A Guide to Decreasing Children's Exposure to Toxic Chemicals

Children are most vulnerable to the effects of Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (EDCs) and other toxins found in everyday products.  We know that exposure to these harmful chemicals have debilitating effects on reproductive health, behavioral disorders, and obesity; however, eliminating toxins in our lives seems like an overwhelming prospect. This guide provides simple tips to change your buying habits to drastically decrease you and your family’s exposure to toxic chemicals.  We receive no compensation for the products mentioned below, we simply like these products and find that they do not contain harmful chemicals.  

BLUF: Bottom Line Upfront

·      Use cloth diapers 

·      Purchase non fire retardant sleepwear labled “Wear snug-fitting. Not flame resistant”

·      Breastfeed if possible and continue eating a healthy diet

·      Not all baby formulas are equal.  We use Earth’s Best formula (or equivalent)

·      Make your own baby food

·      Use glass bottles

·      Use Earth’s Best Infant Oatmeal (beware of arsenic in rice cereals) or equivalent

·      Use Seventh Generation (or equivalent) household cleaners and/or make your own

Cloth Diapering

Is not as scary as it sounds, somehow our foremothers and billions of people around the world live just fine without disposable diapers.  Consider that the disposable diapers used on children in the early 1980s are still sitting in landfills, potentially filled with human waste, no closer to biodegrading than the diaper being used on an infant today.  Before we get into the very real dangers of disposable diapers, consider the environmental damage done by using disposable diapers on just one child.  One child will use between 6,500–10,000 diapers before potty training at around 30 months old. Approximately 90-95% of American babies use 27.4 billion single-use, plastic diapers every year. This generates 7.6 billion pounds of garbage each year—enough waste to fill Yankee Stadium 15 times over, or stretch to the moon and back 9 times. Every year.

Cloth diapers are not scary.

One of the dangers of disposable diapers is that they all contain Sodium Polyacrylate which is the chemical added to the inner pad of a disposable that makes it super-absorbent.  When the powder gets wet, it turns into a gel that can stick to baby’s genitals, causing allergic reactions and can cause severe skin irritation, oozing blood from perineum and scrotal tissues, fever, vomiting and staph infections in babies.  It was banned from tampons in 1985 because of its link to Toxic Shock Syndrome.  Most disposable diapers also contain Dioxin.  This is a chemical by-product of the paper-bleaching process used in the manufacturing of most diapers. Dioxin is carcinogenic. In fact, the EPA lists it as the most toxic of all cancer-linked chemicals.  In very small quantities (parts per trillion) it causes birth defects, skin disease, liver disease, immune system suppression and genetic damage in lab animals. Dioxin is banned in most countries, but not the United States. 

The environmental costs of disposable diapers.

The plastic in all disposable diapers contains phthalates, which are endocrine disruptors, meaning they mimic human hormones and send false signals to the body.  Some disposable diapers contain Tributyl Tin (TBT) and other heavy metals. Considered a highly toxic environmental pollutant, TBT spreads through the skin and has a hormone-like effect in the tiniest concentrations. TBT harms the immune system and impairs the hormonal system, and it is speculated that it could cause sterility in boys.

Widespread diaper rash is a relatively new phenomenon that surfaced in tandem with the widespread use of disposable diapers, and is now found in over half of all U.S. babies, this is due in part to super absorbent diapers, which encourages parents to keep diapers on children longer.  With a cloth diaper, when it is wet, it feels wet inside, and must be changed, because babies really dislike the feeling of eliminating on themselves. It is for this same reason that using cloth diapers facilitates earlier potty learning.  Frequent changing, in addition to the cool, breathable fabric of cloth diapers, significantly reduces diaper rashes. And with no toxic chemicals, cloth diapers do not cause allergic dermatitis either.

We have used cloth diapers on my son since birth.  Although we live in a metropolitan area and take advantage of a diaper service, we have traveled for long periods with cloth diapers and simply washed them with no problem.  Once our son was over 5 months old and sleeping longer periods of time at night we began using Earth’s Best disposable diapers for him at night and for convenience while traveling.  We also use Water Wipes, which literally only contain water and grapefruit extract for his bottom wiping needs and Butt-Paste to clear up any redness.  My son has never had a diaper rash and he lets us know when he is wet.  Using cloth diapers decreases a child’s constant exposure to toxic chemicals, is healthier for their skin, cheaper, and environmentally friendly. 

Non-Fire Retardant Clothes

Chemicals commonly found in children's pajamas are halogenated hydrocarbons, such as chlorine and bromine, inorganic flame retardants called antimony oxides and phosphate-based compounds. These chemicals can create gas in the air that children breathe and irritate the child's skin. Studies also show that many flame-resistant chemicals loom as potential health menaces, associated with cancers, memory loss, lower I.Q.s and impaired motor skills in children.

According to the Toxics Information Project, parents who are concerned with avoiding chemicals altogether can choose to outfit their sleepy children with fitted cotton sleep garments bearing the label "Wear snug-fitting. Not flame resistant."  Children’s Place sells some sleepers that are not flame resistant; we prefer natural fibers such as cotton for our son’s clothing.  Purchasing cotton clothing and non-fire retardant sleep clothing is a simple way to keep chemicals out of your child’s environment.

Chow Time

Whether you breastfeed, bottle-feed or a combination of both your baby gets his nutrients from you.  Your diet is just as important while breast feeding as it was while pregnant, your baby gets a taste of flavor through your milk, so continue eating fresh healthy foods and lay off processed sugars.  There are many resources to consult about the best types of infant formula, this article is not meant to be that resource.  However, pediatricians suggest starting with a cow's milk-based formula such as Enfamil Complete, Similac Advance, Earth's Best Organic, and Similac Non-GMO.  We have used the Earth’s Best Organic infant formula to supplement my breast milk.  Make sure to use filtered water when preparing infant formula.  Even if you are breastfeeding, at some point you will need to use a bottle.  Our family uses the Tommee Tippee glass bottles.  We also have a few plastic bottles that we use when traveling but try to stick to glass.  We usually wash the bottles by hand and follow storage instructions for breast milk (I freeze my breast milk in plastic bottles).

My son started eating solids at 6 months old.  I had no idea what to feed him or how much.  I use The Pediatrician's Guide to Feeding Babies and Toddlers: Practical Answers To Your Questions on Nutrition, Starting Solids, Allergies, Picky Eating, and More, a wonderful book that provides guidance on everything from breastfeeding, formulas, recipes, caloric intake needs, and when to introduce certain foods.  I enjoy making my son food, I know exactly what goes into the food and I can easily freeze it using an ice cube tray.  I use organic fruits and vegetables and instead of rice cereal started him with Earth’s Best Infant Oatmeal.  We use Beaba spoons, for other non-toxic infant feeding items check out Baby Green Thumb

Child’s Environment

One of the most important things we can do for our children is to provide a safe, friendly, and fun home environment for them.  This starts with our home cleaning practices.  Children, especially infants, spend most of their time on the floor.  Unfortunately, this is where most dirt and germs populate.  My family uses Seventh Generation products including their all purpose and toilet bowl cleaners, liquid dishwasher detergent and powdered laundry detergent.  These products are available in most grocery stores.  I always buy scent free products and also make some of our cleaners using recipes for window and wood cleaners that can be found here

For more information on the dangers of many household cleaners and our guide to cleaning up your cleaners click here

Before my son was born I never really thought about what chemicals I used or how I used them.  My husband brought many of these concerns to my attention and once I started researching (google can be a blessing and a curse) I decided to start making changes to our environment not only for my son but for our family.  We not only save money by making these changes but we have implemented healthier habits for our family and the environment by making these simple changes.

Resources:

Why Disposable Diapers are So Dirty and Dangerous 

Flame Retardants Remain Widespread in Children’s Clothing, by Lynn Peeples, Huffington Post

Is Flame Resistant Clothing Safe For Children?, Joanna Ehlers 

A Flame Retardant that Came with Its Own Threat to Health, Clyde Haberman

Baby Green Thumb (for safe, non-toxic baby products) 

The Pediatrican's Guide to Feeding Babies and Toddlers, Anthony F. Porto, MD MPH and Dina M. DiMaggio, MD