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Give Your Baby the Best Start

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Phthalates: Chemicals called phthalates -- used to soften plastics -- have a negative effect on sex hormones, like estrogen and testosterone. There's evidence they can cause reproductive defects and lower sperm count in boys. In one study, vinyl flooring in children's bedrooms was linked with symptoms of asthma, hay fever, and eczema. Phthalates can also be found in carpet, soft plastic toys, and some plastic baby bottles.

Better flooring options -- Wood, cork, and ceramic tile are better options for the family room and the baby's room, says Landrigan. Another option is natural linoleum (vinyl linoleum gives off VOCs).

A few tips:

  • When removing old carpeting, keep that room closed off from others in the house. Don't track dust into other rooms.Make sure you vacuum around the perimeter and in corners, where house dust tends to hide.  
  • If you want a soft surface, get smaller rugs that you can wash.

If replacing your carpet isn't feasible, then you can minimize exposure to allergens by cleaning it frequently. Vacuum at least two times a week, using a HEPA filter. And have your carpet steam-cleaned, without using detergents or chemicals.

4. Opt for low-odor paints. There's a reason for that new-paint smell. Paints and lacquers, paint strippers, cleaning supplies, building materials, glues and adhesives -- thousands of products -- all emit VOCs.  Solvents in new paint are associated with a number of health effects, from headaches to fatigue and dizziness. Some are suspected carcinogens.

To avoid irritation from VOCs, look for products with no or low VOC gases. Many major paint manufacturers are producing low-emission paints. A few independent agencies (like Green Seal) provide certification of eco-friendly products. In paint stores, you might see them labeled as "low-odor."

Even if you use low-odor paints, you should still wear a mask when painting, open windows, use fans, and allow some time for the room to air out and the fumes to "off gas." Pregnant women should avoid painting.

5. Choose bedding and baby products wisely. Your baby's mattress may seem like a safe, comfortable surface. But researchers are concerned about two types of chemicals that may show up in the mattress.

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How worried are you about chemicals in plastic toys and baby bottles?