PROTECTING THE ORGANIC BABY
by Sue Sierralupe
Often a new mother or father will spend hours gazing at their baby, oblivious to the time that has passed. All thought of the outside world dissolves as the child’s gentle breathing lulls the adoring parent into a kind of blissful meditation. Just the wiggle of tiny, newly formed fingers captures the parent’s heart. This is a magic time when parents would take any risk to protect the perfect, sleeping child from harm.
The unpleasant reality is that there are a variety of dangers in the very products that were designed to help children. Carcinogenic pesticides in food, phthalates in plastic tub toys, lead paint on changing tables, BPA in baby bottles, even DNA-damaging sunscreen products darken the news. All these threats await the child even before he or she is old enough to walk. Yet, with care, the informed parent can avoid most all of these dangers and help the baby grow into a healthy, thriving adult.
For the careful parent, there are many choices that are healthy for babies and the environment. Good nutrition is the first and best defense for children. Studies show that a balanced diet during the first few years is the key to a strong immune system, as well as proper mental and physical development throughout the child’s life. Mother Nature has provided babies with the healthiest option for optimum nutrition. Breastfed babies have excellent safeguards built into their diet. The nursing mother passes much more than just nourishment to her child.
Breast milk is a complex food. The first few days after the baby is born, the mother’s body produces a liquid called colostrum, which is rich in antibodies that guard the infant from unfriendly bacteria. Newborns normally lose between 5 and 10 percent of their birth weight due to the transition of having to digest their own food, no longer relying on the placenta. Colostrum is higher in protein than regular breast milk, which helps the breast-fed baby regain birth weight by the second or third week of life. These early days of nursing are also vital in reducing the chance of the child developing food allergies later on in life.
The mother’s milk comes in a few days after birth to replace colostrum. The milk is nature’s ideal baby food. It is perfectly balanced nourishment for the growing child. It is also full of antibodies. These antibodies are a vital supplement since children’s immune systems are not fully developed until age five.
The nursing mother still needs to watch her diet carefully as toxins like pesticides, nicotine, medication, and caffeine can transfer from the mother directly to the baby. Attention to the mother’s diet has personal rewards, as nursing helps shrink the uterus after birth and burns calories so that the mother is able to get back in shape more quickly.
Breastfeeding is also easy on the pocketbook. Expenses for the first year of the bottle feeding run close to $1,500 for the formula alone. Adding bottles, nipples, collars, rings, caps, warmers, and sanitizers to the shopping cart raises the price tag considerably. A time-saving bonus is that, unlike bottle-feeding parents, nursing mothers don’t have to worry about sterilizing bottles, mixing formula, or checking water temperature.
Breastfeeding doesn’t work for every family. For example, mothers that have chronic illnesses, are on prescription medication, or who have conflicting work issues often find that baby formula is a better option. There are organic alternatives on the market for these children. Most baby food companies offer organic versions of both their dairy-based and lactose-free infant formulas. The non-dairy formulas are often soy-based but brown-rice-based formula is also available.
After a few months, the baby’s teeth start coming in and he is ready to sample prepared solid foods. Organic baby cereals have been on the market for years, which means that these products are fairly easy to get, even in small Oregon towns. Specialty baby cereal can be ordered in bulk online and stored for later use in areas where access is limited. Many mothers chose to mix a little breast milk with the cereal to help their child adjust to the new taste.
Organic solid baby food like pears, sweet potatoes and carrots are also easy to find on the supermarket shelves or freezer section, but many concerned parents feel more confident preparing their own baby food at home. A sliced and peeled apple cooked in a little water on the stove top makes a simple first meal for baby once it is run through the blender, food processor or baby food mill. Baby food mills come in travel-sized versions that are as easy to clean as they are to use. Feeding handmade baby food increases the likelihood that the infant will develop into a toddler who enjoys a greater variety of foods, as he is used-to eating home-cooked food rather than something that comes from a jar.
Clothing and Furniture
Concern for baby’s health shouldn’t stop in the kitchen. The government recalls clothes and furniture every year for safety reasons. Thanks in part to deregulation, lead paint is reappearing on everything from baby cribs to baby bibs. Parents are opting for safer vegetable-based paint or old-fashioned beeswax and natural-oil finishes for furniture.
Pesticide residue can linger between the fibers of receiving blankets or onesies. The concerned shopper can turn to natural, organic cotton, velour, wool or bamboo clothing. Frequenting resale shops for used clothing or soft furnishings has definite advantages as well. The used soft goods have had several washings, so the fabric has had a chance to lose harmful vapors and pesticides before it comes home to baby. Since infants grow so quickly, used clothing often has only been worn a few times and is in great shape. Parents can feel good that every purchase from a resale shop diverts that item from the landfill.
Diapers are a big part of child rearing. Diapers need to be changed 8-10 times a day which means that one baby will go through between 3,000 – 4,000 diapers a year. A stroll down the grocery store’s disposable diaper aisle with a calculator-in-hand can give new mothers the chills. Frugal parents prefer cloth diapers and wash their own. Yet, cloth diapers have more advantages than cost. Organic cotton diapers are not difficult to come by. The creative parent can even make their own diapers. Anyone with a sewing machine and an hour or two on their hands can make a hefty collection of sturdy, absorbent cotton diapers.
Busy families would do well to consider using their friendly, neighborhood diaper service. Most large Oregon towns offer the convenience of diaper services which allow parents to enjoy cloth diapers without the bother of the extra trips to the Laundromat. Many diaper services sell their worn out diapers to housekeeping services to use as cleaning rags, another smart reuse step for both companies involved.
Diaper liners and inserts come in dizzying array of fabrics: fleece, microfiber, wool and even silk. Liners come in disposable varieties for cloth diapers so that the really messy part is flushed down the toilet while the washable outer layer goes into the laundry pail. The washing machine may need extra help disinfecting these troublesome stains. Parents rely on earth-friendly laundry products to care for baby’s sensitive skin, along with the environment their child is inheriting.
Disposable diapers have their advantages as well. Even cloth-diaper veterans will buy a bag of paper diapers during a vacation out of town. Disposable diapers are very convenient. Organic disposables are now available for conscientious parents adding more heat to the already raging argument about which diaper is more earth friendly – cloth or disposable. Some companies have even released diaper products that are chlorine-free and biodegradable. Although these products can be purchased online, local retailers are usually eager to stock these specialty items if they have a guaranteed customer for them.
Toys should not escape the scrutiny of protective parents. A new ruling called the CPSIA (Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act) was designed to safeguard children from, among other things, high lead levels, BPA, and phthalate in toys. Each toy on the market will be required to have a Certificate of Compliance that proves the toy passed third-party testing for toxins and safety regulations.
As plastic toys are high on the list of usual suspects for hiding carcinogenic toxins, families are now searching for labels that confirm the toy is BPA- and/or phthalate-free. Other families are opting for wood, cloth, or natural rubber toys. Some stores offer parents places to conduct their own “crayon test” to be sure the toy is truly painted with vegetable-based instead of mineral-based dyes. A “crayon test” consists of simply rubbing the painted surface against a hard surface to observe the “crayon-like” smudge on the testing surface, an indicator of a vegetable-based dye. Mineral-based dyes and paints just chip or retain their color without a smudge. Beeswax is a natural finish for toys that is enjoying a renaissance in the world of baby products.
Let’s face it, babies are messy. Not only do they need constant washing between diaper changes but everything they touch needs to be cleaned. The conventional cleaning products that most of us were raised with now have a worrisome list of harmful side effects. Dioxins and chlorine are particularly toxic to a young child’s environment since they store in the body fat and can cause serious developmental damage. Fortunately parents have many effective alternatives to harsh chemicals.
Hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) is a non-toxic whitening agent that is replacing bleach in laundry soaps and surface cleaners. H2O2 is also available in most pharmacies for disinfecting wounds. Coupling this non-toxic cleaner with other trustworthy products such as vinegar, corn starch, or baking soda, gives the parent the power to safely tackle the messy challenges of parenthood.
Plant-based cleaning products are replacing petroleum-based cleaners on grocery shelves as demand increases from environmentally aware families. Saponins, botanical components from certain plants, are fairly abundant in the natural world. Smart companies are utilizing traditional knowledge to offer plant-based alternatives to unhealthy cleansers. Chinese Soapberry, Aloe Vera and Yucca root are just a few of the sudsy items that Mother Nature uses to do her housekeeping. These plants are free of phosphates, petroleum solvents, chlorine, perfumes, dyes, animal byproducts, and other common triggers for respiratory or skin irritations.
Sometimes even good nutrition and proper hygiene aren’t enough to save children from life’s grittier side. Alternative medicine has been helping generations of health-conscious families get through tough times. In Oregon we have our own school of naturopathic medicine that has been educating doctors for over fifty years. These physicians are schooled in herbal medicine, homeopathic medicine, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), and nutritional counseling.
Alternatives to over-the-counter medication are as close as the neighborhood health food store. Many herbal remedies are familiar ones; for example, peppermint for tummy aches, chamomile for sleepless nights, and cinnamon for frost-nipped fingers. Herbal medicine offers safe, time-honored options to common household items like sunscreen, diaper rash cream, teething gel, and baby shampoo.
All these choices may seem bewildering to the new parent, but after relying on them a few times they will soon be like old friends. Patching scraped knees, safely cleaning raspberry stains from a t-shirt and picking out a good toy that will be at least as fun to play with as the box it comes in are some interesting challenges for the years ahead. Until then, hold that sleeping child in your arms and enjoy the magic time.
Organic Baby Powder:
Baby powder is wonderful for preventing diaper rash. Most commercial baby powders contain talc which is not good for the environment or the baby. This simple recipe provides softly scented medicine for diaper rash and offers an earth-friendly option for conscientious parents.
• 3 1/2 cups organic cornstarch
• 1/3 cup dried lavender flowers
• 1/3 cup dried calendula flowers
• 1/3 cup dried orange peel
• 1 blender
• 1 mixing bowl
• 1 mixing spoon
• measuring cups
• 2 resealable shaker bottles or a small canning jar with holes punched in the lid
• 1 resealable jar for extra mixture
• 1 label
1. Blend the dried herbs into a fine powder. The mixture will measure out to about 1/2 cup when finished.
2. Add the cornstarch 1 cup at a time into blender and blend until thoroughly mixed.
3. Pour a small amount of the mixture into a travel size shaker bottle for the diaper bag and more into another shaker bottle for the changing table.
4. Pour the remaining mixture into a resealable jar and label it for storage.
Storage & Use of Baby Powder:
Store extra Baby Powder in a labeled, resealable bottle for up to a year.
To use Organic Baby Powder, simply sprinkle about a teaspoon of powder on the baby’s clean diaper area.Note: Some children have allergies to different flowers. Refine the recipe for these situations by using the substitutes listed below:
• oatmeal • dried grapefruit peel • green tea • tilia flower
Want to learn more?
Here are some links that provide more information for eco-friendly families:
Sue Sierralupé is a Master Gardener, Sustainable Landscape Educator and Certified Master Herbalist living in Eugene, Oregon. www.thepracticalherbalist.com
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