As publicists that started Planet Friendly PR to work exclusively with organic products, Katie and Mic LeBel knew they wanted to raise their children in an environment as free of toxins as possible.
They're finding it much easier to do with one-month old Remy than they did with four-year-old Camden. There are more products coming on the market all the time, and mainstream retailers and grocers now stock them.
I think people are more conscious of what they put in their bodies, as well as their children. That's driving demand for organic, Mic LeBel said from the family's home office in Newcastle Maine. We use pretty much exclusively organic care products. It costs more, but we think it's worth it as a health investment. That's the easiest way to try to keep your kid healthy -- to feed them a good diet of wholesome foods.
For many parents, pregnancy and childbirth are an awakening to the organic world. Suddenly, vague or distant-seeming concerns about health and the environment become focused on the new baby in the home.
Studies have shown repeatedly that contaminants in the blood can pass from mother to fetus with alarming ease, and that the developing organs and tissues of infants, children and teenagers are more susceptible to damage from chemical toxins.
The parental reflex has driven a boom in organic pregnancy and baby product sales that is setting the pace for the organic industry as a whole. Sales of organic infant formulas and fibers were up 40 percent in 2005, baby care products were up 34 percent and baby food 12 percent.
Preliminary numbers from the Organic Trade Association show increasing growth for 2006, with baby food sales up nearly 22 percent to more than $250 million.
"One of the trends is that new parents who may never have used organic are now seeking organic because they're thinking of their newborn or the impending birth of a newborn, and thinking, "'This is a fragile new life that I'm responsible for,'" said Barbara Haumann, spokeswoman for the Organic Trade Association. They're trying to get things that are as natural and as clean as they can.
That sentiment inspired Deirdre Dolan and Alexandra Zissu, colleagues at the New York Observer, to write The Complete Organic Pregnancy, published by HarperCollins in October. (They now blog for The Daily Green in Ask An Organic Mom.) The book is a user-friendly guidebook for the busy mom or dad whose bookshelf is already over-stuffed with baby advice manuals, but who - like Zissu - found themselves sitting awake at night worried about invisible threats in the home environment.
It's literally about recognizing that we live in a chemical world and minimizing exposures where you can, Zissu said from her home in Manhattan, with 15-month-old Aili chattering in the background.
For those looking to take the first steps toward a more organic pregnancy, Zissu made these recommendations as the best common-sense first steps:
Don't renovate your home during pregnancy or early childhood, to avoid exposure to sometimes-toxic dust. If renovation is a must, carefully choose non-toxic materials, protect against dust dispersal as much as possible, and get pregnant mothers and babies out of the home until the work is done.
Switch cleaning products to non-toxic alternatives. Zissu recommends the Seventh Generation and Ecover lines, and she also makes some of her own solutions.
Choose certified organic foods when possible. When not possible, educate yourself about and avoid those fruits and vegetables that tend to have the highest pesticide residues.
Pamper yourself with products that aren't loaded with toxic or untested chemicals. There are many options for good-quality products that shy away from potentially sinister polysyllabic chemicals, like the Weleda creams and lotions Zissu favors. Read the ingredients and be wary of hollow labels like nontoxic that manufacturers can use without meeting any published standards.
We're not saying everyone's a chemist, Zissu said, but we want to go as chemical free as possible.
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