Every decision we make can impact the air, soil, water and our health. If there is one time when these decisions have heightened awareness, it is when people are about to have a baby. People are more motivated to make changes in their life both for their own health as well as for their children. According to the World Health Organization, children’s cancer rates are on the rise, childhood asthma incidence has doubled and learning disorders continue to increase, making it imperative that parents limit exposure to household toxins before and after their children arrive. In addition to your family’s health, it is also important to consider the environment and how your baby can step more lightly on the earth (and your budget). Here are some things to consider.
Breastfeed your baby.Human milk cannot be duplicated and is the best protection for your child’s immune system. It is a living, changing fluid which continually adapts to the needs of your developing infant. According to La Leche League International, breastfeeding, via the antibodies present in milk, has been shown to be protective against many illnesses, including painful ear infections, upper and lower respiratory ailments, allergies, intestinal disorders, colds, viruses, meningitis, pneumonia and salmonella, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome as well as lifetime protection from Crohn’s Disease, ulcerative colitis, some lymphomas, insulin dependent diabetes, and for girls, breast and ovarian cancer. In addition, human milk, unlike manufactured formula, does not add to the energy use and packaging burden on the planet.
Buy only what you need. U.S. retail sales of products for babies, toddlers and preschoolers reached $8 billion in 2005 and that excludes food, clothing and diapers. Children need very little and outgrow clothing and toys quickly. Recycle and reuse rather than buy new.
Minimize plastics. Many teething toys, as well as flooring, shower curtains and wall coverings, contain pthalates, chemicals that evaporate into the air, bind with household dust and have been implicated in children’s asthma. Pthalates are also linked to reproductive and developmental harm. Do your research and, if you buy plastics, ensure they are from toy companies that have phased out harmful chemicals. Most clear baby bottles contain a chemical known as bisphenol-A (BPA) which behaves like an estrogen in the body and has been shown to migrate from worn or heated bottles into the liquids they contain. If you purchase bottles, make certain they are made of tempered glass or less toxic, opaque plastic.
Do not renovate your home during pregnancy or early childhood. This can generate potentially toxic dust; however if you have no choice, use non-toxic materials, protect against dust dispersal and send pregnant mothers and babies on vacation.
Use non-toxic cleaning products. Many household cleaners create toxic waste in their manufacture and use, which gets disposed of in the environment in the form of air and water pollution and solid toxic waste. Not only does this pollution come back to haunt our own health, but it also harms every living thing on earth.
Buy organic food and personal products. Children are particularly susceptible to pesticides in foods and personal products. Relative to body weight, children consume more pesticides than adults. And, since children’s detoxification systems are not fully developed, they accumulate chemicals in muscle or fat tissue over a longer period of time and in greater amounts. In fact, the Environmental Working Group concluded that the biggest factor in your risk of cancer from pesticide residues occurs in childhood.
Just as you cannot be a perfect parent, you also cannot protect your child from every environmental toxin or eliminate his or her (or your) environmental footprints. However, you can inform yourself, take action and also allow yourself to relax. Every consciously-made step, no matter how small, has a positive impact.
The Complete Organic Pregnancy, Deirdre Dolan and Alexandra Zissu, HarperCollins, 2006.
Natural Family Living: The Mothering Magazine Guide to Parenting, Peggy Oâ€™Mara,. Pocket Books, 2000.
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