Chemicals and Newborn Kids' Stuff
July 25, 2014 5:58 AM   Subscribe

A year ago, my father got an extremely rare form of cancer and died. Now my wife's pregnant, and we’re very excited. The experience has left us concerned about things my wife and I never would've given ten minute of thought to before my father got sick; we’re worried about chemicals and the kid.

Specifically, we're researching all the sort of baby paraphernalia you get when you've got a baby the way (she's due in November): cribs and car seats and strollers and such. But it's very hard to get straight answers from companies about what's sprayed with what (like fire retardants) and made with what (like formaldehyde), and the research is becoming an overwhelming project, so I'm turning to here for a little advice.

(It'd be really helpful to get specific recommendations from people who've made these decisions recently and share our concerns, or to be pointed to online resources that'd help us pick what to buy. It wouldn't be helpful to hear from people telling us we're nuts -- telling us to relax and not care so much about this stuff.)
posted by thursdaystoo to Health & Fitness (16 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
A parent I know is a fan of this company.
posted by dfriedman at 6:15 AM on July 25, 2014

I don't have a specific answer for you but I know who does. A friend of mine from college runs this blog and she does TONS of research on this kind of thing and is always super-delighted to share recommendations. You can search her archives, but also if you e-mail her she would be happy to help. Warning: Some of her preferred products are hella expensive.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:15 AM on July 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

I used Naturepedic mattresses for both of my kids, but a lot of people with these same concerns swear by organic cotton futon mattresses with a wool layer (the flame retardant component). Naturepedic also makes changing pads, changing pad covers and mattress pads (all of which I've owned and was happy with).

The car seat stuff is tough because federal laws mandate that they be manufactured with all of that flame retardant stuff. My solution was to NOT use the car seat as a resting spot for the kid when we weren't in the car.

For the other assorted baby paraphernalia, if you purchase things used the items will have had a chance to off-gas by the time you get them.

Congrats on the kid!
posted by PorcineWithMe at 6:17 AM on July 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

We also like the Naturepedic mattress and toppers. Don't skimp on getting the waterproof cover because babies are adorable and leaky and having 2-3 mattress protectors to rotate through is a wonderful thing. We got organic sheets at Target and they've held up well these last two years.

We also like Green Mountain Diapers for the newborn stage (organic prefolds and covers) and bumGenius organics for 3 months - potty training. We've been using the same 24 diapers for two years and they could easily be used on another child, well worth the investment IMO.

I have no idea about organic car seats, we got a Chicco NextFit because its rearfacing to 40, has an easily removable cover for cleaning and fits well in our car.

Congratulations on your new TinyPerson!
posted by julie_of_the_jungle at 6:54 AM on July 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

You can get liners for car seats - sheepskin, organic cotton etc.

California Baby is the cheapest organic baby range I've found that both works and is widely available. Plain lanolin is great for diaper rash.

Get sun hats and long sleeves etc in lightweight cloth plus a sunshade to use instead of sunscreen. The organic stuff is weird there.

You can get glass or stainless steel bottles instead of plastic. German-brand nipples are generally the safest.

You'll want to consider cloth diapers. Etsy has hand knit wool 'soakers' with lanolin in them that are a great alternative diaper cover to prevent leaks.

You can diy wet wipes to control what goes into them - if you buy a ton of cheap cotton, cut it in squares and soak it in the organic diy recipe you like, you just chuck them in with diapers to wash. Or you can make disposables with paper towels.

Also tell people you only want x brand toys because of "allergies" rather than chemical concerns. You'll get a ton of hand me downs and gifts and letting people know that like Plan and Hapa (nice wooden toys that are safe) are okay lets people give you stuff. Allergies re so common and most people will respect a vague reference to skin irritations, otherwise lots of lecturing or piles of plastic crud.
posted by viggorlijah at 7:04 AM on July 25, 2014

Guide to diy wipes

Laminated cotton is a safer alternative for waterproof fabrics needed for diaper changing pads, mattress protectors etc.
posted by viggorlijah at 7:08 AM on July 25, 2014

Congratulations! For this kind of research, my husband and I absolutely love Environmental Working Group's Skin Deep Database. We used it to pick chlorine - free baby wipes, safe sunscreen and bath products. It's a really great resource.
posted by Pardon Our Dust at 7:22 AM on July 25, 2014

My solution was to leave everything outside in the sunlight for many days, to allow it all to off-gas. Carseat, crib mattress, bouncy seat, etc.

All clothes and bedding got (and still get) washed on hot (fabric sizing sucks) and no fabric softener.

We used a chlorine-free diaper, at first because of course we didn't want extra chemicals on him, but later, around 18mos, because when we started experimenting we found that regular diapers gave him a rash if left on too long (nighttime, particularly).

You can use a washrag and warm water rather than wipes, at home at least.

Get bpa-free dishes and storage containers, if you have to use plastic.

My particular bias is to be way more worried about what is introduced to our bodies via "food" than any other source. One of the ways we controlled for chemicals, which a lot of parents in our circle did/do not, is we make all of our child's food. We never did pouches. We never did Dino-nuggets or what-have-you. Lots of fresh veggies and fruit.
posted by vignettist at 7:33 AM on July 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

Green Mountain Diapers has organic cloth diapers (I personally use the prefolds in medium since he was 5 months old (now almost a year) for his daytime use and the workhorse fitteds with these wool covers in the summer and these wool shorties for the winter at night.)

There is also Elimination Communication which can be done either full or part time (I do it part time) which really cuts down on diapers and diaper products.

To avoid stroller stuff, babywearing is an option and many baby carriers can be found in organic fabrics. (I loved the baby k'tan for the first six months of kiddo's life, now using a ring sling) We also bought our stroller used. Cosleeping or bedsharing can be options to not have to worry about cribs.

We supply our daycare with organic food for our son since he turned 8 months old (they follow the federal food program). So we send them his breakfast in this food-grade silicone container and his lunch in this food-grade silicone container and they don't heat it up (so no microwaving). We also now send his milk in ThinkBaby straw cups.

And there are lots of great Etsy stores for wooden toys. I really like the Wonderworld brand of toy - I personally have bought quite a few toys from them and they are excellently made and touted as non-toxic:
Eco-Friendly: Made in Thailand from environmentally friendly rubberwood and strictly using Non-Toxic Paints, Dyes and Lacquers and Formaldehyde Free Glue. Packaging is made from at least 70% recycled paper.
I also really like GreenToys which are food-grade plastic toys made out of recycled milk jugs and made in the USA. Also very well-made. Their feeding spoons and forks are the perfect size for my almost 1 year old.

Most of his clothes we get at the thrift store, although his aunts buy us new outfits, too. We make sure to wash them before he wears them and don't use fabric softener.
posted by jillithd at 8:02 AM on July 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

Arlene Blum of UC Berkeley is a leading researcher on the impact of flame retardants on human health.

I suggest you read these pages from her Green Science Policy Institute:

Children's Products

Flame Retardants

Consumer Resources
posted by Dansaman at 8:38 AM on July 25, 2014

I share many of your concerns. Among the precautions we took were: buying organic cotton sheets, mattress, mattress cover, and baby carrier (Ergo). Buying organic cotton clothes or using hand-me-downs that had all been washed many times. Washing everything in simplest detergent possible before use. Only wooden/silicone/cloth toys for as many months as we could manage (around 4-5 months he started playing with everything he could find and getting various presents and we decided to relax and not stress about it, although we buy only "extra safe" plastic or non-plastic items for him). Organic food for me (nursing) and him, now that he eats solids, though most of his nutrition is still from nursing. (NB this is EXPENSIVE and we have decided that it's important enough to us that we let our grocery budget be gigantic.) His food travels in glass containers; our leftovers at home are stored in glass too. Nothing is ever reheated in plastic. He's not often in the carseat as we rarely drive. Cloth diapers or as non-toxic-as-possible disposables for travel. We only use the mildest cleaning products in our apartment (vinegar mostly, some Simple Green). We all go outdoors and get fresh air and sit in the grass every day. (As a scientist I have to acknowledge that I don't know if this is important for physical health, but I certainly feel like it ought to be.) We don't mind our son getting dirty in the outdoors (or eating grass and sand, just try and stop him), but we don't let him eat anything that has fallen on suspect restaurant floors that might have been cleaned with nasty chemicals.

Our bed (which he sleeps on at times) is organic cotton/latex and we use organic cotton sheets. When he was tiny I only wore very old clothes when I held him. Almost all of our furniture was bought used, and none of it was new when he was born.
posted by Cygnet at 8:39 AM on July 25, 2014

I cloth diaper because it's inexpensive, but lots of people do it because of concerns about chemicals in disposables. My baby has never had a diaper rash, except for when I was sick and we used disposables for a few days because my mother thinks cloth is too confusing. That experience sold me on cloth for health reasons in addition to cost.
posted by gatorae at 8:50 AM on July 25, 2014

I hate to add to the anxiety (and I am NOT an alarmist at all) but:

BPA-free plastics may be just as harmful as BPA, or more so.

This is fairly hot off the presses - read and weigh the evidence. Bad news because it's really hard to limit the exposure of babies to plastic these days.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 9:39 AM on July 25, 2014 [3 favorites]

To counter that Honest Company rec, I gotta say I tried their body wash on my 4 month old and he broke out in hives all over his body =( He's not even particularly sensitive, you just never really know what will trigger a reaction.

Flame retardants are awful, I know. I refuse to let my kids wear any sleepwear except the tight cotton kind (like the Hanna Andersson-brand stuff, also sold inexpensively at Costco). By law, all children's sleepwear must be treated with flame retardants unless it's the snug-fit cotton kind. So the cute fleece footies are out, but who cares. For the crib, I couldn't justify the cost of a Naturepedic mattress, but we let the regular mattress off-gas outside for several days, and I splurged on a wool mattress topper to act as a barrier (and bonus, it is super cozy).

It is tough. It's gotten a little easier with my second child, I have learned not to stress out so much, but I still worry about this chemical stew we are all constantly bathing in. Keep reminding yourself to focus on the things that are statistically so much more important--for example, always use the car seat correctly, rear facing as long as you can stand it. Do all the things you are supposed to to help prevent SIDS (breastfeeding, no smoking, back-to-sleep, etc.). Get the baby immunized. Have faith in our bodies' amazing ability to grow and thrive despite the constant insults we expose them to.
posted by Jemstar at 7:46 PM on July 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

Another product I just learned about (although can't vouch for personally) but thought I'd bring your attention to is the buckwheat husk nursing pillow as an alternative to the Boppy or My Brest Friend. A friend of mine actually just DIY'ed one of these by picking up some cheap buckwheat husks on eBay and stuffing an organic cotton cover for one of the other pillows with them. I don't know that there is any evidence to show that buckwheat husks are healthier for babies than regular pillow stuffing, but I have heard that they conform to the baby's head which is a nice feature.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 10:03 PM on July 25, 2014

I'm sorry about your dad. The best way to protect your child against harmful chemicals is to start with a healthy child. Just that you and your wife are asking these questions tells me that you will feed your child good food and encourage exercise. Right there is half the battle. As far as avoiding the bad stuff- get rid of carpets, they are nothing but horrible. Buy several cotton quilts, wash several times, and layer on the floor for baby to move around on. Avoid new furniture as much as possible. Getting the baby furniture now and letting it air out should help. Don't buy pajamas! They all have to be flame retardant. Put baby to sleep in a tee shirt and sweat pants. Avoid buying anything from a flea market or dollar store, you can't be certain of the origin of the product. And when it comes to diapers, you need them, use whatever works best, just don't spray any air fresheners after changing baby, that's nothing but chemicals. In fact, go ahead and throw out anything aerosol and get rid of all of your lysol and windex products. You don't live in a hospital, you don't need to clean like you do. Rubbing alcohol, vinegar, baking soda, even just plain water is enough to clean homes. Glade plug ins are also nothing but chemicals. Don't use them. It is a good idea to leave your shoes at the door so that you do not track in anything. That's about all that I can think of. Good luck!
posted by myselfasme at 10:27 PM on July 25, 2014

« Older What Am I Not Getting About Navigating the...   |   What's the deal with this storm? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.