Common Products That Can Harm Your Baby

Reviewed by Hansa D. Bhargava, MD on April 04, 2016
From the WebMD Archives

Many common household items contain hazardous substances, some of which can interfere with the body’s hormones. These chemicals might not pose a problem for you, but they could affect your baby’s health.

“Babies’ bodies are still immature, and they lack the ability to clear chemicals and other substances quickly,” says Kimberly Yolton, PhD, professor of pediatrics at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center.

Babies’ main exposure to chemicals is by breathing them or eating them. Chemical particles that land in floor dust can end up in a baby’s mouth. Dusting and vacuuming is one way to keep these chemicals away from your child.

Don’t panic and throw out every product you own, but “be educated about what’s in your home,” Yolton recommends. Watch out for these items:

Pesticides. Chemical bug killers have been linked to cancer, immune problems, and nervous system damage. One study found that boys with a common household pesticide in their urine were twice as likely to have ADHD symptoms as boys without it. If you have a bug problem, use natural pest control products or sticky traps instead of chemical sprays.

Cleaners. Some home-cleaning products contain harsh chemicals such as chlorine, formaldehyde, and solvents that can burn skin, irritate eyes, damage lungs, and increase cancer risk in large enough exposures. Check the Environmental Working Group’s Guide to Healthy Cleaning or Mother Earth Living for a list of greener cleaners.

Soap, shampoo, detergent, and creams. Almost every scented personal care product and plastic you buy contains chemicals called phthalates. Researchers don’t know the full health effects of these chemicals, but they’ve been linked in early studies to cancer, reproductive problems, and developmental issues. Use fragrance-free products, or buy ones marked phthalate-free instead.

Flame retardants. Couch cushions, carpets, TVs -- almost everywhere you look in your home, you’ll see something treated with fire retardant. One class called polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) may disrupt hormones in the body. Research has linked exposure with delayed development, early puberty, and other health effects in children. Companies have phased out PBDEs, but other flame retardant chemicals are still in use. Many retailers, including Crate and Barrel, La-Z-Boy, and IKEA, have removed all flame retardants from their furniture. If you don’t plan to purchase new furniture, check that foam isn’t peeking out of your current sofa and chairs.

Plastics. Bisphenol A (BPA) is a chemical ingredient in plastic products that mimics the effects of the hormone estrogen in the body. After researchers linked BPA to health problems, including obesity, early puberty, and prostate and ovarian cancers, companies pulled this substance from their baby bottles, sippy cups, and other products. Yet a 2011 study found the chemicals used to replace BPA might not be any safer. Almost all the BPA-free products researchers tested leached estrogen-like chemicals into foods. Don’t put plastic bottles and sippy cups in the microwave or dishwasher. Heat can cause small amounts of the chemical to leach into foods and drinks.

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Show Sources


Betts, K. Environmental Health Perspectives, 2013.

CDC: “Principles of Pediatric Environmental Health: How Are Newborns, Infants, and Toddlers Exposed to and Affected by Toxicants?”

Cleveland Clinic: “Can Wearing Fire-Retardant Pajamas Affect Your Child’s Health?”

Environmental Protection Agency: “Technical Fact Sheet—Polybrominated Diphenyl Esters (PBDEs) and Polybrominated Biphenyls (PBBs).”

Environmental Working Group: “EWG Cleaners Database Hall of Shame.”

March of Dimes: “Pesticides and your baby.”

Meeker, J. JAMA Pediatrics, October 2012.

National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences: “Bisphenol A (BPA).”

National Institutes of Health: “Phthalates.”

Natural Resources Defense Council: “Pesticides,” “Safer Sofas: How do Major Furniture Stores Compare?”

Wagner-Schuman, M. Environmental Health, May 2015.

Yang, C. Environmental Health Perspectives, 2011.

Kimberly Yolton, PhD, professor of pediatrics, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center.

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