The truth behind the scare stories surrounding baby health and safety.
Pesticides in food, socks scarring your baby’s legs, toys with lead paint, BPA dangers when bottlefeeding, radiation in baby monitors. Just what should you believe when news headlines make scary claims about risks to your baby’s health and safety?
We look at the most recent scare stories, to find out what the true risk is – and what you can do to protect your baby.
News stories have suggested that levels of pesticide residues on fruits and vegetables contribute to a range of problems, including cancers and damage to the nervous system.
The real story
The Food Standards Agency states that when a pesticide is approved for use in the European Union, limits are set on how much residue can legally remain in food. The Food Standards Agency says these limits are usually well below the levels that would be of concern for people’s health.
Monitoring results indicate about 98% of samples tested did not contain residues above legal limits.
But a spokesperson for the Pesticide Action Network UK (PAN UK) argues, “With as much as 40% of food produced in the EU containing pesticide residues, we believe there is serious cause for concern. As babies are still in the early developmental stage, they are particularly susceptible to being affected.”
What can you do?
Buying organic is a good way of avoiding pesticides. Alternatively, washing and peeling fruit and removing the outer leaves of vegetables may remove residues of certain pesticides, says the Food Standards Agency.
Processing, including cooking, generally reduces the levels of pesticides in food too. Some fruits and vegetables have higher levels of residues than others. A full list of the worst offenders is available at PAN UK.
In September 2007, newspapers reported that doctors at Washington University had discovered that too-tight elastic in babies’ socks could cause marks that may lead to permanent scarring.
The reports were based on letters in a journal from two doctors about a handful of cases they’d seen.
Don’t leave bottles in sterilising solution for longer than recommended and always check for cracks and fissures.
Peter White, chief executive of the Baby Products Association
“This only affects a handful of children, but it’s worth choosing socks carefully to make sure the elastic is not too tight," says Nina Goad of the British Association of Dermatologists. “If you notice any marks that don't fade or any chaffing, switch to looser socks.”
Research in America raised concerns about Bisphenol A (BPA) – a chemical used in the manufacture of polycarbonate, from which most plastic baby bottles are made. When BPA was fed to mice, it reduced fertility, affected sex organs and increased the risk of cancer in their offspring.
It was also suggested that BPA might leach out of bottles, especially those that were worn or exposed to very high temperatures. This has since been disputed.
The European Union’s Scientific Committee for Foods has concluded that the levels of BPA in polycarbonate pose no danger when in contact with food, even following repeated use, heating or chemical sterilisation.
However, Peter White, chief executive of the Baby Products Association does recommend that parents who are bottlefeeding follow manufacturer’s instructions carefully.
Make sure you buy a reputable brand of bottle. If you’re worried, you may want to discard any bottles showing major signs of wear, such as a cloudy or crackled appearance.
Alternatively, some companies sell polycarbonate-free or glass bottles.
“Ever since the children were babies, we’ve tried to eat organic food as it’s likely to contain no pesticide residues at all. We have an allotment and grow a lot of our own food. We also try to avoid the most potentially contaminated food, which includes flour, potatoes, bread and apples.”
Sally, 40, mum to Felicity, 5 and Reah, 2
“I was given some Baby Gap towelling organic Cozy socks when Cam was born. For little feet, they are the only socks I use. Not only do they not mark, but they actually stay on! I've tried others, but always return to these.”
Henrietta, 34, Jem, 8, Michael, 6, Robert, 4, and Annie, 9 months
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