Asking for Organic baby products: Green-Baby Shower
A green baby shower? What's That?
Green baby shower is also known as Eco-baby shower. That's a reasonable question for an expectant parent to ask. After all, who wouldn't want all those glittery gifts, the tearing of wrapping paper, the big celebration of this special baby you're about to bring into the world?
Well, before you start listing out all the clothes and toys and other things baby will need, perhaps you should consider what other gifts you're receiving right along with the teething rings and small shirts and soft blankets.
It's a frightening thing to consider the chemicals your baby is exposed to through all these conventional gifts, but as a parent, that's your job. So here are some findings you should know.
The U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) released a report October 12, 2005 that described the number of toxic chemicals, including phthalates and PBDEs, found in children's teethers, bath books, and mattresses. More than twenty state PIRGs and environmental groups also released this report.
Phthalates: used in many products, not just those for babies. They are used to increase the flexibility of soft plastics and are also found in body care products, keeping perfumes fragrant, for instance. "These chemicals have been linked to premature birth, reproductive defects, and early onset of puberty," says the PIRG report.
PBDEs: also known as flame retardants. They are found in many other products than those for children, including TVs, computers, cloth, furniture, floor carpet and many others. The PIRG study tested seven infant sleep accessories and found PBDEs in the foam materials of three of them. Again, according to the PIRG, "These chemicals have been linked to a host of health concerns, including impaired learning and memory, reproductive defects, cancer, and impaired immune systems."
Lab studies show similar problems in animals exposed to high levels of these toxins, but human exposure levels are extremely low, and the effects of these toxins are unknown as yet. However, chronic diseases among our children are growing – cancers, birth defects, childhood asthma, learning and behavior disorders, and the like, and although scientists agree that there is no direct proof of a connection between the increasing use of toxic chemicals in our society and the rise in chronic diseases, the correlation is becoming increasingly suspicious. We don't know the effects of these chemicals in low dosages on humans, particularly on children, who are more at risk than adults because of their lower bodymass and their developmental stages.
In addition, there is the 'cocktail effect' to consider – the fact that these chemicals mix in our bloodstreams in ways that no lab could ever duplicate, and the mixtures may produce unknown effects. When the Environmental Working Group tested the cord blood of a group of ten randomly selected newly born infants in U.S. hospitals in 2005, they found 287 pesticides, chemicals, and other pollutants in their samples, a truly frightening indication of the toxins the infants had been exposed to in utero before ever entering the world.
It's clear that we have work to do during the pre-natal period as well as afterward, but there's no point in adding to the infant's exposure once s/he is born, and to that end, choosing non-toxic toys, clothing, and bedding materials is definitely a safer choice than going the conventional route. And while it's true that organic gifts are more difficult to find than conventional, and that the price is somewhat steeper as well, there are an increasing number of products that can be found that fit these standards. The benefits of eco-baby showers are growing, and not all of them have to do with the presents bought.
Benefits That Come
"I think it's pretty important, as much as possible, for parents to make purchasing decisions that protect their kids from toxic chemicals, and when that's not possible to contact their elected officials to change the law." So said Meghan Purvis, co-author of the PIRG report and an Environmental Health Advocate, when asked if she would recommend eco-baby showers to new parents.
First and foremost among the benefits of green baby showers is, of course, the child's safety. Anything that can lower the child's toxic load is all to the good, and to that end, choosing environmentally friendly baby products is one of the strongest protections we can give him or her.
When asked whether such care can actually make a measurable difference, Purvis pointed out that when we instituted laws that lowered the levels of lead in gasoline, children's body burden of lead dropped drastically. And when Sweden phased out flame retardants, again, the levels of those chemicals in children's systems dropped. So choices can make a difference, even on the level of the individual family, although admittedly legislation would be better still.
Another benefit to throwing an eco-baby shower is the sense that many parents have when doing so – that this event marks the beginning of an eco-conscious life with their child. And they hope that he or she will value their parents' lifestyle choices and follow them in their own lives when it's their turn. As Gwen Garcelon, a parent due to have such a shower in early April commented, "It's important to me that my actions match my values, and this is something I feel strongly about modeling to my child."
In addition, an eco-baby shower creates community, forcing participants to make deliberate, conscious choices of gifts, enabling them to connect with ethics they might not usually consider. That's exactly what Cindy Brennan chose to do, asking her friends to join her at lunch to celebrate the upcoming birth of her child, saying that she "would be honored to share an afternoon with many of the strong women I have the privilege of knowing. . ." All she requested they bring was a bead to create a birth-blessing necklace which she would wear during labor. Her invitation also made her environmentally conscious approach clear: "We are really trying to keep plastic toys and materials to a minimum, as well as new clothing (wooden toys and organic or "gently loved" clothes are perfect!)."
Such a carefully planned ceremony draws everyone involved closer, offering a new experience of a common event, and encouraging participants to sidestep our materialistic culture for a moment out of time.
The question of what to give at a baby shower can be difficult at the best of times, and with an eco-baby shower the answer takes on whole new dimensions.
In the first place, the gifts don't have to be bought, as Cindy Brennan's planned luncheon makes clear. Sometimes they are handmade items, or wisdom passed on from a friend's own experiences. Re-gifts, too, are common – that is, presents that have been handed down in a family and are now passed on to the new parents. Other times gifts can be coupons for services to be rendered after the baby is born – babysitting offers so that the parents can enjoy a night out together post baby, a cooked meal for the day the mother and baby come home from the hospital, and so on. In other words, presents at an eco-baby shower are basically anything that works for those involved, and are focused much less on the things themselves than on the opportunity to gather together and celebrate the coming birth. Good food and good conversation are the focus of an eco-baby shower, and the presents themselves matter much less than the actual experience itself and the thought and friendship that goes into it.
But gifts can also be bought. The difference between these gifts and those found at a conventional baby shower is that these presents are bought with the earth in mind, i.e., cloth diapers rather than conventional ones, cradles made of sustainably-harvested wood and crafted by a small business rather than mass-produced, clothes and bedding and towels woven of organically-raised cotton and constructed with fair trade labor, and so on. Thus every gift is environmentally friendly, honoring the parents' ethics and the life they want to build with their child.
Changing the World
With such dangers as listed above, parents may well wonder whether what they can do at the individual level can make any difference. Meghan Purvis is very firm on the need to create legislation to protect our children, saying that parental choices are "a start, and a place we can show our decision-makers that there are alternatives," but that changing the laws of our country is necessary to see true and permanent change.
Parents who want to be involved in supporting such change can sign up at www.safefromtoxics.org for updates and action alerts that might concern them. In particular, the Kids Safe Chemical Act (http://www.breastcancerfund.org) is something many parents might want to support. Purvis says this Act
"reforms the way we regulate chemicals at the federal level so that companies must prove that chemicals are safe before they're put into children's products." Calling on senators and representatives to co-sponsor the bill also has an impact.
The Oregon Environmental Council also has a list of annotated resources that parents can use to stay informed (http://www.tinyfootprints.org/expecting/parent-resources), including such organizations as the Children's Environmental Health Coalition, the Office of Children’s Health Protection at the Environmental Protection Agency, and others of similar worth. Exploring these sites would undoubtedly turn up many ways parents can act to change our laws for the better.
And what parent doesn't want to leave the world a better place for their child? Isn't that what parenthood is all about? On this issue it might be a struggle, but in the end, there are a great many more parents than there are companies who profit off toxic chemical use, and as their customers, parents have a great opportunity to prove, through their personal choices of children's products, just how powerful they as a group truly are. Eco-friendly baby showers are one way to do this, but there are many others, too. What matters, to our children and to all of us, is that we act to change the world for the better, at whatever level each of us is comfortable, and that we never stop.
About the Authur:
Jody Norman is a freelance writer interested in environmental issues, particularly those with an organic focus. She lives with her partner of nineteen years and three dogs. She is located at http://www.neonrainbowpress.com/jodynorman/index_fl.html.
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||Where to buy:
|| These websites offer environmentally conscious products for babies, and often for children. Some offer registries as well.
Tiny FootprintsTM website, by the Oregon Environmental Council. This site has resources for parents and communities about raising children in an environmentally conscious way. While focused on the Oregon area, many of the resources are usable by anyone, including their downloadable baby shower kit.
The Giggle store offers many healthy and environmentally-focused gifts for babies, and if searched with the term 'organic,' a large number of products come up, including but not limited to organic blankets of various kinds, organic baby oil, organic cookbooks for baby, and so on. They also offer a gift registry.
This site offers baby shower and bridal registries, and has an impressive number of environmentally friendly merchants, among them ecobaby.com and others.
This site bills itself as "The Web's Ultimate Baby Shower Ideas Resource", and the link is to a December 2005 entry on their blog that discusses green baby showers in some depth.
This site is extremely popular and often recommended to me by parents. It offers almost everything an environmental parent could want, including organic diapers, clothes, bedding, and so on.
The Green Home Environmental Store prides itself on offering everything from clothing to bedding to toys to art supplies in their Kids Department, all of it environmentally focused.
The Mothers Moon site offers a lot of information to visitors, including parenting classes, baby showers, and many environmental products.
Organic Baby Shower offers a wide variety of products, ranging from cloth diapers to lotions and more. It also offers a pregnancy calculator, gift certificates, recipes, and others.
Our Green House offers many products for babies and adults, from natural cleaners to organic sheets and clothes.
Prairieland Herbs created all-natural baby and bath products, including gentle baby soap, baby powders, moisturizers, and decongestant, among others. The Herb Quarterly, a respected national magazine, recently reviewed some of their products.
Burt's Bees specializes in environmentally friendly body care products, and has a whole line set up for babies' body care, including lotions, baby oil, soaps, diaper ointment and so on.
Slingbaby offers slings to carry babies, with many different choices of colors and fabrics. It also carries a variety of cloth diapers.
Nicki's Diapers focuses on cloth diapers of all sorts and kinds, and offers a large amount of information on their use and care.