3 Things New Parents Do Differently Today to Protect Babies’ Health
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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The speed and scale of the response to COVID-19 by governments, businesses and individuals seems to provide hope that we can react to the climate change crisis in a similarly decisive manner - but history tells us that humans do not react to slow-moving and distant threats.
A Game of Jenga<p>Think of it as a game of Jenga and the planet's climate system as the tower. For generations, we have been slowly removing blocks. But at some point, we will remove a pivotal block, such as the collapse of one of the major global ocean circulation systems, for example the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), that will cause all or part of the global climate system to fall into a planetary emergency.</p><p>But worse still, it could cause runaway damage: Where the tipping points form a domino-like cascade, where breaching one triggers breaches of others, creating an unstoppable shift to a radically and swiftly changing climate.</p><p>One of the most concerning tipping points is mass methane release. Methane can be found in deep freeze storage within permafrost and at the bottom of the deepest oceans in the form of methane hydrates. But rising sea and air temperatures are beginning to thaw these stores of methane.</p><p>This would release a powerful greenhouse gas into the atmosphere, 30-times more potent than carbon dioxide as a global warming agent. This would drastically increase temperatures and rush us towards the breach of other tipping points.</p><p>This could include the acceleration of ice thaw on all three of the globe's large, land-based ice sheets – Greenland, West Antarctica and the Wilkes Basin in East Antarctica. The potential collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet is seen as a key tipping point, as its loss could eventually <a href="https://science.sciencemag.org/content/324/5929/901" target="_blank">raise global sea levels by 3.3 meters</a> with important regional variations.</p><p>More than that, we would be on the irreversible path to full land-ice melt, causing sea levels to rise by up to 30 meters, roughly at the rate of two meters per century, or maybe faster. Just look at the raised beaches around the world, at the last high stand of global sea level, at the end of the Pleistocene period around 120,0000 years ago, to see the evidence of such a warm world, which was just 2°C warmer than the present day.</p>
Cutting Off Circulation<p>As well as devastating low-lying and coastal areas around the world, melting polar ice could set off another tipping point: a disablement to the AMOC.</p><p>This circulation system drives a northward flow of warm, salty water on the upper layers of the ocean from the tropics to the northeast Atlantic region, and a southward flow of cold water deep in the ocean.</p><p>The ocean conveyor belt has a major effect on the climate, seasonal cycles and temperature in western and northern Europe. It means the region is warmer than other areas of similar latitude.</p><p>But melting ice from the Greenland ice sheet could threaten the AMOC system. It would dilute the salty sea water in the north Atlantic, making the water lighter and less able or unable to sink. This would slow the engine that drives this ocean circulation.</p><p><a href="https://www.carbonbrief.org/atlantic-conveyor-belt-has-slowed-15-per-cent-since-mid-twentieth-century" target="_blank">Recent research</a> suggests the AMOC has already weakened by around 15% since the middle of the 20th century. If this continues, it could have a major impact on the climate of the northern hemisphere, but particularly Europe. It may even lead to the <a href="https://ore.exeter.ac.uk/repository/handle/10871/39731?show=full" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cessation of arable farming</a> in the UK, for instance.</p><p>It may also reduce rainfall over the Amazon basin, impact the monsoon systems in Asia and, by bringing warm waters into the Southern Ocean, further destabilize ice in Antarctica and accelerate global sea level rise.</p>
The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation has a major effect on the climate. Praetorius (2018)
Is it Time to Declare a Climate Emergency?<p>At what stage, and at what rise in global temperatures, will these tipping points be reached? No one is entirely sure. It may take centuries, millennia or it could be imminent.</p><p>But as COVID-19 taught us, we need to prepare for the expected. We were aware of the risk of a pandemic. We also knew that we were not sufficiently prepared. But we didn't act in a meaningful manner. Thankfully, we have been able to fast-track the production of vaccines to combat COVID-19. But there is no vaccine for climate change once we have passed these tipping points.</p><p><a href="https://www.weforum.org/reports/the-global-risks-report-2021" target="_blank">We need to act now on our climate</a>. Act like these tipping points are imminent. And stop thinking of climate change as a slow-moving, long-term threat that enables us to kick the problem down the road and let future generations deal with it. We must take immediate action to reduce global warming and fulfill our commitments to the <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Paris Agreement</a>, and build resilience with these tipping points in mind.</p><p>We need to plan now to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, but we also need to plan for the impacts, such as the ability to feed everyone on the planet, develop plans to manage flood risk, as well as manage the social and geopolitical impacts of human migrations that will be a consequence of fight or flight decisions.</p><p>Breaching these tipping points would be cataclysmic and potentially far more devastating than COVID-19. Some may not enjoy hearing these messages, or consider them to be in the realm of science fiction. But if it injects a sense of urgency to make us respond to climate change like we have done to the pandemic, then we must talk more about what has happened before and will happen again.</p><p>Otherwise we will continue playing Jenga with our planet. And ultimately, there will only be one loser – us.</p>
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