Pregnancy is a great time to embrace earth-friendly behavior. Choose nontoxic household cleaners, paints, and pesticides to limit unneeded chemical exposure. Many nontoxic products are plant-based or labeled as safe for household use. Findings from animal studies suggest pesticide exposure at high levels may contribute to miscarriages and low birth weight. Consider buying organic for leafy greens and thin-skinned fruits like peaches and strawberries. Some cosmetics contain harmful substances; ask your doctor for alternatives.
Furniture, paint, and carpeting can all contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs). VOCs are chemicals that at high levels can cause headaches, nausea, and even organ damage with long-term exposure. VOC levels indoors are on average two to five times higher than outdoors. To limit VOCs in the nursery, look for furniture made of solid wood with a low-emitting finish. Use paints labeled low- or no-VOC. Increase ventilation and keep the temperature and humidity low but comfortable. Warmer, more humid environments promote the release of more VOCs.
Disposable diapers clog up landfills. But cloth diapers require repeated washings, which use lots of water and energy. Consider using a high-efficiency washing machine to save water and energy. Disposables are more convenient for many parents. Some varieties are made without bleach, while others are flushable or compostable. Baby washcloths can substitute for disposable baby wipes.
Breastfeeding uses no packaging, creates no waste, and needs no preparation. It's an environmentally friendly option for feeding a baby. Since some substances can be passed through breast milk, limit your exposure to chemicals such as lead, mercury, and cigarette smoke. Some women should not breastfeed due to a medical condition or use of certain medications.
Making baby food is as easy as pureeing or mashing fruits and vegetables. Homemade food makes it easy to avoid excess salt, sugar, and preservatives. Children may be especially sensitive to pesticides. Some foods, including kid favorites like apples, peaches, and pears, tend to have more pesticide residue. Consider buying organic versions of those foods. As kids grow older, continue to emphasize whole foods over processed.
Save water and energy by bathing babies just a few times a week. Bathing too often and using scented products can be drying to the skin. PVC shower curtains often contain VOCs, so look for ones made of fabric. Many plastics, shampoos, lotions, and powders -- even those made for babies -- contain phthalates, chemicals linked to a range of health problems. Choose products without phthalates or added fragrances.
Ask other parents what gear you really need and what you can do without. Consider secondhand books and clothes, especially those you won't use for very long. (Avoid used breast pumps, which may have been contaminated, and used car seats, which may not meet current safety standards or may have been compromised in an accident. Before you choose a crib, contact the manufacturer for recalls and safety information.) Give away outgrown toys and clothes.
Household cleaning products can contain harsh chemicals that are dangerous to young children. Use nontoxic cleaners or homemade solutions that include vinegar, baking soda, or lemon juice. Kids create a lot of laundry, so choose gentle detergents that are easy on tender skin as well as the environment.
A lot of debate surrounds the safety of some plastic toys. The chemicals in them and some plastic containers could be harmful. It's hard to tell which plastics contain BPA. Choose safer ones stamped with the number 1, 2, 4, or 5, and avoid those marked 3, 6, or 7. Don't microwave any plastics (including plastic wrap). Consider using glass baby bottles and food storage containers. Cloth toys or wooden blocks for infants may be good alternatives to plastic toys.
Children are like sponges, absorbing everything they see and hear. Show them how to take care of the environment by conserving resources. Turn off lights, reduce mileage, and avoid wasting food. Build respect for the outdoors through hikes in the woods and playtime at the park. If you create a sense of wonder about the natural world, your children will grow up understanding the importance of taking care of it.
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- American Academy of Pediatrics: "Diapers: Disposable or Cloth?" "Baby Bottles and Bisphenol-A (BPA)," "Bathing Your Newborn," "Cleaning Baby Clothes," "Toy Safety."
- Association of Occupational and Environmental Clinics, Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Units: "Check the Kind of Plastics You Use."
- California Childcare Health Program: "Banning Chemicals Called Phthalates in Childhood Products."
- Center for Health, Environment and Justice: "Volatile Vinyl: The New Shower Curtain's Chemical Smell."
- DrGreene.com: "Make Your Own Pop-Up Cloth Wipes."
- Energystar.gov: "Clothes Washers."
- Environmental Working Group: "EWG's Shopper's Guide to Pesticides."
- EPA: "An Introduction to Indoor Air Quality – Volatile Organic Compounds," "Pesticides and Food: Why Children May be Especially Sensitive to Pesticides," "Phthalates TEACH Chemical Summary."
- Healthy Child Healthy World: "10 Fruits and Vegetables to Buy Organic."
- La Leche League: "Are Used Breast Pumps a Good Idea? Issues to Consider."
- March of Dimes: "Environmental Risks and Pregnancy."
- Minnesota Department of Health: "Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) in Your Home."
- National Agricultural Library, U.S. Department of Agriculture: "Should I Purchase Organic Foods?"
- National Network for Child Care: "Making Baby Food."
- News release, La Leche League International.
- NYU Medical Center: "HealthWise: Exposure to Hazardous Chemicals, Cosmetics and Radiation."
- Organization of Teratology Information Specialists: "Pesticides and Pregnancy," "Hair Treatments and Pregnancy."
- Sathyanarayana, S. Pediatrics, February 2008.
- Texas Department of Family and Protective Services: "Tips for Using Infant and Child Safety Seats."
- University of Mary Washington: "Green Cleaning."
- West Virginia University Extension Service: "Home Products: Environmentally Toxic or Safe?"