Expectant parents concerned about possible connections between allergies and other illnesses and environmental factors

When Amanda Barker became pregnant with her first child, she began to look into the chemicals used in the skincare she would be using for her child, as well as materials used in everyday items the newborn would be in contact with.

 “Skincare was a huge deal for me,” said Barker, who owns the store Edamame Kids in Calgary. “Even if it were labeled for use with a baby, I would always use it on myself first for a while before I would even consider trying it on her.”

Riva Mackie, owner of Riva’s Eco Store in Inglewood, says parents are concerned about allergies and other illnesses such as autism and ADHD, and wonders about their relationship to environmental factors such as possible toxins found in carpets, clothing or bedding.

As awareness grows, so does the number of Canadians willing to purchase natural products for both themselves and their families, says the website Ipsos.com.

It cites a 2010 poll by Ipsos that suggests 68 per cent of Canadians are making the switch to natural products — including household goods such as furniture, skincare and organic or locally produced foods.

Baby shoes made from all natural materials.

Photo by: Arielle BerzeBy living a greener lifestyle and by purchasing environmentally friendly, natural products, parents can avoid toxic chemicals and allergens used in the manufacturing process of carpets, clothing and bedding, Mackie says.

When customers inquire, Mackie offers what she believes to be the most important factors in preparing for a newborn, such as the material used for objects a newborn will come into contact with on a regular basis like carpeting and bedding.

She says not only are babies more sensitive to different materials and chemicals in products, but parents are concerned with the lifecycle of the product , including how natural fibers were grown and how labourers were treated.

“We don’t need all that stuff,” Mackie says.

And Barker adds that parents need to focus on what their child needs, and build a budget for that.

She says, “It’s easy to start over-buying items you don’t need that are really gimmicky.”

“In reality, in the first few months, a baby really doesn’t need a lot of stuff except the basics.”

Eco-friendly has a lot of different meanings, and as Barker says, parents need to define what being eco-friendly means to them.

“Parents really need to figure out if they’re basing their decision on what the label says or are they more interested with what the company represents?” she explains.

“Some people just come into the store and they know it’s eco-friendly and that’s good for them and then they’ll buy it. There are others who really take their time.”

Being eco-friendly includes living a sustainable lifestyle while preparing for your newborn and creating a healthy environment for them to come into and grow in, she says.

Mackie says because babies are always close to the carpet, extra care is needed if you plan on carpeting your nursery or for dealing with the fire retardants sprayed on your home’s carpeting.

She adds that there are sprays you can purchase in order to seal the chemical fumes into the carpet, and you can purchase a wool or other naturally fire-resistant carpet to place in your home.

Again, Mackie suggests parents also pay attention to the bedding they plan on using for their newborn.

She says a number of chemicals used in the manufacturing process of synthetic materials, as well as pesticides and sprays used on cottons and other natural materials, create a “toxic soup” which can be harmful to small children.

A combination of gases are released within two to three inches of the mattress, Mackie says. The depth of a baby’s head also lies within two to three inches of the mattress, where the fumes are strongest, she adds.

Barker says that while creating an eco-friendly home may sound difficult, time consuming and expensive, many parents are interested in making a difference in their child’s health and development. She adds there are plenty of manufacturers taking the time to make green products and have them certified by outside bodies.

For those on a tighter budget or without access to certain products, it’s important to have a sense of minimalism.

Mackie says you can make your own cloth diapers, buy used clothing or make a baby carrier or sling rather than purchasing a playpen.

“I think there’s this big myth that going green is expensive, but in reality it’s not,” Barker says.

“You see a bit of a price difference in certain things, but generally it’s not that much more. Some things are even cheaper.”

aberze@cjournal.ca