While I'm continually frustrated by how hard it can be to find truly natural products — as I wrote in my last post — on the positive side, I have made some progress toward that end.
Here's what I've been able to do so far to make my family's life green-ish:
* I buy organic produce and milk (but I have little control over what I get in restaurants).
* I avoid artificial sweeteners.
* I use organic shampoo, lotions, and soaps that are free of parabens and pthalates. For an article on this that we ran in Parenting, click here. For more information and a list of brands, check out the Environmental Working Group's Skin Deep Cosmetics Database).
* I ventilate my home to clear out indoor air pollution by opening my windows frequently. I'm reminded to do this often by my dog Lucy. Since she loves to go out on the balcony of our apartment we end up having that door open a lot.
* I use only natural cleaners in my home. To read more about this check out a short article I happened to write in Parenting.
* I stopped using non-stick pans. The perfluorooctane sulfonates, or PFOS, in the non-stick cookware have been linked to cancer, developmental problems, and low birth weight, among other things. Here's a link explaining this issue. Some people simply choose to use their non-stick cookware more carefully by not burning it or scratching it so as not to let the PFOS leach out. I prefer to avoid the whole issue and do without the stick-free omelets.
* We had our apartment painted with low-VOC paint (that's paint that has low levels of Volatile Organic Compounds). Here's one reference page about VOCs.
* I finally found — and bought — a couch made in Italy that supposedly doesn't have flame retardants, known as polybrominated diphenyl ethers or PBDEs. These industrial chemicals, which off-gas into the air we breathe in our homes, have been shown to cause cancer and thyroid problems in animals. They, like many other chemicals, are prevalent in household dust — as a result, they're almost always present now in breast milk and umbilical cord blood too. The European Union has banned the sale of two of the most worrisome PBDEs; the EPA has banned the production of certain PBDEs, but not their sale.
* I removed the vinyl blinds that were in our condo when we moved in and put up curtains instead; I also don't use vinyl shower curtains anymore. Exposure to vinyl, known as PVC or polyvinyl chloride, has been shown to be a major health hazard. To read a little more about it, check out Healthy Child Healthy World's site. Or see Blue Vinyl, a great film on the subject.
* I plan on using organic cotton diapers, since I don't want the chemically-enhanced absorbent gel in disposable diapers on my infant's skin — and I'd rather not contribute to the landfill. For more on this issue, see this link from Healthy Child Healthy World and this one. I'm thinking I'll probably go with the brand Under the Nile but ecobaby.com also has a great selection of organic cloth diapers.
* I'm planning to use BPA-free baby bottles for my breast milk. BPA, or Bisphenol A, is in polycarbonate plastic and has been linked to cancer, endocrine problems, fertility issues, and more. For an article on this topic by yours truly, check out this Parenting link. I'm going to buy bottles and sippy cups made of "safer" plastics such as the ones made by BornFree. I'm also probably going to buy glass bottles by BornFree or Evenflo. And through my job, I just found out about this new retailer called Silikids, which makes these cool BPA-free silicone covers for glass baby bottles called Siliskins that keep the bottles from sliding out of babies' hands. I'm also going to be using my sister-in-law's Medela breast pump, and all of those attachments are BPA-free.
* I'm going to use phthalate-free teethers and toys as much as I can. For more on this see this Time magazine article.
* My mom bought us organic Onesies and sleepers made by Gerber at BabiesRUS and Meijer. They're also sold at Walmart.
* My sister-in-law bought us organic burping cloths and swaddling clothes from Target.
* My mom and I FINALLY found a plain solid wood crib, which she and my dad are buying for us (by Pacific Rim) that isn't made with formaldehyde-laden glue. I haven't found any other crib so far that can verify that.
* My parents also ordered an organic crib mattress made of organic cotton and organic wool (wool is a natural flame retardant so there's no need for any pesky PBDEs), and an organic crib mattress cover. Fortunately, lots of places online are selling organic mattresses.
* We ordered organic crib sheets (you won't find them in the cutest patterns, but they'll do).
Here's where I'm still stuck trying to go green:
I can't find a non-toxic area rug for our living room or the nursery that isn't WAY out of our budget or really ugly. I even gave up the search a little while ago and decided that a rug made of a natural fiber like wool would be fine. So I bought an adorable Pottery Barn Kids rug that says it's wool with a cotton canvas backing. But now I've learned that these rugs are apparently horrible either due to the glue in the rug or the latex hidden somewhere in it. And when I go to Pottery Barn to ask them what's in the rug, they are annoyingly vague. Check out this link to hear from people who've had problems/concerns with Pottery Barn rugs and others like it.
Reading these postings was enough to make me want to throw my rug out the window. But more than that, I have to say that it made me start to feel really defeated in my attempts to find natural stuff. I thought I'd learned a thing or two during all of my research. Instead, when I found those postings the other night, I simply realized anew that our marketplace still has a very long way to go until we can count on manufacturers to make products that won't harm us. I won't even get started on lead in toys...
So my husband and I went into the baby's room and rolled up the adorable pink and blue, possibly toxic new rug, and put it aside to take right back to the store. I may have to go with an ugly hemp rug for now. I've resigned myself to that. And I know I'll also have to resign myself to being comfortable with a lot of uncertainty when it comes to doing what may or may not be right for my baby. But I'm hoping that by the time I have my next baby a few years from now (if I should be so lucky), finding natural products won't cost me and my mother hours and hours of research and tons of money. While I'm proud of all we've figured out to make my baby's life as safe as possible so far, I really do hope that the next time around, more of the world will have caught on to the fact that we can't keep polluting our environment with the products we make, the plastics we can't recycle, and the industrial gases we emit. Didn't Al Gore make this clear enough? So here's hoping that toxin-free baby gear will be available to everyone soon enough, because after all, of everything we produce, nothing is more precious than our babies.