Blog post category: Pregnancy

Nourishing Mama: A Nutritionist’s Tips For Great Prenatal & Postnatal Nutrition

Nourishing Mama | A Nutritionist's Tips for Great Prenatal & Postnatal Nutrition | TotScoop Expert series

For the second installment of our new Expert Series, we caught up with Kyla Brown, a certified nutritionist and owner of Healthy Belly nutrition consultancy in San Francisco.  We chatted through topics ranging from healthy eating during pregnancy to postpartum nutrition to shedding baby weight safely.

Q: Let’s start by talking about the pregnancy stage. What are the key concepts of prenatal nutrition that are important for moms-to-be to understand? What does the body need to nourish a growing baby and prepare for delivery?

A: The number-one nutrient that a pregnant mama needs is protein. Women who aren’t pregnant need a minimum of 60g protein each day; pregnant women need 80-100g daily. This is harder to get than most people realize, especially towards the later stages of pregnancy when it’s uncomfortable to eat big meals. Ideally, eat 20-30g per meal of protein from cold-water, wild-caught fish; grass-fed meat and dairy products; pasture-raised chickens and eggs; and beans and other legumes.

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Debunking 8 Pregnancy Don’ts

Debunking 8 pregnancy don'ts! | TotScoop

Many pregnant women adhere religiously to all the pregnancy don’ts flung at them.  I certainly did my first time around!  Don’t eat sushi or soft cheese! Don’t ever lie on your back! And so on. But are there really legitimate reasons behind all of these commandments?  Now that I’m pregnant again (sorry kiddo, everyone knows mama doesn’t care as much about #2), I decided to apply a healthy dose of skepticism and look into the underlying facts.

It turns out there are indeed good reasons behind many of the limitations of pregnancy (no shocker there), however, there are also a number of don’ts that aren’t ironclad. Here’s the run-down on 8 pregnancy don’ts that aren’t actually as restrictive as you might have thought.

NOTE: I am not a physician; I am just sharing the results of my research (and note that I’ve made a strong effort to consult only reliable, fact-based sources). As always, please consult your doctor for medical advice.

1) No seafood (mercury)

Methylmercury — a metal found in certain fish which can impair the developing brain and nervous system — is a legitimate concern, but one that doesn’t mean you should eliminate fish from your diet entirely.  (On the contrary, many women actually don’t eat enough fish, which offers excellent nutritional value including high quality protein, vitamins and minerals, and omega-3 fatty acids — great for your baby’s development.)  Just make sure you avoid fish that are high in mercury (such as shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish), and limit other fish in your diet. The FDA/EPA suggests eating 8 to 12 ounces (2 to 3 servings) of low-mercury fish per week, and limiting “solid white” (albacore) tuna to 6 ounces per week.

2) No sushi or other raw seafood

A non-negligible risk of parasitic infection does exist with fresh raw seafood.  However, many people are not aware that restaurants are actually required to flash-freeze almost all types of fish before serving it raw — a process which kills any parasites.  Additionally (a nice surprise I didn’t realize), some types of “sushi” actually contain no raw fish — for example, California Rolls contain only cooked crab or imitation crab — and thus have already had any bugs zapped.

Additionally, viral or bacterial infections can also be a concern with raw seafood and sushi.  However, an estimated 85% of seafood-related illness is actually associated with mollusks (such as oysters and clams) — not the types of fish typically used in sushi, or many other forms of seafood.

Thus, as long as you avoid shellfish and high-mercury fish, and you don’t have particular reason to be concerned about viral or bacterial infection (for example, if an establishment looks unclean or you witness unsafe food handling practices), your risk of contracting foodborne illness from sushi or raw seafood is actually quite low.

3) No soft cheese

It’s true that pregnant women should avoid raw and unpasteurized dairy products, and eggs, due to risk of listeriosis, salmonellosis, and other foodborne illnesses.

As a result, many expecting moms cross all soft cheeses — such as Brie, feta, Camembert, Danish blue, Roquefort, gorgonzola, and Mexican-style cheeses such as queso blanco, queso fresco, and panela — off of their shopping lists.  But did you know that most cheese sold in the US is made from pasteurized milk, and thus is safe to eat?  Woohoo!  Just check the label to make sure it’s marked “pasteurized” first.

4) No deli meat or hot dogs

Pregnant women are also warned to avoid all deli-style/refrigerated meats (such as ham, turkey, roast beef, bologna, salami, and proscuitto) as well as hot dogs, due to risk of listeriosis.  However, many don’t realize that thoroughly heating any of these to the point of being steaming hot will kill any present Listeria bacteria.  So, while we wouldn’t necessarily recommend eating these every day, if you have a real craving you can zap it and eat to your heart’s content.  If you want to play it safe, consider avoiding turkey, which is apparently more frequently the culprit in listeria outbreaks than other deli meats.

5) No caffeine

Studies have linked high caffeine intake with miscarriage, stillbirth, and pre-term birth.  However, moderate levels of caffeine have not been proven to have any negative impact on pregnancy.  The definition of “moderate” varies depending on what study you look at, but the threshold is believed to be somewhere between 150-300mg per day.  Until more conclusive research is conducted, most experts agree that expecting moms can safely consume up to 200mg per day (that’s about one 12-ounce cup of coffee).

6) No alcohol

The conventional wisdom goes something like this: “Nobody knows how much alcohol is safe to consume during pregnancy, so it’s best to avoid it entirely.”  But flip that statement on its head, and you also have the fact that no credible studies have ever shown any negative impact from light drinking during pregnancy, either.  Frequent heavy drinking and binge drinking have unquestionably bad repercussions (Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, behavior issues, lower IQ, etc.), but a survey of all the studies done to date suggests that light drinking (up to 6 drinks a week) is perfectly safe.  Ask your doctor and get her view.

7) No sleeping/lying on your back

Another pregnancy no-no is thought to be sleeping or lying on your back (e.g. while exercising) after 16-20 weeks of pregnancy.  The conventional wisdom is that this position reduces blood flow to the fetus, causing it to get less oxygen and fewer nutrients.  Pregnant women are told that the preferred position for sleeping on their lefthand side.

Although this is generally true, it’s not life or death to do this around the clock, or freak out if you wake up lying on your back.  Many doctors advise that your body will let you know (e.g. nausea, dizziness, shortness of breath) long before any harm will come to your baby.  So if you don’t feel any discomfort, rotating in and out of the various positions— whatever is most comfortable for you — is probably fine.

8) No hot baths/jacuzzis

It’s true that you shouldn’t raise your body temperature above 101-102º F — especially during the first trimester, when doing so can cause birth defects.  But water temperatures up to 100º F are perfectly safe.  So hot baths are fine — as long as you can step in comfortably, rather than needing to gingerly ease yourself in.  As for hot tubs, most are factory programmed to maintain a water temperature of 104º F.  So, while we wouldn’t necessarily advise it, you may be able to sit in them for up to 10-20 minutes (the amount of time it takes to raise your body temperature to 102º F or higher) without any ill effects.  Alternatively, see if you can find a way to adjust the temperature down to 100°F.


Well, expecting mamas, hope that helped to debunk at least one pregnancy myth for you, and will help to make the nine months of your pregnancy at least a little more tolerable. Personally I’m off to sip some (low-caffeine) green tea and enjoy a salad containing some beautiful (pasteurized) gorgonzola!

The Minimalist’s New Baby Checklist

The minimalist's new baby checklist, from TotScoop. A guide to what you really need -- and what you don't -- for baby's first six months!

It seems like most baby checklists are a mile long.  Most of the retailers who author them, after all, are just trying to sell you stuff — and many sleep-deprived parents are only too willing to shell out big bucks for the promise of an extra few minutes of peace.  Babies do require a lot of stuff, but let’s face it, a lot of parents overbuy too.  For those who prefer a more minimalist approach, this article will outline the bare minimum essentials that you need for baby’s first six months — and will also provide advice from moms who’ve been there on what you don’t need.  (PS: For those of you who are decidedly NOT minimalists, also check out our Ultimate New Baby Checklist 🙂 )

Nursery & newborn sleep

Crib (must have)

For most families, this is a must have.  But hold on — a select few families who go with the “family bed” hardly ever end up using theirs.  If you think this might be you— wait until after baby arrives to invest in a pricey crib (a playard or travel crib might suffice for occasional usage instead).

Favorite brands/products: See TotScoop parent favorites for cribs and playards/travel cribs.

Bassinet, cradle, or co-sleeper (optional)

Many families buy a smaller, cozier place for baby to sleep in the first few months, especially if they plan to co-sleep in the same room.  This is definitely a nice-to-have if you have the extra cash, but if you’re a minimalist, you can definitely avoid buying a separate piece of furniture.  A playpen with an adjustable height mattress or a “newborn napper” type station is a good solution that can be repurposed later for use in the living room.  Or, hey, you could go even more bare bones.  Consider that many babies in Finland sleep in a cardboard box for the first few months of their lives, and Finland has a much lower SIDS rate than the U.S.

Favorite brands/products: The Arms Reach is the most popular co-sleeper in the US; it can feel a bit flimsy, but does the job.  Moms also rave about the Rock ’n’ Play, which is even more affordable.  More TotScoop parent favorites here.

Swaddles and/or receiving blankets (must have)

You just need 2-3 blankets with which to swaddle your baby and/or keep her warm.  Don’t go nuts — lots of parents go overboard buying dozens of swaddles and receiving blankets even though they don’t even really know what they’re for.  Exercise common sense and just get a few items.  Wait until you see what baby likes and what you find easiest to use (e.g. regular square swaddle blankets, swaddle “aids” with velcro, regular blankets) before buying extras.

Favorite brands/productsAden + Anais swaddle blankets, SwaddleMe velcro wraps, Under the Nile swaddle/receiving blankets.  Check out our more detailed guide to best swaddles and receiving blankets here.  Also, more TotScoop parent favorites here.

Wearable blankets / sleep sacks (must have)

After baby transitions out of a swaddle (usually around 2-4 months), you’ll need some wearable blankets (a.k.a. sleep sacks) to keep her warm.  (Recall that the AAP does not recommend use of any loose blankets in the crib until after at least 12 months.)  TIP: Babies outgrow sized sleep sacks quickly.  Consider looking for an adjustable sleep sack.  They may be more expensive, but they are higher quality and last much longer.

Favorite brands/products: Halo sleep sacks, Baby Deedee Sleep Nest,  Merino Kids and Woolino adjustable merino wool sleep sacks.  Check out our in-depth guide to best wearable blankets here.  Also, more TotScoop parent favorites here.

Rocker/glider (optional)

Worthwhile if you don’t have any other chairs in your house that can offer you good head/neck, back, and arm support while you’re sitting with baby for hours on end (particularly if you plan to breastfeed).  If you’re going to buy new furniture, you might as well get something ideal — look for one with a tall back that reclines.

Favorite brands/products: Dutailier is one of the biggest, baddest names in nursery wood gliders.  See also the Monte Design Joya for our favorite modern rocker.  See more TotScoop parent favorites here.

What you DON’T need

  • A full crib bedding set (including dust ruffle, window valance, diaper stacker, comforter, crib bumpers, etc.):  Loose bedding is not recommended by the AAP until the age of 1, and crib bumpers are frowned upon for all ages.  And well, diaper stackers are just plain silly.
  • A changing table or changing table topper:  These are only useful for a short time, and a really not necessary anyway.  Just get a changing pad and put it on a dresser (if you have one at the right height) or on the floor (that way you don’t have to worry about baby falling off!).
  • A fancy diaper pail:  A fancy diaper pail is not by any means a necessity.  Just get a trash can with a tight-fitting lid (to contain odors), and plan to take out the trash every 1-2 days to keep odors to a minimum.

Gear

Infant car seat (must have)

This is one of the few bare bones essentials that you absolutely must buy before baby arrives — in fact, most of the time you won’t be able to leave the hospital in a private car without one.

Favorite brands/products: The Chicco Keyfit and Graco Snugride are among the most popular.  For a higher-end seat, our favorites are the Cybex Aton Q and the Nuna PIPA.  Also consider the highly rated Britax B Safe or UPPAbaby MESA if you are looking at full-size strollers from the same brands.  See our detailed buying guides and parent reviews here.

Car seat stroller (must have)

You definitely want to have a car seat-compatible stroller of some sort so you pop baby’s infant car seat in and out of the car.  You can either get a car seat stroller frame or a car seat adapter for your full-size stroller to accomplish this.  If you don’t mind getting an extra piece of gear, we’re very partial to the stroller frame, as it’s much lighter weight and more convenient.  But, if you’re a committed minimalist, you may prefer to just get the adapter.

Favorite brands/products: For car seat stroller frames — get the Chicco Keyfit Caddy if you have a Chicco car seat, the Graco Snugrider Elite if you have a Graco car seat, and the universal Safety 1st Clic It! or Joovy Roo (whichever one is compatible with your car seat) otherwise.  Try to get one with a click-in rather than strap-in connection.  See our full set of editors’ picks here.

Full-featured stroller (must have)

Yep, you pretty much need one of these, unless you plan to wear your baby in a carrier all the time (and never want to be able to cart around groceries, etc.).

Favorite brands/products: For lightweight full-size strollers — our top picks are the City Mini (GT) and Britax B-Agile.   For luxury strollers — we are absolutely salivating over the upcoming 2015 model (shipping Nov./Dec. 2014) of the UPPAbaby Vista.  Our top pick for an all-purpose jogging/full-size stroller is the BOB Ironman.  See our full set of full-featured stroller editors’ picks here, and parent stroller reviews here.

Umbrella stroller (optional)

Nice to have for in-and-out of the car and plane travel, but not strictly required.  Consider just getting a lightweight full-size stroller instead.  (Also, note that most umbrella strollers can’t be used until 3-6 months, when baby develops good head/neck control.  So consider holding off buying until later, until after you’ve figured out what’s really important to you in a stroller.)

Favorite brands/products: Our top picks include the UPPAbaby G-Luxe and and the Maclaren Triumph.  For a cheap travel stroller, check out the First Years Ignite.  See our full set of umbrella stroller editors’ picks here, and parent stroller reviews here.

Newborn carrier (must have)

Whether you need one of these depends in part on your parenting style, but we view it as a necessity for all but the most easygoing babies.  Be sure to get something that works well for the newborn stage — many standard infant-size carriers are simply sized too big, and/or require the use of bulky inserts.

Favorite brands/products: Stretchy wraps such as the Moby and Boba Wrap are the most popular for this stage.  Woven wraps (e.g. Didymos, Girasol, etc.) are pricier, but will last through infant and toddlerhood.  If you prefer a Soft Structured Carrier, our favorite newborn-to-infant options are the Beco Gemini, Boba 4G, and Lillebaby.  For ring slings, we love Maya (basic) and Sakura Bloom (luxe).  See our full buying guides and more TotScoop parent favorites here.

Infant carrier (must have)

This is a must for most families — for times when your baby seeks closer contact than a stroller can provide, and/or you need to navigate tighter spaces or uneven terrain (think festivals, narrow store aisles, hiking, etc.).

Favorite brands/products: Our favorite infant-sized Soft Structured Carriers are the TulaBoba 4G, Ergo 360, and Beco Soleil.  See our full buying guides and more TotScoop parent favorites here.

Bouncer/baby seat (must have)

Strictly speaking these are not necessities, but unless you are a super hard core minimalist, you will probably find at least one “baby holder” to be a worthwhile investment (just ponder how else you’re going to take a shower!).

Favorite brands/products: Our favorite is the Baby Bjorn Bouncer Balance Soft.  Fisher Price bouncers are also incredibly popular — they can be eyesores, but they’re cheap and the brightly colored toy bars are very effective at holding baby’s attention.  Another alternative is something like the Boppy Newborn Lounger.  See all TotScoop parent favorites here.

Floor mat and/or activity gym (optional)

It’s nice to have one of these for tummy time and/or playtime during the non-mobile stage (~2-8 months).  While commercially available floor mats and activity gyms are convenient, they aren’t essential; a blanket or towel on the floor will do the job just fine.  However, gyms with arches are handy because they conveniently position hanging toys right above baby.

Favorite brands/products: Our value picks are Infantino and Tiny Love.  Skip Hop makes our favorite products in this category.  See all TotScoop parent favorites in this category here.

Diaper bag and/or changing kit (optional)

You do need something that you can carry dirty diapers and lots of little accessories around in.  You don’t necessarily need a dedicated diaper bag, though — if you already have a roomy bag with plenty of organizing pockets that can be easily cleaned, you’re all set.  You can consider getting a small changing kit with a portable changing pad to organize diapers and wipes within your bag and simplify trips to the bathroom.

Favorite brands/productsSkip Hop and LeSportsac both make great diaper bags.  See TotScoop parent favorites here.

Playard / travel crib (optional)

To contain baby at home, or as needed for sleeping while traveling or at Grandma’s house.  Minimalists might consider getting a travel crib to use as either their primary crib at home, or as their co-sleeper for room sharing, in order to avoid buying yet another piece of gear.

Favorite brands/products: Top budget picks include the Joovy Room2 and the popular Graco Pack N Play series.  Our top premium picks are the Baby Bjorn Travel Crib, Guava Family Lotus Travel Crib, and Nuna Sena.  See all TotScoop parent favorites here.

What you DON’T need

  • Swing: For many babies, these are unnecessary — many babies will sleep just fine in lots of other places.  Plus, they’re huge and they’re eyesores.  However, if your baby has trouble sleeping anywhere else, don’t feel bad about breaking down and trying one.
  • Baby seat (e.g. Bumbo): These are popular, but totally unnecessary, and according to some doctors and physical therapists they can actually be bad for baby’s spine and gross motor development.  If used incorrectly, they can also result in falls and injuries.  Just use a bouncer or floor mat to hold baby instead.
  • Exersaucer/jumper: These can serve as additional handy “baby holders,” and can offer some incremental stimulation for baby, but if you’re already got a bouncer or a floor mat, they aren’t strictly necessary.
  • Shopping cart/high chair cover: Though favorites of first-time moms, these are totally unnecessary, and washing the cover after every use is totally impractical.  Worried about germs?  Just wipe down public surfaces before use, or avoid them entirely by using a carrier or bringing your own travel high chair instead.  Think you need the extra padding?  If baby is so wobbly that she can’t sit up on her own, she shouldn’t be sitting anyway; try carrying her around in a carrier or leaving her in her car seat instead.

Clothing, shoes, & accessories

Newborn & infant clothing (must have…in reasonable quantities!)

Clothing is another area where it’s easy to go overboard.  Yes, baby clothing is adorable; there’s just no getting around it! But, if you are a committed minimalist, you can get by with a lot less than you think.  Many parents end up overbuying clothing, and end up giving away (or selling at a huge loss) tons of like new or even never worn clothing (keep in mind that early on, clothing is outgrown in only a few months).  Just use your common sense to guide how much you actually need to buy: for example, if you plan to do laundry every three days, then you only need three days’ worth of clothes (taking into account a few changes per day, due to spit-up, accidents, etc.).  At the very beginning babies can wear pretty much the same thing night and day — so no need to invest in distinct daytime outfits vs. sleepwear, etc.

Tip: Pick clothes that will keep baby comfortable

What’s most important in the first few months is that the clothing you buy is loose and comfortable (e.g. not constrictive at the waist), and is weather-appropriate.  In hot weather, a simple short-sleeve onesie may be enough; in moderate or cool weather, one-piece sleepers or long-sleeve onesies along with stretchy pants/leggings/footies may be appropriate.  In cold weather, you’ll obviously need additional layers, particularly for going outside.  For the first month or so, until the umbilical cord falls off — consider side snap tees that won’t irritate the umbilical area.

Tip: Shop for easy dressing and diaper changes

For the first few months, when baby is small, consider side-snap tees and onesies so you don’t have to pull them over baby’s head.  For easy diaper changes, consider sleepers with full-length zippers (instead of full-length snaps) or gowns.  For ease of dressing, consider tops with built-in newborn mittens, and pants with built-in footies. Also, make sure you get a few skull caps to keep baby warm through the newborn stage.

Tip: Don’t buy too much NB clothing

A note on sizing: Most babies need NB sizes for a month or so, but not all do — consider buying mostly 0-3 month clothing ahead of time, and only a few NB size pieces, before baby arrives.

Favorite brands/products: There’s no shortage of baby clothing stores.  Just a few of our favorites include Under the Nile, Kate Quinn Organics, and Kushies for organic cotton basics; Gap, Old Navy, and H&M for cute, dependable basics; Mini Boden and Janie & Jack for splurge pieces.  See all TotScoop parent clothing favorites here.

What you DON’T need

In the first six months, you should have absolutely no (legitimate) need for…

  • Jeans, stiff pants, or pants with buttons: Too uncomfortable and/or impractical for newborns and infants.  You want loose, non-constrictive clothing with stretchy waists.
  • Shoes: You don’t need any real shoes until baby starts walking (or, at the earliest, cruising).  Companies sell “crib shoes” for non-mobile babies, but they’re just for show.  Footies, booties, or socks should be sufficient for keeping baby’s feet warm.  If you absolutely can’t resist some adorable crib shoes, make sure to get ones with soft soles that will not impede natural foot development.
  • Baby formalwear: Adorable, but totally impractical.  Even if you have a wedding or formal event — nobody cares if your six-month-old baby is in a cotton onesie and pants.  So whenever you see those seersucker or gray flannel suits, even on the sale rack — move on by!

Breastfeeding/feeding

Nursing pillow (must have)

This isn’t strictly a necessity (plenty of moms get by without one), but honestly if you aren’t on a super tight budget, we think it’s more than worthwhile.  Nursing is hard enough as it is, and you’ll use it enough to make it pay for itself many times over!

Favorite brands/products: The Brest Friend is the top recommendation of most lactation consultants, and therefore is our top pick.  The Boppy is also very popular, and can also be used for propping up baby, etc.  See all TotScoop parent breastfeeding favorites here.

Nursing accessories (must have)

If you plan to breastfeed, you will almost certainly need nipple cream/ointment at the beginning.  A few good nursing bras (including at least 2 daytime bras and at least 2 comfortable nighttime bras) and some nursing pads to stop leaks are also must haves.  A nursing cover is a nice to have, but not an essential; if you want to cover up, you can also use a swaddle blanket or similar.

Favorite brands/products: See all TotScoop parent breastfeeding favorites here.

Basic burp cloths and bibs (must have)

For burp cloths, you’ll need something soft and easy to wash that you won’t mind getting spit-up on.  But that doesn’t mean you need to pay a lot for fancy dedicated burp cloths.  This could be something as simple as an old t-shirt, a multi-purpose swaddle blanket, or (our favorite) a cloth diaper.  For bibs, you’ll probably want to get some basic, waterproof bibs once baby starts feeding from a bottle and/or drooling heavily (most babies start teething around four months).

Favorite brands/products: See TotScoop parent bib & burp cloth favorites here.

Pacifiers (optional)

These aren’t necessities, but many parents find them helpful in the first few weeks or month.  They’re so cheap that it’s probably not a bad idea to have one or two on hand.  Don’t invest in any more, though, until you figure out whether baby will take a pacifier at all, and if so which type she prefers.

Favorite brands/products: See TotScoop parent pacifier & teething favorites here.

Baby bottles (must have)

If you plan to ever be separated from baby at mealtime during her first year, you’ll need some bottles and nipples.  If you’re breastfeeding, pediatricians recommend waiting to introduce a bottle until around four weeks old, to avoid nipple confusion.  If you want to minimize how much gear you have to buy, skip the smaller 4oz. bottles (which babies can only use for a few months anyway) and go straight to 8-9oz. bottles.  Also, we recommend you buy one or two bottles from several different bottle “systems” to start; avoid investing in any one system until you see what baby likes best (many babies are very particular).  For breastfed babies, consider getting wideneck bottles with more natural nipple shapes to ease transition between breast and bottle.

Favorite brands/products: Our favorite general bottle systems are Born FreeAvent, and (for colicky/gassy babies) Dr. Brown’s.  For breastfed babies, here are wide-neck bottles from Avent, Tommee Tippee, and Dr. Brown’s.   If you prefer glass, here are top options from Born Free and Dr. Brown’s.  See all TotScoop parent bottle feeding favorites here.

Breast pump & accessories (must have)

If you plan to pump, a good breast pump is worth its weight in gold.  It’s worth it to get a double-electric pump (as well as a hands-free pumping bra) if you plan to do anything other than very occasional pumping.    You ‘ll also need milk storage containers if you plan to freeze milk longer term, and cleaning wipes if you plan to pump anywhere where you won’t have access to soap and running water.

Favorite brands/products: The Medela Pump-in-Style Advanced is our best bang-for-buck winner for double-electric pumps.  See all TotScoop parent breastfeeding favorites here.

What you DON’T need

  • 4oz. bottles: Babies can only use these smaller bottles for a few months anyway.  Save some bucks by going straight to the 8-9oz. bottles.
  • Specialized bottle drying rack and bottle brush: Unless you’re planning to do very heavy bottle feeding, a normal drying rack and bottle brush will suffice just fine.
  • Bottle warmer: Unnecessary (though you may choose to splurge on one if you’ll be bottle feeding a lot).
  • Sterilizer: Unnecessary (unless your doctor tells you otherwise, of course).
  • Pacifier pouch, clip, and wipes: Unnecessary.
  • Designer burp cloths and bibs:  Cute but unnecessary.

Bath & diapering

Diapers (must have)

Well, there’s pretty much no way getting around needing diapers (unless you are super crunch and are doing full-time Elimination Communication…).  Diapers should be changed promptly upon being wet or soiled, so you’ll go through quite a few in your baby’s lifetime.  Newborns go through 10-12 diapers per day; older babies fewer.

Tip: Save money by cloth diapering

If you are so inclined, you can save some money over your child’s diapering career by opting for cloth diapers.  As a bare minimum (if you can consistently do laundry every 1-2 days), you can get by with a stash of ~15-20 cloth diapers and ~5 diaper covers.  You can find several guides related to cloth diapering here.

Tip: Don’t buy too many NB size diapers

If you’re going disposable, consider buying just a single large pack of NB size diapers to start.  Some babies go straight to size 1 diapers, so you don’t want to overbuy.

Favorite brands/products: For disposable diapers — our favorite premium, green, non-toxic diapers are Bambo, Naty, and Earth’s Best (our value pick).  You can find a number of more detailed guides on diapering as well as TotScoop parent favorites here.

Wipes and accessories (must have)

For newborn wipes — you can hold off on the regular, solution-based disposable wipes for the first month or two.  Most pediatricians recommend using only wipes with water for the first few months anyhow.  For older babies, wipes with water will still do the job, or you can graduate to traditional solution-based wipes.  Reusable cloth wipes are also a great alternative at any age.

Diaper cream is also a must-have to treat rashes (once they appear; some babies are more prone to rashes than others, so no need to stock up prematurely).

Favorite brands/products:  For newborns — dry wipes like these work great (just add water), or you can get premoistened Water Wipes (which contain 99.9% water and 0.1% grapefruit seed extract).  For regular baby wipes, our top picks for safer baby wipes (including fewer questionable chemicals) include Honest Company, Naty, and Earth’s Best. Find more diapering guides & TotScoop parent favorites here.

Changing pad (optional)

A changing pad is not a strict necessity, but it sure is handy (to provide a soft surface and keep baby from rolling away).  If you want to go the strict minimalist route, you can just use a towel on the bed or on the floor too.

Favorite brands/products: Our top pick for a safer (e.g. no vinyl), but reasonably priced changing pad is the Oeuf.  If you have a bit more to spend, check out the  Naturepedic and the Keekaroo Peanut.  More diapering guides & TotScoop parent favorites here.

Baby bathtub / bath support (must have)

Some sort of safe place to bathe your newborn/infant (before they can sit up themselves in the big bathtub) is a must.  The best option for most parents is to get a infant-to-toddler tub, which have both a reclining newborn sling/position as well as an upright seated position for toddlers.  If you’re a minimalist, you’ll skip the newborn bucket tubs and sink inserts that will be outgrown after just a couple months.  If you like — and you have a suitable bathroom setup (e.g. a huge sink, or a tub that is comfortable to kneel over) — you can also consider skipping the infant tub and just using a bath support like one of these in your sink or big bathtub.

Favorite brands/products: If space is at a premium in your bathroom, get the The First Years Infant-to-Toddler Tub.  If you have a bit more space, get the Primo Eurobath.  See more baby bathtime buying guides and TotScoop parent favorites here.

Baby shampoo/wash and lotion (must have)

Unless you already use a very gentle shampoo/body wash and lotion for yourself, it’s worth getting a specialized baby shampoo/wash and lotion, especially for the newborn stage when skin is super sensitive.  Look for products that are gentle and fragrance free.

Favorite brands/products: See parent favorites for shampoo/body wash and toiletries on our main site.

What you DON’T need

  • Wipe warmer: Simply not necessary.  Life is rough, kid.  Get used to it 😉
  • Specialized baby bath towel, bathrobe, and/or washcloths: A hooded baby towel and dedicated washcloths are definitely not necessities.  If you are a true minimalist (and this is the true test, my friend, as baby towels can be truly irresistible lol), any towel or washcloth you already have sitting around the house will get the job done.
  • Tons of bath toys: One or two carefully chosen baby bath toys should be sufficient.  Baby doesn’t need much to be entertained, and any more won’t fit in an infant tub anyway.

Health & safety

Baby monitor (must have)

We consider a baby monitor to be in the necessary category — and preferably video rather than just audio.  But before you splurge on an expensive dedicated unit, definitely check out smartphone apps such as Cloud Baby Monitor, which may satisfy your needs (you do, however, need to have an extra device that can be left as the broadcasting unit in baby’s room).

Favorite brands/products: Our top budget video monitor picks are from Infant Optics and Levana.  For a bit more, you can upgrade to an Infant Optics model with interchangeable lens, the Motorola MBP33/36, Samsung SEW-3037W, or Dropcam.  See more TotScoop parent favorites here.

Baby thermometer (must have)

MUST HAVE.  A necessity, unless you already have a forehead/aural/rectal thermometer at home.  Rectal thermometers are the most accurate, but minimalists may be able to squeeze by with just an aural thermometer (which is more useful as baby grows).  Just be prepared that you may need to run to the drugstore to get a rectal thermometer as well if baby gets a high fever as a newborn.

Favorite brands/products: Braun ThermoScan Ear Thermometer

Bulb syringe/nasal aspirator (must have)

A necessity until your child learns to blow her own nose.  Trust us, it’s worth it to upgrade from a bulb syringe (the kind they give you at the hospital) to a suction-powered nasal aspirator like the popular NoseFrida (MUCH more effective at removing snot).

Favorite brands/productsNoseFrida

Humidifer (optional)

Optional.  Helpful to decrease congestion and/or treat dry skin.  Note that cool mist humidifers are preferred to warm mist versions for mobile babies for safety reasons.

Favorite brands/productsCrane

Baby-safe cleaning products (optional)

If you don’t already use “green”/“safer” (i.e. EWG “A” rated) cleaners — such as all-purpose and bathroom cleaners, laundry detergent, stain remover, dish detergent, etc.— consider switching to them during pregnancy or when baby is born.  They’re safer not just for baby, but also for the rest of your family!  NOTE: Do your homework — don’t buy a product just because it markets itself as “baby-safe,” because often those are just as bad as conventional cleaners. For example, Dreft laundry detergent and most Babyganics products get terrible EWG ratings.  Check ratings on EWG first — see here.

What you DON’T need (at least not yet)

Toys & books (optional)

Babies need a pretty minimal assortment of toys and books in their first six months.  You don’t really need anything for the first month or two; if you like you can get one or two high-contrast items to encourage visual development.  After baby starts being able to focus on objects other than faces, a thoughtful selection of a handful of soft toys/books, grasping toys, and/or musical toys should be sufficient.  You don’t need to go overboard buying dedicated baby toys — as generations of parents will attest, simple household objects (try kitchen objects such as wooden spoons, whisks, mixing bowls, etc.) will do the job as well!

Favorite brands/products: Some of our favorite basic infant toy brands are Manhattan Toy, Wimmer-Ferguson, Sassy, Lamaze, and Infantino.  For premium, non-toxic (e.g. wooden and organic) toys and teethers, our go-to brands are HABACamden RoseMaple Landmark Toys, Under the Nile, and miYim.  Also see our editors’ picks and TotScoop parent favorites for toys and books.


What did we miss?  Tell us in the comments!

Note: All featured products and brands are editorially selected by our editors; we do not accept compensation in exchange for coverage.  This post does contain affiliate links, meaning we may receive a small proportion of any purchases you make after clicking on them (at no cost to you); thanks for your support!  See our full Editorial Policy & Affiliate Disclosure here.

The Complete Guide to Non-Toxic Baby Products

From safe crib mattresses to flame retardant-free gear to non-toxic toys, this guide contains everything you need to know to shop for non-toxic baby products!

Every parent wants the best for his or her child.  But many parents don’t realize that there are harmful chemicals in many mainstream baby products.  In this guide we’ll arm you with everything you need to know in order to make safer choices for your child.  This is going to be a long one — below is a quick preview of what’s ahead so you can jump around easily.

CONTENTS

Why non-toxic?

Harmful chemicals aren’t great for anyone, but babies are especially susceptible to their negative effects.  First, their tiny little bodies make them vulnerable; pound for pound, they are exposed to more contaminants than adults.  Second, their immature metabolism and organ systems are less capable of fending off harmful chemicals.  Third, babies spend a lot of time on the floor, where they’re more likely to inhale dust and particles.  And last, the fact that babies put their hands, toys, and everything else in their mouths makes them more likely to ingest the chemicals to which they are exposed.

Nursery

Given the amount of time your baby will spend sleeping in her room — it’s worth investing in a safe nursery, and in particular a safe sleeping environment.

Crib & other furniture

Avoid: Formaldehyde-based glues/resins, toxic finishes

If possible, avoid pressed wood, plywood, particleboard, and/or chipboard, which are often glued together with formaldehyde-based glues or resins.

Also avoid wood finishes that emit VOCs (volatile organic compounds) and/or contain heavy metals.

Look for: Solid wood or manufactured alternatives using safer glues, non-toxic wood finishes

If your budget allows, seek out furniture constructed out of solid wood.  If not, your next best option is to look specifically for formaldehyde-free glues — look for PureBond glue or a water-based glue certified by GREENGUARD or “Green Seal.”  If you already have a problematic hand-me-down crib, consider sealing it with a non-toxic sealant such as AFM Safecoat Safe Seal.

Then, regardless of the wood content, also look for wood furniture with a legitimately non-toxic finish; this means it is no- or low-VOC (volatile organic compound) and does not contain any heavy metals.

A few of the only truly non-toxic wood finishes include shellac, beeswax, tung oil, and linseed oil (flax seed oil).  Look for a finish that is “food-grade” to ensure the safest possible finish for your child.

Next best are finishes that are water-based and “no VOC,” then “low-VOC.” Note that many (really, almost all) cribs are marketed as having a “non-toxic finish,” but this doesn’t necessarily mean they are safe. It simply means that they meet federal safety standards for lead in paint or surface coatings — i.e., meet or exceed the CPSIA lead limit of 90ppm (which unfortunately is not a strict enough standard).  Look for products with documented test results of lead and other heavy metals. If they don’t readily come forward with good test results and/or aren’t transparent about their process, then chances are that their products don’t meet the bar for being non-toxic.

Value pick: IKEA Gulliver crib

Think there’s no such thing as an affordable non-toxic crib?  Think again.  IKEA’s Gulliver crib costs only $120.  It’s made out of solid birch (even the base on which the mattress rests!).   Even more incredible is their Sniglar crib, which is made of solid beech (again, even the base!) and costs a jaw-dropping $80 (!).  Both are coated with a clear acrylic lacquer (sadly, they are no longer available unfinished).  The product descriptions on the IKEA website do not specifically disclose any details about the lacquer, however here is what IKEA customer service had to say about it when I contacted them via email (in January 2015):

The lacquer is non toxic and should not contain any VOC’s. But remember that a wooden frame will contain some formaldehyde due to it naturally occurring, in wood. All paint and lacquer are manufactured with water based non-toxic materials.

Does the Gulliver crib have formaldehyde or VOCs in it? Yes, The formaldehyde. The IKEA limit value is equal to the most stringent requirement in Europe and is for a complete product max 0.10 ppm accordingly to the European Standard EN 717-1 (chamber test method). Less than what is required in North American. In North America the ASTME 1333-96 legislation says that complete products produced and sold in North America should not have emission values that exceed 0.12 ppm.

Bottom line, I’m fairly confident that these cribs are safer than 99% of the cribs on the market — and they’re an incredible deal to boot.

Think there's no such thing as an affordable non-toxic crib? Think again. IKEA Gulliver crib, $129. Solid birch body and base frame; clear acrylic lacquer.

Everyday pick: Babyletto Hudson 3-in-1 crib

The Hudson is safer than most cribs on the market, and offers fantastic value at only $379 (which even includes a convertible bed rail to boot).  Not only do we love the modern, low-rise design, but even more importantly we also love its safety profile.  The Hudson is made out of solid sustainable New Zealand pine wood (it has a metal mattress base, instead of one made of MDF like most affordably priced cribs), and is GREENGUARD Gold certified for very low VOC emissions.  The manufacturer claims that all of its cribs far exceed federal safety standards for lead (<10ppm vs. <90ppm), and that formaldehyde and phthalates are undetectable in all of its products.  The Hudson is manufactured in Taiwan.

babyletto Hudson crib

Premium pick: Land of Nod Grey Low-Rise Crib

Our pick for a modern non-toxic crib available through mainstream channels is the Grey Low-Rise Crib ($899) from The Land of Nod.  Made by El Greco Woodworking, it’s made from solid maple and is no-VOC (it utilizes formaldehyde-free glues and and a lacquer that is GREENGUARD-certified after the initial 30-day cure time).  See more details on how El Greco furniture is made here.  If this one isn’t quite your style, El Greco also sells a number of other cribs through The Land of Nod and Room & Board.

Land of Nod grey low rise crib

If you’re willing work a bit harder and pay a bit more to get to get a top-of-the-line non-toxic crib (in the $800-1300 range), also check out the Pacific Rim (solid maple, food-grade tung oil and beeswax finish) and Green Cradle (solid wood, linseed oil finish) cribs.

Crib mattresses

Avoid: Polyurethane foam, PVC/vinyl, flame retardants

Avoid polyurethane foam, mattresses wrapped in PVC/vinyl, antibacterial or stain-resistant coatings, and anything containing flame retardants.

Look for: Organic or certified-safe mattresses, natural fibers

Top choices include organic and/or GREENGUARD-certified mattresses.  If your budget allows, consider one made exclusively from untreated natural fibers, such as organic cotton, wool, coir, or latex.

Premium pick: Naturepedic No Compromise Organic Cotton Classic 150 Crib Mattress

Naturepedic is widely recognized as the premier source of organic, non-toxic mattresses.  Their mattresses consist of organic cotton filling inside organic cotton fabric, topped with a safer, food-grade polyethylene waterproofing layer.  They are certified organic to the GOTS Standard and are also certified to the most stringent GREENGUARD “select” certification standard.  Their No Compromise Organic Cotton Classic 150 Crib Mattress costs $259 on Amazon.

naturepedic crib mattress

Bedding

Avoid: Treated fabrics, and if possible also conventionally grown cotton

Avoid any bedding that has been treated to be “wrinkle-free,” “stain resistant,” “antibacterial,” etc.

Conventionally growth cotton is cultivated using a staggering amount of pesticides.  If you buy conventionally grown cotton bedding, wash it several times before use.

Look for: Organic cotton or certified-safer textiles

Look for any 100% organic cotton bedding.  Next best are any other textiles certified to the Oeko-Tex Standard or the Global Organic Textiles Standards.

See organic crib bedding at Amazon.

Rockers & gliders

Avoid: Flame retardants, non-certified safer polyurethane foam

Beware any products containing polyurethane foam, particularly those manufactured before 2014-15, when new flammability standards came into effect in California making it easier for furniture manufacturers to meet the standards without the use of chemical flame retardants.

Even if if you’re able to confirm a the polyurethane foam doesn’t contain any flame retardants, the foam itself may still offgas.

Look for: No flame retardants, certified-safer polyurethane foam

Look for rockers/gliders free of flame retardants.

Furthermore, if you’re going to buy a product containing polyurethane foam, look for a CertiPUR-US certified foam to make sure the foam itself is safe.

Premium pick: Dutailier wood gliders

If you’re looking for comfort above all else, and don’t mind a more traditional look and some (safer) flame retardants, Dutailier’s wood gliders ($500-1000) are a great choice.  They ain’t cheap, but we promise it’ll be worth it after your umpteenth night spent sleeping in it.  They are filled with CertiPUR-US certified polyurethane foam and polyester fill. According to Dutailier customer service, their foam no longer contains any flame retardants as of March 2014. Dutailier products manufactured before that date, however, likely contain flame retardants, though not PBDEs or chlorinated tris.

Dutailier glider

Splurge pick: Monte Design Joya Rocker

The modern Joya Rocker ($1095, plus an additional $395 for the optional ottoman) from Monte Design may cost you an arm and leg, but it’s the most gorgeous nursery chair we’ve seen — and, most importantly, it’s completely safe for your little one.  It is filled with polyurethane foam that is partially derived from soybeans, and is free of flame retardants and CertiPUR-US certified to be low-VOC.  The outer fabric is Oeko-Tex certified microfiber.

Monte Design Joya Rocker

Changing pads

Avoid: Flame retardants, (non-certified) polyurethane foam, PVC/vinyl waterproofing layer

Most mainstream changing pads are made of polyurethane foam,, which is often treated with flame retardants.  In particular, polyurethane foam changing pads manufactured prior to January 2014 (when changing pads were finally exempted from from CA flammability standards under the revised TB117-2013 standard) are very likely to contain flame retardants.

Even if if you’re able to confirm a the polyurethane foam doesn’t contain any flame retardants, the foam itself may still offgas.

Also avoid changing pads wrapped in PVC/vinyl.

Look for: Safer core material, no flame retardants, safer waterproofing layer

Choose a changing pad made of natural materials, such as 100% wool or cotton, or a safer synthetic such as polyester fiber core or CertiPUR-US certified polyurethane foam.

No matter what material your changing pad is made out of, make sure it is free of flame retardants.

If a waterproofing layer is important to you, look for safer waterproofing materials such as polyethylene or polyurethane laminate.  Wool is also naturally water-resistant (but is not 100% waterproof).

Everyday pick: Oeuf Pure and Simple Contoured Changing Pad

Manufactured by Colgate for Oeuf, this affordable non-toxic pad ($50) is made from plant-based, CertiPUR-US certified polyurethane foam and is topped with a cloth cover backed with food-grade polyurethane.  It is free of flame retardants and is GREENGUARD-certified.

oeuf changing pad

Premium pick: Naturepedic Organic Cotton Contoured Changing Pad

From the gold standard brand name in non-toxic mattresses comes this safe yet practical non-toxic changing pad ($99).  It consists of organic cotton filling and a support layer made from 100% food-grade polyethylene, topped with organic cotton fabric with a stain-resistant 100% polyethylene food-grade waterproof coating.

Naturepedic changing pad

Splurge pick: Holy Lamb Organics wool changing pad

If you want to go totally plastic-free, this wool pad from Holy Lamb Organics ($175) features an organic cotton outer and 100% premium eco-wool inner filling.  It’s not waterproof, so be sure to use a water-resistant wool puddle pad or safer waterproofing layer on top.  Add an absorbent cotton layer (cloth diaper prefolds work great) under baby for an additional layer of protection and easy cleanup.

Holy Lamb Organics wool changing pad

Non-toxic paint

Avoid: Traditional paints

Traditional paints include solvents that help ingredients to stay evenly dissolved and to dry.  However, they emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs) as they dry.

Look for: No- or low-VOC paints

Choose low- or no-VOC paints, or alternatives like milk paints.

Also don’t paint while you’re pregnant, especially if scraping of old paint (which may or may not contain lead) is involved.

Lullaby Paints is one brand that specializes in no-VOC paints for nurseries.  Also check out this list of other low- and no-VOC paints from Babycenter.

Gear

Strollers

Avoid: Flame retardants, fabric coatings

Avoid flame retardants whenever possible.  Strollers manufactured prior to December 2010 (when strollers were exempted from the flammability requirements of CA TB 117) are very likely to contain flame retardants.  And while many strollers manufactured after that date do not contain them, there is no guarantee, so you should definitely check.  You will probably need to inquire directly with the manufacturer to find out what if any specific flame retardants they use.

According to research from the folks at Organic Baby University, the following stroller manufacturers self-reported flame retardant use at time of writing: Baby Trend, Inglesina, Combi, Peg Perego, Chicco (safer flame retardant), and Cybex.  (Note: Other sources suggest that Inglesina and Peg Perego may have  phased out flame retardants since then.  Others may have as well, given changing regulations.  As always, we recommend checking directly with the manufacturer before making a purchase.)  For specific recommendations on the best strollers for different needs and lifestyles, see here.

If you already own a stroller with flame retardants, you can reduce them by leaving it outside in the sun for a few days and/or by washing the cover with soap (not laundry detergent).

Avoid any fabrics treated with any coatings (e.g. to provide waterproofing, stain resistance, or anti-bacterial protection).  BOB strollers reportedly have a polyurethane coating for stain resistance.

Look for: No flame retardants, no fabric coatings, organic/certified textiles (if desired)

Look for a stroller that contains no flame retardants or fabric coatings (e.g. for waterproofing, stain resistance, anti-bacterial protection, etc.).

According to Organic Baby University, the following stroller brands are free of flame retardants (based on self-reporting from the manufacturers): Bumbleride, Bugaboo, Baby Jogger (manufactured after September 2013), Britax, BOB, Maclaren, Maxi Cosi, Phil & Ted’s, Mountain Buggy, Orbit Baby, Mamas and Papas, Evenflo, The First Years, Graco, 4moms, and Joovy.  UPPAbaby strollers (manufactured after July 2014) are free of flame retardants in “forward-facing” (i.e. external) fabrics only; they decline to verify whether the foam is treated (boo!).

If desired, you can also look for a stroller featuring organic, Oeko-Tex, or GOTS-certified fabrics.  Orbit Baby features only uses fabrics certified to the Oeko-Tex 100 Standard.

Car seats

Unfortunately, all car seats sold in the U.S. today are treated with chemical flame retardants, due to Federal Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 302 (which governs flammability of all interior materials in cars).  However, you still have room to make a safer choice within these constraints.

Avoid: Brominated and chlorinated flame retardants

Avoid car seats treated with halogenated (i.e. brominated or chlorinated) flame retardants (such as TDCPP and TCPP).  Unfortunately, this includes almost all car seats on the market.

If you buy or already have a conventional car seat, you can reduce the flame retardants in your seat by leaving it outside in the sun for a few days or washing the cover with soap (not laundry detergent).

Look for: Safer flame retardants, certified-safer textiles (if desired)

Look for “safer,” non-halogenated flame retardants such as phosphate-based or Oeko-Tex certified flame retardants.  Nuna, Clek, Cybex, Orbit Baby, Diono, and Britax are the six brands we are aware of that either claim to use safer flame retardants, or to sell seats that meet the flammability standards without the addition of chemical flame retardants.

If desired, you can also look for Oeko-Tex certified fabrics, which meet or exceed strict limits for nearly 200 chemicals (including heavy metals, phthalates, formaldehyde, pesticides, and flame retardants). Orbit and Nuna car seats feature Oeko-Tex certified fabrics.

Top infant car seat pick: Nuna Pipa infant seat

The Nuna Pipa ($300) car seat incorporates a safer flame retardant (ammonium polyphosphate) as well as Oeko-Tex certified fabrics.  Per a phone conversation I had with their customer service team, none of the exterior fabrics is treated with flame retardants, only the interior foam.  We also love how refreshingly forthcoming this company is about what chemicals are used in their seats.  Add all that to the modern design and unique safety features such as a load leg, and you have our top infant car seat pick.

Nuna Pipa infant car seat

Top convertible car seat pick: Clek Foonf

The Clek Foonf ($432) is also free of bromine and chlorine-based flame retardants.  This was confirmed for 2014 models by third-party independent tester HealthyStuff.org.  Clek’s Crypton “Super Fabric” covers, treated to provide protection against stains, moisture and odor-causing bacteria, are GREENGUARD Select Certified.  This seat also gets high marks from car seat experts for safety and usability, so if it’s in your price range there’s no good reason not to buy it.  We have one for our preschooler and have been very happy with it.

Clek Foonf

Runner up: Orbit Baby G3 Infant Car Seat and G3 Toddler Seat

Orbit Baby has long been a leader in non-toxic baby gear.  Their G2 products used only Oeko Tex certified fabrics AND foam, however since their foam supplier went out of business they have transitioned to only using a bromine-free standard for their foam. Their G3 Infant Car Seat ($440) and G3 Toddler seat ($380) still are both supposedly free of all brominated and chlorinated flame retardants, however we’ve seen some concerning results from independent testing that suggest that many Orbit car seats are testing positive for more hazardous flame retardants.  We can’t conscionably give them our highest recommendation until this gets sorted out (especially given the price point), but it’s definitely worth checking in on the situation before you buy.  You can see a statement from Orbit Baby here.

Runner up: Britax B-Safe (infant) and convertible car seats

Britax has made major strides in this area (and seems to have been doing a great job of marketing it as well) recently.  They have switched to exclusive use of safer, non-halogenated fire retardants, as of January 1, 2013.  The Britax B-Safe ($144) is a top-rated infant car seat, and Britax of course also sells some of the most popular convertible car seats as well — and all at more affordable price points than our top picks — so they are definitely worth considering.

Runner up: Diono Radian R Series (convertibles)

The Diono Radian R series (i.e. Radian RXT, R120 and R100; $208-270) include several styles (“Storm” and “Rugby”) with fabrics that are complete free of fire retardants.  Diono explains that the micro-mesh velour fabric is flame retardant without requiring any added chemical treatment.  The interior foam is likely still treated with flame retardants, but overall this is still better than most other car seats on the market.

Baby carriers

Avoid: Flame retardants

Sadly, many baby carriers (especially older ones) contain flame retardants.  Baby carriers sold prior to December 2010 (when carriers were exempted from the flammability requirements of CA TB 117) are very likely to contain them, and some sold after that date inexplicably contain them as well.  If you’re not sure about your carrier, you’ll probably need to contact the manufacturer to ask.

Look for: No flame retardants, organic or certified-safe textiles (if desired)

Based on manufacturer inquiries by the folks at Organic Baby University and The Mindful Home, Ergo, Baby Bjorn, Moby, Baby K’Tan, Beco (carriers manufactured after January 2013), Catbird Baby, Babyhawk, Lillebaby, Maya, Onya Baby, Peapod, Kelty, Deuter, Graco, and Infantino all self-report their carriers to be free of flame retardants.  Boba also confirmed via email that they have never used flame retardants.  You can safely pick any of these carriers that meet your needs (for specific recommendations, see here).

If you desire, organic or certified-safe fabrics are also available from several manufacturers.  Organic cotton editions are available from Ergo and many other manufacturers.  Baby Bjorn carrier fabrics are certified to the Oeko-Tex Standard 100 Class 1 standard, indicating that they are free from all substances hazardous to health and allergens.

Playards/travel cribs

Avoid: Flame retardants, non-certified safer polyurethane foam

Many playards contain mattresses made of polyurethane foam, which has potential to offgas and most likely also contains flame retardants (especially those manufactured prior to 2014, when playards were exempted from flammability standards under the revised CA TB 117-2013).  Unfortunately, manufacturers are not required to stop using flame retardants in playards, so you still need to do your homework.

In particular, be aware that the ultra-popular Graco Pack N Play did contain fire retardants prior to January 2014.

Look for: No flame retardants, safer mattress, certified-safer fabrics

If you’re buying a new playard, look for one containing no flame retardants, and try to avoid polyurethane foam unless it is a certified low-VOC foam (though sadly these are very rare).  If you already have an older playard with a polyurethane foam mattress and/or a mattress treated with flame retardants, consider swapping it out for a safer mattress (though make sure for safety reasons that the fit is very tight), for example one made of cotton, wool, or CertiPUR-US certified foam that is free of flame retardants.

At least some newer Graco Pack N Plays are flame retardant free; here’s what customer service had to say via email: “We can also confirm that a Graco Pack N Play that is both manufactured after January 1, 2014, and does not have a California Technical Bulletin compliance tag attached, does not contain a flame retardant additive in the upholstered pad.”  It’s not clear whether they are endeavoring to remove flame retardants from all Pack N Play models, and you still run the risk of running into old stock out there — so take care to confirm that both of the above are true on the specific model that you receive — but going forward Graco can tentatively also be considered a safer brand.

Everyday pick: Lotus Travel Crib and Portable Baby Playard

Guava Family is a relative newcomer on the baby product scene, but its Lotus ($198) is top-rated.  It contains no flame retardants, PVC, phthalates, or lead.  The mattress is flame retardant-free polyurethane foam.  The main fabric body is machine washable.

Guava Family Lotus Travel Crib

Everyday pick: Nuna Sena

The Dutch-designed Nuna Sena ($199) features Oeko-Tex certified fabrics.   The mattress is made of polyurethane foam and fiber fill, but models manufactured after October 2013 are free of flame retardants.  According to their customer service team, Nuna funds independent third-party testing on the finished products to ensure that they are free of flame retardants, phthalates, bromine, etc. (major props to them for this!).  Of course, you need to be careful if you buy used (check the manufacturing date to make sure it’s after October 2013).

nuna sena

 

Premium pick: Baby Bjorn Travel Crib Light

If you’re looking for something on the more compact side, the Baby Bjorn Travel Crib Light ($250) is not only top-rated and super easy to use, but is also certified safe to the Oeko-Tex 100, Class 1 standard.  The mattress is made of 100% polyether foam (a type of polyurethane) but is free of flame retardants.  The main crib fabric and mattress cover are both removable and machine washable.

BabyBjorn travel crib

Bouncers & swings

Avoid: Flame retardants, non-certified safer polyurethane foam

Most baby bouncer and swings historically contain flame retardants.  Those manufactured prior to January 2014 (when both categories of products were exempted from flammability standards under the revised CA TB 117-2013) are especially likely to contain them; and unfortunately, many continue to contain them today.  Unless you are able to get information direct from the manufacturer that a bouncer or swing does not contain flame retardants, you should assume that it does.

The market leader in baby bouncers and swings, Fisher-Price, was unfortunately not at all forthcoming when contacted directly about their use of flame retardants, from which we can only conclude that their products are to be avoided.

Look for: No flame retardants, safer mattress, certified-safer fabrics

Below are two non-toxic bouncer picks free of flame retardants.

Sadly, we’re not aware of any conventional baby swings that are free of flame retardants.  If you learn of one, please let us know and we’ll up date this post.

Premium pick: Nuna Leaf Curv Bouncer

The beautiful, inertia-powered Nuna Leaf ($229) is Oeko-Tex certified and, according to the inquiry to the manufacturer, does not contain any flame retardants as of May 2013.  According to their customer service team, Nuna funds independent third-party testing on the finished products to ensure that they are free of flame retardants, phthalates, bromine, etc. (major props to them for this!).  Of course, you need to be careful if you buy used (check the manufacturing date to make sure it’s after May 2013).

Nuna Leaf

Premium pick: Baby Bjorn Bouncer Balance

The only Baby Bjorn Bouncer Balance ($163-177).  Available in cotton, mesh, and organic cotton.  All fabrics that touch baby’s skin in Baby Bjorn products are certified safe to the Oeko-Tex 100, Class 1 standard.

BabyBjorn Bouncer Balance

Activity gyms & mats

Avoid: Flame retardants, PVC, formamide

From baby activity gyms to toddler floor mats — most contain polyester fill and/or contain polyurethane foam.  Historically these products have been heavy on flame retardants, particular those manufactured prior to January 2014 (when floor play mats were exempted from flammability standards in the revised CA TB 117-2013).

Fisher-Price was unfortunately not at all forthcoming when contacted about their use of flame retardants, from which we can only conclude that their activity gyms are to be avoided.

Look for: Natural materials or safer foam, no flame retardants, safer mattress, certified-safer fabrics

The safest choice is a mat made of natural materials — for example, 100% cotton (including the fill), cork, or natural latex or rubber.

If you are set on a foam mat for the extra cushioning, look for a safer foam such as formamide-free EVA or phthalate-free PVC.

Breastfeeding pillows

Avoid: Flame retardants, PVC/vinyl waterproofing layers

Nursing pillows have been exempt from the flammability requirements of Technical Bulletin (TB) 117 since 2010.  However, older nursing pillows may contain flame retardants.  We recommended buying new instead of accepting an unvetted hand-me-down.

That said, newer pillows should be checked as well.  Avoid pillows labeled as meeting California flame retardant standard TB 117, and those made out of polyurethane foam (more likely to be treated with fire retardants), unless you are certain they are not treated with fire retardants (popular brands Boppy and My Brest Friend are OK).

Also avoid nursing pillows that use PVC/vinyl as a waterproofing layer.

Look for: Natural materials or safer synthetics, no flame retardants, safer waterproofing layers

The safest nursing pillows contain an organic outer layer and cotton, wool, or buckwheat fill.  If you want to get a polyester or polyurethane foam-filled pillow, make sure it is not treated with flame retardants.  Also, most nursing pillows don’t have a waterproof layer, but if you’re looking for one that does, make sure that you look for safer waterproofing materials (such as polyethylene).

Value pick: My Brest Friend

There aren’t too many products made out of polyurethane foam gracing our top picks lists, but My Brest Friend is so clearly the #1 pick of lactation consultants that we felt that omitting it would be irresponsible.  It may be filled with (non-certified-safer) polyurethane foam, but (according to the company) has been free of flame retardants since December 2010.  Older models, however, were treated with a flame retardant (reportedly phosphate-based ANTIBLAZE V6), so give older hand-me-downs a pass unless they are NOT labeled as meeting the TB 117 standard.

My Brest Friend

 

Runner up: The popular Boppy ($30 for basic pillow, $45 with organic slipcover) is filled with virgin polyester fiberfill, is covered in 90% polyester/10% cotton, and according to the company has always been free of flame retardants.  So it is a safer choice to buy either new or used.  Slipcovers are available in organic cotton and other fabrics.  A water-resistant protective cover made out of 100% micro-polyester is also available; it is fine as it not treated with any chemicals to make it waterproof.

Premium pick: Blessed Nest Nesting Pillow

The Nesting Pillow ($94) is filled with organic buckwheat hulls and covered in 100% cotton canvas (zippered slipcovers also available). I have used this pillow exclusively with my second child (5mo. as of time of writing; I previously used a Boppy and a Brest Friend with my first) and love it. It’s supportive, yet very moldable, so you can position it however you like. I personally prefer this shape to the Boppy shape as you can create a perfectly flat surface for baby (or angled, or whatever you want). It worked great during the newborn stage, and still works great for the infant stage (can’t personally speak beyond that as haven’t gotten there yet :)). If it’s within your budget, I highly recommend it.

Blessed Nest Nesting Pillow

Splurge pick: Holy Lamb Organics Bo Peep Nursing Pillow

If you prefer the classic Boppy shape, the Bo Peep ($110) is a top pick. It consists of 100% eco-wool batting topped with a 100% organic cotton cover.  We drool!

Holy Lamb Organics Bo Peep nursing pillow

Bottles/nipples & breast pumps

Avoid: Plastic containing BPA or phthalates; rubber nipples

Older plastic bottles made of polycarbonate (plastic #7; a clear, hard plastic) may contain bisphenol A (BPA), which can leach into formula and breast milk.  BPA was banned by the FDA in baby bottles and sippy cups in July 2012, and in infant formula packaging in July 2013, so products on the shelves today should all be BPA-free. Be sure to inspect any hand-me-downs, however, to make sure they were manufactured after that date and/or are BPA-free.

Avoid latex rubber nipples, which can cause allergic reactions and may also contain phthalates.

Avoid any breast pump that does not explicitly say that all of the parts are BPA-free and phthalate-free (most of them these days should).  This is important since they will need to withstand frequent washings in hot water.

Look for: Glass or BPA-free plastic bottles; clear silicone nipples; BPA-free formula packaging

When bottle feeding infants, choose glass or BPA-free plastic bottles.

BPA-free plastic bottles are largely believed to be safe, however several studies (see here and here) have already found that BPA-free plastics can still have significant amounts of estrogenic activity.  Cautious parents wary of other harmful chemicals potentially being discovered in plastic in the future may prefer to opt for glass as the safest option.

Use clear silicone nipples.

When warming bottles, always do so in a pan of hot water rather than in the microwave.  Microwaving not only degrades the milk and heats it unevenly, but can also cause chemicals to leach from plastic.

If you are formula feeding, make sure the formula you buy comes in BPA-free packaging.  All metal cans containing formula that are manufactured after July 2013 should be BPA-free, but if on doubt you can opt for or liquid formula in glass or plastic containers or powdered formula.  Use filtered water to purify and remove fluoride as needed.

For cleaning plastic bottles and pump parts: do a thorough sterilization before first use, but after that washing with hot soapy water should be sufficient most of the time.  Note that frequent sterilization in the microwave or in boiling water will speed breakdown of the plastic, so sterilize only when you really need to do so.

Here are a few favorite safer bottle systems:

See all BPA-free bottles on Amazon

See glass bottles on Amazon

Pacifiers & teethers

Avoid: Plastic (unless explicitly marked PVC, BPA, and phthalate-free)

Beware especially soft plastic teethers, such as the kind that can be chilled in the freezer, as they are typically made of PVC and are softened with phthalates.

Purists may want to avoid all plastic, even products marked PVC, BPA, and phthalate-free, since some studies have suggested that other plastics can have estrogenic properties as well (see links above).

Look for: Silicone, rubber, organic cotton, unfinished wood

Here are some favorite pacifiers:

And some favorite non-toxic teethers:

Food prep & storage

Avoid: Plastic containing BPA, Teflon/non-stick cookware

Only buy plastic products that do not contain BPA. Most manufacturer clearly label their products as “BPA-free” on the packaging, so if it’s not there, it’s probably not BPA-free.  If you’re unsure about an older plastic item, check the plastic recycling code on the bottom; if it’s #7, give it a pass and recycle it.

According to EWG, you should avoid Teflon/non-stick cookware because it can release toxic fumes at high temperatures.  If you already own Teflon cookware, take steps to keep it from reaching unsafe temperatures.

Look for: Glass or BPA-free plastic, stainless steel or cast iron cookware

For preparing and storing food under normal temperature conditions, BPA-free plastic is generally considered safe.

However, for any dishes that you plan to microwave or regularly wash in the dishwasher, we recommend glass over plastic.  Exposing plastic (even BPA-free plastic) to high temperatures (and/or detergent) has been shown to cause the plastic to break down and leach other chemicals into food.  Containers labeled “microwave-safe” have been tested by the FDA to meet prescribed limits for leached chemicals — but why risk it?  Plastic labeled “dishwasher-safe” can go in the dishwasher, but put it on the top rack to minimize heat exposure.

As for freezer storage, we haven’t yet seen any compelling evidence that BPA-plastic is unsafe for long-term storage — but many parents choose glass or silicone “just in case” here as well.

In terms of food preparation techniques, maximize vitamins and minerals by steaming, baking, or broiling.

Top safer food prep & storage picks:

Tabletop (dishes, cups, utensils)

Avoid: Plastic containing BPA, microwaving plastics

Avoid polycarbonate containers (marked with a #7 or “PC”), especially for children’s food and drinks, unless they are specifically marked “BPA-free.”

Look for: Stainless steel, glass, silicone, safer plastic

The safest materials for serving food are stainless steel or glass.  Food-grade silicone is also safe (the safest kind, pure silicone without any additives, will pass the “pinch test,” meaning it will not turn white when you pinch it).

If you prefer the convenience of plastic, look for safer plastics marked with #1, 2, 4, or 5 recycling codes (which don’t contain BPA and are generally safer for foods).  Don’t microwave plastics or use them with hot foods or liquids.  Wash them by hand or on the top rack of the dishwasher.  Discard worn plastic items.

Top safer tabletop picks:

Food

Favor fresh, unprocessed foods; avoid packaging containing BPA and PFCs

Fresh is better than frozen, and frozen is better than canned.  Minimize consumption of processed foods, which have reduced nutritional value.

If you have to buy canned foods, try to avoid packaging containing BPA.  Sadly, almost ALL canned foods today (even organic foods) are still packaged in metal cans containing BPA in the liner; see here for a handy cheat sheet of the few brands that use BPA-free cans.   If it’s not explicitly labeled as BPA-free, you must assume it has BPA.  If you buy conventional cans, rinse well before preparing to minimize BPA exposure.

Also avoid packaging containing and perfluorochemicals (PFCs) such as Teflon and Scotchgard, used for moisture resistance in some paper packaging.

Buy organic produce to limit exposure to pesticides

Buy organic when you can.  If it’s prohibitively expensive to buy everything organic — you can pick and choose wisely, and still make a huge impact on your family’s pesticide consumption.  Check out EWG’s 2014 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce for guidance on what foods are most and least important to buy organic, including their handy “Dirty Dozen” and “Clean Fifteen” rule-of-thumb lists.

See also EWG’s helpful guide to buying Good Food on a Tight Budget.

Buy organic meat/dairy to limit exposure to growth hormones & antibiotics

Organic meat and dairy products are prohibited by law from containing antibiotics and growth hormones.  See also EWG’s Meat Eater’s Guide to Climate Change and Health.

Avoid food additives & preservatives

Avoid artificial colors, preservatives, artificial sweeteners, added sugar, and added salt as much as possible.  See here for a more detailed list of additives & preservatives to look for in ingredient lists from Healthy Child.

Avoid nitrites and nitrates

Sodium nitrite and sodium nitrate are food preservatives and curing agents — often found in processed foods and cured meats like hot dogs and cold cuts.  Excessive levels of nitrates are linked to health concerns, especially in kids.  Nitrites can convert into nitrates under certain circumstances, making them problematic as well.

See Healthy Child’s tips for reducing your family’s consumption of nitrites and nitrates.

Bath, potty, & cleaning

Baby shampoos & lotions

Most conventional baby personal care products contain ingredients that are of at least some health concern; and some are of high health concern.  Buy smart and use products sparingly to minimize your child’s exposure to harmful chemicals.

When inspecting ingredient labels for personal care products in general, here’s what to look out for, according to EWG:

  • Start at the end, with preservatives. Avoid:
    • Words ending in “paraben”
    • DMDM hydantoin
    • Imidazolidinyl urea
    • Methylchloroisothiazolinone
    • Methylisothiazolinone
    • Triclosan
    • Triclocarban
    • Triethanolamine (or “TEA”)
  • Check the beginning of the ingredients lists, where soaps, surfactants, and lubricants show up. Try to avoid ingredients that start with “PEG” or have an “-eth” in the middle (e.g., sodium laureth sulfate).
  • Check for additives (such as artificial fragrances and dyes) in the middle. Look for these words: “FRAGRANCE,” “FD&C,” or “D&C.”

For kids specifically, EWG underscores the importance of buying fragrance-free products, and identifies its top six chemicals of concern for this age group:

  • 2-Bromo-2-Nitropropane-1,3 Diol
  • BHA
  • Boric acid and sodium borate
  • DMDM Hydantoin
  • Oxybenzone
  • Triclosan

Top picks for safer baby shampoos/washes and lotions:

NB: The popular “natural” baby product brands Burt’s Bees, California Baby, and Honest Company did not make our list above, but are definitely better than conventional baby products.

Sunscreen

Avoid: Chemical sunscreens, oxybenzone, retinyl palmitate

It’s best to avoid traditional chemical sunscreens, which rely on chemicals being absorbed into the skin to absorb UV rays within skin cells, especially for babies and young children.

Oxybenzone, a common ingredient in chemical sunscreens, provides effective broad-spectrum protection, but may be an endocrine disruptor and as such should definitely be avoided.

If you have no choice but to buy a chemical sunscreen (e.g. no other options at the convenience store nearest the beach), look instead for safer options avobenzone or mexoryl (also called ecamsule).

Also avoid retinyl palmitate and retinol (derivatives of vitamin A), which are linked to skin cancer.

Look for: Physical mineral sunblocks (ideally zinc oxide), broad-spectrum coverage, paraben-free

Opt instead for physical sunblocks, which utilize minerals (such as titanium dioxide or zinc oxide) to deflect rays from the skin.  They sit on the surface of the skin instead of being absorbed into it.  They’re a bit more expensive (because of the higher cost of mineral ingredients), but are definitely worth it.  EWG states a preference for zinc oxide over titanium dioxide, as it offers better protection from UVA rays.

There’s some controversy over whether “nano” sized particles (which are small enough to “vanish” into the skin instead of appearing pasty white) are so small that they penetrate the skin.  There is no scientific evidence so far that they do, but just in case some people prefer to buy “non-nano” formulations.

Top picks for safer, mineral-based sunblocks:

  • Thinkbaby (zinc oxide, non-nano; broad spectrum protection; paraben- and PABA-free; scented; EWG rating: 1)
  • BurnOut (zinc oxide, non-nano; broad spectrum protection; paraben, PABA, and fragrance-free; EWG rating: 1)

Also see EWG’s 2015 guide to sunscreens (updated annually).

Disposable diapers & wipes

Avoid: Conventional diapers and baby wipes

The wood pulp within the absorbent core in conventional diapers is bleached with elemental chlorine, which produces dioxins — toxic, cancer-causing chemicals.  The primary impact is harmful dioxin pollution in the world, but trace amounts could also potential remain in your baby’s diaper.  Standard wood pulp often also contains remnants of TBT (tributyltin), an industrial biocide used as an antifungal agent in wood pulp mills.

Many diapers also contain additives — including artificial fragrance (used as a masking scent), dyes, and lotions.  These are unnecessary and may even trigger allergic reactions, and thus are best avoided as well.

Conventional diaper wipes often include a number of chemicals to be avoided.

Look for: Chlorine-free, perfume-free, dye-free, eco-friendly (if desired)

If you care about reducing dioxins, look for diapers manufactured using a “chlorine-free” bleaching process; the “TCF” process is safest but rarest (diaper brands Naty and Honest Co. are the only ones we’re aware of that use it), while “ECF” is more widespread (used by most of the remaining premium diaper brands).

If you’re looking to eliminate all nasties — select diapers also advertise themselves as phthalate, organotin (MBT, DBT, TBT), HCHO (formaldehyde), AZO-pigment, colophonium, optical brightener, and PVC free.

If your baby gets frequent diaper rash, you may want to try one of the few disposable diapers with a non-plastic, more breathable waterproofing layer, such as Naty.

If you care about eco-friendliness, look for diapers that incorporate renewable resources (e.g. FSC-certified wood from sustainable forests or bamboo) and materials that are biodegradeable (e.g. plant-based waterproofing layers, absorbent core less reliant on SAP).

For baby wipes, dry wipes with just water are usually sufficient.  If you are set on a solution-based wipe, scour ingredient lists and avoid bronopol, DMDM hydantoin, alcohol, fragrance, parabens, phthalates, propylene glycol, and phenoxyethanol.

And of course, cloth diapers and wipes are also great options if those are a do-able option for you!

Top disposable diaper and wipe picks:

Diaper creams

Avoid: BHA, boric acid, and fragrance; baby powder; routinely applying at every change

Most doctors no longer suggest routinely applying a preventive cream or ointment at every change, however such treatments are definitely helpful to treat diaper rash.

When you are dealing with rash, avoid products containing BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole), boric acid, or fragrance.

Also give baby powder a miss — the tiny particles can be inhaled and cause damage or even death (!).

Look for: Zinc oxide, fragrance free

For disposable diapers — barrier creams containing petroleum jelly or zinc oxide are tried and true.  We recommend zinc oxide as the safest option.

For cloth diapers — you’ll need to get a zinc-free balm in order to avoid adversely affecting the absorbency of your diapers.  If your little one has a serious rash, you may need to switch to sposies for a little while so you can break out the big guns (e.g. zinc oxide).

Top picks for safer diaper creams:

Hand soap & hand sanitizers

Avoid: Triclosan (antibacterial), frequent use of hand sanitizers

Just say no to antibacterial soaps containing triclosan (or the related triclocarbon), which has an EWG rating of 3 and is being investigated by the FDA and EPA for potentially harmful effects.  No big loss though. According to the FDA, soap & hot water are just as effective at cleaning hands anyway!

There are mixed opinions on hand sanitizers.  Some people recommend alcohol-free hand sanitizers for use with kids, because they can cause alcohol poisoning if ingested or absorbed into the skin in large quantities, and is also less drying.  Others prefer alcohol-based sanitizers (containing at least 60% alcohol) because they are more effective at killing microorganisms (especially viruses), are less likely to contain triclosan (a main ingredient in many alcohol-free sanitizers), leave less “gunk” residue on hands, and do not encourage disease-causing microbes to develop resistance to antibiotics.  Everyone, however, agrees that all hand sanitizers are inferior to soap and water; hand washing is more effective at eliminating microorganisms, and also allows any chemicals to be washed off instead of leaving them to be absorbed into the skin.  So only use hand sanitizers sparingly.

Note that the ubiquitous Purell brand hand sanitizer rates a 4 (moderate hazard), so isn’t the best choice for regular use.

Look for: Triclosan-free, fragrance-free, EWG “A” rated

In addition to skipping the Triclosan, avoid soaps and sanitizers containing artificial fragrances.

You can find EWG top-rated liquid hand soaps that do NOT contain triclosan, triclocarbon, or fragrance here.   (We haven’t found the perfect one yet to recommend.  So far all the “0”-rated ones we’ve tried have been fairly hard to rinse off, so not great to use with kids.  Our favorite so far is EO Hand Soap, Lemon & Eucalyptus, which has a respectable EWG rating of “2” and is clean-rinsing.  Let us know if you find a lower-rated one that you love!)

For hand sanitizer, buy alcohol-based for maximum effectiveness (for kids who aren’t still mouthing everything), or buy or an alcohol-free product (for those who are) that does not contain triclosan (look for benzalkonium chloride).  However, use it only when you absolutely need to — e.g. before eating or when you have good reason to think baby’s hands are contaminated — and you really can’t get to a sink.

Top picks for safer hand sanitizers:

You can find EWG’s other top-rated hand sanitizers here.

Cleaning products

Avoid: Conventional cleaners

According to EWG, the following unsafe cleaning ingredients should be avoided in general:

  • 2-butoxyethanol (or ethylene glycol monobutyl ether) and other glycol ethers
  • Alkylphenol ethoxylates (e.g. nonyl- and octylphenol ethoxylates, or non- and octoxynols)
  • Dye
  • Ethanolamines (e.g. mono-, di-, and tri-ethanolamine)
  • Fragrance
  • Pine or citrus oil (compounds in the oils can react with ozone in the air to form the carcinogenic chemical formaldehyde)
  • Quaternary ammonium compounds (e.g. alkyl dimethyl benzyl ammonium chloride (ADBAC), benzalkonium chloride, and didecyl dimethyl benzyl ammonium chloride)

Beware “baby-safe” cleaners, many of which actually contain at least one of the above — for example, the popular Babyganics brand earns “D”s and “F”s from EWG on all of its products (yuck).  Always be sure to read the label and check EWG before buying!

Look for: Vinegar-based or other non-toxic cleaners, EWG “A” rated

Vinegar-based cleaners are our top choice — the vinegar smell may take a little getting used to, but they’re safe and very effective.  However, any EWG “A” rated cleaner will do the job.

Top picks for safer cleaning products

See all top-rated general purpose cleaners from EWG here.

We use the vinegar-based Green Shield All Purpose Cleaner (EWG rating: A; also available at Costco) at home, and have been extremely happy with it.  It gets the job done, and we feel great about babies crawling around on just-cleaned surfaces.  They also sell bathroom, kitchen, degreaser, and glass cleaner versions.

Dish detergent

Avoid: Phosphates, chlorine, and artificial fragrance

These are all harmful and unnecessary ingredients for an effective dish detergent.

PS: Once again, don’t think you’re good just because you’ve already got a “baby-safe” detergent.  Babyganics’ dish soap and dishwashing detergent products earned a “D” and “F” from EWG, respectively.  Meanwhile, Palmolive’s baby dish soap earned an “F.”

Look for: Non-toxic dish detergents, EWG “A” rated

Any EWG “A” rated dish detergent will get the job done safely.

Top picks for safer dish detergents

See EWG top-rated hand washing detergents here.  We swear by Planet Ultra Dishwashing Liquid (EWG rating: A) — we’ve noticed absolutely no difference in performance vs. conventional detergents.

See EWG top-rated dishwasher detergents here.  We’ve had decent success with the Seventh Generation Dishwashing Detergent Pacs, Free & Clear (EWG rating: A), though we don’t love the powder residue that occasionally remains.  Ecover Zero tablets (EWG rating: B) performs better here, but it doesn’t have that coveted “A” rating.  Honestly, none of these performs quite as well in our experience as conventional detergents, but for us the trade-off is worth it.  If you find the perfect detergent, where you feel you aren’t sacrificing performance at all — we definitely want to hear about it!

Laundry detergent

Avoid: Harsh cleaning agents, perfumes, optical brighteners, fabric softeners

Sadly, 40% of laundry detergents rated by EWG earn an “F” rating.  Think you’re in the clear because you buy a “Free & Clear,” “natural,” or “baby-friendly” detergent?  Well, hold onto your hats — Tide Free & GentleAll Free & Clear, Kirkland Signature Free & Clear, Dreft, Seventh Generation BabyBabyganic detergent, and Babyganics stain remover are all sitting  on that “F” list.

So, what’s wrong with these detergents?  There are various issues with the toxicity of the cleaning agents, surfectants, conditioning agents, and stabilizers that they use.  Many of them also include artificial fragrances (often created using phthalates, can emit VOCs, and can cause allergic reactions); optical brighteners (which are there to make clothes look cleaner, even though they aren’t, but are often derived from the carcinogen benzene and can cause skin irritation); and fabric softeners (which are by nature designed to leave chemical residue behind in clothing).  Additionally, many of them include phosphates, which are very harmful to aquatic ecosystems.

Look for: Non-toxic cleaning agents, additive free, EWG “A” rated

Top picks for safer laundry products

For more choices, we refer you to EWG.  See a list of all “A” rated laundry detergents here.

Toys

Avoid: Plastic toys containing PVC/vinyl, phthalates, or BPA; toxic paint and glues; lead and heavy metals; flame retardants

Avoid toys made out of PVC/vinyl, which often include phthalates (in soft vinyls) and organotins (in hard vinyls), and may also retain trace amounts of chlorine-related carcinogens.  Be especially wary of soft plastic toys like bath toys, squeeze toys, dolls, and inflatable beach toys.  Note that federal regulations went into effect in January 2012 requiring toys to meet or exceed a phthalate limit of 0.1%; so in theory, all toys manufactured after this date should be “safe.”  However, beware hand-me-down or secondhand toys manufactured before regulations went into effect, or toys from manufacturers with poor or inconsistent testing protocols.

Also be wary of #7 (“other”) plastics, into which category polycarbonates fall; these may contain BPA or BPS, which are endocrine disruptors.  Unfortunately, federal law does yet not regulate use of BPA in toys (only feeding products), but given the regularity with which babies mouth their toys, our view is that these should also be avoided.  (Note that if your baby has outgrown the mouthing phase, this is not as pressing a concern, as BPA is ony dangerous if ingested.)

Avoid toys with potentially toxic paints/finishes (e.g. containing lead) or glues (e.g. formaldehyde-based), and other toys (e.g. metal jewelry, play make-up) likely to contain lead or other heavy metals.  The CPSC started regulating lead limits in 2008, following a number of recalls that rocked the toy industry.  At that time, an independent study by HealthyStuff.org detected lead in 20% of the toys tested.  The current lead limit of 100ppm has been in place since August 2011.  Toy safety standards expanded to include the other heavy metals listed above in June 2012.  Therefore, all toys sold in the US manufactured after June 2012 should theoretically meet current federal safety standards.  However, older toys (such as hand-me-downs and secondhand toys) should be heavily scrutinized, and are probably best avoided.

Also be aware of hard plastic toys, soft toys, and toys containing foam, which may contain flame retardants.  To our knowledge there are no federal safety regulations governing use of flame retardants in baby toys.

If you have concerns about about a particular toy, the HealthyStuff.org database includes independent XRF testing results for chlorine, lead, and other chemicals (though unfortunately much of the data dates back to 2008, so predates current regulations and therefore is not necessarily reflective of products on shelves today).

Look for: Wood and safer plastic (BPA, PVC/vinyl, and phthalate-free) toys, non-toxic paints and glues, no flame retardants

For complete peace of mind, consider avoiding plastic entirely.  Wood toys are a bit more expensive, but are a great choice.  Look for unfinished wood, non-toxic clear finishes (beeswax or food-grade oils are best), or solvent-free, water-based paints.  Opt for solid wood over engineered wood (as less glue is required), and look specifically for non-toxic (non-formaldehyde-based) glues.

When shopping for plastic toys, plastics #2, 4, and 5 are considered safer choices; look specifically for toys labeled PVC-free, phthalate-free, and/or BPA-free (usually marketers shout these labels from the rooftops, but you can also write to the manufacturer if unsure.

Our picks for top non-toxic toy brands:

  • HABA: Wonderful wooden and soft toys.  They use primarily maple and beech woods derived from sustainable forestry; their wooden toys are colored with non-toxic, water-based paints; and they hold several safety certifications. Most of the wooden toys are made in Germany, while the plush toys are manufactured in a wholly owned facility in China (with strict HABA quality controls).
  • Plan Toys: Designed and manufactured in Thailand, Plan Toys are healthy not only for your child, but for the planet as well. Their toys are made from rubberwood (a sustainable by-product of rubber production); are packaged in recycled and recyclable packaging, printed with soy-based inks; are not chemically treated; are preservative, lead and formaldehyde-free; and use non-toxic (non-formaldehyde) glues and natural, water-based dyes.
  • Green Toys: This US company produces non-toxic, sustainably manufactured toys made from recycled food-grade plastic (such as milk containers). They are free of BPA and phthalates, are designed with no external coatings (to avoid concerns about toxic paints), and are sold in recycled packaging. Their fantastic range of toys includes vehicles, sorters and stackers, and cookware and dish sets. Green Toys are made in California.
  • Janod: This French company offers classic wooden toys and games that are premium quality and feature modern, distinctively French design. Their products are designed in France, and primarily manufactured in China and Romania.
  • Hape Toys: Hape’s wood and bamboo toys feature clean, colorful design and are produced using renewable materials. They are manufactured in China, and are also marketed under the brand name “Educo.”
  • Djeco: Based in Paris, Djeco produces high-quality toys, puzzles, and games, often featuring gorgeous whimsical illustrations. Their products are designed in France and manufactured in China and the Netherlands (some cardboard puzzles).
  • Grimms Spiel & Holz: This German company makes simple, rustic, brightly colored wooden toys inspired by Waldorf education, including clutching toys, stacking and nesting toys, puzzles, blocks, and push and pull toys. Their toys are primarily made from alder, lime, maple and cherry woods, and incorporate only natural oils and water-based dyes. They are made in Germany.
  • Wonderworld: Similar to Plan Toys, Wonderworld also products toys out of rubberwood in Thailand. They use only non-toxic, water-based paints.
  • Camden Rose: Camden Rose produces toys that are made out of only all-natural materials, including wood, silk, wool and cotton, and are all certified non-toxic. Their wooden toys are minimalist, naturally colored, and derived from high quality woods such as cherry, maple and walnut. They are produced in the US and Peru, where they support two fair trade, non-profit organizations.
  • Maple Landmark Toys: Maple Landmark produces a wide range of wooden toys, including their very popular name trains, in a range of finishes. Their products are made in Vermont.
  • Under the Nile: This premium brand known for its organic clothing and textiles also makes GOTS-certified soft toys made with 100% Egyptian organic cotton fabrics and filling. They are dyed with metal-free colors, and don’t contain BPA, phthalates, lead, PVC, formaldehyde bue, toxic paints, or flame retardants. Under the Nile products are made in Egypt under fair trade conditions.
  • miYim: miYim’s plush toys and loveys are made from organic cotton on the outside, polyester stuffing derived from recycled PET bottles (reducing the plastic going into landfills) on the inside, and non-toxic dyes.
  • Etsy shops: There are also a number of wonderful shops featuring handmade wooden toys on Etsy, including these favorites:

Clothing

Avoid: Flame retardants, PVC/vinyl

Some children’s sleepwear contains flame retardants.  This is because the CPSC has established flammability standards that require all children’s sleepwear above size 9 months (up through size 14) to either be tight-fitting, or to withstand exposure to an open flame for three seconds. Fleecy, fuzzy sleepwear is more likely to require treatment in order to meets flammability standards.

Also avoid children’s rain gear (e.g. rain jackets, rain boots) made out of PVC/vinyl.

Look for: Natural fibers, organic cotton, no flame retardants

Our top picks for clothing materials are natural fibers, such as wool and cotton.   Organic fabrics are great if you can afford them, to minimize your child’s exposure to pesticides.  Conventionally grown cotton is cultivated using a significant amount of pesticides and synthetic fertilizers, and is then processed with a wide range of toxic chemicals.  Unfortunately, organic clothing is expensive.  If you can’t afford to buy 100% organic, consider buying for wardrobe staples and/or next-to-skin pieces.  And be sure to wash any conventionally growth cotton clothing thoroughly before putting it on baby.

For sleepwear, look for the following message on the garment label to identify sleepwear that is NOT treated with flame retardants: “For child’s safety, garment should fit snugly. This garment is not flame resistant. Loose-fitting garments are more likely to catch fire.”  You can also look for a label indicating that the item “is not intended for use as sleepwear” (another sign that it is not flame resistant).  On the other hand, if you see a label with instructions describing how to take care of the garment to protect its flame resistance, that is a red flag.

Top picks for organic baby clothing brands:

  • Kate Quinn Organics: Mod baby basics in solid colors, made out of organic cotton.
  • Under the Nile: Basic wardrobe staples in solid colors and a few prints, made from 100% organic Egyptian cotton.
  • Hanna Andersson: High-quality clothing that stays looking new practically forever.  Not everything is organic, but many items are.  Great-fitting organic sleepwear and organic underwear.

Other keys to a safer household environment

Buy flame-retardant free furniture

Flame retardants are commonly added to household items containing polyurethane foam, such as couches, upholstered chairs, and carpet padding — see background as to why here.  A Duke study found that 85% of couches in the study sample tested positive for flame retardants.  Some of the most toxic flame retardants, PBDEs, were banned in 2005, but older foam products may still contain them.  Furniture sold today often contains flame retardants such as TDCPP (“chlorinated tris”) and Firemaster 550, which are still harmful.  Even more frustrating, it’s often difficult or even impossible for a consumer to determine whether a given piece of furniture contains flame retardants.

Luckily, the tides are shifting.  An amendment to TB117, called TB 117-2013, took effect in January 2014 (with mandatory compliance by January 2015) to revise flammability testing standards in CA.  It unfortunately didn’t ban the use of flame retardants in furniture, or even require the disclosure of such chemicals, but at least revised the standard to be more realistic, such that fewer furniture manufacturers will need to add chemical flame retardants to their products in order to meet the standard.  Additionally, in September 2014, the CA governor signed a bill to require labeling on upholstered furniture so consumers will be able to tell whether it contains flame retardants.  As a result, experts expect consumer demand will drive market forces to produce more flame retardant-free furniture.

Consider the amount of time that you (and your kids) spend sitting on the couch, and consider exercising your new rights to make an informed and healthier purchase decision.  Here’s what you can do:

  • Avoid products with a TB 117 label
  • Seek out products with a TB 117-2013 label (note, however, that this in itself is not a guarantee that they are free of flame retardants)
  • Verify with the manufacturer that the product is free of flame retardants
  • Seek out manufacturers who sell flame retardant-free furniture.  See here for a good starter manufacturer list.

Dust, vacuum, and wash hands regularly to minimize exposure

To minimize your family’s chances of ingesting the potentially toxic dust (from flame retardants, lead, and/or pesticides) that accumulates around your home:

  • Reduce dust by wet mopping and damp dusting, and vacuuming with a HEPA filter
  • Swipe TV and computer screens regularly, and dispose of old electronics
  • Wash hands regularly, especially before eating

Resources for further reading

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is a fantastic resource that generates independent research and consumer guides.  Among other resources, they offer the following two consumer guides, which provide ratings on a wide range of popular consumer products (start by looking up the products you currently use in your home, and refer to them going forward for new purchases):

GoodGuide, similar to but perhaps slightly less well known than EWG, rates products based on their health, environmental, and social impacts.  They cover a number of baby-related product categories.  For an assessment of a product’s toxicity only, focus on the “health” sub-score.

Healthy Child Healthy World is a CA-based nonprofit that works to raise consumer awareness and influence legislative reform.

HealthyStuff.org conducts independent XRF testing to test for a specific set of harmful chemicals (lead, cadmium, chlorine, arsenic, bromine, and mercury) across popular household products, including children’s toys.  The site also contains information on consumer products containing chromium, tin, and antimony.  (If you do visit this site, note that many of their tests results predate current legislation.  For example, many toys tested were tested in 2008, prior to new toy regulations taking effect in 2011 and 2012.  So be sure to check test dates before drawing any conclusions as to the safety of products currently available on the market.)

Glossary: Chemicals and materials of concern

1,4-dioxane

1,4 dioxane (EWG rating: 8) is present in many products, including solvents, varnishes, waxes, food additives, pesticides, and personal care products such as shampoos, baby lotions, and cosmetics (where it is formed as a by-product during manufacturing).  According to Healthy Child, 1,4-dioxane can be identified by inspecting product ingredient lists for indications of ethoxylation including “myreth”, “oleth”, “laureth”, “ceteareth”, and other “eth” compounds, as well as “PEG,” “polyethylene,” “polyethylene glycol,” “polyoxyCheethlene,” or “oxynol.”

1,4-dioxane is a known eye and nose irritant, and is linked in the longer term to nerve, liver, and kidney damage.  It is a known carcinogen in animals, and is considered “possibly carcinogenic to humans.”  The FDA considers low levels in personal care products to be safe, but according to the CPSC even trace amounts may be problematic if exposures from multiple products build up over time.

The U.S. FDA deems levels in personal care products low enough to be considered safe, but some are concerned that repeated exposures from multiple products over time could be harmful.

Read more on 1,4-dioxane from the EPA, the National Center for Biotechnology Information, and the FDA.

BPA

Bisphenol A (BPA) is a hormone-mimicking chemical found in polycarbonate plastics (clear, hard plastics — e.g. water bottles and baby bottles), epoxy resins, and the plastic linings of canned goods, to name a few.  BPA has estrogenic properties which are linked to issues such as genital abnormalities, early puberty, low sperm count, neurological issues, depression, obesity, prostate and breast cancer.  Most water bottles and baby bottles today are BPA-free, however the vast majority of canned goods still affected.  The FDA’s current position is that BPA is safe at the levels currently occurring in foods, however they are monitoring the situation.  See these helpful overviews on BPA from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, the Mayo Clinic, and the FDA.

Flame retardants

Chemical fire retardants are common in many consumer products, including furniture, baby products, electronics, and appliances.  It’s particularly common in furniture and baby products containing polyurethane foam.

This is due to a piece of legislation dating back to 1975 called TB 117, which established flammability standards on a wide range of products sold in CA (a major driver of market standards) in a misguided effort to improve fire safety.  One of the most toxic classes of flame retardants, called PBDEs, was banned in 2005, but many older foam products containing them live on.  And many other types of fire retardants, including TDCPP (“chlorinated tris”) and Firemaster 550, which have other harmful effects, remain in widespread use.

Flame retardant chemicals are believed to cause issues such as reduced IQ, learning disorders, reduced fertility, thyroid disruption, and cancer.  Nearly all adults in the US test positive for flame retardants in their urine, and an EWG-Duke study found that children have nearly 5x the amount that their mothers do.  A Duke study in 2011 found toxic flame retardants in the foam of 80 percent of baby products tested.

Thankfully, there have been some positive recent developments.  Strollers, infant carriers, and nursing pillows were exempted from the flammability requirements of CA Technical Bulletin (TB) 117 in 2010.

In 2013, the state of California revised TB117, replacing it with TB 117-2013.  As of January 2014 (with mandatory compliance by January 2015), many categories of products either face a revised, more reasonable set of flammability testing standards in CA, or are exempted from them entirely.  Among them are upholstered furniture as well as 15 additional categories of baby products — including bassinets, car seats, changing pads, play mats, high chairs, infant seats, bouncers, swings, and playards (in addition to strollers, infant carriers, and nursing pillows, which were already exempted).  Unfortunately use of flame retardants was not banned by TB 117-2013, however manufacturers in these product categories will be able to meet flammability standards more easily without the use of chemical flame retardants.

Sadly, car seats are also subject to Federal Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 302 (which governs flammability of all interior materials in cars), so most of them will probably continue to contain flame retardants for the foreseeable future.  However, there are a few manufacturers who only use safer (non-halogenated and/or Oeko Tex-certified) flame retardants, and there are even some seat fabrics that are able to meet flammability standards without the addition of flame retardants.

For more on flame retardants, see these helpful resources from Duke, the Green Science Policy Institute, and EWG.

Formaldehyde

Formaldehyde (EWG rating: 10) is used in the manufacturing of building materials, pressed-wood furniture, and many household products.  Pressed wood products— including particleboard, plywood paneling, and medium-density fiberboard — are made using adhesives containing urea-formaldehyde resins (MDF contains the highest resin-to-wood ratio and thus releases the most formaldehyde).

The EPA’s description of formaldehyde’s health effects says it all: “Formaldehyde, a colorless, pungent-smelling gas, can cause watery eyes, burning sensations in the eyes and throat, nausea, and difficulty in breathing in some humans exposed at elevated levels (above 0.1 parts per million). High concentrations may trigger attacks in people with asthma. There is evidence that some people can develop a sensitivity to formaldehyde. It has also been shown to cause cancer in animals and may cause cancer in humans.  Health effects include eye, nose, and throat irritation; wheezing and coughing; fatigue; skin rash; severe allergic reactions. May cause cancer.”  See more from the EPA on formaldehyde.

Lead and other heavy metals

Heavy metals (e.g. lead, antimony, arsenic, barium, cadmium, chromium, mercury, and selenium) pose a risk to your child if ingested (or possibly even inhaled, for example if burned or present in dust), even in tiny amounts.  Lead has harmful effects on brain development, including reduced IQ, shorter attention span, and delayed development. Cadmium can negatively impact the kidney, lungs, motor skills, and behavior, and is also a known human carcinogen.

Lead was banned in house paint, children’s products, and dishes and cookware in the US in 1978.  Additionally,  limits on lead content in all children’s products were introduced in the Consumer Product Safety Improvement
Act (CPSIA) of 2008
, and have become increasingly strict, with the current total lead limit of 100ppm (90ppm for paint and surface coatings) coming into effect in August 2011.  In June 2012, the toy safety standard ASTM F 963-07 also established limits for seven other heavy metals: Antimony (Sb), Arsenic (As), Barium (Ba), Cadmium (Cd), Chromium (Cr), Lead (Pb), Mercury (Hg), and Selenium (Se).  Third-party testing and certification is required.  Thus, all toys sold in the US manufactured after June 2012 should theoretically meet current federal safety standards.

However, lead and heavy metals can still be found in old existing house paint layers and in hand-me-down children’s toys (in both the paint and the plastic) and other products, and could possibly also be found in new children’s toys or products (if certain problematic batches somehow managed to evade detection).

See more on lead and heavy metal poisoning from the CDC (both in general and in toys) and the Mayo Clinic.

Oxybenzone

Oxybenzone (EWG rating: 8) is a widespread ingredient in chemical sunscreens that provides broad-spectrum ultraviolet coverage, but is partially absorbed into the skin (1-9% penetration).  Animal studies have raised concerns that oxybenzone could be an endocrine disruptor.  It has been found to form free radicals, causing cell damage and possibly leading to skin cancer.  It also causes relatively high rates of skin allergy.

See more on sunscreen chemicals from EWG here.

Parabens

Parabens  — including Methylparaben (EWG rating: 4), Propylparaben (EWG rating: 10), Butylparaben (EWG rating: 7), and Ethylparaben (EWG rating: 4) — are among the most commonly used synthetic preservatives in cosmetics (including shampoos, moisturizers, cleansers, makeup, toothpaste, hair care products, and shaving products), thanks to their anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties. They are also used in pharmaceuticals and as food additives (they are classified as “Generally Recognized As Safe” for food use). In animal studies they have shown some (weak) hormone-mimicking/estrogenic activity, igniting suspicion that they may be endocrine disruptors, and they have been found in breast cancer tumors — however, no causal relationship has been established.  The FDA holds that “at the present time there is no reason for consumers to be concerned about the use of cosmetics containing parabens,” but says that it will revaluate as new data arises.

See more on parabens from the FDA and The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics.

PEGs

Polyethylene Glycol (EWG rating: 3) is a family of chemicals that serve as surfactants, cleansing agents, emulsifiers, skin conditioners, and humectants in cosmetics.  Some of the most common PEGs used in cosmetics are PEG-100 (EWG rating: 3), PEG-40 (EWG rating: 3), and PEG-8 (EWG rating: 3).  According to EWG, there are moderate concerns around PEGs themselves potentially causing organ toxicity, but the greatest concern is actually around risk of contamination from ethylene oxide (a known human carcinogen and organ system toxicant; EWG rating: 10) and 1,4-dioxane (a possible human carcinogen and known organ system toxicant; EWG rating: 8).

Phenoxyethanol

Phenoxyethanol (EWG rating: 4) is a chemical preservative used in cosmetics (such as skin creams and sunscreens), vaccines, and pharmaceuticals (including vaccines).  It is becoming increasingly common as cosmetic manufacturers scramble to find alternatives to parabens in response to consumer demand. The FDA issued a warning saying that phenoxyethanol can be toxic to infants via ingestion, and “can depress the central nervous system and may cause vomiting and diarrhea.”  According to EWG, there is high concern with phenoxyethanol around skin, eye, or lung irritation, and moderate concern around  organ system toxicity.

Phthalates

Phthalates (“THA-lates”) are chemical plasticizers used in the production of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic and other products to impart flexibility, and in cosmetics to bind fragrance.  Some example phthalates include diethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP), dibutyl phthalate (DBP), butyl benzyl phthalate (BBP), di-isodecyl phthalate (DIDP), di-isononyl phthalate (DINP), and di-n-octyl phthalate (DNOP).

Phthalates have been linked to reproductive issues (e.g.premature delivery, decreased sperm count, damaged sperm) and as well as reproductive development  issues (e.g. early puberty, genital defects), especially in boys; behavioral issues; obesity; respiratory isuses in children with asthma; thyroid and kidney disease; and cancer (it has been classified as a probable carcinogen).

Federal regulations effective as of January 2012 require selected children’s toys and childcare articles to meet or exceed a limit of 0.1% for six different types of phthalates (DEHP, DBP, BBP, DINP, DIDP, and DnOP).  However, only select types of children’s products are included, and older products still in circulation continue to be problematic.

See more on phthalates from the CDC, the NIH, the CPSC, and The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics.

Plastics

Most plastics are made from non-renewable petroleum.  Some plastics create harmful pollution during the manufacturing stage, and some can retain trace elements of harmful chemicals.

Potentially problematic plastics include those sporting recycling code #3 (PVC/vinyl; likely to contain phthalates), #6 (polystyrene, e.g. plastic cutlery and Styrofoam; can leach styrene), and #7 (“other”; includes polycarbonate, the hard clear plastic used in water bottles and baby bottles; may contain BPA).  These types of plastics should only be purchased and used with caution.

“Safer” plastics include #1 (PET, such as that used in disposable water bottles), 2 (high-density polyethylene, such as that used in milk jugs), 4 (low-density polyethylene, such as in plastic grocery bags and plastic wrap), and 5 (polypropylene, found in hard but flexible plastics such as yogurt containers).   Here’s a helpful guide from Healthy Child describing the various types of plastics in more detail.

Polyurethane foam

Flexible polyurethane foam is a common component in a wide range of products, from upholstered furniture to baby products to carpet underlay to automotive interiors. It is able to capable of wearing significant weight, and yet is very resilient.

Polyurethane foam offgasses to to some extent, though (no surprise) the Polyurethane Foam Association insists it “does not typically emit significant amounts of either EPA-listed VOCs or ‘semi-VOCs.'” And it’s true that the EPA does not list polyurethane foam as a primary source of indoor air pollution or VOCs.

The more serious concern with polyurethane foam is that it is often treated with chemical flame retardants in order to meet flammability standards.

If you’re going to buy a product containing polyurethane foam, it’s worth looking for foam that has been certified as safer foam. CertiPUR-US is a foam testing and certification program for foam that is manufactured to have low total emissions. CertiPUR-US certified foams are certified to be made without CFCs, PBDE flame retardants, lead and other heavy metals, formaldehyde, and the seven phthalates regulated by the CPSC, and also to be low-VOC (less than 0.5 parts per million). Note that the CertiPUR-US certification does NOT require the foam to be free of ALL flame retardants (just PBDEs), so you should still confirm that an individual product is free of flame retardants before buying. See here for a list of manufacturers selling products including CertiPUR-US certified foam.

Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC)

PVC (#3 plastic) is used in shower curtains, pipes, toys, and more.  Significant pollution is created during the manufacturing process; workers and people living nearby may be exposed to vinyl chloride and/or dioxin (both carcinogens).  PVC can also let off dioxins when burned at the end of its lifecycle.  This environmental pollution also ends up working its way up the food chain when it gets consumed by animals.

Toxic additives are also often added to PVC, such as lead and other metals (used as stabilizers or to impart other properties) and phthalates/other plasticizers (to impart flexibility).

Propylene Glycol

Propylene glycol (EWG rating: 3) is an organic alcohol derived from glycerin that is widely used in cosmetics and personal care products.  It is used as a thickener, a moisturizer (to improve the appearance of skin), and a stabilizer in everything from store bought hair dyes to many of your natural deodorants. Propylene glycol has been classified as “Generally Recognized as Safe” by the FDA for use in food and cosmetics.  The Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) panel has classified it to be “safe for use in cosmetic produtcs at concentrations up to 50%” (higher concentrations can cause irritation and sensitization).  No surprise, Dow (the leading manufacturer of the chemical) also says it is safe.  In giving it a rating of “3”, EWG primarily cites its classification as a skin irritant as well as its status on the Environment Canada Domestic Substance List as “Classified as expected to be toxic or harmful.”

SLS/SLES

These chemicals (distinct but often confused, due to their similar names) are used in many beauty products, including shampoos, body washes, hand soap, toothpaste, mouthwash, and detergents.

Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS; EWG rating: 1-2) is a surfectant and foaming agent that help to produce that rich lather that many consumers equate with cleaning power.  SLS is a known skin and eye irritatant, and according to EWG may also be an organ toxicant.  It is also hazardous to aquatic ecosystems.  However, contrary to popular belief, there is no scientific evidence so far that SLS is carcinogenic.

Sodium laureth sulfate (SLES; EWG rating: 3), another surfectant, is also a skin and eye irritant, but even more problematic is the fact that it is often contaminated with 1,4-dioxane (a known animal carcinogen and possible human carcinogen; EWG rating: 8) and/or ethlyene oxide (EWG rating: 10).

The good news is that if you prefer to avoid SLS and SLES, consumer demand has prompted many alternatives to come available in the market.

Triclosan

Triclosan (EWG rating: 7) is a chemical added to personal care and home cleaning products as a preservative and a broad-spectrum antimicrobial agent (it stops or slows the growth of bacteria, fungi, and mildew).  It can be found in hand soap, hand sanitizer, dishwashing liquid, toothpaste, toothbrushes, sponges, kitchenware, and clothing.  It has been linked to hormone disruption in animals and may contribute to bacteria resistance to antibiotics.  It may also negatively impact aquatic ecosystems.

According to the FDA, triclosan has been shown to be effective in providing gingivitis.  However, antibacterial soaps and body washes containing triclosan have not been shown to be any more effective than just washing with plain soap and water.  The FDA is still in the process of reviewing triclosan for safety.

See more on Triclosan from the FDA, the EPA, and the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics.


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