When I recently spoke to a group of new mothers at a Mothering-in-Awareness series, the barrier to entry around organic and non-toxic materials came up.I actually get this question constantly: How can I afford a truly green baby lifestyle? A mother expressed her frustration that while she wanted to get all “the best” natural baby products for her new daughter (who doesn’t?), the price point was often significantly higher and therefore inaccessible.
Ideally, the baby industry would standardize only top quality materials in their products, and everyone would have access to basic non-toxic items. There is also a larger issue at play with pesticides in food and access to clean water, but that is a digression into another blog post.
Dive into a Do’s and Dont’s approach to best practices and tips for access to non-toxic and truly green baby items without breaking the bank:
Prioritize: Baby registry items and basic needs can be endless. It helps to prioritize what TRULY needs to be organic/toxin free versus what is less harmful. We have broken this into three categories of Must, Most Important, and Skippable. Of course we recommend getting these as green as possible, but in a world where not everything is possible, we feel these are less harmful.
- Organic fruits, vegetables and meat that are antibiotic and hormone free. The American Academy of Pediatrics has studied the link of pesticide exposure in children to behavioral and cognitive problems and pediatric cancers.
- Milk/Food containers that are BPA, Phthalate and all-together plastic free whenever possible. Look for glass, bamboo, silicone, natural rubber or stainless steel items (in that order based on what is porous and leaches into items it comes in contact with)
- Sleep-related items: Babies spend between 12-15 hours sleeping, meaning their sleep environment can expose them to harsh chemicals for long periods of time. Avoiding off-gassing foam such as polyurethane (especially when it is mixed with flame retardants) is critical – there are ongoing studies into how these materials contribute to SIDS in a New Zealand study on baby mattresses.
- Creams and Ointments: Anything that is soaked into skin goes directly to the bloodstream even faster than if you eat it. There are several chemicals in baby lotions and creams (especially fragrant ones) that are harmful. Many companies greenwash their products by adding “green” “eco” or “natural” to the company name or product title, but they still contain harmful additives. Look for items that are fragrance free, or simply use organic coconut oil which is the swiss army knife of natural ointments.
- Toys While food containers have banned BPA and some phthalates, toys unfortunately have not. Both of these are hormone and endocrine disruptors that are related to all kinds of diseases and developmental issues. Toys are also something that babies are constantly putting into their mouths as they explore the world, so we go for cloth wooden baby toys whenever possible.
- Bath related items: Bathtubs and bath toys are waterproof, and often made out of a combination of PVC and Phthalates, and are both known carcinogens in addition to being linked to a variety of health issues ranging from reproductive to respiratory issues. Babies skin is also most absorbent when wet, allowing for these chemicals to enter more quickly. Look for natural rubber toys (which are also mold resistant and easier to clean!)
- Car seats: Car seats are legally required to have flame retardants. These flame retardants are released into the air on hot summer days and inhaled by everyone in the car. Make sure to look for car seats with less harmful flame retardants (we love the Nuna or Clek), and don’t leave the car seat in the car unless it’s in use.
- Strollers: While Oeko-Tek certified strollers or strollers with organic materials are nice, they are mainly used outdoors for shorter periods of time, and while baby is dressed. They are also a high-ticket item that doesn’t need to be at an even higher cost by being green.
- Clothes: This is a tough one. All organic clothes can definitely be healthier for a baby, especially a newborn with delicate skin. Ultimately, this can be something that is de-prioritized as long as the clothes you are purchasing are breathable like 100% cotton or bamboo and free of flame retardants (applicable mainly to sleepware).
- Other organic food categories: Walking down the food aisles at the supermarket suddenly brownie mixes and cereals are all labeled as organic too at twice the cost. Given the amount of processing in these foods, this can be something that is more of a nice to have and skipped if on a tight budget without major harm.
2) Multifunctional items: Anything you invest in should be multi purpose and re-used in multiple ways as much as possible. My top three favorite multi-functional items:
- Safe co-sleeping bassinet: I love that this seamlessly transforms from a bassinet (which you frankly only use for a short period of time), to a standalone crib, to a bench in your house. It makes the investment into a high quality all wood product like this worth it when you can use it for years.
- Bamboo suction dish set: There are SO many baby and toddler plates out there. Most are unfortunately plastic which is bad enough on it’s own but worse when combined with hot food that leaches plastic into little ones’ tummies. We love these stylish bamboo plates that have removable suction feet and turn them into regular dishware long that blends seamlessly into your tablescapes. Best of all, it can be paired with a travel bag that makes it super easy for daycare or packing lunches.
- Stokke high chair: It’s solid wood, sleek, doesn’t take up a ton of space and completely transforms with your child into a full size adult chair that can be matched to any dining room decor. Doesn’t really get better than that.
3) Air out and wash: Purchase, open and air out any new items (furniture, mattresses) for a few weeks in an outdoor/open window space as much as possible to let items “off-gas” into the air rather than into your baby’s lungs (or yours!). If you have pajamas with flame retardant chemicals, wash them on hot water cycles. This will not remove all of the flame retardants, but it will reduce them.
- Get vintage items: While getting items that have off-gassed and air out may seem enticing, keep in mind that regulations have changed and not always for the better. For example, BPA and Phthalates were banned from some baby products in 2012 and 2008, respectively, and a harmful flame retardant Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) were banned from foam products in car seats and play yards in 2004. Lead was also banned in 1978 and continues to live on in older baby items.
- Feel overwhelmed: There is a lot of information out there and it can be scary and overwhelming. Sometimes it can feel easier to ignore all of the information. Use trustworthy, health conscious websites that are transparent. Keep a handy checklist of non-toxic materials.
- Feel guilty over the past: Everyone starts somewhere. Don’t feel guilty for when you started on your green journey. It’s okay if you bought the “wrong” mattress or ate MSG filled takeout or gave your baby a vintage lead filled toy. Sometimes even the best intentions (like the green sprouts sippy cup that is super eco-friendly and ended up having lead in the paint!!) don’t work out. All you can do is ask questions, be thoughtful and be the best parent you can be.
About The Author: Marina is a mom and entrepreneur focused on non-toxic product education and baby products. When she started her mommy-hood journey, it took an immense amount of time curating to find easily accessible baby products that met her criteria, leading her to launch Peurobaby.com, showcasing exclusive European baby products focused on organic materials, quality and design. Follow Peurobaby on Instagram.