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Nourishing Baby: Smart Choices for Moms — Plus, How to Find Safe Baby Bottles

Breast is best for infants, experts agree, but many moms prefer formula feeding. Whatever your choice, these tips from Deirdre Imus, author of Growing Up: Green Baby and Child Care, will help you get your baby off to a healthy start.

Nursing
Immediately after childbirth, you face your first big decision about that baby’s diet: to breastfeed or not to breastfeed?

We all know about the immunological benefits of breastfeeding. Breastfeeding can protect newborns from ear infections and other allergies. But in recent years, a new side has emerged to the breastfeeding debate: What about all the toxins the average childbearing-age woman is carrying around inside her? Are they contaminating the baby through breast milk? In recent years, the Environmental Working Group’s staggering findings have raised a number of doubts about the benefits of breastfeeding. Various toxins, like mercury, have been shown to pass into a mother’s breast milk.

In light of these findings, people have begun to ask, Is it safe to expose newborn babies to so many toxins? Do the threats those exposures pose outweigh the benefits of breastfeeding according to AAP’s Pediatric Environmental Health guidebook, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the World Health Organization, and the U.S. surgeon general “have considered the problem of environmental contaminants in human milk and continue to recommend breastfeeding.”

Many integrative physicians, like Kenneth Bock, M.D., likewise recommend breastfeeding whenever possible. “But you have to recognize that breastfeeding is a double-edged sword,” Dr. Bock said. “You’ve got the healthful aspects of breastfeeding, which I support, but you must recognize that even in breast milk, there will be toxins.” He went on to discuss the psychological and emotional benefits of a mother breastfeeding her child.

“Maybe I’m old-fashioned,” he said, “but I still think that there’s a value to that. I think if we do the other steps first — if we do the pre-conceptual and really clean up and detoxify as much as possible before giving birth — if that became the norm, then breast milk would become less toxic.”

Dr. Lawrence Rosen, a groundbreaking integrative pediatrician and the medical adviser to our environmental center, agrees with this advice. “Most of us in primary care still advocate breastfeeding as ideally preferable to formula feeding,” he wrote to me. “But with the addition of common brand organic formulas with added essential fatty acids and, in some cases, probiotics, the boundaries are blurring. I know this is controversial, but these are real-life questions families are dealing with today.” In conclusion, he wrote, “Perhaps the ideal situation is trying to ensure that breast milk is as nontoxic as can be.”

Open the dialogue with your obstetrician; discuss whether the immunological benefits of breastfeeding still outweigh the potential risks these chemicals might pose. Look into these organic formulas, which might be a good option for you. Dr. Rosen recommends discussing these organic formulas with your doctor:

Because the lipids in formula are derived from coconuts and other vegetable sources, they don’t contain the kind of scary chemicals — including DDE, PCBs, hexachlorobenzene, and various industrial pesticides — found in human breast milk. Even women who haven’t been occupationally exposed to these chemicals might be contaminated, so be careful.

If you do choose to breastfeed your child, you should be all the more vigilant about detoxifying your body before getting pregnant. Exercise regularly, stay hydrated and consume only the purest, most nutritious foods. The nutritional content of your diet will make a big difference in the quality of the milk you’re feeding your child.

And while breastfeeding, you also need to monitor chemical exposures from personal-care products as well. Wear only phthalate-, paraben-, and chemical-free makeup, and use only nontoxic lotions, deodorant, face cream, face cleanser, shampoos, and other products. You want to limit your contact with all potenital toxins while you’re nursing, so I’d also avoid synthetic perfumes or nail polish. And consider investing in organic nursing pads and organic bedding for yourself as well as for your baby — again, all of these minor routes of exposure might increase the level of contaminants in breast milk.

You should also talk to your doula, midwife, and doctor about using Weleda baby care products on you and your baby while breastfeeding, particularly Weleda Nursing Tea. And if you have any questions or concerns about breastfeeding, contact La Leche League (www.lalecheleague.org). Their resources include mother-to-mother forums, podcasts, and online help forms. La Leche League’s classic book The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding is updated frequently.

Another useful book on breastfeeding, Sheila Kippley’s Breastfeeding and Natural Child Spacing: How Ecological Breastfeeding Spaces Babies, might interest mothers who’ve adopted the “attachment parenting” approach. And last but not least, in her wonderful memoir of motherhood, Having Faith, Sandra Steingraber explores both sides of this complicated issue: whether it’s safer in the long term to breastfeed or formula-feed her newborn.

Better Bottles
The popularity of clear, hard-plastic baby bottles made from polycarbonate has skyrocketed in the last decade. These bottles are available in a range of trendy shapes and sizes that parents love. But what many parents don’t realize is that these bottles are made with the chemical bisphenol A (BPA), which can leach into baby’s drink.

Consumer Reports was one of the first U.S. publications to cover this topic for general audiences in the late 1990s, but despite this and other news stories in past years, clear baby bottles still dominate store shelves.

In February 2005, the nonprofit group Environment California released data on tests conducted on polycarbonate baby bottles. Although industry representatives have continued to insist that these bottles are safe, these studies are clearly cause for caution. The results reinforce other data showing that new polycarbonate bottles leach small amounts of BPA, which in animal tests has been shown to cause “abnormalities in the mammary and prostate glands and the female eggs of laboratory animals” as well as accelerating puberty and adding to weight gain.

What’s even scarier: Every year, we produce 6 billion pounds of BPA, which is also found in some hard plastic water coolers, water bottles, microwave-safe dishes, even inside the linings of tin cans. We’re exposed to it around the clock. A recent CDC study found that 95 percent of the people it tested had been contaminated with this chemical compound.

As with so many toxins, exposure to BPA is most dangerous early in life. According to Dr. Frederick vom Saal of the University of Missouri-Columbia, fetuses and newborns exposed to BPA even at low doses have a higher likelihood of developing prostate and breast cancer later in life. So make an effort to reduce your child’s contact with BPA by choosing healthier baby bottles. BPA-free bottles include Evenflo glass bottles, which are available at major retail stores and select supermarkets. When Wyatt was a baby, glass bottles were a lot harder to find than they are now. I ended up ordering two dozen from the only source that stocked them, and I never broke a single one. Glass bottles are much safer, and unlike plastic, they last a long time, so you end up saving money. When Wyatt had outgrown his bottles, I passed them along to my sister, who used them with both her daughters. All she had to replace was the silicone nipple.

If you still prefer plastic, Born Free (www.newbornfree.com) makes bisphenol A–free clear plastic bottles, which you can buy on their Web site or at select Whole Foods stores. These bottles might cost a little more than the traditional, BPA-containing bottles, but I think it’s an expense most parents would consider legitimate.

Remember never to heat any food or drink in plastic, including plastic wraps. The safest way to heat items is on a ceramic or glass plate or container. A baby’s bottle can be heated under warm running water or with a bottle warmer.

You should also avoid pacifiers with plastic nipples. Instead, look for silicone nipples, which are easy to find at most baby stores. Latex nipples are also an option, but only if your baby isn’t allergic—in general, I think silicone is safest.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Deirdre Imus, author of Growing Up Green: Baby and Child Care (Copyright © Git’R Green, Inc.), is the founder and president of the Deirdre Imus Environmental Center for Pediatric Oncology®, part of Hackensack University Medical Center (HUMC) in New Jersey. She is also a cofounder and codirector of the Imus Cattle Ranch for Kids with Cancer, and the author of the bestselling book The Imus Ranch: Cooking for Kids and Cowboys.

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