Preparing for a new baby is overwhelming at the best of times. Feelings of excitement and anxiety mix with the universal urge to protect a person you haven’t even met yet.
Unfortunately, protecting babies from toxic chemicals is more complicated than ever before. Today, the link between environmental chemical exposure and many diseases is well established. And many parents wonder what this means for their families. How do the products we buy contribute to our children’s chemical burden? Do our day-to-day routines contribute to household toxicity and harm our children?
The answer isn’t pretty. And while it’s impossible to cut the toxins in our lives to zero, it is possible to limit our children’s exposure.
Protecting Baby From Household Toxins
You can make small changes that greatly reduce your baby’s exposure to toxins. The following tips can help you protect your baby from harmful chemicals.
#1 Get To Know the Worst Offenders
Without knowing what to look for, it’s hard to keep your baby safe. These are some of the most common and harmful chemicals in everyday products.
- Fire retardants: Research correlates fire retardant exposure with a range of health issues. You’ll find fire retardants in some polyurethane foam, car seats, baby carriers, changing pads, crib mattresses, bath toys, nursing pillows, strollers, and toys. With research, you can find fire-retardant-free versions.
- Phthalates and alternatives: You’ll find phthalates in many everyday products and some foods. Manufacturers add them to PVC (vinyl) to make it flexible, and to many fragrance blends. Americans have widespread phthalate exposure and studies on children’s exposure are concerning.
- Volatile organic compounds (VOCs): VOCs are carbon-containing chemicals used in many day-to-day products. Some VOCs are naturally occurring. In other cases, manufacturers add them to products. Formaldehyde and benzene are common VOCs responsible for indoor air pollution.
- Heavy metals: These days, most parents know about lead in old pipes, paints, and even bathtubs. Less known is the risk of heavy metals in common baby foods — rice products in particular.
- Chlorine and dioxins: Chlorine bleached disposable diapers can expose your baby to trace amounts of dioxins. Research links dioxin exposure to neurodevelopmental and reproductive problems, among others. Choose chlorine-free diapers to reduce dioxin exposure.
- Bisphenol A (BPA) and alternatives: While most consumers know about BPA, many of us don’t know about alternative chemicals. BPS, BPF, BPAF, BPZ, BPP, and BHPF are almost identical to BPA. Avoid them by skipping plastics numbered with a three, six, or seven.
#2 Choose Nontoxic Toys
Babies are tactile beings. They learn by touching, throwing, stacking, and — you guessed it — tasting. Give a baby a toy, and chances are it will end up in her mouth before too long.
Skip plastic toys, especially for anything that could end up in your baby’s mouth. Instead, choose silicone or wood products.
Likewise, skip bath books. They are often made with polyurethane foam and a soft, flexible plastic cover, indicating phthalates. There are plenty of safe bath toys made of natural latex rubber.
#3 Limit Lotions & Other Baby Care Products
Using baby lotions and powders correlates with an increase in some phthalate metabolites in a baby’s urine.
Limit these products to those that are medically necessary. Even better, use safe, green ingredients like coconut oil to make your own baby skin care products.
#4 Focus on Where Baby Spends the Most Time
When it comes to buying a crib mattress, conventional wisdom is to buy the best you can afford.
Given how much time babies spend sleeping, it’s worth choosing a nontoxic crib and crib mattress. Look for Greenguard Gold certification for low emissions.
#5 Become a Cleaning Machine
Babies spend a lot of time on the floor. Because of this, they also end up ingesting a fair amount of household dust, which commonly contains fire retardants.
Fire retardants aren’t chemically bound to products during manufacturing. They come loose over time, settling in dust. As babies pick up toys or suck on their hands, they end up eating these harmful chemicals.
Hunt down dust bunnies with a damp mop. If you can afford it, invest in an air purifier and vacuum with a HEPA filter.
#6 Skip the Rice Cereal
Researchers recently found 95 percent of baby foods contain levels of one or more heavy metals.
The researchers classified rice products in particular as high risk for babies. Puffed rice snacks and rice cereal have long been a solid food staple. But some doctors now recommend skipping rice products altogether.
#7 Go Fragrance-Free
Manufacturers often use phthalates in fragrance blends. Since the FDA doesn’t make companies disclose fragrance components, it’s impossible to know what’s actually in these products.
Buy products labeled fragrance free and/or phthalate-free, especially when choosing baby care products.
Small Changes for a Healthier Baby
When it comes to protecting your baby from environmental pollutants, small changes go a long way.
Get to know the most common pollutants in your home, and make small changes to reduce your baby’s exposure.
If you have other tips that have worked for your family, tell us about them in the Earthling Forum.
About the Author
Born and raised on Canada’s west coast, Katie Matthews became acutely aware of the toxins and chemicals allowed in baby products when she was pregnant with her daughter. Long an enthusiastic researcher and writer, she realized she could help other families make more informed, nontoxic purchases for their own families by sharing what she found on Green Active Family. Prior to this, Katie spent close to a decade as a travel blogger. She has written for National Geographic and been featured in the Washington Post, Business Insider, and more.
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