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3 Things New Parents Do Differently Today to Protect Babies’ Health

Health + Wellness
d3sign / Moment / Getty Images

By Karen Spangler

If you're a new parent, it can be confusing to keep up with the latest recommendations about how to give your baby a healthy start. As scientists learn more about the dangers of toxic chemical exposure to babies' developing bodies and brains, some products haven't stood the test of time. Here are three of the biggest differences about what parents do now compared to just a generation ago.


1. Choosing Organic

Parents have been making their own baby food at home for generations, and it's a great way to know what's on your baby's plate. Who doesn't love some home-mashed sweet potatoes smeared across that cute face? But today we know more about the damaging health effects of pesticide exposure, and how long pesticide residue can linger in the fruits and vegetables we buy. Doctors recommend limiting babies' pesticide exposure as much as possible due to increased risks of tumors, leukemia and effects on brain development from these chemicals.

When you're making your baby's first foods, consider organic fruits and vegetables, or those with lower levels of pesticide residues. EWG's 2019 ranking of pesticide contamination in produce found that avocados were No. 1 on the Clean Fifteen™ list of produce least contaminated with pesticide residue. Of all the produce tested, strawberries, spinach and kale top the Dirty Dozen™ list of fruits and vegetables most likely to be contaminated with pesticide residue. To reduce your baby's exposure, buy versions of these items produced with organic farming methods.

If you're short of time, don't forget you have more options than ever for organic premade baby food, both at specialty retailers and major grocery stores.

2. Tossing the Baby Powder


Baby powder is another classic you'd think would be great for, well, babies. But airborne particles can make their way into a baby's lungs, which is especially concerning since talcum powder can contain unknown amounts of asbestos. Asbestos is a deadly carcinogen, and inhaling even a tiny amount can cause cancer later in life. Make sure to check EWG's Skin Deep® so you avoid using other products on your baby that could contain talc.

There's another reason to ditch the baby powder: It often contains fragrance, a common cause of skin irritation. Manufacturers are allowed to keep the exact fragrance ingredients under wraps, but they can include chemicals such as phthalates, which have been linked to harmful health effects.

Good alternatives: Zinc-based diaper creams create a strong protective barrier, and there are a number of EWG VERIFIED™ options. You can also find safer alternatives for your baby's personal care products in EWG's guide to choosing safer personal care products for kids.

3. Avoiding Flame Retardants

Decades ago, concerns about the fire danger of foam furniture, like sofas and mattresses, led manufacturers to add flame-retardant chemicals to many kids' products. Today scientists know these toxic chemicals carry their own serious health effects, including cancer and disruption of the endocrine system.

Penta-BDE, for years the main flame retardant added to foam products, is now banned, due to reproductive toxicity. But its replacement, triphenyl phosphate, has also been shown to accumulate in the bloodstream and cause reproductive and developmental abnormalities in animals. Considering that the average infant sleeps 12 to 16 hours a day, it's worth scrutinizing that mattress label.

To keep your baby safe, choose a crib mattress made with wool or polylactic acid for flame resistance, rather than chemical flame retardants. You should also make sure to check with the manufacturer on any hand-me-downs for flame retardants.

Additionally, avoid PVC or vinyl waterproof mattress covers; choose natural cotton with a PUL layer, or polyethylene instead.

To steer clear of flame retardants in your baby's clothing, choose snug-fitting cotton or wool pajamas, as "loose-fitting" kids' sleepwear is required by law to be flame resistant, often using toxic chemicals.

To learn more about protecting your child's health as they grow, see EWG's Children's Health Initiative for the latest research and tip sheets.

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