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Give Your Baby the Best Start

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The majority of those recalled toys were made in China. Even more jewelry (mostly made in China) has been recalled, including 170 million pieces due to excessive lead.

Soft plastic toys, pacifiers, and teethers should also be considered carefully. The chemicals in soft plastics (phthalates) are possible human carcinogens. Phthalates disrupt hormones in animals, and have been linked to birth defects, breast cancer, and other health problems.

Stiffer standards regarding lead and phthalates in children's products will go into effect in February 2009, thanks to the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act. That law applies to children's products regardless of where they were manufactured.

However, lead-painted and plastic toys -- trains, dolls, and others -- are still widely available on the market -- especially the Internet. 

The Coalition to End Childhood Lead Poisoning advises:

  • Discard all brightly painted toys -- whether wooden, plastic, or metal -- that have been manufactured in Pacific Rim countries, especially China. Toys that are particularly risky are those where the paint can be peeled or chipped off, and those that are easily mouthed by young children.
  • Discard all ceramic or pottery toys manufactured outside the U.S., especially those made in China, India, and Mexico.
  • Remove all metal jewelry from children.
  • Buy only soy-based crayons. Other crayons may contain lead. Don't just rely on a "nontoxic" label.

Safer toys include:

  • Those manufactured in North America and the European Union.
  • Books, DVDs, and CDs.
  • Most plush toys, although two have been recalled for excessive lead.
  • Those made of solid wood (unfinished or with a nontoxic finish), organic cotton, wool, or hemp.

Pacifiers and teethers:

  • Choose silicone nipples over rubber (which break down faster and can hide bacteria). Silicone nipples are clear and can be safely put in a dishwasher.
  • Try natural wooden or organic cloth teethers.

For more information on toy safety, consult the Consumer Product Safety Commission web site and HealthyToys.org.

8. Get picky about baby bottles. There's continuing controversy over whether plastic baby bottles are safe. That's because the chemical bisphenol A (BPA) can leach from plastic baby bottles made from polycarbonate plastic, potentially posing a health risk to infants. The same chemical is found in many other products -- especially food and drink packaging, like some reusable polycarbonate water bottles. 

The FDA and the American Chemistry Council say bisphenol A is safe for use. However, an independent panel of scientists has criticized the FDA's stance on bisphenol A safety -- stating that more attention should be paid to infants' exposure. 

The National Toxicology Program issued a report in September 2008, noting "some concern" about the effects on the brain, prostate gland, and behavior in fetuses, infants, and children. In animal studies, BPA mimics the effects of estrogen.

To reduce your infant's exposure to BPA, try the following:

  • Look for safer baby bottles -- either tempered glass bottles or plastic baby bottles made of safer plastics like polyethelene or polypropylene (recycling symbols 2 or 5).
  • Don't heat breast milk or infant formula in plastic baby bottles. 
  • Don't microwave plastic containers with baby food or milk. 
  • If you use formula, opt for powdered. Many formula cans are lined with a BPA resin and liquid formula is more readily contaminated than powdered.
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How worried are you about chemicals in plastic toys and baby bottles?