Eco-Friendly Basics for Baby

Safe sleepwear and bottles for kids

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All parents want their babies to be safe and comfortable. But when it comes to choosing layette items, not all products are created equal. Here’s the lowdown on pajamas and baby bottles.

Babies may be small, but as most seasoned parents can attest, they certainly seem to require a lot of stuff. For new parents as well as for those who have been around the crib a few times, baby product choice can be downright overwhelming, especially when you consider that many of the products you buy for your baby can impact her health, safety, and comfort. If making the safest, most eco-sound purchases possible for your baby is a priority for you, here are some helpful guidelines. As innocuous as they may seem, not all pajamas or baby bottles are created equal.

Sleepwear Issues

Although it might seem like crying is your baby’s primary activity, most infants spend a high percentage of each day asleep. Chances are, your little one’s wardrobe is heavy on the PJs! But how do they stack up when it comes to comfort and safety? The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) requires children’s sleepwear to be flame resistant and self-extinguishing. If it’s labeled “sleepwear,” the CPSC has approved it.

The CPSC recognizes two categories of sleepwear. The first is standard sleepwear, made of flame-resistant fabric. The second category is sleepwear that meets “tight-fit” guidelines. This means that it is tapered at the waist, wrists, and ankles, doesn’t have lengthy trim, such as lace, and is close fitting all the way through. Your basic long johns, for example. Tight sleepwear is less likely to contact fire, and there’s not much oxygen between the garment and the wearer’s skin to feed a flame. This category of sleepwear can be as untreated and all natural as you want. However, you have to be conscientious about ensuring a good fit. Even if you routinely buy your child’s other clothes a few sizes too big to accommodate growth, sleepwear should fit properly at all times.

To identify sleepwear that meets snug-fit requirements, read packaging and hangtags. If you see, “For child’s safety, garment should fit snugly. This garment is not flame resistant. Loose-fitting garment is more likely to catch fire,” the garment has met the guidelines. Further, it’ll sport a permanent tag that says, “Wear snug-fitting. Not flame resistant.”

Unconvinced by the notion that snug-fitting sleepwear provides a measure of safety, some fire-safety groups are fighting for elimination of the tight-fitting category. But the CPSC notes that neither the flame retardant nor the tight-fitting type of sleepwear will protect a child from a burning house or bed, although both provide a measure of protection from a small open flame.

So is fire-retardant sleepwear toxic?Probably not, but it might not be as comfortable for your child as cotton because polyester doesn’t “breathe” as well. Further, the polyester used in sleepwear is a fire-resistant blend, even without additional treatment. In 1977, a toxic fire-retardant chemical called Tris, used commonly in sleepwear, was banned. Since then most fire-resistant sleepwear has been additive-free. We have not found any sleepwear that does use Polybrominated diphenyl ether(PBDE) as a flame retardant. It has been shown to inhibit brain development in animals. In fact, less than one percent of either polyester or cotton sleepwear is chemically treated. Mark Ross of the CPSC says that his commission doesn’t permit the sale of toxic clothing.

Which sleepwear to choose? Weigh each side: Fire-retardant sleepwear works no matter what the fit. Organic cotton is more earth-friendly and likely more comfortable, but must fit snugly to satisfy CPSC requirements. If you like the idea of chemical-free, organic cotton you can find pajamas and other apparel in stores or on the Internet.

Garden Kids (541-465-4544) sells organic cotton infantwear, baby blankets, snug-fitting (CPSC-compliant for fire-safe) pajamas and clothing up to children’s size 14. Check out their striped jammies, which come in sizes newborn to 2/3. All of Patagonia’s (800-638-6464) cotton lines for babies and kids, are organic. Maggie’s Functional Organics sells baby socks in infant, toddler and youth sizes (800-609-8593).

A Spin on Baby Bottles

Regardless of whether you feed your baby breastmilk or formula, he’s bound to have a bottle in his mouth at some point. And while plastic bottles can be convenient for parents and comforting to babies, careful use is advised to avoid some common risks. For example, scratches in plastic bottles and cracks in the nipples can harbor bacteria, contaminating the liquid your baby ingests. Microwave heating of milk or formula can cause hot spots, which have the potential to scald a baby’s mouth.

But are baby bottles, themselves, safe? Some recent scientific research has raised new concerns about plastic baby bottles. Bisphenol-A is a component of polycarbonate plastic, the clear, rigid variety of plastic from which many bottles are made. This substance has been shown to be “estrogenic,” meaning that it is an endocrine disruptor in lab animals, altering reproductive organs and functions. People are exposed to bisphenol-A from a myriad of products throughout life, but because babies have immature endocrine systems and are in a stage of rapid development, there is concern that they might be more vulnerable to the endocrine-disrupting effects of bisphenol-A than older children and adults. Because the risks to humans of bisphenol-A are unknown, the most conservative response to these findings would be to limit your baby’s exposure to it. A bisphenol-A-containing plastic will have #7 in the bottle’s recycling code.

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