This was previously published on TheStreet.com.I recently came across a great book called "Raising Baby Green," by San Francisco Bay Area pediatrician Dr. Alan Greene. With a three-month-old at home and my closets and drawers full of organic cotton onesies, bleach-free diapers, nontoxic bottles and PVC -free toys, I was interested in what I could do to build an even greener nest. Greene's book has lots of lists, resources and quick-information boxes that make it a handy reference. But I must confess: Caring for a baby while maintaining a robust journalistic career has left me with precious little time to read the all of its 252-pages (plus appendices), much less do most of the stuff in it. So I gave Dr. Greene a call and asked for advice on how a time- and cash-strapped parent (the only kind of parent these days) could focus his or her environmental efforts. "It makes sense to start with the things that have the biggest health and environmental impact, and that comes down to what the baby eats, breathes and has on its skin," he says. In that vein, he suggests keeping a critical eye on the products you put on your child's skin day-in and day-out, like diaper rash ointment, baby soap and sunscreen. With all these products, he urges close label reading and relying on objective sources for guidance as to what is truly earth friendly and healthier for kids. A lot of products that claim to be "gentle" or specially formulated for baby's skin have parabens, petroleum derivatives or sodium laureth sulfate, ingredients that adults are increasingly wary of using for themselves, for reasons Treehugger explains well. Aveeno, a brand owned by Johnson & Johnson ( JNJ) that cultivates an image of being gentle and natural, puts sodium laureth sulfate and a lot of other hard-to-pronounce ingredients in its "gentle cleansing" baby wash and shampoo. Ironically, it has a warning on its label to keep it out of the reach of children. Meanwhile, Johnson's baby lotion, with "clinically proven mildness," contains parabens and several possible skin irritants. The Environmental Working Group keeps a database of skin-care products rated on a scale of 0 to 10 for safety (0 being the most best). The Aveeno baby wash rates a 4, the Johnson's lotion a 6. A quick search of the database though, shows that mainstream products aren't always less good. Triple Paste, the diaper rash cream recommended to me by every mom I know, is sold in mainstream pharmacies like Walgreen ( WAG) and rates a one from EWG. And not all the earth-friendly brands are obscure and hard to come by. Burt's Bees, the 24-year-old natural products company whose "Baby Bee" line garners ratings from two to four, sells at Target ( TGT). When it comes to sunscreen, he recommends parents look for titanium dioxide or zinc oxide as the active ingredient and avoid products with "everything else." "You don't use so much sunscreen that the price difference is a lot." But it can make a difference in terms of what you get. At Drugstore.com ( DSCM), a sunscreen from California Baby that has titanium dioxide and rates a 1 from EWG is $15.50 while a baby sunscreen from Banana Boat costs $10, but rates a 7 from EWG and has those other active ingredients Green is wary of.
Moving on to the kitchen, Greene suggests that all parents, but especially those bottle-feeding, "get to know their plastics a little bit." Bottles made with polycarbonate have been getting attention lately for possibly leaching BPA, a chemical that is a known hormone disruptor. BornFree is one brand he recommends in the book as BPA-free. Those tiny recycling numbers stamped on most plastics can be a good short-hand guide to safety. Number 3, which indicates Polyvinyl chloride (PVC), sometimes used on bottle nipples, "is dangerous." Number 7 is the miscellaneous category. "Unless something on the package indicates that it's good, it could be very bad," he cautions. Categories 1, 2, 4 and 5, are the safest. Turning to what a baby breathes, some of his simplest and cheapest advice is to open a window or take your tyke for a walk. "Most fumes that are a problem come from inside." But the one item he urges parents to splurge on: an organic cotton mattress. Conventional mattresses are filled from the inside out with toxic chemicals from phthalates to fire retardants that emit toxins you don't want your little one breathing. Babies spend a lot of hours sleeping, he points out. This eco-friendly measure will absolutely be a splurge. At BabiesRus, an organic mattress from Serta was $180 on sale, versus $80 for a conventional mattress from the same brand. It seems that every day a new hazard emerges that parents need to avoid to raise a healthy baby and be nice to the Earth. Having an easy to use guide to help you do it -- and do it affordably -- is a big help. This was previously published on TheStreet.com on March 18, 2008 at 10:55 a.m. EDT.