Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Non toxic Suckers: How to Choose a non-toxic pacifier and teether

I will admit it, I am one of those moms that truly believes that God’s gift to mothers was the pacifier.   I was exhausted, hardly sleeping with a very cranky baby.  I did not want to give him a pacifier as I did not want to ‘confuse him’ (I was breast feeding) nor hook him on something that would cause a greater headache later on.  One especially hard day,  my mom gave him a pacifier and ..... shhhhhhhhh..... silence.   My son was soothed.  He was calm and quiet. He was just one of those babies that needed to be sucking on something and this little sucker (pun intended!) did the trick.   Yes, it can be a pain to get your child unhooked after they are hooked (I don’t even want to think about that, but will have to some day soon), but in my eyes with all the good pacifiers do (namely:   give us moms peace and quiet) they really can do no harm.   Or can they?

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Infertile Couples Have Higher Exposure to Phthalates: NTM NEWS BRIEF

A recently published study in Italy found that infertile couples had three to five times higher levels of phthalates in their body than fertile couples who had no problems conceiving.

Among the phthalates that were found at higher levels in the infertile couples were phthalates  most commonly used in plastics (to soften and add flexibility to the plastic) and those commonly used in cosmetics (usually labelled as ‘fragrance’ in the ingredient list).

As endocrine disrupting compounds, phthalates have been known to mimic estrogen and have been linked to early onset puberty in young girls (which have been linked to increase rates of breast cancer in these girls when they grow up).  In boys, excessive levels of phthalate exposure have been linked to ‘demasculinization’ in baby boys.  For more information on what phthalates are, why we should avoid them and how to do so read our post PHTHALATES ABC's.   

The cumulative effects of lifetime phthalate exposure sometimes do not become apparent until adulthood, as is evident in this study.  It is associated with lower sperm concentration and decreased sperm motility in men’s semen, as well as with decreased blood levels of important hormones in men. One recent study showed that phthalate exposure in women during the month of conception was linked with an increased risk of early miscarriage.

The study compared phthalate levels in 56 couples who were seeking help to conceive (having previously been unable to do so naturally) with 56 couples who had conceived at least one healthy child naturally.    Both the men and women in the infertile group showed significantly (3-5 times higher) higher levels of all phthalates in their urine samples in comparison to the fertile group.

The study serves to reenforce how important it is to decrease phthalate exposure in our children and in our every day life.   As with many chemicals, the effects of these toxic chemicals might not be visible  (a rash etc) but are quite serious and hazardous.  Phthalates can be found in products as diverse as:  plastic containers, plastic food wrappers, shower curtains, plastic toys, hand lotion, shampoos, cleaning products, soap, cosmetics, air fresheners (ie:  plug ins and sprays) etc.

To read more on the what phthalates are and where they can be found, read our post:   Phthalates ABC’s

To read more about what easy steps you can take to avoid  or reduce phthalates exposure for your family and for yourself, read our post on The Non-Toxic Munchkins Phthalates 123's

Monday, February 13, 2012



A little over 2 years ago when I was pregnant I purchased a great book (which I highly recommend if you are or are thinking of becoming pregnant!):  The Complete Organic Pregnancy.  It was somewhat overwhelming to read about all the changes that I should make in order to have a truly healthier pregnancy, however,  few things overwhelmed me more than reading about what lies inside of our mattresses.    Even worse?  Trying to figure out what mattress was the safest.  In an ironic twist I, literally, lost sleep over the issue.  

I am going to TRY to make this easier for you by briefly explaining the problem with conventional mattresses and what to look for (and avoid) when buying a new mattress, especially a crib mattress!  But do beware:   I have found the mattress industry to be very sneaky:  it is hard to find out what is inside mattresses and there are a lot of companies using terms like ‘organic’ and ‘natural’ very very loosely.   Close to 40% of mattress companies refuse to fully disclose all materials used in their mattresses, failing mostly to provide information on how they make their mattresses flame resistant, waterproof or antimicrobial.  It is the chemicals used to achieve these three properties that you mostly should be worried about.

Babies sleep a lot.   Even the fussiest of infants will spend  the greater part of the day sleeping.   Children and adults sleep on our mattresses anywhere from  6- 12 hours (or more!) a night.   I think we can all agree that its not ideal to spend over half of our life in close proximity to potentially harmful chemicals.  The problem with sleeping on a mattress that could be off-gassing toxic stuff is that your head is  really close to your mattress for hours at a time, breathing in any toxic chemical that could be released...

As with all chemical exposure our children are most vulnerable.  The EPA and the Agency of Toxic Substances and disease registry have said that, “ children do differ from adults in their susceptibility to hazardous chemicals, including carcinogens and neuro-developmental effects of the fire retardants commonly used in baby mattresses.”

So what chemicals of concern can currently  found in a your average crib mattress? 
1. Polyurethane Foam
Polyurethane foam is the number one ingredient in traditional mattresses today.  It can also be labeled as ‘memory foam’ or ‘soy foam’. Off gassing from polyurethane foam releases many harmful petroleum chemicals and volatile organic compounds (VOC’s) which have been associated with eye, nose and throat irritation, headaches and even cancer.

2. Fire-retardant chemicals (PBDEs and others)
In the US it is mandatory that all mattresses must contain enough flame retardant to withstand a 2 foot wide blowtorch open flame for 70 seconds. These flame retardants are usually not in your best interest healthwise, with up to 90% of the those in mattresses containing highly toxic chemicals.

The Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC - the body that made fire retardants mandatory in mattresses)  conducted a study  in 2006 to assess if we absorb any of the fire retardants in our mattresses and what the potential health risks that might result from this exposure are.  They found that  the average adult will absor, on a nightly basis, a daily dose of :
  • .802 mg of Antimony (Arsenic - the inhalation of Antimony causes lung tumors in animals and is considered a probably human carcinogen)
  • .081 mg Boric Acid (Roach Killer- a probable reproductive and developmental toxin in humans)
  • .073 mg DBDPO (Deca- considered toxic based on liver and thyroid effects in rodent studies, it is also a possible human carcinogen) from flame proof mattresses.

This particular study concluded that these amounts are too small for "probable lifetime risk" in adults, however other agencies disagree, including the ATSDR, CDC, and EPA.  In fact if you use the EPA number these results would show that these mattresses exceed toxic levels by 27.5 times. In any case, what all agencies can agree on is that there have not been studies conducted on babies.   The study did find that five year old children will absorb .5 mg Antimony every night, this is 63 times more poison than the EPA says is safe.  The natural deduction is that the levels of these chemicals absorbed by an infant could potentially be harmful.

3. Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC).
Vinyl, used as a waterproof layer in many baby mattresses, is made up of a cocktail of toxic chemicals that have been linked to cancer, asthma and developmental toxins and may interfere with testosterone and can cause abnormalities in male reproductive development.


When looking for a safer mattress look for:
  • Ideally an untreated cotton mattress (organic if you can afford it)
  • If you can not afford this, try to find a NATURAL latex one
  • Plan ‘c’ is a combination of the two

 Natural materials like latex, cotton and wool are less flammable to begin with, so it is easier for them to meet CSPC standards without toxic chemical treatments.

The core of the mattress:
  •  Natural latex or a mix of natural and synthetic latex is better than a polyurethane foam core.
  • Mattresses with an innerspring system tend to be firmer and are a safe alternative.

  • Because of the Consumer Product Safety Commission's requirement that all mattresses be flameproof, even some ‘natural’ cotton  or latex  mattresses, or even those marketed as organic  can and do often contain chemical flame retardants.  In order for a mattress not to be treated with chemicals it must have a layer of WOOL (which is a natural flame retardant).  Otherwise you must have a prescription from a doctor stating that you are intolerant to chemicals. No organic wool or prescription?  Chances are it has been treated with chemical fire retardants
  • A new trend in the mattress industry is the addition of ‘green’ components being added to a conventional mattress that really make very little difference in terms of potential toxicity.  They will contain, for example, a thin layer of organic cotton or use of soybean oil as part of the polyurethane foam, and market the mattress as ‘green’ or ‘natural’ , when in fact they are not.
  • Crib and toddler water proof mattress pads can contain polyvinyl chloride (PVC). PVC waterproofs fabrics, but has petroleum chlorine,  a known carcinogen.  Your best bet is purchasing an organic wool mattress pad which is naturally bacterial resistant.  When your baby wakes up wet you just have to be wash the wool mattress pad (so buy 2!)

According to a recent study “Mattress Matters” the mattress marketplace is “shifting towards less toxic materials in response to consumer demand” resulting in safer products for babies.

The really good news?  According to the study, 20% of crib mattresses that can be found in the marketplace avoid ALL chemicals of concerns:  so there are options!


According to the Mattress Matter’s report , only three companies offer crib mattresses without any chemicals of concern or allergens:

  • Vivetique (require a doctor’s prescription stating that your baby or you are sensitive to chemicals and allergens)
  • White lotus (require a doctor’s prescription stating that your baby or you are sensitive to chemicals and allergens)
  • Naturepedic

(www.prescriptionbeds.com also produce chemical free mattresses)

These  additional companies make crib mattress models without chemicals of concern, but may use allergenic materials:

  • Land and Sky
  • Natural Mat
  • Organic Mattresses Inc
  • Pure Rest
  • Savvy Rest
  • Shephard’s Dream
  • Sleeptek
  • Suite Sleep
  • Vivetique (models available without doctor prescription)
  • White Lotus (models available without doctor’s prescription)

The report also goes on to describe what chemicals of concern can be found in ‘mainstream’ brands like  Sealy Naturalis, DaVinci Decor, Kolcraft, Ikea, Serta and Simmons Kids.