In a perfect world, babies and plastic would never mix. Babies would travel in wooden car seats inside of wooden wagons pulled by horses; mothers would wear their babies in slings and wraps while harvesting their gardens and preparing homemade meals; and babies would drink from bottles made of glass and chew on toys made of wood and organic cotton.
Wait…this sounds way too much like an era gone by. How do we fit this concept into today’s modern society? Unfortunately, in the real world of today, babies + plastic is actually quite a common mix, despite the widely known health risks. Eliminating all plastic from our babies’ world proves to be quite a nearly unattainable feat.
There are small steps, however, that parents can take to at least reduce, if not eliminate, their babies’ exposure to the world of plastic. First, it’s important to understand what we’re dealing with here:
A few of the Dangers of Plastic & Other Synthetic Toys:
- Many plastic toys still contain Bisphenol A (BPA): This is a dangerous toxin that exists in plastic that is used to make plastic clear, hard, and less breakable. BPA can leach out of plastic and be ingested by infants. Some research has found that BPA can affect the brain, behavior and prostate gland in infants and children. Canada and the EU have already banned its use in baby bottles. BPA can mimic estrogen that can disrupt the function of your baby’s developing hormones.
- Some plastic toys still contain Phthalates: Phtlalates add flexibility to plastics and are used to soften plastic for baby items such as teethers and rubber duckies. This substance can cause hormone disruption and has been linked to cancer in mice and rats (Rider 71). As of February 2009, the US has banned the use of six phthalates in the concentration of more than 0.1% in children’s toys or articles that “a child 3 and younger would use for sleeping, feeding, sucking or teething.” However, there are still many plastic toys that contain other phthalates. Be sure to check the label or contact the manufacturer to see if the toy contains phthalates.
- Many “Wood” Toys are Actually Plywood or Particleboard: Be very careful when buying wooden toys, because not all of them are made from natural pieces of wood, but rather from plywood or particleboard held together with toxic glues and that have finishes such as petrochemical sealers, paints, preservatives, and pesticides. Avoid “wooden” toys that have a strong smell and do not let your baby chew on them (Rider 71).
- Many Plush Toys are made from Synthetic Materials: They look soft and loveable (and chewable!), but unless otherwise stated, they are most likely made from synthetic materials that contain similar toxic residues that many plastic toys do. The stuffing of such toys often includes flame retardant chemicals as well. For a safer, healthier alternative, look for toys made from organic cotton stuffed with organic cotton or organic wool.
This is frightening, to say the least. Something must be done about this plastic world in which our babies live. As parents, what can we do to reduce these risks?
There are a few simple steps you can take toward a less plastic world for your baby:
- Purchase toys that are safe. We all have to put our babies in plastic car seats from time to time, but we do have full control over what types of toys our babies play with and put into their mouths. Reducing and replacing plastic toys and teethers with natural wooden toys and organic cotton or wool toys and dolls is a pretty easy solution and is fairly inexpensive as long as your focus is quality rather than quantity. If possible, purchase toys made only from unfinished wood, wood painted and finished with non-toxic substances, organic cotton, organic wool or natural rubber.
- Check labels on baby products. If you must buy plastic toys, bottles, or teethers, always look for these labels: BPA Free, PVC free, Phtlalate free. If you don’t see the label, don’t buy it.
- Spend quality time with your baby. This one can be surprisingly challenging, especially in today’s society, and especially when working, inside or outside of the home. Our society has us convinced that we must have the latest, trendiest bouncers, carseats, strollers, jumparoos, walkers, activity gyms, “educational” computer programs, etc. These devices all have two things in common: a) The majority are made from plastic; and b) They are designed to “free” you of your baby so that can go about living and working as you did before baby came along. I simply do not see the logic in this. Instead of plopping your baby into a plastic babysitting device, invest in a good sling or other type of baby carrier and try wearing your baby as you get things done. Instead of plopping your baby in front of the TV or computer screen, sit down on the floor and play or read to your baby. The positive impact on your baby from real human interaction is immeasurable.
Babies are simple creatures with basic needs. Why not create for them a world of simplicity, filled with love, real human interaction, and safe toys to play with? They won’t miss a thing.
“Section 108: Products Containing Certain Phthalates.” US Consumer Product Safety Commission: Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act. 16 March 2011 http://www.cpsc.gov/about/cpsia/faq/108faq.html
Rider, Kimberly. Organic Baby: Simple Steps for Healthy Living. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2007.
“Six Tips for Choosing Safe Toys.” Organic Baby Resource. 16 March 2011. http://www.organic-baby-resource.com/safe-toys.html
“Your Baby’s Environment.” March of Dimes, 2009. 16 March 2011. http://www.marchofdimes.com/baby/faq_plasticbottles.html