Parenting

Is Plastic Bad for Babies?

Plastic is everywhere. One article I read recently called our modern times “the Plasticene Era” — think “mesozoic” (when dinosaurs roamed the earth) or “paleolithic” (pre-10,000 BC human activity) — because of the layers of plastic future generations will discover in the ground. 

While we may wish it weren’t so, plastic is all around us, especially as parents. From baby bottles to toys and even diapers, plastic contains what goes into your baby’s body and (in the case of diapers), what comes out. We already know that plastics can contaminate the environment. Unfortunately, science is showing that plastic is contaminating human bodies — even the tiniest ones — since before we are born.

What’s so bad about plastic for babies?

The problems with plastic for babies stem from how human bodies try to process the things (including plastic) that enter the body through the mouth, lungs and even our skin. When plastics (or chemicals used in plastics processing) are inhaled or ingested, our bodies try to either digest them or filter them out. In the case of plastics, this has a big impact in three ways:

  1. Phthalates (read more about phthalates here) and BPA are known endocrine disruptors, meaning they can change the expression of genes related to hormones. This in turn can have effects on weight, puberty, and growth. Scientists estimate that 100% of the US population is exposed to phthalates (source and source and source), so it’s important to look for products, like Kudos, that contain no added phthalates to reduce exposure.
  2. Volatile organic compounds (VOC’s) accompany many brand-new plastic products and are linked to asthma, compromised immunity and delayed-onset atopic dermatitis — aka skin rash, including diaper rash (source and source).
  3. Microplastics are pieces of plastic broken down to the microscopic scale, and at a size of 10 micrometers or less, microplastics can cross the blood-brain barrier (source). Scientists are still determining how microplastics affect the human body, but it is theorized just like normal plastic exposure, microplastics could affect hormone function and even cause cancer through the accumulation of harmful substances like phthalates and bisphenols (like BPA) (source).

How is my baby being exposed to plastic?

Exposure to plastic can come through just about any plastic your baby comes into contact with, including baby bottles, food wrappers, toys, and even the plastic in disposable diapers. New furniture and crib mattresses can be sources of measurable levels of VOC’s. And microplastics have been found in the placenta, meaning that exposure to plastic can start before a baby’s first breath (source).

What can I do to help my baby avoid these problems?

There are a few key steps parents can take to reduce their baby’s exposure to plastics.

  1. Buy used and reusable: Exposure risk to both BPA and VOC’s can be reduced by prioritizing used and reusable items. Rather than purchasing new furniture, like a crib and rocking chair, when the baby arrives, seek already-used furniture locally to avoid the initial off-gassing of VOC’s (source). Additionally, reusable glass or stainless steel feeding tools like bottles, plates, and spoons can reduce exposure to BPA. 
  2. Go diaper-free (or choose cotton): This is a strange suggestion from a diaper brand, but allowing your baby’s bottom to be free of the plastics found in typical disposable diapers will reduce their exposure to VOC’s and phthalates (source). This may look like Elimination Communication or just extending a diaper change by a few minutes a day. With Kudos’ 100% cotton liner, there are no phthalates added (our cotton isn’t scented or plastic!) so you can also choose Kudos when being diaper-free is not an option. 
  3. Attempt zero-waste: Wherever possible, try to purchase and store food in glass or beeswax, rather than plastic. This can help reduce the amount of plastic and microplastics you and your family are exposed to (source). 
  4. Choose natural materials: Where possible, choose wood, wool, and cotton rather than plastic to reduce exposure. This includes diapers and wipes, which often contain plastic fibers despite their soft, cotton-y textures.
  5. Choose certified safe materials: Look at products that are certified by third parties like Oeko-Tex Standard 100, the Environmental Working Group (EWG), and the National Eczema Association, among others.
About the Author: Mom of 3 and an engineer-by-trade. Emily is leading up diaper engineering at Kudos and pushing the industry to be more sustainable. Whether the topic is diapers, babies, or Mama Earth, she’s on a mission to find and share the best info there is to offer. Engineer and mama by day. Blogger by night.
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