Pregnancy health

Dear Gwyneth: Our pre-pregnant bodies aren't actually swamps of toxic sludge

While it’s true that the developing fetus and young children are affected more by chemicals than adults are but just how far do you have to go before conceiving (and while you’re pregnant) to “detox” yourself?

Dear Gwyneth: Our pre-pregnant bodies aren't actually swamps of toxic sludge

Photo: Billy Farrell/BFA/REX/Shutterstock

When you’re trying to get pregnant, and you read an article that tells you “babies today are born pre-polluted,” you’d be forgiven for freaking out a little bit. Of course, that’s just the beginning of Gwyneth Paltrow’s latest hype: the pre-pregnancy detox—which adds fuel to my ongoing beat at FLARE as a resident registered dietitian charged with debunking a lot of what appears on Goop.

According to Paltrow and her physician expert Dr. Aviva Romm, detoxing before conceiving is essential because most of us carry around a “toxic load.”

Now, I generally think that Paltrow is full of what I’d call a “toxic load.” I’m not a fan of the baseless scare tactics she tends to use to convince people that they’re inadequate, impure or not good enough in some way—that is, until they buy into the products she’s hawking.

While it's true that the developing fetus and young children are affected more by chemicals in the environment than adults are—just how far do you have to go before conceiving (and while you're pregnant) to "detox" yourself?

I delved into the research behind Paltrow's detox claims (not all the links in the Goop post were actually functioning), and looked at her expert's recommendations against what I'd recommend for prenatal moms. Here's what I think.

Let’s start with the research that GP uses

The first paragraph of the pre-pregnancy detox story cites two old and small studies by the Environmental Working Group, suggesting that babies are born with toxic chemicals in their umbilical blood. These chemicals include BPA (found in industrial plastics and cans), PFCs (from things like plastic wrap), and PCBs (from industrial insulators and lubricants).

Paltrow’s primary recommendation—stemming from her deep understanding of the science behind these studies (I jest, of course)—is to immediately change your diet and beauty routine to all organic.


She recommends that you make 10 swaps to your beauty products, and she links to another Goop article that outlines these swaps. Not shockingly, all the products she recommends are sold on her website. And unsurprisingly, they’re ridiculously expensive. How about a $28 lip balm? A $125 facial exfoliant? $64 shampoo and conditioner? Because the ones you’re using are FULL OF TOXINS! FULL! BAD MOMMY!

I cringe when I think of all the people who are guilted into replacing their Blistex with a $28 petroleum-free lip balm. Are you eating your lip balm? I certainly hope not.

Funny enough (or not), many of the chemicals that the studies found in their subjects come from non-food sources. So eating organic is not the be-all and end-all of “detox.” You should use glass food containers and/or never reheat food in plastic, that much is true. Limit your exposure to cans that contain BPA, if you can. Organic vs. conventional produce is such a personal decision, and both can have pesticide residue on them. I usually tell my clients to wash their fruits and vegetables, regardless. If you eat conventional foods, grown using traditional farming methods and synthetic pesticides, during your pregnancy, I don’t want you to think you’re hurting your baby. There is zero research that says that.

Happily, the expert Paltrow employs in this story has, like most other Goop experts, an alternative-medicine background (she’s a doctor and a herbalist). The recommendations she gives (a part from Paltrow’s product endorsements) are actually solid—and most are things I’d tell clients myself.

Now onto the elephant in the room


The thing that strikes me about this story is how it really frames the whole “detox” idea for rich people. The story and its related links seem to scream, “Screw those folks who can’t afford to buy organic food and $24 face wipes to replace their poisonous ones for god-knows-what-reason.” It’s elitist in the worst sense of the word, and that’s just gross. Paltrow has a chance to do something good here—which is to make sensible, accessible recommendations to ALL WOMEN—not just the ones who can afford her shit. But instead, she chooses to be pretentious. Not OK.

My final verdict?

You’re not full of toxins that could pre-pollute a future baby. You don’t need a pre-pregnancy detox, you just might need to fine tune some things in your diet and lifestyle.

Here are 5 things I recommend if you’re looking to conceive:

1. Take your folic acid


Most women need 400 micrograms of folic acid at pre-conception to ensure proper neural tube development. If your diet isn’t great, you should consider taking a prenatal vitamin while you’re trying to get pregnant, so that you know you’re covered for folic acid and other vitamins and minerals such as vitamin D and iron.

2. Eat tons of fruits and vegetables

Not only will you need the fibre when your digestive system slows with pregnancy, but you’ll also reap anti-inflammatory benefits from the antioxidants in produce. Eating lots of fruits and vegetables can also help with hydration and weight gain while you’re pregnant (when they replace higher-calorie and/or ultra-processed foods).

3. Balance your diet

If your diet is full of ultra-processed foods, now’s the time to clean it up. Aside from being low in nutrition, ultra-processed foods tend to be sugary and full of refined starches—not healthy additions to any diet. Remember: your growing baby is eating what you’re eating, and you don’t want that to be Doritos. At least, not every single day.


4. If you’re diabetic, get your blood sugar under control

High blood sugars during pregnancy can be detrimental to the fetus and to you. Talk to your doctor about how to better control your sugars if they’re not optimized right now.

5. Take care of your anxiety

If you’re an anxious person—and hey, I feel you—having kids is probably not going to make that any better. Studies like this one suggest that anxiety can affect the quality of your life, and can also affect the pregnancy. If you feel like your anxiety is something that needs attention, please speak to your doctor. And while you’re at it, avoid stories with scary words like “pre-pollute” that make you feel like crap. You’re better than that.


Weekly Newsletter

Keep up with your baby's development, get the latest parenting content and receive special offers from our partners

I understand that I may withdraw my consent at any time.