From the moment you find out you are going to become a parent, you want the best for your baby. You’d do anything to protect them from harm – and that, of course, includes protecting their sensitive skin.
It’s no coincidence that a lot of parents-to-be start to become a lot more conscious and aware of the products they use on a daily basis even before their little ones are born. Any new parent will tell that then when your baby is finally here, a whole range of new products come into your life too. From washing powders and detergents, to nappies and baby oils – so many new items are suddenly added to your weekly shopping list.
But what exactly goes into all these products that are aimed at and marketed for our babies? With adverts popping up everywhere we look, how can new parents tell which products are ‘necessary’ or better than others?
While we can’t answer these questions for you, we do cover these topics in our BabyNatal Practical Baby Care classes. Like in any class from The Natal Family, BabyNatal workshops are about informed choice. Which is why, in this blog post, we gathered some useful information to help you decide what to buy (or not to buy) when it comes to minimising your baby’s exposure to potentially harmful chemicals.
Why does it matter?
We know that during pregnancy, unborn babies can ‘taste’ the food that their mums eat. They can hear her voice and the sounds around her, or feel her stress levels – they’re very much a part of what goes on in their mum’s life.
It’s no surprise then to learn that babies are also susceptible to the chemicals contained in the products that their mum ingests or applies to her skin, for example. This is confirmed by recent studies of the umbilical cord blood, which have revealed that this blood does contain traces of a large number of chemicals.
This is proof of why during pregnancy and after birth, it’s important to think about chemical exposure. With skin being a person’s biggest organ and certainly the most ‘exposed’, it makes sense to carefully consider what type of products a baby’s skin comes into contact with.
But it’s also been found that chemical exposure can be more harmful for a baby than for an adult. And this is down to a few reasons:
- A baby’s immune system isn’t yet fully developed.
- Because a baby is so tiny compared to an adult, exposure to a certain amount of chemicals can have more impact.
- When a baby is exposed to chemicals through their skin, the chemicals are more likely to reach their internal organs, including their developing brain.
- A baby’s liver, which helps to detoxify and excrete chemicals, isn’t fully developed yet.
- A baby who is exposed to chemicals very early (and continues to be exposed to them) has more time to develop adverse reactions during their life, simply because of the duration of this exposure.
- The skin of young babies is very thin and sensitive and absorbs things very easily.
It’s not uncommon for a baby to develop a rash at some point in the first few months of life. If this happens, and the baby is frequently exposed to a number of different chemicals, it can be hard to pinpoint what may have caused the rash. Eliminating products one by one to see whether the skin improves could turn into a lengthy process, and in the meantime the baby might be uncomfortable or even struggling. If, on the other hand, their exposure to chemicals is minimal, the elimination process (and diagnosis) could be a lot more straightforward and quick.
So how do babies come into contact with chemicals exactly?
Let’s look at certain aspects of everyday care to understand what choices and alternatives parents have to try and minimise their children’s exposure to harsh chemicals.
Baby clothes may contain toxins from the manufacturing process, which is why it is advised to wash them before using them to get rid of any excess. Very colourful pieces of clothing will also be quite dye-heavy; as an alternative, parents can consider using white cotton clothing for those items that are in direct contact with your baby’s skin (and in particular their torso, which is the biggest area of their body covered by clothes).
Organic baby and children clothing have also become widely available – you can find a selection of different brands (from Frugi to Maxomorra) over at The Natal Family shop, for example. Choosing organic cotton helps to minimise the exposure to toxins and makes for a more durable, sturdier and softer piece of clothing, which is also more respectful to the environment.
While washing clothes before using them is strongly advised, attention should also be paid to what we use to wash the clothes with. The recommendation is to use non-bio laundry detergents, which are gentler on a baby’s sensitive skin, and avoid fabric softeners. This is because these contain perfumes and additional chemicals, while at the same time they don’t really add much to cleanliness of our clothes. In other words, the exposure to additional chemicals caused by fabric softeners is deemed unnecessary.
Disposable nappies are best known and appreciated worldwide by parents for their convenience and absorbency.
- They are widely available anywhere and easily accessible in most shops.
- They’re practical, as once they’ve been used they can just be thrown away.
- They are highly absorbent. You just have to put the TV on to see plenty of adverts showing how you can pour a whole cup of liquid onto a nappy, and it still feels dry to the touch afterwards.
How is this possible though?
Disposable nappies contain chemicals (mainly dioxins and sodium polyacrylate) that allow for the wee to be absorbed. Sodium polycrylate, when dry, looks like small crystals. But when the nappy gets wet, this substance expands and turns to a gel-like substance. This does come into contact with the baby’s skin, and although disposable nappies have been around for a relative short number of years for scientific studies to produce any conclusive and meaningful results, it is accepted that the chemicals contained in nappies may cause, in certain babies, toxic responses.
Not to mention that disposable nappies aren’t great for the environment – it’s said that it takes approximately 500 years for one nappy to dissolve, so the tonnes of nappies that currently sit in our landfills are there to stay for a number of years to come!
For parents who do wish to use disposable nappies but want more eco-friendly choices, brands like Beaming Baby, Naty and Bamboo Nature, for example, all sell eco disposable nappies. They contain less non-biodegradable materials, and yet they allow to retain absorbency and comfort. Eco-friendly nappies are unbleached, contain no latex, fragrance, TBT (i.e. tributyltin, which is considered highly toxic), and are hypoallergenic, so unlikely to cause allergic reactions.
For the parents who want to try a different and even greener approach, reusable or cloth nappies are also widely available. Although the range and type of cloth nappies on the market varies considerably, these are most often made of cotton or other natural absorbent materials and contain no chemicals. If you want to find out more about cloth nappies you can head over to Fill Your Pants or read some of the blog posts we have written on the topic.
It may surprise you to find out that some parents don’t even use nappies for their children at all (or stop using them at a very early age), thanks to a practice known as Elimination Communication (EC). With EC parents use timing, signals, cues and intuition to address their baby’s need to pass urine or stools. They then enable the baby to pass urine or stools in an appropriate place (i.e. a potty or a toilet). While some parents start EC very soon after birth, it can be started with babies of any age, and the practice can be followed all the time, some of the time or just occasionally. It is said, however, that the best window to start EC is between birth and 4 months, as this helps the baby to become more in tune with their eliminations needs.
Disposable wipes (of any brand), including the ones that are marketed to babies with sensitive skin, contain chemicals. You can see what these chemicals are by simply turning the packet around and checking the ingredients. We published a blog post on this very topic a few months ago – What’s really hiding inside your baby’s wet wipes?
Some of the alternatives to disposable wipes are:
- Disposable Water Wipes – if you check the ingredients on the back, they claim to be made of 99.9% water and to contain no additional chemicals.
- Cloth or reusable wipes of flannels.
- Cotton wool / cotton pads.
For more information on this, you can read our blog post Cleaning baby’s bum – cotton wool, disposable or cloth wipes?
A lot of the bath products that are meant for babies, even the ones that are marketed for babies with sensitive skin, contain a lot of chemicals. Once again, we advise you to turn the product around to check the list of ingredients. If (like us) you don’t know what most of those are, we invite you to research them at home before you make a decision to buy. If you’re concerned about the effects of chemicals, try and opt for products that contain natural ingredients and as little chemicals as possible.
Having said this, you don’t necessarily have to use soaps and bath products on your young baby’s skin. You can simply bathe them in water or add a little bicarbonate of soda (yes, the one you use for baking), which acts as a disinfectant and can cool the skin down on a hot and sticky day.
Barrier creams, ointments and moisturisers
A lot of parents attending our classes ask us about nappy rash creams (also known as barrier creams), as well as other oils or products to be used when giving your baby a nice, relaxing massage after their bath, for example.
As we say in our classes, the choice to use them or not (and which ones to use) is completely up to the parents – it’s an individual choice that no one can make for you. Our only advice is to be mindful of the ingredients contained in the products you use, and to ask yourself whether you feel that a product is really necessary for your baby at any given point in time. If your baby doesn’t have a nappy rash, they probably won’t need a barrier cream – leave that for the times when they do suffer from a rash, and you may notice that the rash clears very nicely after applying the product only once or twice.
As for creams and ointments, if you are not too convinced about the baby products you see on the supermarket shelves, coconut oil can be applied to a baby’s skin if it seems a bit dry, or if you want to moisturise it after the bath or during a massage. If you choose another product, once again, be mindful of the list of ingredients it contains.
And that’s it from us. We hope you found this information useful. Can you think of other examples of skin exposure to chemicals? Or do you have any advice to share with other parents? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below, and if you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask.