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The natural, non-toxic baby By Julie Kendrick


long with those two pink lines on the home pregnancy test and the fullcolor ultrasound picture, there is another milestone in modern parenthood, one that increasingly gets included somewhere between the first genetic testing and the last all-couples’ baby shower: a thorough household detoxification. Many parents confirm that their pre-delivery to-do list, which used to be limited to chores like “select theme for nursery,� now includes tasks like checking for potentially harmful chemicals in plastic, soaps, bedding, carpets, and household cleaners. According to the medical network Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Units (PEHSU), children may be more vulnerable to environmental exposures than adults because their systems are still developing. In proportion to their body size, they eat, drink, and breathe more than adults, their systems are less able to break down pollutants, and their behavior (think of all that outdoor and floor time) can lead to greater exposure to harmful substances.

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Ryan North, of Moss Envy. Photo by Habakkuk Stockstill

“Before you become a parent, your focus is on yourself, and you might be more willing to compromise on your own personal health decisions. But when you bring a new little one into the world, you reevaluate everything,” says Ryan North, owner of Moss Envy, a Minneapolis-based store that features recycled, natural, organic, and eco-friendly products. He says that he and the store’s staff have noticed an increasing uptick in the number of parents who are seeking to make their baby’s environment as toxin-free as possible.

Cosmetics to mattresses For Keturah Pestel, a Roseville mother of two children under the age of five, it was a journey that began in pregnancy. “I became concerned about the cosmetics I was using, and their possible effect on my gestating child,” she says. After a visit to the website of the Environmental Working Group (see sidebar), she tossed out all her traditional makeup. “I figured that everything I put on or in my body goes into making a kid, so I needed to be careful,” she says. “Once I

learned about all these chemicals in my years from now, we’ll look back and be cosmetics, I changed my skin care astounded that we subjected ourselves routine. Now, if I can’t pronounce and our children to these chemithe ingredients, cals in the place where we go to SPOTLIG I don’t buy it.” restore our bodies, our beds,” ON GREEHT N Pestel’s research led her to North says. Moss Envy stocks LIVING begin considering other the Savvy Rest and NaturePAGE 28 eco-friendly choices, including pedic lines of mattresses. Made a chemical-free crib mattress, with certified organic materials which is a common next-purchase like latex, wool, and cotton, the for many parents, North says. He explains mattresses meet and exceed Federal and that traditional mattresses, which use state flammability standards without the synthetic chemicals to make them fire use of potentially harmful chemicals. resistant, have been an increasing Cloth diapers? concern in environmentally conscious They’re baaaaaaack circles. The first visit to his store is often For those who are somewhat more from expecting parents who have done committed to serious eco-friendly choices, some research and discovered that there is the return of that old standby, chemicals such as boric acid, antimony, reuseable cloth diapers. “They’ve come a formaldehyde, benzene, toluene, and long way,” North insists, adding that chlorine are traditionally used as flame diaper pins and other safety concerns are retardants for mattresses. a thing of the past. Even with environ“It would be nice to think that those mental factors taken aside (the two chemicals stay in the mattress, but the options have about the same impact, once fact is that they don’t. They leach out and the energy of washing is included) he are absorbed by the skin and lungs. Ten

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explains that the most compelling reason to go with reuseables is the cost. “You will spend four times as much on disposables over reuseables, over the life of your child, from newborn to toilet training,” he says. North admits that the move to cloth is “still fairly much a niche thing—it’s definitely not mainstream yet.” Still, he says, for parents who have more time to dedicate at home to doing a few extra loads of laundry, it can be worth the effort. “Plus, he says, “Kids who use reusable diapers, on average, are potty trained faster.” If you feel ready to make the switch, he insists that a Bum Genius brand diaper spray, which hooks directly into the plumbing of a toilet, is a must-have piece of equipment. The device, which rinses off dirty diapers directly into the toilet, is a top seller among those Moss Envy customers who have stopped using disposable diapers. “Parents tell me that it’s indispensable,” North reports.

Disposables with a difference “Our kids are ages three and two, and we just had a baby in September. We talked about it, but it seemed that using cloth diapers was just not possible for our situation,” says Jessie Seehof Carlson of Minneapolis. Concerned about the global footprint and presence of chemicals used in the manufacturing of traditional disposables, she researched brands that were plant-based and biodegradable. Carlson selected the Swedish-manufactured Nature Babycare brand, which she orders in bulk from With the arrival of her daughter this fall, she added orders for newborn-sized disposable diapers from The Honest Company, the eco-friendly baby products company founded by actress Jessica Alba. Whether it’s the selection of diapers, food, clothing, or any of the other choices facing parents, Carlson tries to keep a sense of perspective. “I look at our generation, and we were raised on TV dinners, fish sticks, and microwave food, but we’re healthy, smart, and functioning, so we made it through that. We try to follow the ‘90-10’ rule—‘Do your best 90 percent of the time, and the other 10 percent of the time, you can relax.’ So if my daughter eats a non-organic apple, I don’t immediately

think she’s going to get pesticide disorder illness. I just want to give my kids a fighting chance, given all that their little bodies are up against,” she says.

Prioritizing costs “I have a very long ‘wish list’ of ecofriendly things that I’d like my baby to have, but my budget is certainly not unlimited,” says Jennifer Tucker, a Coon Rapids resident who is expecting her first baby in March. Tucker teaches nursing at Anoka Ramsey Community and is an on-call nurse for the newborn intensive care unit at Hennepin County Medical Center. “Children’s health is obviously an interest of mine, but when I began doing research on the costs of many of these baby items, I decided I’d have to prioritize,” she says. After discovering the price of an eco-friendly crib, she decided to buy a second-hand model that met all current safety standards. “A used crib will have already off-gassed many of its chemicals,” she says, adding, “But it really did seem important to get a non-chemical crib mattress, so that made it into the budget.” Her other purchases will include painting the nursery with low VOC (volatile organic compound) paint, using cloth diapers, and buying eco-friendly wooden chew toys. “I just try to think about the places where the baby will be the majority of the time, and the things that will be most used,” she says.

Your grandparents were right North, who is the father of one son, Zander, age 13, says he is sure that many grandparents are chuckling at the return of such vintage items as glass baby bottles and wooden teething rings. “The things our grandmas and grandpas did are suddenly making more sense, like composting, using a push mower, or hanging up clothes to dry on a line outside,” he says. As to the concerns of parents who are seeking eco-options for their children, he observes, “Many parents are just overwhelmed with all the choices and risks out there, but new moms and dads are really eager for information about ways they can give their baby a good, healthy start in life.”

Learn more Below are a few resources online, in print, and brick and mortar to help you navigate toward a toxin free world. All Things Diapers 12064 Central Ave NE, Blaine 763 432-9263 Offers classes, diaper service, and many different varieties of reusable diapers Moss Envy 3056 Excelsior Blvd, Minneapolis 612-374-4581 Offers recycled, natural, organic, and eco-friendly products The Honest Company An online source for eco-friendly baby products, including natural diapers, organic wipes, bath & body care, and non-toxic cleaning products Environmental Working Group Offers healthy home tips Features safe, healthy, green. and ethical products based on scientific ratings A nonprofit organization with the mission to help parents protect children from harmful chemicals Healthy Child, Healthy World: Creating a Cleaner, Greener, Safer Home by Christopher Gavigan, founder and chief product officer of The Honest Company Raising Healthy Children in a Toxic World: 101 Smart Solutions for Every Family by Dr. Philip J. Landrigan, director of the Children’s Environmental Health Center at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, is a classic manual that includes checklists to help identify toxins in everyday household items Household Products Database The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ listing of ingredients, health effects, and safe handling tips

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Julie Kendrick for MN Parent -- Detoxfied Babies  
Julie Kendrick for MN Parent -- Detoxfied Babies  

Chemical free mattresses, wooden teething rings and all-cloth diapers are just some of the new "must have" for the all-natural modern baby.