Because of their immature immune systems and developing brains and bodies, babies and toddlers are more vulnerable to potential toxins than any other age group in society. It is imperative that babies and toddlers receive optimum nutrition rather than consume foods that potentially harm their brains and bodies. Equally, given that the skin of a baby is up to five times thinner than an adults skin, products used to cleanse or moisturise, as well as the clothes they wear, are ideally free from harmful chemicals and synthetic compounds.
“Choosing to feed your baby organically may be the single most important way to give them the best start in life”. — (Prof Vyvyan Howard, MB ChB PhD FRC Path, University of Liverpool)
The nutritional impact of food actually begins before a baby is born. Whilst in the uterus, the full spectrum of foods and drink consumed by the mother is passed onto the baby via the umbelical cord: whatever the mother eats and drinks, the baby eats and drinks. The negative effect of alcohol on foetuses (unborn babies) is well known, and it has long been recommended by the medical community that a pregnant woman needs to eat well:lots of high quality protein, vegetables, fruit and dairy. What has only recently emerged however, is that conventionally farmed foods have the potential to harm the unborn baby if there are significant levels of pesticides contained therein.
A recent (April 2011) TV report from the U.S reveals that offspring of mothers exposed to organophosphate pesticides (whether via food or household products) have significant neurological and behavioural differences from those children whose mothers have had less exposure. The report recommends findings from the CDC (Centre for Disease Control) that suggests that people who eat organic food have more than a 90% reduction in pesticide residues that those who eat conventionally farmed produce:
Equally, it is generally accepted that up to 60% of the chemicals in beauty products are absorbed into the blood stream and stored in the body’s fat deposits for months, or years, depending on the chemical. What percentage is then passed on to the developing foetus is yet to be determined.
Post Birth Nutrition – Breastfeeding
Breastfeeding is now considered as providing optimum nutrition for a newborn baby, and is recommended by health visitors and GP’s alike. Given that breastfed infants will consume whatever the mother consumes, an organic diet for the mother is the best way to reduce any potential toxic exposure through pesticide residue. Prof Vyvyan Howard, toxico-pathologist, has commented: ‘A baby’s immune system is very vulnerable and research has shown that consumption of food with (even) low levels of pesticides can have a negative effect. Some pesticides tested on animals have been shown to impact on neurological levels.’ (The Observer, 14 Aug 2005) It is also accepted that lactation (breastfeeding) also passes on whatever chemical residues exist in the mother’s body, so to minimise potentially harmful chemical residues a woman considering pregancy should look to an organic diet prior to conception.
Post Birth Nutrition – Formula milks
Formula or infant milks are intended to replace breast milk if a mother is unable, or chooses not to breastfeed. It is recommended that they should be used only on the advice of a doctor, midwife, health visitor, public nurse, dietitian or pharmacist. However if the decision to use formula milk has been made, then opting for an organic infant milk, as opposed to a non-organic formula, will benefit the baby considerably. Organic milk is naturally higher in certain nutrients than non-organic milk and one such nutrient is the “Omega-3” essential fatty acid Alpha Linolenic Acid (ALA). Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for brain function as well as normal growth and development. They are also being investigated for their potential to reduce the risk of heart disease. With regard to infants, it appears that those who do not get enough omega-3 fatty acids from their mothers during pregnancy are at risk for developing vision and nerve problems. (University of Maryland Medical Centre)
Symptoms of omega-3 fatty acid deficiency include fatigue, poor memory, dry skin, heart problems, mood swings or depression, and poor circulation. Recent independent research (Journal of Dairy Science, Volume 89, Issue 6 , Pages 1938-1950, June 2006) published its findings that organic milk has 68% higher levels of omega 3 than non-organic milk. This has subsequently been accepted by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) in the UK. Additionally organically raised cows will not be subjected to growth hormones or high levels of anti-biotics that are routinely used by non organic dairy farmers.
OMSCo (the Organic Milk Suppliers Co-operative): reveals that a workshop convened by the FSA to discuss health implications of the higher ALA levels found in organic milk, concluded that ALA can be converted in the human body to the types of Omega-3 fatty acids found in oily fish (important for a healthy heart, immune system and brain.) Critically, scientists at the workshop concluded that increasing the consumption of ALA could be particularly important in women during pregnancy when the foetus (and presumably post delivery for newborns) has a high demand for fatty acids needed for brain development . They also stated that higher intake of ALA could be important for children who also have a huge demand for these types of fatty acids for brain development. OMSCo also outlines details of research that finds higher levels of specific vitamins found in organic milk compared to non-organic milk as well as a reduction in the incidence of eczema in children once they changed to organic milk.
Skin care for Babies
Babies’ skin is five times thinner than an adult’s, and thus absorbs whatever is applied to it more quickly and more effectively than an adult’s. Therefore a high percentage of ingredients are rapidly assimilated if skin care products are applied. It is now recommended by the UK medical community that newborns are bathed and cleansed (including the genital area when nappy changing) using nothing other than water for at least the first two weeks. Rates of eczema and skin allergies among children are on the rise and the early introduction of synthetic petrochemical based ingredients in skin care products may be a contributing factor. This is particularly relevant to any cleansing or moisturising creams used. Synthetic and processed chemicals abound in skin care products, including those intended for use on babies.
The majority of non-organic creams use ‘mineral oil’ as a key ingredient in baby (and adult) skin care products. Mineral oil, a by-product from the petrochemical industries, is a clear liquid oil, has no scent and does not degrade. It can be purchased very inexpensively precisely because it is an industrial by-product. It is processed in order to render it suitable for skin care and cosmetic products. Baby wash liquid soap and vaseline both contain mineral oil as a primary ingredient. Mineral oil is difficult for the skin to absorb. This means that although it may help the skin retain moisture, it potentially compromises the skin’s ability to excrete toxins. Whether or not mineral oil actually blocks the skins’ pores (ie is comedogenic) remains a hot debate within the scientific community with some research results indicating that it does not (DiNardo,J.C. (2005), Is mineral oil comedogenic?. Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology, 4:2–3. doi: 10.1111/j.1473- 2165. 2005.00150.x) whilst a significant number of consumer anecdotal evidence suggest that it is.
Another compelling concern relates to potential contaminants that may reside in skincare ingredients and oils as a result of processing or manufacturing methods to produce the ‘skin ready’ oils. The EWG (Environmental Working Group) in the US raises serious questions with regard to potential carcinogens: “Laboratory tests commissioned by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics found these (children and baby bath) products are commonly contaminated with formaldehyde or 1,4-dioxane – and, in many cases, both. These two chemicals, linked to cancer and skin allergies, are anything but safe and gentle and are completely unregulated in children’s (and infant) bath products.”