4 or #5, or simply use glass instead.
- Avoid cooking with extreme heat, particular with non-stick cookware, which releases toxic chemicals at temperatures over 450 degrees.
- Quit smoking or using nicotine-based e-cigs during pregnancy.
These kinds of tips and others can go a long way towards minimizing your toxin intake, which makes a detox less necessary.
12. Focus on Healthy Dietary Adjustments
In addition to making adjustments to your environment, you can adjust your diet in health ways in incremental steps rather than abrupt changes or in a detox. Again, this will help minimize your toxin intake.
- Switch to whole grain breads and pastas instead of processed white versions, which provide less fiber and nutrition.
- Switch to whole foods and organic foods that have relatively few additives. Remember that the "organic" label isn't always accurate, so double-check your ingredients lists!
- Focus on grass-fed and hormone-free meats and protein sources to minimize hormone interactions in your body.
- Cut back on the sugar and high-fructose corn syrup. Sugar is basically a drug and a toxin itself, and while it's present in just about everything, cutting back on your consumption can help a lot.
You can couple these changes with a soft, safe detox, but be careful about making too many changes at once.
13. Halt Any Detox if Medical Issues Occur
The typical detox will make you feel awful for a short time while you're purging your body, but you will usually recover quickly. If you experience unusual side effects of a detox, or any health effects that persist for more than the typical period for that detox – it varies per program – see your doctor.
Make sure you stop whatever detox program you're running as well; you don't want to exacerbate the issue while you wait for an appointment.
14. Consider Planning Ahead
The actual best time to detox for pregnancy is well before you become pregnant. Obviously this won't apply to those of you who are already pregnant, but if you're trying to become pregnant or planning to become pregnant in the future, start your detox early. The best time to detox for pregnancy is roughly a year before you become pregnant. You purge the toxins in your system – as much as a detox program ever can, at least – and let your body recover a healthy amount of nutrients to prepare for pregnancy.
15. Consider a Post-Birth Detox Instead
Another good time to detox is a year or so after pregnancy. You don't want to detox too soon after birth, as your body needs to adjust and heal from the entire process. However, detoxing some time later can help you recover your previous level of health.