I started my eco-friendly journey back when I was working for Whole Foods Market even before I was a parent, but that's not the case for everyone. It was a slow process for me, and it's totally ok if it is for you too!
Becoming pregnant is when many women begin their journey into a toxin-free lifestyle. Not everyone does, but for the sake of this Natural Parenting Series and you being on my blog, I'm going to assume you're there or have been there.
For me, I had been around the lifestyle since 2013 when I started working at Whole Foods Market, but never really dove in until I was pregnant in 2016. They way I viewed it is that my child is a blank slate once born (I know it really starts with pregnancy, but stay with me). It's my sole purpose to keep him safe and give him the healthiest and best life possible so why on earth would I choose to have toxic chemicals near and on him. That's when I started looking into organic options and learning all that I could about what was safe and what wasn't. EWG and ThinkDirty became my best friends. And, although I was all in on this cleaner products thing, it took time and money and wasn't a fast process. I have photos of him at a year old and you can see our toxic bath products in the bathroom with him. He was using clean products, but we hadn't made the effort to switch our products until much later when I was diagnosed with thyroid disease and really started focusing on eliminating endocrine disrupting chemicals (more on that in another blog post).
This quote from a study on toxins in toys makes the most sense to me:
"Toxic exposures in children are a significant concern because of a number of factors, including a higher metabolic rate and greater surface area to weight ratio than adults, immaturity of organ systems, and rapid growth and development of organs and tissues such as bone and brain. Children’s exposure also differs from that of adults because children drink more fluids, eat more food, and breathe more air per kilogram of body weight. Children also have many years ahead to develop diseases with long latency periods. Young children’s frequent hand to mouth activity creates a pathway for toxic chemicals in toys and other products to enter the body."
So, I took an EcoBaby training through my doula training agency and learned all that I could so that I could help other families eliminate or significantly reduce their toxin load in their homes. I've tried to narrow it down to the top 5 things you can tackle in your home to significantly reduce your exposure before or after baby is here.
1. Household Cleaners
I'd say the most significant ingredient to look for in household cleaners is "fragrance". When you clean your house, you want it to "smell clean" as it should. However, many, if not most, cleaners have artificial fragrance as a main ingredient. "Fragrance" as an ingredient is not regulated and is considered a trade secret for companies so oftentimes, they'll sneak not-so-clean ingredients into "fragrance" and get away with having those chemicals in there. An example would be phthalates (I can't even pronounce that word let alone want it on or near my child!). These are known endocrine disrupting chemicals meaning they mess with hormones.
2-Butoxyethanol is another common ingredient found in all-purpose cleaners and law does not require 2-butoxyethanol to be listed on a product’s label.
What's the alternative? Vinegar, baking soda, essential oils, fragrance-free products, and those labeled "all-natural". Please note though, greenwashing is real so be sure to check the label even though the bottle says "all natural".
Some of my favorite household cleaners are Thieves Household Cleaner and Seventh Generation Free & Clear. Examples of greenwashed brands to avoid: Mrs. Meyer's and Method.
2. Personal Care Products
Shampoo, body wash, toothpaste, lotion, diaper creams, etc.
Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES) is found in foaming products like shampoo, bodywash, and toothpaste. When this chemical goes through a process called ethoxylation, there is a potential for contamination with a possible carcinogen called 1,4 dioxane. A 1990 Danish study that assessed 76 personal care products: shampoos, body gels, soaps, etc. found 1,4-dioxane in 82% of the cosmetic products and in a study of personal care products marketed as “natural” or “organic” (uncertified), U.S. researchers found 1,4-dioxane as a contaminant in 46 of 100 products analyzed.
PEGs (Polyethylene glycols) are carcinogens typically found in cream based, moisturizing products. They show some evidence of genotoxicity and if used on broken skin can cause irritation and systemic toxicity (David Suzuki). They also function as “penetration enhancers,” which increases allows greater absorption of the product - including potentially harmful ingredients.
Petrolatum is a carcinogen most found in diaper creams, lip balms, and skin care products. Products with this ingredient can be contaminated with polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) which with repeated exposure over time may lead to cancer.
Some of my favorite ready-to-use products are Alaffia for shampoo & body wash, Young Living Seedlings Diaper Cream, and Radius toothpaste.
In this study, researchers looked at the fact that "Recent studies have revealed alarming levels of cadmium and lead in products intended for children and compounds in plastics, such as phthalates and bisphenol A, that are suspected of harmful effects."
BPA is found in plastic toys, bottles, sippy cups, and canned food liners. The real danger presents when it is chewed on so avoid plastic toys for teething or frequently played with toys that may make their way to the mouth.
Lead is used to make plastic toys more durable. Lead affects the nervous system and has been linked to hearing loss, ADHD, and decreased IQ. It can also be found in paint so even painted wooden toys need to be carefully chosen.
It's best to go with natural materials for toys. When plastic is unavoidable, make sure they're BPA and PVC free. Some examples are Green Toys and Haba Toys. A quick Amazon search for "natural wooden toys" brings up a ton of options as well.
4. Bedding & Furniture
Keep in mind that everything covered so far in this blog post builds so you still want to be mindful of BPA, fragrance, etc. even though we've moved to bedding and furniture. A perk for furniture is that there are a few organizations that companies can certify with to ensure their product is safe. These include GREENGUARD, OEKO TEK, GOTS, and GreenSeal. If you see those on the label, you're generally good to go with that product.
As a general rule of thumb, when choosing furniture, go for natural, untreated, unfinished wood. The reason you want untreated and unfinished is due to VOCs (volatile organic compounds) which can be harmful gases that are emitted from certain paints, varnishes, finishes, adhesives, and flooring. It's best to let furniture off-gas before bringing it inside if you haven't chosen to go with unfinished or untreated. To off-gas, just leave the item outside out the box and packaging for a few days. You can always buy secondhand as well. Secondhand furniture has already had plenty of time to off-gas and reduces waste.
Brand suggestions: IKEA, Pottery Barn
For bedding, it's best to go with organic cotton and/or wool. These fibers are naturally flame resistant and therefore, should not be treated with any toxic flame retardants. Be careful with bamboo which is typically listed as natural. To make bamboo into fibers, it is typically treated with chemicals. Hemp is a great alternative. You also want to make sure mattresses aren't made waterproof with vinyl, which is a carcinogen and contains EDCs.
Brand suggestions: Naturepedic, Simmons Beauty Rest Organic,
5. Medicine Cabinet
This could be a blog post in itself (and probably will be at some point) but let's take a look at a few of the most common medicine cabinet items for baby, their harms, and alternatives.
Acetaminophen (Tylenol) is generally used as a pain reliever (think, teeth!) and fever reducer. Since it is commonly found in other medications such as cold syrup, it is easy to overdose on and cause liver damage. Research has also surfaced which shows that it reduces glutathione levels, which is an important antioxidant in the respiratory track, leading to respiratory responses. Reduced glutathione levels has also been linked to cognitive decline.
Alternatives: for teething, Camilia or Earthley's Teeth Tamer. For fever, let it ride out. Fever helps the body heal and without masking symptoms with fever reducers, the body can do what it needs to heal. Lukewarm baths, chamomile tea, and lots of liquids are best. Treat the child, not the number on the thermometer, within reason. For any other pain, try Arnica.
Ibuprofen (Motrin) follows the same suit as Acetaminophen except it can lead to kidney failure.
Gas drops are popular for colicky or fussy/gassy babies. A top brand is Mylicon which is the medication Simethicone. Taking a look at the ingredient list (carboxymethylcellulose sodium, citric acid, D&C Red 22, D&C Red 28, microcrystalline cellulose, natural flavors, polysorbate 60, potassium sorbate, purified water, sodium benzoate, sorbitan monostearate, sorbitol, xanthan gum), I sure would not want to give my infant those ingredients. Food dye, "natural flavors" (similar to fragrance in that they can hide bad), polysorbate 60, no thanks! Remember "blank slate" from earlier? The most important part of that is gut health and putting all of that into an underdeveloped infant belly is no bueno.
Alternative: Earthley's Infant Tummy Relief or Newton Homeopathics Colic-Teething
Cough Medicine, according to the FDA, should not be given to children under the age of 2, but that doesn't mean your pediatrician won't advise you to give some (story for another day!). If you're going to give some, try Maty's or Hyland's.
Decongestants also aren't recommended for children under six. It's best to use saline, a bulb syringe, and a humidifier for when Baby is stuffy. You can also make a chest rub with lotion or coconut oil and essential oils such as lavender, chamomile, or rosalina. Maty's also has a chest rub that is already made!
There's a reason allopathic medicine is the number 3 leading cause of death in America and I feel it's because we've gotten away from natural remedies, start too young with medication, eat the unregulated Standard American Diet (SAD), and have forgotten how to trust our bodies. Having a natural medicine cabinet doesn't have to be hard, it's actually quite simple! Just trust yourself and trust nature.
It's important to remember that sometimes the dosing makes the poison. Conventional toxicology indicates that a substance has a certain dose, or exposure, before it becomes toxic. Water, for example, can be deadly if you drink too much of it too quickly.
Most testing is done on a single ingredient in a single use and does not take into account the results of long term exposure. This is why the FDA may deem something safe when in fact it may not be. That's why reducing harmful chemicals from your home products is important. The chemical may be "safe" according to FDA standards for a one-time, single use, but mixed with other ingredients and used over and over again over time, can potentially lead to health issues such as cancer and hormonal disorders.
It doesn't have to be all or nothing! You can start your purge slow, but the most important fact is that you just start! Everyone in the family will be healthier when their bodies aren't constantly fighting off harmful substances.
Allesanda received her Bachelors in Behavioral Science from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette in December 2013. She now lives in North Texas with her husband and three children. As a maternal support practitioner and educator of family sleep and eco-friendly living, she blogs about family sleep, wellness, nutrition, pregnancy, birth, postpartum, holistic health, and parenting.