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Bringing Up Baby Organically

There's a new movement under way to go green – starting from the first days of life.

Seeking Greener Pastures

While organic foods represent one category of "going green," the movement also encompasses limiting exposure to chemicals and toxins that "off gas" -- have a kind of chemical emission that can emanate from products like bedding and linens, mattresses, pressed wood furniture, even room paint and carpeting.

In addition to any long-term health risks associated with early chemical exposures, evidence is mounting of more immediate threats, including environmental asthma.

"If a child is susceptible and easily irritated by chemical exposures, the ongoing inflammation in their lungs caused by these exposures can trigger an environmental allergy," says NYU pediatric allergist Jonathan Field, MD, director of the allergy and asthma clinic at NYU Medical Center/Bellevue in New York City.

Toss in a genetic background with a potential for allergic reactions, and mitigating circumstances such as a premature birth requiring ventilator use as well as parents who smoke, and, Field says, environmental exposures become an even greater threat.

"If parents are trying to narrow the playing field as to what their children are exposed to at an early age -- when lungs are developing -- there is something to be said for less exposure to these irritants," says Field.

Going Organic: What You Should Know

For many parents, the decision of whether to go organic is more one of economics than eco-conscience. Simply put, products that carry labels such as "organic" or even "natural" can be a lot pricier.

According to a recent analysis in Consumer Reports, organic baby food costs about 25% more per jar than the nonorganic type -- an increase of about 17 cents per 2.5-ounce jar.

Likewise, a case of 144 Huggies disposable diapers sells for about $35.00 -- while a case of 152 "green" diapers by Tender Care sells for $55.00, a difference of about 12 cents more per diaper.

Price discrepancies are even greater for "soft" goods -- like baby clothes and nursery-wear. For example, Toys "R" Us sells a baby towel set for $9.99 and an "organic" one for $22.99.

What's a parent to do? One solution, according to Consumer Reports, is to shop around and, when you find a good deal, buy in bulk, particularly when it comes to organic baby food. Some companies, such as Earth's Best, discount prices if you purchase baby food by the case -- offering up to 5 cents less per jar when you buy 24 jars at a time. Other companies offer similar savings.

Another option is to shop local for organic groceries and, using a food processor, make your own organic baby food.

When it comes to items such as blankets, baby clothes, bedding, and even organic room decor, Rosen says it's a bit harder to know if price comparisons will really pay off. Although discount and chain stores frequently sell "natural" or even "organic" baby goods at far lower prices than specialty boutiques or "green" stores, because this part of the industry remains unregulated, he says it's hard to know if that bargain you're getting is really a bargain.

He says that even when it comes to Mother Nature, "It's often a case of buyer beware."

Reviewed on September 28, 2013

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