Group Group 2 Hashtag – 18px Hashtag – 13px High – White Group 3
For new parents, caring for a baby in today’s world can often seem like navigating a minefield. Reports of plastics in food containers, pesticides in bed sheets, and asbestos in crayons are enough to make even the most confident parent worry.

Are you giving your baby the healthiest start possible? Should you be doing more to protect your child? These are some of the questions we might ask ourselves as we try to make the best choices for our children. But it’s not always easy to find answers.

New research sends us to the store in search of healthier alternatives. But what if those so-called alternatives are just as bad? Misleading natural labels or labels not containing all product ingredients can make it hard to know which way to turn.

Thankfully, new technology brings new choices and sheds light on older practices, some of which have been around longer than you might expect.

Related:

What Makes a Product “Natural”?

While we might feel better when we pick up a product labeled “natural,” “eco-friendly,” or “green”, the United States doesn’t regulate how these terms are used. The exception is the term “organic”, which is regulated when used in an agricultural context.

Instead, the FDA requires manufacturers to list all product ingredients on the label and ensure ingredients are generally recognized as safe. But the government doesn’t test substances before they’re used in products, preferring instead to remove them from shelves if they’re later found to be unsafe.

That doesn’t inspire a whole lot of confidence, does it?

That’s why industry and non-profit organizations have partnered to create standards for various products on the market today.

Look for These Labels

The following certifications require products to meet certain standards for health, safety, and toxicity. Watch for them when you’re shopping for safe, natural baby products.

Made Safe certified product label
Made Safe: One of the most comprehensive designations on the market, Made Safe screens products for flame retardants, carcinogens, heavy metals, endocrine disruptors, high-risk pesticides, and a variety of other toxins. Made Safe has a comprehensive Baby & Child product database. It also screens a variety of other products including mattresses and cleaning products.



Environmental Working Group label
EWG VERIFIED™: The Environmental Working Group maintains databases of the safest products available to consumers. More recently they launched a label to help consumers find these products at a glance. The label identifies healthy products for baby and kids, along with the safest products for hair, nails, and skin.

Oeko-tex labelOeko-tex: A worldwide testing certification system for textiles and leather, Oeko-tex certifies raw, semi-finished, and finished textile products, accessory materials, and leather. Look for this standard on clothing, bed linen, towels, and household textiles to ensure no harmful chemicals were used in their production.

Bluesign natural products labelBluesign: Bluesign identifies clothing and textile products that are safe, environmentally friendly, and socially conscious. Brands that offer products certified by Bluesign include Patagonia, REI, the North Face, and Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC). Look for Bluesign particularly on waterproof products like rain or winter gear and outerwear.

GOTS organic products label
Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS): This standard identifies textiles made from at least 70% organic natural fibers (excluding leather). Products earning a GOTS designation also have environmentally and socially responsible manufacturing processes.



USDA certified product labelUSDA Certified Biobased Product: This label indicates a product contains USDA verified renewable biological ingredients. Biobased products come from plants and other renewable agricultural, marine, and forestry materials. Watch for the percentage listed along with the label to see exactly what percent of bio-based ingredients exist in each product.

safer choice label
Safer Choice:
Safer Choice is a label given by the EPA to products whose ingredients have been evaluated by EPA scientists and deemed safest for use.

Which Harmful Chemicals Should You Avoid?

If you’re buying or using a product that lacks certification, it helps to familiarize yourself with ingredients known to cause harm. Every day scientists uncover new information about the chemicals we’re exposed to and their potential links to illness. Many of these substances are currently under review by government agencies and academics. Others are in the process of being banned or restricted.

Here are some substances to avoid.

BPA plastic

What is it?
BPA is an industrial chemical that is added to some plastics to create strong, impact-resistant products. It has been used commercially since the 1950s and is now one of the most widely produced chemicals in the world. Mostly commonly you’ll find BPA plastic in products labeled with a #7 recycling symbol, but not all BPA plastic is labeled.

Why is it harmful?
Over a thousand studies have linked BPA exposure to a host of illnesses and conditions. These include cancer, hormone disruption, infertility, and problems with liver and kidney function. Recent studies show BPA is more harmful to developing fetuses and children.

Who regulates it?
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates food uses of BPA. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulates other uses.

Where does it hide?
BPA is present in some plastic water bottles, plastic containers, cashier receipts, inside some tin cans, bottle tops, DVDs, CDs, sunglasses, highly processed food and most plastic food packaging. It is most commonly absorbed through the skin and mouth.

Phthalates

What are they?
Phthalates are industrial chemicals designed to soften hard plastics and make them more flexible. They are most commonly found in plastics labeled as #3.

Why are they harmful?
Exposure to these chemicals have been linked to birth defects, asthma, early puberty, a higher risk for breast cancer, and decreased sperm counts. It’s believed that children’s immature metabolisms make them more susceptible to the effects of phthalates.

Who regulates them?
The US Consumer Product Safety Commission reviewed all the information available on phthalates and left the decision about usage up to manufacturers. Some have voluntarily removed phthalates from their products while others haven’t. In the EU, some governments restricted the use of phthalates in baby products, cosmetics, and plastics contacting food.

Where do they hide?
Phthalates are present in diapers, lubricants, lotions, toys, electronics, shampoos, and baby powders, among many other things. Children and babies absorb phthalates through the skin when they are present in body products. They can also absorb them when chewing on toys containing phthalates or when breathing in vinyl. Manufacturers in the US aren’t required to list phthalates in their products. Watch for ingredients like “fragrance”—one place where phthalates can hide. You can review your personal care products for phthalates at safecosmetics.org.

Flame Retardants

What are they?
Flame retardants are a group of chemicals added to a variety of products to make them less flammable. They include minerals, organohalogens, and organophosphates.

Why are they harmful?
Early flame retardants (PCBs) were banned when scientists linked them to a variety of toxic effects. More recently, flame retardants have been linked to asthma, allergies, dermatitis, birth defects, and cancer.

Who regulates them?
A variety of jurisdictions and bodies regulate flame retardants in the US, including federal and state governments. Many states are in the process of banning or restricting flame retardants.

Where do they hide?
Flame retardants exist in electronic devices (including computers, notebooks, phones, TVs, cables), foam products (mattresses and pillows), soft furnishings (curtains, upholstery fabrics), insulation and other construction materials.

PFOA/PFOS

What are they?
These substances belong to a group of industrial, human-made chemicals known as PFAS, or Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). They have been used for decades in carpeting, clothing, upholstery, food wrappings, and fire-fighting foams.

Why are they harmful?
Studies have linked the chemicals to reproductive and developmental issues, along with liver, kidney, and immunological effects. Other concerns include high cholesterol, obesity, thyroid hormone disruption, and cancer.

Who regulates them?
A variety of agencies regulates the use of these chemicals in different industries. The EPA is currently looking at restrictions due to the prevalence of PFAS chemicals in drinking water. Even where they are regulated, they may still show up in products.

Where do they hide?
These chemicals are commonly applied to waterproof and steam-resistant fabrics, along with fabrics labeled “wrinkle free”. They are most commonly absorbed through drinking water, however, when they have entered the water supply through industrial uses. Some water filters will filter out PFAS.

Parabens

What are they?
Parabens are a group of related chemicals used to preserve materials and prevent the growth of bacteria and mold.

Why are they harmful?
Parabens have been linked to hormone disruption and have been found in some breast cancer tumors. The substances are currently under review in many countries, including the U.S.

Who regulates them?
Cosmetic products and ingredients, other than color additives, do not need approval before they go on the market in America.

Where do they hide?
Commonly used to preserve cosmetics, parabens are often found in shampoo, conditioner, deodorant, make-up, lotions, creams, shaving products, and other personal care products, foods, and drugs. They are readily absorbed through the skin.

Triclosan

What is it?
Triclosan is an antimicrobial substance added to many household products to help reduce the growth of bacteria, mold, and mildew.

Why is it harmful?
Triclosan has been shown to mildly disrupt hormones and has been linked to sensitizing people to food and environmental allergies.

Who regulates it?
When used in personal care products, triclosan is regulated by the FDA and has been banned in over-the-counter soaps. When used in clothing, kitchenware, furniture, and toys, it’s regulated by a variety of other bodies. It is currently under review in the US by the FDA and a number of other agencies.

Where does it hide?
Triclosan is a common ingredient in soaps, hand sanitizers, toothpaste, shampoos, mouthwashes, deodorants, cleaning supplies, and some pesticides. It’s also found in toys, kitchen utensils, garbage bags, socks, and bedding.

Chemicals to avoid in baby products infographic

Other Substances to Avoid in Baby Products

Pesticides

What are they?
Pesticides are used to destroy insects and other pests that attack crops worldwide. They include fungicides, insecticides, and herbicides, along with anything else that kills pests. They are commonly used on non-organic food products and cotton. According to the Organic Trade Association, the top 10 pesticides used on US cotton in 2017 were glyphosate, ethephon, acephate, dicamba, trifluralin, s-metolachlor, tribufos, glufosinate ammonium, acetochlor and diuron.

Why are they harmful?
Pesticides have been linked to a number of diseases and conditions ranging from asthma and birth defects to cancer and Alzheimer’s disease. They are also thought to cause developmental delays in children, along with ADHD, and poor memory.

Who regulates them?
In the US, pesticides are approved for sale and use by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Where do they hide?
Pesticides are present in many non-organic foods and some textiles. Most pesticides are gone by the time cotton fabric reaches your baby’s skin, but pesticide residues have been detected in non-organic cotton batting, which is commonly used in pillows and mattresses.

Heavy Metals

What are they?
Heavy metals are dense metals with a high atomic weight. They include mercury, cadmium, copper, iron, arsenic, lead, boron, and zinc, along with many others.

Why are they harmful?

Not all heavy metals are harmful and our bodies need trace amounts of some to function. But some heavy metals are poisonous and exposure can lead to serious illness, and even death.

Who regulates them?
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission conducts reviews to ensure heavy metals aren’t present in American toys. Other bodies and governments regulate the use of heavy metals in a variety of products.

Where do they hide?
Children may be exposed to heavy metals through cosmetics, face paints, art supplies, jewelry, and wall paints. Toys sold for children in America are not permitted to carry heavy metals, although some toys may occasionally make it through restrictions and end up on the market.
Manufacturers may also market toys to adults (e.g. fidget spinners) to avoid restrictions.

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)

What are they?
VOCs are a group of chemicals often present in indoor air. They come from a variety of sources that “off-gas” when we bring them home from the store or apply them to our house walls and surfaces. Some common VOCs include benzene, ethylene glycol, formaldehyde, and toluene.

Why are they harmful?
VOCs can cause irritation to the eyes, nose and throat. They can also cause headaches, nausea, and damage to the liver, kidney and central nervous system.

Who regulates them?
The EPA only regulates outdoor VOCs. Products that emit VOCs indoors are not specifically regulated for air quality by the EPA or any organization or agency.

Where do they hide?
In the home VOCs come from personal care products, cleaning agents, paints, varnishes, craft supplies, and printer inks. VOCs may also be present in soft plastic toys, soothers, face paints, flavored lip balms, polymer clays, and anything containing the ingredient “fragrance.”

How to Find Natural, Healthier Products for Your Baby

Despite the toxins used in manufacturing and the chemicals we’re exposed to every day, there are many products on the market offering healthier, safer alternatives for our children.

Keeping things simple is one of the best ways to limit your baby’s exposure. This includes the following options.

Diapering

Parents today have the choice between cloth, disposable, and compostable diapers. (There’s also elimination communication for those seeking a diaper-free alternative used worldwide.) And while the debate between which of these options is best continues, there’s little question that cloth diapers contain less (usually zero) plastic, fewer (usually no) fragrances, and add less junk to our landfills. That’s because cloth diapers are most often made from organic cotton flannel, hemp, or bamboo –all of which are compostable at the end of their lifespan. Wool soaker pants are also available to replace the plastic diaper covers of yesteryear.

Commercial compostable diapers only break down in high-heat compost systems. Many municipal systems won’t accept them, and they won’t break down in your home compost.

If you have a compostable diaper service in your area, congratulations! You have access to toxin-free, plant-based diapers that will return to the earth when their life cycle is complete. Commercial compostable diapers only break down in high-heat compost systems specifically designed to tackle what they contain, however, including fecal matter–so be sure not to send them to just any compost. Many municipal systems won’t accept them, and they won’t break down in traditional home compost.

If you opt for disposable diapers, look for a perfume-free, dye-free diaper that specifically states it is free of phthalates and VOCs. There is more and more evidence that these chemicals in diapers are causing serious problems. Some of the dyes in disposable diapers also contain heavy metals.

Consider using washable cloth wipes, since purchased baby wipes may contain phthalates, parabens, and harsh fragrances. Choose a perfume free diaper cream made from few ingredients (five or less) that isn’t petroleum based. Look for olive oil and beeswax–two hardworking ingredients. Zinc oxide is also helpful if used sparingly when baby has diaper rash, but avoid using regularly in cloth diapers because it can accumulate and cause them to become less absorbent.

Washing and Skin Care

During your baby’s first month of life, her immune system is working hard to acclimatize to life outside the womb. New advice suggestions that following a simple routine will safeguard your baby from unnecessary chemical exposure:

  1. Avoid scented products, including baby powders, creams, and diapers (yes, even diapers come with scents in some places). If you choose to use soap, an all-purpose, unscented soap is best.
  2. Try to bathe your newborn no more than two or three times per week. Instead, sponge the face and diaper area with water, preserving the natural oils that protect your baby’s skin.
  3. Choose plain water over bubble bath and shampoos.
  4. Launder your baby’s clothes in scent-free laundry detergent. Try eco-nuts for a soft, fragrance-free wash that leaves no trace of harsh scents.
  5. When going outside, protect your baby’s skin using a thin sunsuit and hat. If you apply sunscreen, choose a product that doesn’t include oxybenzone.

Sleeping

Prepare baby’s bed using a non-toxic mattress and bedding made from organic or natural fibres such as cotton and wool. Fleece wool mattress toppers come in bassinet and crib sizes and can act as natural flame retardants.

Avoid polyurethane foam (including memory foam) and waterproof coverings that may contain PVC and vinyl. Look for evidence that mattresses and bedding has met one of the certifications listed above.

Food and Storage

After your baby starts on solid foods, you might be wondering which choices are the healthiest. In fact, making your own baby food is easy and nutritious. It also helps avoid potential toxins that might be lurking in commercially prepared foods, including lead, pesticides and more.

To begin, puree lightly steamed vegetables and fruits and freeze in ice cube trays. Once solid, remove and store in the freezer in stackable stainless steel or glass containers. (If using glass, be sure not to pack too full.) You can also purchase a small hand mill meant for processing baby food and grind a small amount of each meal right at the table.

Other tips to observe when feeding your baby:

  • Avoid canned infant formulas with BPA in linings. BPA plastic won’t be listed on the label, but “BPA-free” may be present.
  • Don’t microwave food in plastic or put plastic in dishwasher, since high temperatures may cause leaching from the material to your food. Opt for plastic-free dishes for all hot foods. Bamboo spoons and baby bowls are a good alternative. Other safe choices include porcelain, stainless steel, china, and baked enamel.
  • Avoid non-stick coatings such as those in Teflon. Opt instead for cast iron, ceramic, enamel, and glass. For more information, read our post about healthy cookware.
  • Choose bibs and napkins made from natural fabrics (instead of waterproof or plastic ones), since these often end up in babies’ mouths. Hemp denim is a good washable alternative to vinyl.

Drinking Water

Up until about six months of age, babies get all the hydration they need from breast milk or infant formula. After that time, it’s fine to give your baby sips of water when thirsty—but take care to ensure your water is safe to drink. Tap water may contain trace amounts of a variety of metals and chemicals, including lead and PFAS. Water tests will reveal the presence of any unwanted substances, and water filters can remove many of these contaminants. For more information, read How to Choose a Simple Water Filter for Your Home.

The best baby toys should stimulate the senses and be safe for mouthing, chewing, and banging.

Playtime

Almost immediately after birth, babies begin to explore, first with their eyes and ears, and later with their hands and mouths. Exploring physically is how they gain control and awareness of the world around them. The best toys should stimulate their senses and be safe for mouthing, chewing, and banging.

Unfortunately many children’s toys–or items that end up in babies’ mouths–contain contentious plastics that scientists have linked to a variety of ill health effects. Safer options include:

  • Choosing open ended toys and experiences instead of gizmos and gadgets. A baby learns more from a sanded wooden spoon than a beeping mobile they can’t touch.
  • Avoiding vinyl products, including PVC, especially when they are intended to enter your baby’s mouth (soothers, teethers, etc.).
  • Opting for toys made from natural and untreated wood, wool, cotton, and hemp. Upcycled, handmade wool puppets have the added benefit of being free from fabric treatments and sizing.
  • If you buy plastic, look for polyethylene (#1 or #2 recycling symbols) and polypropylene (#5) plastics. Better yet, purchase products made from one of the new corn-based plastics called polylactides (PLA). These are biodegradable and free from chemical leaching.
  • As your baby graduates into toddlerhood, choose art supplies certified to be free from harmful toxins. Plant-based finger paints, and beeswax crayons are great choices.
  • Take baby outside as much as possible. Nature is a sensory experience like no other. There’s also increasing evidence that playing outdoors and getting dirty helps children build immunity and stay healthy later in life. Gardening with your child is a great way to introduce them to life beneath the soil and the power of growing food.

Choosing the Safest Baby Products

Keeping our children safe can seem like a difficult task when confronted with the constantly changing news about the hazardous materials and goods we are exposed to every day. But taking a few simple steps can safeguard our baby’s health and give us peace of mind.

If we get things right and vote with our wallet, we may also ensure our children won’t have to make the same difficult choices that we’ve had to make when caring for their little ones.