Fertility and More: How Flame Retardants in Our Homes Affect Our Health

woman lying on bed

Chemical flame retardants are in electronics, children’s pyjamas, car seats, mattresses, carpeting, and most other petrochemical-based materials (i.e. foam, polyester, etc.). Halogenated flame retardants have been around for 40 years, and we are now learning how hazardous they are to our health. In fact, they are found in just about everyone across North America, at concentrations that are increasing every year.

Two studies by the Environmental Working Group and Environmental Defence have found that these and other harmful chemicals are even found in the cord blood of newborns.

How Flame Retardants Affect Our Health

Studies have shown that exposure to flame retardants in our homes, particularly the now-banned type known as PBDE (polybrominated diphenyl ethers), affect thyroid function in pregnant women and children, resulting in low birth weights and impaired neurological development.

Some flame retardant chemicals are also known carcinogens, and others have chemicals structures similar to known neurotoxicants.

More recently, exposure to flame retardants has been linked with reduced in vitro fertilization success: one study of 211 women found that higher fire retardant concentrations reduced fertilization rates by 10%, implementations by 31%, clinical pregnancy by 41%, and live births by 38%.

What You Can Do

It is impossible to avoid exposure to flame retardant chemicals altogether. Even those that are now banned will be present in our environment indefinitely. But there are ways you can reduce your exposure, and therefore your overall body burden of toxic chemicals.


When replacing your mattress, ask the manufacturer whether they use chemical flame retardants. Note that many conventional mattresses, especially those made with foam, will. However, more and more products are using alternative methods, like naturally flame retardant fabric wrapping. If the manufacturer won’t tell you what, if any, chemicals are used, source another one that will. Even better, choose an organic, non-toxic mattress that won’t off gas from the foam either.

Children’s Products

If you’re planning for a new baby, avoid foam-based products like change pads and nursing pillows that contain chemical flame retardants.

Also, choose pyjamas made from natural fibres like cotton and bamboo that are tight-fitting, typically meeting flame resistant standards without requiring additional chemicals.

Avoid labels that say “Flame resistant” or have oddly long wash instructions (such as “wash before wearing, wash with detergent, do not use soap products, etc.) as this typically indicates chemicals have been added.


Our electronics and older mattresses degrade slowly over time, releasing flame retardant chemicals into household dust. Increasing your dusting routine, ideally with a damp cloth to avoid reintroducing the dust into the air, and even vacuuming your mattress, can help reduce your exposure.

Reducing Meat in Your Diet

Because many of the flame retardant chemicals are environmentally pervasive, they are in our soils and our water, which means they are in our food supply. They concentrate typically in fat, so diets high in meat and dairy may contain higher concentrations of these chemicals. Add plant-based meals to your routine.


The truth is that we are living in a toxic world. The good news is that our bodies are designed to detox – but often not to the degree with which we are putting toxic chemicals into our bodies. By making small changes to your routine and products you bring into your home, you can help reduce your body burden of toxic chemicals, and therefore make it easier for your body to get rid of what you are exposed to.

If you’re trying to conceive or are already pregnant, now is the best time to start addressing your toxic load to support your baby’s health. If you’re ready to skip the overwhelm and take action that is focused on the preconception and prenatal months, Prepping for Pregnancy is for you. Learn more about this 6-week online course here.

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