Many Americans feel confident and safe about drinking water directly from their kitchen taps. Surprisingly, however, an estimated 7 million people in the US become sick every year because of bacteria in their drinking water. While this is probably news to most people, it is especially important for you to take note of if you are pregnant. Your doctor or midwife may already have advised you to drink even more water than usual during your pregnancy – but it is equally important to pay attention to where this water comes from.
The water systems in most major US cities are relatively safe because they are regulated by a maximum level of contamination set by the federal government. However, even a low level of contamination is something to think twice about during pregnancy. In small towns that use shared wells, the risk of microscopic parasites like Giardia infiltrating the water supply becomes exponentially higher.
Impurities in your drinking water are not limited to bacteria and other microscopic organisms. Although lead pipes in plumbing systems were banned by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the 1970s, roughly 80 percent of homes built before 1978 have at least some lead-based pipes, which can deposit lead into the water that runs through them. If your home has lead piping, the EPA recommends running the water for 30 seconds before drinking or cooking with it. It is also best to use cold water, which has much less lead runoff than hot water.
Chlorine is often added to municipal water supplies to kill bacteria, but it has its own unwanted side effects. It can combine with other contaminants to form chloroform or trihalomethanes, which some studies suggest might increase the risk of miscarriage and poor fetal growth.
Bottled water can be an excellent alternative, but you should be sure to do your research. Bottled water companies actually have less accountability than municipal water supply systems, which are government regulated. A study done by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) found that in 103 brands of commercially bottled water, about a third were contaminated with organic chemicals, bacteria, and most disturbingly, arsenic. Now that’s scary stuff. Choose your bottled water carefully!
Distilled water is perhaps your safest bet. The process of boiling involved in distilling water eliminates almost all impurities. You can also consider purchasing a water purifier. There are several types of water purifiers that provide different types of benefits. Most purifiers meet EPA standards and have been proven to eliminate viruses like rotavirus, poliovirus, and hepatitis. Another method of purification is reverse osmosis, in which water is forced through a membrane attached to the pipes under your sink to remove dissolved salts, chloride, and calcium sulfate. Reverse osmosis is expensive, but it has been recommended by the Centers for Disease Control as one of the most dependable water-purifying systems available. It may be worth a little extra expense to keep you and your baby safe.
If you have any pregnancy or want more info on your water-related concerns, feel free to email me.
I’m looking forward to helping you to have a safe, healthy pregnancy and childbirth!
Mark Zakowski, M.D.
The Safe Baby System