Q: I'm pregnant again and have a feeling that some of the stuff I used on my first child isn't so great. Any suggestions?
A: Wee little creatures enter our lives and we do all we can to care for them - gingerly moisturizing their bottoms with petroleum jelly, feeding them from unbreakable plastic bottles and swaddling them in fire-retardant PJs. It's all well-intentioned, but it's enough to make your baby and the planet throw a temper tantrum.
Nearly everything we introduce into our babies' environment is loaded with chemicals and artificial scents (especially bad, considering children are disproportionately affected by daily exposures to toxic chemicals). And don't ask why nearly every conventional baby product out there, including baby oil, jellies and diaper ointments, are petroleum industry by-products. As the old saying goes, what's good for the car must be good for the baby.
It makes even less sense when you consider that petrol-based mineral oil and, yes, petroleum jelly actually block pores and can irritate rashes. Add ammonia, and more skin irritants like sodium lauryl sulfates and you have yourself a bottle of baby lotion or baby cleansing gels. Check out the Environmental Working Group's extensive report (www. ewg.org/reports/skindeep) on baby creams, oils and washes for details on which products you may want to avoid and why, and which choices are safer.
All this info can give you post-partum depression, but cheer up - many of the health-food-store brands that make chemical-free stuff for you also make natural lines for your tot, including everything from shampoos to bubble baths. Like baby oils with little more than sesame oil, lavender and vitamin E (by Herbwise, $9.99 at T.H.E. Store on Avenue Road), or Weleda's almond-oil-based baby oil with healing antifungal calendula and soothing camomile (Whole Foods on Avenue and Big Carrot on Danforth).
Diaper rash ointments like Butterfly Weed's Nappy Rash Ointment are made with antiseptic myrrh and antibact-erial lavender (from $12.99 at Grassroots on Danforth or Bloor and Big Carrot). Lunar Eclipse uses beeswax and almond oil in its rash salve (from $12.50 at Diaper-Eeze on Bloor and Big Carrot). And forget traditional talcum powders, which may trigger respiratory problems and even cancer. Try plain old cornstarch , rice starch or arrowroot powder instead. Or corn-based Baby Organics powder. It's talc-free and scented with lavender (Whole Foods).
Gone are the days when a washcloth and soapy water were used to wipe baby's butt during diaper changes. Many moms would smack us if we tried to take away their disposable baby wipes, so let's compromise. While you're home, why not try the old damp-cloth method? When you're out and about, bring some unscented, alcohol- and chlorine-free Seventh Generation Baby Wipes with you (from $4.59 for a 40-pack at Noah's on Bloor or Yonge and Grassroots). They're moistened with aloe vera, vitamin E and water and, unlike other wipes, don't contain super-toxic dioxins. You can also buy reusable organic cotton wipes ($7.99/six at Grassroots).
On to feeding time: if you're not using nature's best nursing device - the female breast - then you should know that standard amber-coloured rubber nipples may be contaminated with low levels of carcinogenic nitrosamines. Best to replace them with clear silicone nipples, which also last longer. As for the bottle, Consumer Reports found that small amounts of hormone-disrupting bisphenol A can leach from hard polycarbonate plastic (#7 on the bottom) when it's heated or after prolonged use. You're better off with glass, a non-toxic, renewable resource, or non-leaching, recyclable polyethylene (#1, #2 or non-blue-boxable #4) or even non-recyclable polypropylene bottles (#5). Gerber, Rubbermaid and Evenflo all make bottles with the good plastics. Macklem's on Dundas sells glass baby bottles ($3.50 small). If your child is onto the mushy fruit and veg stage, be aware that many conventional baby foods have tested positive for pesticides that are considered probable human carcinogens, neurotoxins and endocrine disrupters (www. ewg.org/reports/baby_food/baby_short.html). Plus, all the nutrients in most jarred foods have been boiled and pasteurized away. Just cook your own apples and peas and toss them in the food processor or food mill. It's much cheaper and healthier, especially if those foods are organic. If not, make sure to clean your produce well with a natural fruit wash before you cook it. Or just buy organic bottled brands like Earth's Best (99 cents/jar at Big Carrot and Whole Foods).
Luckily, regulations around sleepwear have changed over the years. Manufacturers are no longer required to treat their clothing with fire retardants. But if you want to avoid dressing your baby in conventional pesticide-heavy dyed cotton decorated with off-gasing PVC plastic cartoons, T.H.E. Store has organic fair-trade cotton Ts by Ecobaby ($15) and sleeveless sleepers ($35 to $60). Sweatshop-free American Apparel on Queen or College offers organic one-pieces ($15) and toddler Ts ($15). Grassroots carries organic cotton sleepers ($39.99), onesies ($17.99) and, for the sassy environmentalist in the making, adorable Ts with slogans like "Motha Sucka," "Feminist" and "I'm a breast man" ($14.99).
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