I really wish I didn’t have to address this topic. I mean we’re talking about brand new babies and toxic exposure. However, we live in a toxic world, and there is a reason to be concerned about what we’re exposing ourselves and our children to on a daily basis. The truth is, an alarming number of commonly used chemicals have never been tested for safety and are not effectively (or at all) regulated in the U.S. Also, the cumulative effects of chemicals are unknown. Crazy, right?
Sadly, many products marketed for babies and children these days contain chemicals that have been linked to various health issues. With that said, many of the ‘recommended by pediatricians’ and ‘safe for babies’ items turn out to be some of the WORST offenders on this toxic list.
How exactly is that possible? Isn’t everybody going green these days?
It’s true that corporations and retailers in general have vowed to start reducing toxicity of their merchandise. This didn’t happen because someone else was worried about your health though. This trend started unfolding because the consumers themselves have made the push for healthier and more environmentally-friendly products.
But here’s the problem.
Oftentimes, one toxic ingredient is just replaced with another toxic ingredient, or the ingredient name is simply changed. Not cool…
How to stay on top of the game?
① ALWAYS read labels and learn how the identify ingredients.
② Don’t be FOOLED by greenwashing with inviting and naturally sounding logos and cheerful pictures.
③ Bring SIMPLICITY to your life.
Whether you’re about to become a parent or you already are one and want to get informed or change your habits for healthier ones, pay attention to the following.
Here’s where toxic chemicals may be lurking:
#1 – DIAPERING
➣ CONVENTIONAL DISPOSABLE DIAPERS
For most parents it’s difficult to imagine what their lives would be like without the convenience of a disposable diaper. Disposable diapers are widely available, easy to use, thrown away and gone (well, not REALLY gone, right?). The thing is, conventional disposable diapers are loaded with chemicals, and diaper manufacturers aren’t required to list what their diapers contain. If you don’t believe me, try to find a list of ingredients on a box of conventional diapers. I’ll wait…
Now, let’s do some thinking. Your baby will likely wear diapers 24/7 for about 2 – 3 years of his or her life, right? That’s a pretty long time of constant exposure, isn’t it?
The kind of diaper you choose for your child will determine which chemicals will be absorbed by your child’s skin and inhaled (and also which chemicals will be released to the environment during the manufacturing process).
If you want to read more about disposable diapers and what to watch out for, please click here.
➣ BABY WIPES
Many conventional wipes contain a number of chemicals that are actually far from suited for a delicate newborn skin. While wipes’ ingredients ARE disclosed, hidden contaminants, impurities, or by-products of the manufacturing process pose additional risks.
The good news is that there are safer alternatives available. Or, you can simply make your own.
For more information on disposable wipes, please continue to read here.
➣ DIAPER CREAM/OINTMENT
Barrier creams generally contain either petroleum jelly or zinc oxide, with zinc oxide being my recommended choice (even for cloth diapers when used with a flushable liner or in a very small amount and sparingly).
Much like anything else, diaper creams are not created equal and can contain harmful ingredients. For the record, Desitin or Balmex do NOT make the cut. Sorry!
More on diaper creams, why I skipped diaper creams for my kids altogether and what I used instead can be found here.
➣ TALC-BASED BABY POWDER
Oh the sweet new baby scent…
You know, I’m not sure why is this product called “baby powder” when in fact it should be kept far, FAR away from babies! Even the American Academy of Pediatrics agrees with me and recommends NOT to use baby powder on babies since it can cause breathing issues and serious lung damage or even death when inhaled (to both the baby and the caregiver). Yikes!
Since the news about dangers of talc-based baby powder came out, some companies have made the switch to talc-free baby powder. However, the other ingredients some talc-free baby powders contains are often still problematic.
No need to worry though! This baby item can be easily replaced with something you probably already have at home. Click here to read more and to find out what you can use instead.
#2 FEEDING, FOOD PREP & STORAGE, ETC.
➣ BOTTLES, BREAST PUMPS & SIPPY CUPS
By now, the news about BPA have been widespread and, as a result, most bottles/sippy cups are made BPA-free. However, as plastic has taken over our world, we’re starting to realize that the risks aren’t limited to just BPA. Another problem is that some plastics may leach phthalates which are dangerous endocrine disruptors.
➣ PACIFIERS, SOOTHERS & TEETHERS
When it comes to pacifiers, the choices are limited. Between latex and silicone, I’d choose silicone to avoid a potential allergic reaction in a baby.
It’s a little more tricky with teethers and soothers though because there are so many on the market. I want to say that by now they all say that they’re PVC/BPA/phthalate-free (if they don’t – please stay away!). But because it’s an item that will go DIRECTLY in a baby’s mouth, I’d be cautious with many of the plastic ones because there is so much we don’t yet know about plastic. Neither of my kids had a huge need to sooth their irritated gums, but I did freeze a washcloth for them a few time (but before you do that – read about the problem with many laundry detergents… Remember, this is going right in baby’s mouth…).
➣ FOOD PREP & STORAGE
I’d recommend using glass or stainless steel food storage containers and reusable bottles. Plastic is obviously not ideal, but I agree that it is kinda hard to avoid these days. If you must use plastic, avoid containers marked with #7 unless they specifically say “BPA-free,” because this type of plastic is most likely to contain BPA. On the other hand, do keep in mind that BPA-free does NOT mean “safe.”
I’d also stay away from using TEFLON cookware and heating plastic (that includes the use of a microwave oven). Always check labels; I’ve seen way too many “decorative only” plates and bowls out there.
➣ BABY FOOD
I highly recommend making your own baby food using fresh organic fruits and vegetables. It’s very easy to do and can be cheaper than store-bought, and you know exactly which ingredients go into your baby’s food. If store-bought baby food is your pick or your only choice, look for organic varieties if possible, and opt for food stored in glass jars as opposed to plastic containers that are more likely to leach chemicals into foods.
You can also SKIP BABY FOOD altogether and go the BABY-LED WEANING way. It’s what we’ve done with both of our kids, and we couldn’t have been happier! Baby-led weaning is all about nutrition and simplicity!
➣ BABY FORMULA
There are good news and bad news here.
Good news first?
Baby formula has come a long way and is made to mirror breast milk as close as possible.
We don’t know all that much about the composition of breast milk. What we do know, however, is that many known components of breast milk cannot be duplicated by the industry.
Despite regulations, some health risks and cases of contamination have been registered. Another thing to watch out for is that some infant formulas contain the less ideal kinds of sugar and lack quality probiotics (even when probiotics are listed as added). Most are made with milk from cows treated with rBGH which you may or may not mind.
There are organic varieties out there, better and worse types of baby formula, but in the end, a baby’s got to eat, right? Buying organic baby formula may be cost-prohibitive, or your baby may simply prefer one product over another. #NoJudgmentHere
Given the choice between dairy and soy, I’d stay away from a soy-based baby formula. If soy-based infant formula is the only way to feed you baby though, don’t worry about it. Soy-based formula is much better than no food.
Moms and dads, grandmas and grandpas, aunts and uncles and neighbors and friends, be picky when it comes to toys!
Since babies put everything in their mouths, it’s important to provide non-toxic toys and to limit toxic exposure as much as possible.
I know, I know… I’m making you read all these labels, but toys don’t even come with lists of ingredients, right?
So let’s just stick with the basics:
While stuffed toys can provide a heaven for dust and dust mites, there are worse things to worry about. Some serious offenders to avoid are heavy metals in dyes and paints, PVC (guess what the only toy starfish my 4-year-old wanted at the ZOO 3 years ago is made out of and what her favorite toy is – ugh), flame retardants, certain types of plastic or fabric, and toxic glues. Be especially wary of soft plastic toys that squeeze easily, inflatable beach toys, and hand-me-down toys (because back then, the regulations may not have been as stringent). And if you believe wood toys are a better choice than plastic, the answer is maybe, possibly, but not always.
So I think I’ve basically listed all available toys out there, right? You must really hate me at this point… Because now I’m taking the fun out of fun! But that’s the reality of living in the world of wealth over health.
Check labels and contact manufacturers if you have specific questions or concerns. And remember, it’s quality over quantity!
#4 BABY CLOTHES (AND LINENS)
Yup, even clothes…
There are many potentially harmful ingredients in most conventional clothing items and linens such as pesticides residues, fire retardant chemicals, toxic dyes, wrinkle-free and weather-resistant additives, formaldehyde finishes, and even plastic. Some chemical treatments are designed to never really wash out.
Gently/eco-friendly treated clothing from natural fibers is obviously the least toxic choice but not always available or affordable, right?
You can’t always avoid chemicals in clothing, but you can try to make better choices:
◉ Second-hand clothing is less likely to contain chemicals than brand-new clothes.
◉ Opt for natural fabrics as opposed to synthetics.
◉ Think twice about that adorable useless PLASTIC decoration on your baby’s clothes.
◉ Check that sleepwear! Does is have “flame resistant” printed on the label? OK, here’s what you do: grab it, and toss it. Say whaaaat??? Do it. Flame retardants are linked to developmental problems, impaired fertility, cancer and neurological issues, and are about as safe as DDT. And, should the house catch on fire when your family is asleep, the flammability of your sleepwear won’t be as much of a problem as smoke inhalation.
#5 BABY CARE
➣ PETROLEUM JELLY
Petroleum jelly seems to be a staple at most households here in the U.S. It’s commonly used to heal dry skin, scraped knees, treat diaper rash, and parents slither a glob onto the winter cheeks of their kids. I don’t know, is there something that you can’t treat with petroleum jelly?
For all these years I thought this was a pure, natural product. I bought a jar when I was pregnant, my husband brought home two more, and we got a large tube of petroleum jelly at the hospital to boot. What a discovery it was when I found out that petroleum jelly is nothing but a byproduct of the oil refining industry… Luckily, our firstborn was only a few days old at that point and we only used a little bit of it on her. I was disgusted, honestly.
Now, I have no solid credible evidence that by using petroleum jelly you’re going to grow two heads, so if you’re smarter than I was but don’t see a problem with the origin of this product, I’m not going to talk you out of using it. However, do keep in mind that petroleum jelly comes in different grades of purity and runs a high risk of contamination.
If you’re set on using petroleum jelly, always check the ingredients for additives and opt for the purest source. (FYI: VASELINE is highly refined and triple purified.)
➣ BABY OIL
Here we go again. Another staple, another version of crude oil processing…
Baby oil is petroleum jelly’s second cousin, and what makes this product even worse is that it’s often combined with synthetic fragrances (a well known source of phthalates). But don’t despair! It’s very easy to find natural, safer alternatives in your kitchen. Pretty much any oil will do, but they’re really hardly ever necessary. You know, my experience is leave it and it will flourish. Try it!
➣ BABY LAUNDRY DETERGENT
This is a classic example of the wrong place to trust. Do not get fooled by the combination of a picture of a cute happy baby and the magic words “Safe For Babies.” Like DREFT, for example, the holy grail of baby laundry that’s recommended by pediatricians yet scores WORSE in toxicity THAN TIDE. Go figure.
Laundry detergents commonly contain a number of chemicals and irritants which leave a residue on your clothes that never really washes out. Not only are many detergents not safe for your family, they’re also not safe for the environment. Detergents tend to leave a residue in your washer as well, so if you’re using a more or less natural type of detergent for your baby’s clothes but use the same washer to clean your clothes with your regular detergent – your baby’s clothes are getting contaminated with each and every wash. Choose wisely!
If I ever get to it (that doesn’t sound very promising, does it?), I’d like to talk abut laundry detergents. In the meantime, if you’re curious and overwhelmed with selections, type in your detergent here on the EWG’s website to find out how it scores.
➣ BABY SHAMPOO/LOTION
Shampoos and lotions, even those marketed specifically for babies, often contain synthetic fragrances (which are packed with phthalates), harsh detergents and other toxic chemicals – some of which are of fairly high concern.
So here’s the thing. And it’s quite simple, really. The skin is our largest and most permeable organ, right? Anything you put on your skin will eventually end up in your bloodstream and will get distributed throughout your body.
I could go as far as saying that you shouldn’t put anything on your baby’s skin that you wouldn’t eat, at least for quite some time. If that’s a conflict with your way of doing things, I would at least read lists of ingredients and research. On that same note, another thing to consider is how often you decide to wash your baby. It may sound strange, I know, but babies don’t need to be bathed very often at all. You can gently wipe your baby’s face, hands, and genital area with a wet warm washcloth as necessary instead. A baby’s skin contains natural oils, and frequent washing – even with just plain water – removes these oils. Any contact with shampoos will then cause skin to become even more dry and irritated, even though it may not show up right away. And then you need to slither baby lotion on a baby’s dry skin and buy a special shampoo for a baby’s dry skin… You see the vicious circle here?
You don’t want to use any sunscreen at all on your newborn, right? This advice is for quite a bit later on, but it’s an important one.
There are many (MANY!) chemicals of concern when it comes to sunscreen, and the majority of widely available sunscreen products are of major concern.
Avoid ALL traditional chemical sunscreens and opt for a physical sunblock instead, containing mineral ingredients (non-nano zinc oxide and titanium dioxide). Be smart and apply only when truly needed (we can all use some extra D3, right?).
➣ SOAP/HAND SANITIZERS ⤿ FOR YOU ⤾
Keep in mind that anything you put on your baby’s hands will inevitably end up in the baby’s mouth. Never use hand sanitizers on your baby.
When your child is a bit older, avoid using soaps/hand sanitizers containing unnecessary and risk-posing chemicals – especially triclosan or chloroxylenol (PCMX). While the invention of an antibacterial product may have seemed like a great novelty once, not all bacteria are the bad guys. By using antibacterial products, you’re also allowing that nasty superbug to silently brew in the background.
Parenthood can be messy though, so for YOUR convenience on the go and for older kids, use alcohol-based sanitizers which also kill viruses and fungi, and use them sparingly.
#6 THE NURSERY
✎ If you co-sleep, the following applies to your bedroom as well.
➣ BABY MATTRESS
Given the amount of time babies spend sleeping (Ha! Or I hear they should!), it’s essential to pick non-toxic mattress or the least toxic one if you struggle to find the right product or can’t afford it at the moment.
Babies and children are exposed to high levels of chemical emissions from the mattresses they sleep on which are only elevated by increased body heat. There are all kinds of things lurking in conventional mattresses like flame retardants, petrochemical compounds, plastics, vinyl and PVC which releases VOCs that are linked to a number of health issues.
How to choose the safest mattress for yourself or your child?
If possible, opt for a fully organic mattress, or one made with 100% wool or 100% natural latex to make an investment in your and/or your baby’s health.
➣ WATERPROOF MATTRESS PAD
The majority of conventional waterproof mattress pads and mattress toppers/protectors utilize vinyl to achieve water-proof protection, which may certainly work but serves as just another source of phthalates.
Most bedding these days seems to be made with polyester or a polyester/cotton blend. Synthetic fabrics tend to emit low levels of chemicals and may not even feel comfortable to touch. On the other hand, even if you find bedding made with natural fibers, it may have been subjected to several chemical treatments. Always wash bedding before use!
➣ NURSING PILLOWS
If you need to use a nursing pillow, check the outer shell material and filling fiber to limit unnecessary toxic exposure for both you and the baby. Avoid synthetic fibers and polyurethane foam if possible, and find out whether the product has been treated with flame retardants. You may need to contact the manufacturer to get all available information.
➣ CHANGING PADS
Most changing pads are made out of polyurethane foam which is generally treated with flame retardants. However, even if it isn’t, there is still a chance that the foam itself may off-gas. If you can, avoid pads made with polyurethane foam (especially non-certified) and those with PVC/vinyl waterproofing outer layer.
Bear with me. Yes, even furniture. We’re almost done though, I promise. The majority of cribs (and other baby furniture) are now marketed as “non-toxic.” But you already know what that means, right? Not much.
There are heavy metals to watch out for, phthalates, and VOCs. Many furniture pieces are now also made with particleboard which is a notorious source of formaldehyde as well as other chemicals that can off-gas for YEARS. You can of course contact the manufacture with specific questions, or you can buy furniture in unfinished wood and either leave it the way it is or treat it with something like teak oil or a safe(r) paint or lacquer.
✓ An easy way to decrease exposure to VOCs is to use ZERO (or at least LOW) VOC interior PAINT. It’s a pretty simple DIY project that can and does make a difference.
✓ Pay attention to the kind of BLINDS you have. Plastic blinds can emit chemicals, especially when exposed to heat, and some older types can contain lead (you can check with a simple lead test). Fabric curtains and drapes should ideally be made with natural fibers that haven’t been treated, since fabrics break down over time (especially when exposed to sunlight) and can release harmful chemicals.
✓ Consider hardwood FLOORS with area rugs over carpeting. Not only can new carpet contain toxic chemicals, carpets are also traps for dust, dirt, mold, bacteria, food, and urine. And when you have kids, you’ll be privileged to find ALL of these in your carpet and more.
✓ If you decide to do any work, it’s a good idea to start early and finish well in advance of bringing your baby home to reduce any chemical burden.
➣ ROCKERS & GLIDERS
Beware of products containing polyurethane foam, especially older hand-me-downs. Flame retardants are typically added to household items containing polyurethane foam such as chairs, couches, and rockers or gliders. Keep in mind that even if you verify that the polyurethane foam doesn’t contain flame retardants, the foam itself may off-gas.
#7 BABY GEAR
➣ STROLLERS & BABY CARRIERS
Some STROLLERS and BABY CARRIERS contain flame retardants and/or their fabrics/surfaces may be additionally treated. However, a baby carrier needs to be safe and a stroller also needs to be practical, so take that into consideration as well. If you’re looking to avoid anything in particular, the best bet is to check directly with the manufacturer due to changing practices and regulations.
➣ CAR SEATS
Most car seats sold in the U.S. are treated with flame retardants. However, the word is that you WILL be able to find car seats in the U.S. that have NOT been treated with flame retardants starting in 2017. Yay!!!
(If the one you have or want has been treated, watch for brominated (HBCD, TBC, UBC) and chlorinated flame retardants (TDCPP and TCPP). Look for non-halogenated, phosphate-based flame retardants instead, or Oeko-Tex certified fabrics.)
➣ PLAYARDS/PORTABLE CRIBS/BOUNCERS/SWINGS
As with any of the previously mentioned products, if you want to minimize toxic exposure, avoid flame retardants, non-certified polyurethane foam, and synthetic fabrics. If a product doesn’t specifically state that it does NOT contain flame retardants, assume it does.
➣ ACTIVITY GYMS & MATS
The safest choices are natural materials (cotton – preferably organic, natural latex or rubber, or cork). Avoid flame retardants (check with the manufacturer), and PVC.
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Whew… I think we’re done here…
If you want to read about more stuff you shouldn’t be buying, (hey, who DOESN’T want to save money?!), read about these 23 Completely Unnecessary Baby Products. You’re welcome!