5 Rules for an Eco-Friendly Baby

by Nicci Micco

5 Rules for an Eco-Friendly Baby

5 ways to make baby's world more eco-friendly with environmental-friendly cleaning supplies, organic baby foods, BPA-free gear, safe toys and more

It should have been simple. My mom wanted to buy my son Kai, then 4 months old, a teething toy. But standing in the baby toy aisle at Target, I was paralyzed by indecision. “This is cute,” she said, showing me a colorful ring of keys. “Tha tis cute,” I murmured, scanning the packaging for“BPA-free.” I’d read loads of stuff about bisphenol A (pronounced bis-FEEn-al A), or BPA, a chemical thatcould lead to cancer. It’s something my mom never had to worry about when she was raising me.

Today, moms are bombarded with so much information about all kinds of scary-sounding stuff from phthalates to pesticides. Like me, you may want to raise your baby “naturally” by limiting his exposure to chemicals. But you shouldn’t have to sweat every gift he receives from Grandma or take out a home equity loan to pay for all-organic grocery trips. So, where do you start? First, try not to become overwhelmed suggests Jennifer Taggart, author of Smart Mama’s Green Guide: Simple Steps to Reduce Your Child’s Toxic Chemical Exposure. “Trying to tackle reducing exposure to potentially harmful chemicals can seem to be a Herculean task,” says the mom of two. “Just take itone simple step at a time.” Start with these five steps: They’re pretty painless and their payback is big.

1. Green Your Clean

Even if you’re someone who might not think twice about what you use to clean your house, once your kid starts drinking his bathwater and licking the windows, you might begin questioning the use of harsh chemical cleaners, especially when you read the labels or note the childproof caps on the packaging. “There may be giant signs that say ‘warning’ or ‘danger,’”says Alexandra Zissu, co-author of Planet Home: Conscious Choices for Cleaning and Greening the World You Care About Most and a mother in New York City.

Best Practices

  • Buy “green” cleaners, specifically ones endorsed by a third-party group, such as Green Seal (, which certifies household cleaners that meet certain health and eco standards. “Manufacturers aren’t required to disclose ingredients,” says Taggart. Green Seal-certified cleaners cannot contain ingredientsknown to cause cancer or skin sensitivity; they cannot include phthalates (pronounced THAL-ates); and the manufacturer must disclose the use of added fragrances.
  • See how your favorite cleaning product fares by visiting Green Seal’s website. Does it provide a full ingredient list? Yes? Good sign! Scan for the word “fragrance.” Synthetic fragrance indicates it may contain phthalates, chemicals added to make scents linger longer. Safer cleaners are scented, if they’re scented, with essentialoils, which should be listed by name (e.g., rosemary oil). A phrase like “fragrance containing essential oils” does not count. The manufacturer should also give detailed information about ingredients’ safety. Are you comfortable with what you see? Great! If not, consider a new cleaner. Good cleaners to try: Simple Green Naturals, Seventh Generation, Method or Clorox Green Works.
  • Make your own cleaners. “I have a white porcelain sink, which stains easily, but it’s no match for baking soda and lemon,” says Katherine Scoleri, mother of two in Peachtree City, Georgia, and founder/editor of Scoleri also uses a combination of baking soda and white vinegar to remove soap scum from the tub. (These mixtures will clean surfaces but don’t necessarily kill bacteria. When you want something stronger, try hydrogen peroxide.)

Label Lowdown:

When a label says nontoxic It usually means the product won’t cause personal injury when inhaled, swallowed or absorbed through the skin. It doesn't mean the product is free of chemicals.

When a label says biodegradable It simply means the product decomposes. It doesn't mean the product is healthy for us or for the planet.

2. Organic Is Worth It

"A baby's body and brain are most vulnerable to toxic effects of pesticides," says David Walling a M.D., medical director for the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy. "If there's a ‘best' time to shop pesticide-free, it's when they're babies."

Best  Practices

  • Go organic where it counts most. Amy Diggle Moran, a mom of twins in Boston, prioritizes her organic food buys using the Environmental Working Group's (EWG) "Dirty Dozen" list of fruits and veggies that contain the most pesticides. Moran's approach is a smart way to minimize pesticide exposure, says Dr. Wallinga. 

The Dirty Dozen fruits and veggies with the most pesticides, in descending order: (You can download a wallet guide or iPhone app for free at

1 celery
2 peaches
3 strawberries
4 apples
5 domestic blueberries
6 nectarines
7 sweet bell peppers
8 spinach
9 cherries
10 kale and collards
11 potatoes
12 imported grapes
  1. celery
  2. peaches
  3. strawberries
  4. apples
  5. domestic blueberries
  6. nectarines
  7. sweet bell peppers
  8. spinach
  9. cherries
  10. kale and collards
  11. potatoes
  12. imported grapes
  • Make your own purées using organic foods. It's easy and you'll know whatyour baby's eating. Find recipes at
  • Buy organic baby foods. There are many options. They come in jars (Earth's Best), frozen cubes (Happy Baby, Jack's Harvest), plastic tubs (Gerber Organic) and squeeze pouches (Ella's Kitchen, Plum Organics).

Label Lowdown:

When a label says organic This means a food has been certifiably produced without the use of any harmful pesticides, chemical fertilizers, growth hormones, antibiotics or genetically modified organisms.

When a label says natural It doesn't mean "organic." A natural product hasno artificial ingredients or preservatives; with meat and poultry, it means minimally processed (vague, yes, that's part of the problem with the Food and Drug Administration's definition) and no artificial ingredients.

{C}3. Be Picky About Plastic

Plastic is light, inexpensive and doesn't break. The problem is, chemicals used to make them can leach into food and drinks. One of these chemicals, BPA, may present real health hazards. The silver lining of the "BPA cloud" is now it's easy to find BPA free plastics. Most are clearly labeled; another way to tell is by the recycling code: a 7 indicates it may contain BPA. (Not all number 7 plastics have BPA, soif it says BPA-free, it's OK.) Even with BPA-free plastics, it'sbest not to heat them, as heating increases leaching. All plastics are made with chemicals, says Jennifer Lowry M.D., a medical toxicologist at Children's Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, Missouri. "Microwave safe means it's not going to melt down, not that something's not going to leach out of it," Dr. Lowry says.

Best Practices

  • Microwave food and drinks in glass or ceramic bowls and cups.
  • Store food in Pyrex storage containers that can go straight into the microwave, or store leftovers in serving bowls covered with plastic wrap.
  • Provide your daycare with a glass option for warming food. "We send glass Ball jars to daycare instead of plastics since I wouldn't want them heated," says Michelle Edelbaum, mom of a 2-year-old in Charlotte, Vermont. Or heat at home and send foods in a stainless-steel Thermos.
  • Hand-wash plastics instead of putting them in the dishwasher.
  • BPA can also lurk in the linings of food cans, so further reduce exposure by buying food in BPA-free cans (such as most foods offered by Eden Foods) and use fewer canned foods.

4. Go Easy on the Smelly Stuff

While most infant skin-care productsare safe, opt for ones without added fragrance, which could contain questionable chemicals. Even though no federal agency tests the safety of soaps, shampoos and lotions made for babies, "Most of the compounds that are vilified in consumer products [have been shown to be] dangerous only in large exposure over years of repeated use," says Paul Horowitz M.D., founder of Discovery Pediatrics in Valencia, California, and a spokeman for the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Best Practices

  • Buy skin-care products without synthetic fragrance, which may contain phthalates.
  • Keep in mind that "a baby's skin generally takes care of itself," says Robert Sears M.D., a pediatrician and co-author of The Portable Pediatrician. "Little dabs of baby shampoo are all that's usually needed."
  • Check out the EWG's Skin Deep database for detailed information on ingredients in skin-care items and toxicity ratings for specific productson a scale of zero to 10, with zero being the best.label lowdown when a label says fragrance-free or unscented. It just means the product doesn't smell. Some synthetic fragrances (which may contain phthalates) maybe added simply to neutralize other odors.

5. Don't Play Around with Toys

As it turns out, I needn't have been worried about BPA in toys. It's rarely found in them, says the U.S.Department of Health and Human Services. The biggest issues in toys are contamination with lead, a metal that harms brain development, and phthalates, used in plastics to keep them flexible. Soft plastic toys are a double whammy: Historically, they've contained phthalates and polyvinyl chloride (PVC), which is frequently tainted with lead. The good news is that we don't need to worry quite so much about lead and phthalates in toys, thanks to a law that went into effect two years ago, says Liz Hitchcock, public health advocate for the U.S. Public Interest Research Groups,a watchdog organization that reviews toys annually. In February 2009, the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) set stricter limits for lead and three phthalatesmost strongly associated with health problems in all toys for children 12 and younger as well as teething toys, sippy cups and anything that could go in baby's mouth.

Best Practices

  • Pass over any soft plastic toys in the hand-me-down pile or at a garage sale. Toys sold before the CPSIA (February 2009) didn't have to meet the stricter standards.
  • Do not give metal costume jewelry to kids because much of that is made, or has been made, with lead, says Hitchcock.
  • Buy from manufacturers that are clear about their commitment to providing safe toys, such as Plan Toys and Playmobil, suggests Taggart. Focus on simple cloth or wooden toys.