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8 Eco-tips for new parents

Michele Borboa, MS is a freelance writer and editor specializing in health, fitness, food, lifestyle, and pets. Michele is a health and wellness expert, personal chef, cookbook author, and pet-lover based in Bozeman, Montana. She is also...

Raise a green baby

As a new parent, you probably aren't thinking about the 50,000 synthetic chemicals produced in the US every year. However, many of these environmental contaminants, from hormone disrupters such as phthalates to heavy metals like lead, make their way into your home, including your baby's nursery. Your infant is especially vulnerable to the negative health effects of toxic substances, making it ever more important for you to detoxify your home and give her a safe, chemical-free environment. Here are the top eight eco-tips for new parents.

Parents and newborn

1. Ready the nursery

Creating a safe haven for your little one starts with the nursery. In her book Living Green: The Missing Manual, a comprehensive resource with practical eco-friendly advice, Nancy Connor writes that new baby furniture can give off vapors like formaldehyde, which can irritate the eyes, nose and throat and even cause allergic reactions in little ones. Formaldehyde is found in pressed wood products made with adhesives; pressed wood is often used to make cribs, dressers, and even toys. Connor suggests buying used baby furniture because the vapors will have already been given off, and to select natural flooring for the baby's room. The environmentally-conscious writer also suggests buying organic bedding and using low-VOC paints. (10 more ways to go gaga for green)

2. Solve the diaper dilemma

According to Adria Vasil, author of Ecoholic: Your Guide to the Most Environmentally Friendly Information, Products and Services, Americans throw away about 18 billion diapers a year (that also equals 3.5 billion gallons of oil and about 250,000 trees that go into making the diapers). Worse, disposable diapers contain carcinogenic dioxins, dyes and other synthetic chemicals that can cause diaper rash and potentially harm your baby. Vasil suggests greener disposables (if cloth diapers are out of the question) from Seventh Generation, Tushies or Nature Babycare. Greener diapers are chemical-, fragrance-, and chlorine-free.

3. Use gentle baby wipes

Along with all those diapers comes billions of baby wipes, which can be harsh on your baby and the environment. Connor warns that many commercial wipes contain chemicals, such as propylene glycol, parabens and perfumes, that can irritate your baby's tender skin. She recommends making your own: Combine a teaspoon each of aloe vera gel and olive oil with a tablespoon of liquid castile soap and a cup of water in a spray bottle. Simply spray the mixture on a soft cloth and wipe.

4. Better baby bottles

Your baby may be drinking the toxin bisphenol-A (BPA) along with your breast milk (if you pump) or baby formula. "BPA is a known estrogen mimicker that is used in the production of plastic," says child safety expert Dr Alan Greene, pediatrician at Lucile Packard Children's Hospital at Stanford. "BPA has been proven to cause developmental and neurological problems if it leaches from plastic…and can be potentially harmful for babies." Dr Greene, who has teamed up with BornFree, a leader in environmentally-safe baby products, suggests BPA-free containers. "Whatever you store, heat and prepare food in for children should be BPA-free," he advises.

5. Slather safely

From baby shampoos to lotions, many baby bath and skin products contain formaldehyde, phthalates, dioxins, and artificial dyes and fragrances. A February 2008 study in Pediatrics found that reported use of infant lotion, shampoo, and powders was associated with increased urine levels of phthalates, which may cause hormonal changes, allergies and other health problems, particularly in infants because their skin is more porous and absorbent than adults. Connor recommends baby products that carry the USDA Organic seal and are free of fragrances and dyes.

6. Clothe wisely

Those adorable little PJs certainly keep your baby warm but they are also made to keep her from getting too warm. Many synthetic materials, particularly polyester, melt at high temperatures and, thus, have flame-retardant chemicals built right in, says Vasil. However, that doesn't mean you have to clothe your baby in a hemp sack. Vasil suggests organic outfits from Sprout, Babysoy, Kate Quinn Organics, Fig Organic Kids Fashion, and Twirl's and Twigs. "Easy one-stop online shops like GreenEdgeKids.com sell many of these labels and more under one (virtual) roof, though hand-me-downs and secondhand shops are the greenest," she adds. (What celebrity moms are doing to go green)

7. Clean green

Keeping your home clean is part of keeping your family healthy, but using chemical-heavy cleaning products can actually pollute the air that your family breathes. "Hidden behind claims of streak-free floors and whiter whites are some of the worst chemicals in your home," says Vasil. The Toronto-based journalist for NOW Magazine recommends Seventh Generation's kitchen cleaner for lightweight jobs and Citra Solv's cleaner and degreaser for heavy messes. (You can also skip the store-bought brands and make your own eco-friendly cleaning products.)

8. Green the air

Dr Greene warns that since toxins can be breathed in through the nose, parents should improve the air quality of their home. He advises, "Open windows to allow fresh air in [and] bring in house plants. These green plants filter toxins out of the air." (More ways to improve your indoor air quality)

Greening your home will not only benefit your baby's health, it will also improve the home environment for your entire family, and it will lessen your impact on the earth.

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