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Give Your Baby the Best Start

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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.

Mattresses are typically treated with PBDEs -- a concern, researchers say, since a baby spends a lot of time on the mattress. And because they're usually encased in vinyl or plastic, new mattresses also emit VOCs.

One option is to choose a wool mattress. "Wool is naturally fire resistant," Lunder says, "although even a wool mattress might be treated with fire-retardants. At least it will have a lot fewer chemicals on it." If you're using a synthetic mattress, let it off-gas the plastic fumes in the garage for a few days. "That's what we did with my son's mattress," Lunder says. Then cover it with a wool mattress pad (preferably organic), to provide a barrier between baby and a synthetic mattress.

Other concerns:

  • Allergens (like dust mites) tend to accumulate in baby's bedding, potentially triggering an asthma attack. An allergy-proof mattress casing will help solve that problem -- as will washing your baby's bedding every week  
  • Make sure your baby's personal products are the mildest possible. For the first few months, baby's skin doesn't need lotion or cream. When you do use soap, choose the mildest soap possible -- without fragrance or antibacterial chemicals. Opt for biodegradable, hypoallergenic laundry detergent.

6. Tackle the diaper dilemma.  Cloth or disposable?Most U.S. families use disposable diapers, but many parents believe that cloth diapers are better for the environment. Research shows that both have some negative effects on the environment.

Disposable diapers require more materials to manufacture -- and produce more solid waste in landfills. Cloth diapers are often suggested as an alternative. But they require greater electricity and water for cleaning.

Other options:

  • The flushable hybrid diaper, which involves reusable cloth pants with disposable liners. When the liner is soiled, it is flushed down the toilet into the sewage system instead of going to the landfill.
  • Chlorine-free disposable diapers and baby wipes.
  • Organic cotton diapers (no pesticides are used on the cotton during growing).

Some parents may find that using both cloth and disposable diapers works best for them (for example, many day care centers require disposable diapers). Whether you use cloth or disposable, be sure to change diapers frequently. Minimizing the time a baby spends with a wet or soiled diaper helps prevent diaper rash.

7. Play it safe with toys. Lead in toys and jewelry is a serious issue that continues to pose a threat to kids. About 30% of childhood lead poisoning cases tracked by the CDC are not believed to be caused by wall paint, but by lead in toys and jewelry. In 2006-2007, the Consumer Product Safety Commission recalled more than 31 million toys; of those, the cause was excessive lead in 4 million toys. 

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