Babies and the World They Live In

Babies and the World They Live In

By Scott Wolf

I have a 2.5-year-old and a one-year-old and am well acquainted with how challenging this can be. Let’s focus on some of the ways we can make their very first out-in-the-world experiences healthy and happy ones.

Breastfeed. Breast milk is uncategorically the best way to go for feeding little ones, despite some fairly high-profile news articles documenting concentrations of PCBs and other nasty chemicals in breast milk. For reasons not yet fully understood, and despite transmitting some of these chemicals, breast milk has an amazing ability to protect children from a host of infections, to reduce rates of cancer and diabetes later in life, and to raise a child’s IQ, just to name a few benefits. The good far outweighs the bad. For a good discussion of this (and many other things mentioned in this article), see Having Faith: An Ecologist’s Journey to Motherhood by Dr. Sandra Steingraber.

Avoid plastic bottles and cups as a general rule. Certain kinds of plastics can leach bisphenol-A and phthalates into fluids. These chemicals create havoc in the body’s hormonal system, and developing children are particularly vulnerable. If you’d really like to get into the science of it, check out Instead of plastic, buy glass bottles (easily found online but difficult to find locally in my experience). Or if you have to use plastic at times, as we did when a day care’s policy prohibited glass, see, which has products that have all been confirmed to be bisphenol-A, phthalate, and PVC free (again, not readily found locally). A great alternative for sippy cups and adult water bottles is the Klean Kanteen, a stainless steel bottle and Chico product (

Think used. Not a lot of us could afford all the “brand-news” even if we wanted to: a brand-new diaper-changing table, a brand-new crib, a brand-new dresser, and so on. In this case, that’s a good thing. All of those new products, unless they are solid wood, tend to contain plywood and/or particle board, both of which give off (or “outgas”) formaldehyde, a carcinogen. Fortunately, as time goes by, the emissions from these products gradually decline, making them safer to be around. The same goes for a mattress. Many of us cannot afford an organic cotton, wool, or natural latex mattress, so a used one may be the best option. Much of the outgassing will have happened in the past, though it’s still wise to put a cover over the mattress to minimize exposure to dust mites. The situation is similar for clothing. Cotton is one of the most pesticide-doused plants on the planet, and those toxins end up in cotton clothing. Happily, used clothing, having been washed a number of times, is very unlikely to contain these residues anymore. Go forth and shamelessly solicit hand-me-downs from whomever you can!(One caveat: Do not use furniture with any broken parts or a crib made before 1990, when the Consumer Product Safety Commission set new safety standards.)

If you must paint, paint wisely. Almost all paints contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that are carcinogenic and/or neurotoxic. But not all. Major manufacturers, such as Kelly-Moore and Frazee Paint, have jumped on the environmental bandwagon and now have low- or no-VOC offerings. Smaller companies that have strong commitments to developing and offering these paints include Bioshield (, which can be found in Grass Valley at Sons Development and Green Building Supply, 563 Idaho Maryland Rd., 273-7875; Yolo Colorhouse (; Kelly-Moore at 1221 Mangrove Ave. in Chico; and AFM Safecoat(, with the closest location being at Green Sacramento (

Do not install new carpet. Almost all new carpets outgas quite a lot and for quite a while. One option: Stick with your existing flooring, complementing it with area rugs (preferably made of natural materials and prewashed), if suitable. Other options: tile, linoleum (NOT vinyl), cork, bamboo with low- or no-formaldehyde glues, or hardwood from sustainably managed forests.

Finally, I’ll mention one fantastic resource: Mothers and Others for a Livable Planet Guide to Natural Baby Care by Mindy Pennybacker and Aisha Ikramuddin, though a bit dated, is an outstanding book for looking into all of these issues and many more. Check it out.

Hope to see you at the Green Baby Expo! May you and your children be healthy all of your days.