Test your knowledge and get schooled on eco-facts and fixes to make your baby's world as safe as possible.
The thought of going green while pregnant might turn you purple with angst. Between pesticides, petroleum and PCBDs (oh my!), what you eat, breathe and use can affect your baby, in the womb and out. But before you get your maternity panties in a knot, know this: You can safeguard yourself, your baby and the planet from the potentially toxic chemicals found in everyday items—if you know what to avoid. Think you know the culprits? Take our quiz and find out; your score may surprise you. Two of the questions have more than one correct answer, so be sure to give yourself points for each. And, for quick links to all the websites mentioned in this story, go to fitpregnancy.com/inthisissue.
Go to page 2 to see the results!
1 (d) All of the above Chemicals wafting through hair salons, nail salons and perfume stores may harm your growing baby. According to the nonprofit Environmental Working Group (EWG), the average woman’s beauty routine brings her into contact with 126 chemicals each day; some of them can cross the placenta. “At high exposure levels, certain volatile organic compounds
[VOCs], such as toluene (in nail products) and formaldehyde (in hair and nail products), have been associated with low birth weight, miscarriage or birth defects,” says Sarah Janssen, M.D., Ph.D., M.P.H., staff scientist for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), a nonprofit environmental advocacy organization. Limit the time you spend in hair salons, and opt for ammonia-free herbal-, vegetable- or henna-based hair colors. If you do get a manicure or pedicure, make sure the salon is well-ventilated and the polish used is phthalate-free. For a list of phthalate-free beauty products, go to nottoopretty.org (Sula is a water-based line that peels off
when you’re ready for a new coat; $10; sulabeauty.com). Janssen also suggests sidestepping perfumed products in favor of fragrance-free ones or natural perfumes derived from essential oils.
2 (a) Peaches, apples and bell peppers
If you don’t know the “Dirty Dozen,” acquaint yourself with EWG’s produce pocket guide, which lists the best (onions, avocado and frozen corn) and worst (peaches, apples and bell peppers) produce in terms of pesticide residue. You can lower your pesticide exposure by almost 90 percent simply by buying organic varieties of the 12 most contaminated (for the full list, go to fitpregnancy.com/goinggreen). This is especially important during pregnancy because pesticides can cross the placenta. “Pesticides are known to cause birth defects, neurological defects and cancer,” warns Christopher Gavigan, CEO and executive
director of the nonprofit organization Healthy Child Healthy World (healthychild.org).
3 (c) 63 Most expectant moms have a cornucopia of cleaning products under their sinks, but “cleaners” aren’t always so clean. The toxins that may be lurking inside, which often aren’t listed on labels, emit harmful volatile organic compounds (VOCs), chemicals that can contribute to ear, nose and throat irritation, headaches, nausea and respiratory issues. A British study found that babies
born to mothers who used chemical-based cleaners while pregnant were more than twice as likely to develop breathing problems as infants and toddlers. “We’ve phased out our toxic germ-killing products in favor of making our own eco-cleaning solutions from baking soda, borax and vinegar,” say Joy Hatch and Rebecca Kelley, co-editors of the Green Baby Guide (greenbabyguide.com). Lemon juice and salt work great as an all-natural soap scum and rust remover, says Heather Stephenson, co-founder of idealbite.com. For a printable green cleaning wallet card, go to fitpregnancy.com/inthisissue.
4 (a) A wool throw rug over a wood floor
You know that new carpet smell? That’s formaldehyde, an irritating gas that can provoke asthma in children, says Philip J. Landrigan, M.D., director of the Mount Sinai Center for Children’s Health in New York (childenvironment.org), who advises against wall-to-wall. Carpeting and vinyl can also be full of nasty VOCs and petrochemicals that aren’t good for a baby’s developing
lungs or nervous system. While a professional carpet cleaning might seem like the obvious answer, carpet cleaners can contain a host of dangerous solvents and other chemicals, including carcinogens, says Jill Fehrenbacher, founder of the environmental
design website inhabitat.com. “If you want carpet for the warmth, choose a 100-percent wool throw rug (organic, if possible); it’s naturally fire-resistant and the dirt tends to stay on top of the fibers, so it can easily be vacuumed off,” suggests environmentalist
Sophie Uliano, author of 2009’s The Gorgeously Green Diet: How to Live Lean and Green.
5 (c) Air fresheners
We spend as much as 90 percent of our time indoors, where the air we breathe may be two to five times more polluted than outside air. The culprits are chemicals in cleaning products, paint, carpet, furniture and, yes, air fresheners. “Air fresheners contain hundreds of chemicals, including VOCs and phthalates,” says the NRDC’s Sarah Janssen, who recommends opening windows or taking out the trash instead of masking odors. Also, use a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Air) filter to avoid inhaling the contaminants that are found in dust, says EWG senior analyst Sean Gray. Stephenson suggests placing an indoor plant every 10 square yards inside your house to remove toxins. A NASA study found that certain plants, including spider plants, can remove 87 percent of indoor air pollutants within 24 hours. Bamboo palm, ficus, common chrysanthemums, marginata and peperomia are other good options; for more, go to fitpregnancy.com/cleanhouse.
6 (a) Car seats (b) breast pumps (d) crib mattresses
Opting for secondhand stuff will spare the planet and your pocketbook, but not all hand-me-downs are safe. With the exception of hospital-grade pumps, La Leche League says to steer clear of used breast pumps because of their potential for spreading viruses.
A few experts also warn that used crib mattresses could harbor germs that can cause serious health problems or even SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome). Some studies have shown that the chemicals in fire-resistant mattresses emit toxins that can harm a baby’s lungs, but other researchers debunk these ideas. Use your best judgment: The Consumer Product Safety Commission (cpsc.gov) says that used crib mattresses are OK as long as they meet current safety standards. Secondhand car seats get the green light as long as they’ve never been in an accident or recalled and are less than 10 years old, so it’s best to buy from a trusted source. “Pre-worn” cloth diapers are fine to use; just make sure you wash them before putting them on your baby.
Go to swapbabygoods.com to find steals and deals on a wide range of secondhand gear.
7 (c) 8,000
It takes more than 300 pounds of wood, 50 pounds of petroleum feedstocks and 20 pounds of chlorine to produce “disposable” diapers for just one baby every year. Not only do 16 billion of them a year end up in landfills, where they take as long as 500 years to decompose, so do their contents: An estimated 2.8 million tons of liquid and solid waste a year can end up in waterways. Of course, cloth diapers (you can find organic ones at alternativebaby.com), which require energy- and waterintensive laundering, have their own environmental impact. Other options include chlorine-free disposables (seventhgeneration.com), biodegradable diapers (gdiapers.com) and all-in-one pocket diapers (bumgenius.com). If you wash your own cloth diapers, let Mother Nature remove the stains for you. “Instead of using chlorine bleach, an environmental toxin, to whiten cloth diapers, try setting them out in the sun,” suggests Rebecca Kelley. “Stains will disappear like magic.” To find a diaper service in your ’hood, go to fitpregnancy.com/inthisissue.
8 (c) BPA-free plastic (d) glass
One of the chemicals of concern in plastic baby bottles is bisphenol-A, (BPA, the #7 inside the recycle sign), which can leach into
food and drinks, especially when the plastic is heated, worn or scratched. “BPA is a hormone-disruptor that’s been linked to basically every health problem out there,” warns the EWG’s Sean Gray, who recommends glass. [Editor’s note: The most current statement from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration says that BPA is safe; however, additional research is needed. For a link to the statement, go to fitpregnancy.com/inthisissue.] “Glass is easier to clean than plastic and less likely to land in a landfill,” says Heather Stephenson; however, if you prefer plastic, several BPA-free options now exist. Try Dr. Brown’s 2-pack Glass Baby Bottles, $15 (babybungalow.com), Evenflo Classic Glass Bottles, $2 each (evenflo.com) or Playtex BPA-free VentAire Advanced (plastic) Bottles, ($4–$5 each, playtexbaby.com).
9 (a) Change diapers often
Your first defense against diaper rash is to keep your baby’s skin as dry and clean as possible. Avoid petroleum-based products (which deplete a nonrenewable resource and may contain 1,4-dioxane, a known carcinogen) and talc, which may contain traces of asbestos. To clean your newborn’s bottom, use cotton balls and warm water, and be careful with preventative diaper creams, which don’t always allow baby’s skin to breathe. If diaper rash does rear its ugly head, Kristin Binder, founder and president of organic beauty site saffronrouge.com, recommends a natural, zinc-based remedy such as Weleda’s Calendula Diaper Care ($10; weleda.com). Also try California Baby Calming Diaper Rash Cream ($12, californiababy.com). Or just let baby’s bottom air out. Exposure to fresh, cool air decreases the growth of yeast and bacteria, explains Santa Monica, Calif., pediatrician Jay Gordon, M.D., so aim for 30 to 60 minutes of diaper-free time a day.
10 (d) All of the above Phthalates
Chemicals that are added to many skin-care products (including those for babies) to stabilize fragrances and make plastics flexible,
have been shown in some studies to be “toxic to the male reproductive organs and may interfere with brain development,” says Philip Landrigan. In a recent study published in Pediatrics, babies whose mothers applied baby shampoo, powder or lotion to them in the 24 hours before testing showed elevated phthalate levels in their urine. So far, long-term health effects are unknown. So what can you do to avoid them? Since U.S. manufacturers aren’t required to list phthalate content on product labels, opt for natural or organic baby products whenever possible, and use conventional skin-care products sparingly. When choosing toys, look for wooden ones that are painted with a nontoxic finish, such as those available from Pastel Toys (pasteltoys.com).