Is your child’s sunscreen doing more harm than good?

The Centers for Disease Control recently came out with some bad news for nearly all Americans who use sunscreen. A recent study shows one of the commonly used ingredients in most sunscreens (for adults, children as well as babies), a chemical called oxybenzone, has been linked to allergies, hormone disruption, and cell damage. In fact according to the study, 97% of Americans are contaminated with this chemical. Another study has showed oxybenzone is linked to low birth weight in baby girls whose mothers are exposed during pregnancy. Also worth noting is “oxybenzone is also a penetration enhancer, a chemical that helps other chemicals penetrate the skin.”

Boy in the sunNo FDA regulations
The last time the Food and Drug Administration reviewed the safety of oxybenzone was in the 1970s. It republished its evaluation in 1978, and announced plans to develop comprehensive standards for sunscreen safety and effectiveness. However, it’s been 30 years now and the Agency has yet to issue final regulations. “Instead, it encourages manufacturers to follow draft guidelines that the Agency has delayed finalizing at the behest of the sunscreen industry. As a result, sunscreen manufacturers in the U.S. are free to market products containing ingredients like oxybenzone that have not been proven safe for people.”

No special safety standards for children
What really frustrates me is that many sunscreens are marketed specifically for babies or children, and one might expect that because of this they are somehow “safer,” yet they contain the same chemicals as those sunscreens made for adults. There are no special safety standards for babies/children’s products.

Additional cautions must be employed when considering the effects of oxybenzone on children. The surface area of a child’s skin relative to body weight is greater than adults. As a result, the potential dose of a chemical following dermal exposure is likely to be about 1.4 times greater in children than in adults (SCCNFP 2001). In addition, children are less able than adults to detoxify and excrete chemicals, and children’s developing organ systems are more vulnerable to damage from chemical exposures, and more sensitive to low levels of hormonally active compounds (NAS 1993; Janjua 2004). Children also have more years of future life in which to develop disease triggered by early exposure to chemicals (NAS 1993). Despite these well-documented concerns regarding children’s sensitivity to harmful substances, no special protections exist regarding ingredients in personal care products marketed for babies and children.

What does this all mean? Is YOUR child’s sunscreen safe?
If you haven’t yet familiarized yourself with the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Cosmetic Safety Database web site, I highly suggest you do so. Products from skin care to baby care, from make up to hair care and oral care (and more) are ranked on their hazard level.

Skin Deep lists 607 skincare products containing oxybenzone. Please check the list to find out if yours or your children’s is on it. Again, I’m frustrated and disturbed that one of the worst sunscreens on the list is one specifically for babies – Walgreens Baby Sunblock.

California Baby sunscreenSo what IS safe?
Here is a link to a list of the sunscreen best bets for kids.
I was relieved to find the brand and type we have been using since Ava was about 9 months old – *California Baby SPF 30+ Sunscreen Lotion Everyday/Year Round – is on the list (the California Baby Sunblock Stick is also on the list and might be easier to apply. I’ll be looking into getting some of that, especially since we’re nearly out of the lotion.). I’m thankful that many of the mommies I know (which is where I got the recommendation for California Baby in the first place) do their homework when it comes to safe baby/child skincare products.
*You can purchase California Baby sunscreen and other products at health food stores like Whole Foods and Vitamin Cottage and apparently Target carries it too, or order directly from the California Baby website.

Avoid these ingredients:

  • Oxybenzone – In sunlight, can produce allergy- and cancer-causing chemicals
  • DMDM Hydantoin – Allergen and irritant that can form cancer-causing contaminants
  • Triethanolamine – Allergen and irritant that can form cancer-causing contaminants

Safe Sun Tips

  • Minimize sun exposure between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. when the greatest amount of ultraviolet light exists.
  • Wear Hats. Each inch of hat brim can lower your lifetime risk of skin cancer by 10%. A hat brim of four inches or greater is recommended.
  • Wear protective eyewear. Sunglasses with UV-blocking filters are very important.

Final thoughts
It’s frustrating when the groups that are supposed to be looking out for our health and that of our children let us down, but it’s things like these that reaffirm my belief of questioning authority. The best piece of advice I have is to arm yourself with information and trust your instincts. If dousing yourself or your child in chemicals doesn’t feel right to you, don’t do it. Find another way. In this information age where so much is available to us at the click of a mouse, it can be easy to find healthier and safer alternatives. Knowledge is power.

For more information, please check out: Is Your Sunscreen Safe?

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Green Tip of the Week #18 – The Story of Stuff

This week’s green tip is to take 20 minutes and watch The Story of Stuff with Annie Leonard. With Earth Day just around the corner, I think it’s important to take a look at all the stuff we have in our lives and the The Story of Stuffstuff we might want to buy in the future and become aware of exactly where it comes from, what’s in it and who/what is affected by it’s production. Warning: This video will make you think.

From its extraction through sale, use and disposal, all the stuff in our lives affects communities at home and abroad, yet most of this is hidden from view. The Story of Stuff is a 20-minute, fast-paced, fact-filled look at the underside of our production and consumption patterns. The Story of Stuff exposes the connections between a huge number of environmental and social issues, and calls us together to create a more sustainable and just world. It’ll teach you something, it’ll make you laugh, and it just may change the way you look at all the stuff in your life forever.

After hearing about it for ages, I finally took the opportunity to watch it a couple days ago and I’m really glad I did. It’s a video I think EVERYONE should watch (yes, that means you and you too!) and reflect on the next time we go to make a purchase.

What are you waiting for? Go watch it. :) Then come back here and tell me what you think about it.

Help Afghan women safely birth healthy babies

You may or may not have read that yesterday Lisa Stone announced that BlogHer has teamed up with Global Giving in an effort to save as many women’s lives as possible between now and Mother’s Day. There are several worthwhile causes to support, and myself and others will be blogging about them all month on BlogHer. One of the projects is helping Afghan women safely birth healthy babies.

Afghan women and children

In the country of Afghanistan a woman dies of pregnancy-related causes every 27 minutes of every day. That’s 53 women every day and nearly 20,000 women per year or 1,900 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births. According to the World Health Organization, in 2000 Afghanistan had the seventh worst maternal mortality rate in the world.

In the province of Badakhshan, “a woman faces almost 600 times the risk of dying in childbirth than do her counterparts living in North America. Of the thousands of infants left motherless, 75 percent will perish either during, or soon after, delivery.”

One of the reasons for the abysmal mortality rate is gender discrimination. In Afghanistan men are seen as superior to women and sons are preferred over daughters. This translates into high rates of female illiteracy and malnutrition. Because of the preference towards sons, daughters are often married off early, while they are still children themselves. “More than 40 percent of Badakshani women are married before the age of 15 and often long before their immature bodies can cope with both the demands of sex and the rigors of childbirth. Girls under the age of 15 are five times more likely to die in childbirth than women in their 20s.”

The terrain of the country is also a problem. Eighty percent of the population live in rural areas which translates into remote and rugged terrain, where roads are poor or don’t exist at all. According to the Population Reference Bureau, only 14% of births in Afghanistan are attended by skilled personnel.

Because many women are without access to basic reproductive education, let alone modern methods of family planning, they are unable to choose when and how many children they have. The contraceptive use among married women, ages 15-49, is just 10%.

This Global Giving project for Afghan women can make a real difference. Creating Hope International and the Afghan Institute of Learning offer “lifesaving health services and medical interventions to pregnant women and babies through three rural clinics in Afghanistan, including on-site baby delivery for high-risk cases. CHI/AIL also educate women about their reproductive health so that they can make healthy choices during pregnancy and delivery.”

I think it’s important to note that the project is sensitive to Afghan culture and works with the community leaders before any programs are implemented. According to Global Giving:

AIL uses a culturally sensitive approach in providing health education and health services to Afghan women and children. They provide education and services in local settings that are safer and easier for women to access. They use mobile clinics to reach patients who cannot safely travel to the nearest health clinics. They employ female health providers because of a cultural preference in Afghanistan that women receive health care from other women. AIL works with community leaders and local men before implementing new and historical controversial programs, and begins new programs only at the request of communities.

As a result of this project 12,000 Afghan women will receive pre- and post-natal care, midwifery, family planning services, education on women’s reproductive health, delivery kits for home delivery, and assessment and intervention for high-risk pregnancies.

To learn a bit more about the Afghan women’s project and the role AIL is playing in education, take a look at this video of a birth attendant training class outside of Kabul: Afghanistan: New Births, New Hope.

A donation of $25 means 20 women will have improved quality of life through reproductive health care and education. For $50, 40 women will have healthier babies because of reproductive health care and education. And for a donation of $85, one woman will be trained as a community health worker and will assist 9,000 women annually. It’s amazing how such a small amount from us can make such a huge impact in the lives of people half-way around the world.

BlogHers Act NowTake action:
Now I pass the torch on to you. Please consider donating, adding a button or a widget (check out my right sidebar) to your blog and/or blogging about this project to help spread the word. If you do any of those things, be sure to leave a comment (and a link to your post if you blog it) below. Together we can make a big difference in the lives of so many women and children.

There’s more to birth than doctors

Cross-posted at BlogHer

It seems odd to me now that there ever was a time in my life when I didn’t have much knowledge about birth or birth care providers, but when I became pregnant with my first child that’s exactly where I was at. I knew that I wanted to try for a natural birth, but I didn’t know much more beyond that. And so I found myself an obstetrician since that was what “everybody” I knew did. I didn’t have any local mommy friends at the time to offer up their recommendations, so I made my decision on an OB based on the experience a coworker and his wife had. He told me that their OB had let him catch the baby, and since that was something my husband Jody and I had talked about wanting to do and seemed pretty open-minded to me, I figured we would give her a try.

While I don’t recall interviewing this obstetrician per se, she seemed nice enough – though in retrospect her bedside manner was seriously lacking – and she seemed OK with our plans to have a Hypnobirth. In fact, with a few minor exceptions, she agreed to all of our desires on our birth plan and we figured she’d be a good fit for us. After all, she was saying all the right things, so we had no reason to doubt her. Little did I know that when it came time for me to give birth, all bets would be off.

When my time to give birth arrived, my OB’s true colors came shining through and, when reflecting on the experience several months afterward, I felt violated, disrespected, upset, duped and resentful. Yes, I had given birth to a healthy baby which is ultimately what every woman hopes for, but I believe the process and birth experience matters too and mine was seriously lacking. I was left wondering, could there have been another way? A better way?

Back up a few months to the Hypnobirthing childbirth preparation classes my husband and I attended, where I learned of a couple expectant mothers who had plans to have a midwife at their birth rather than an OB. At the time I didn’t know much about midwives – who they were, what they did – and was happy enough with my OB, so I didn’t bother finding out more information. For example, I had no idea that there was a difference between the type of care a midwife provides and that of an OB. I didn’t know what kind of training or schooling a midwife might have. I didn’t know that there were different types of midwives. I didn’t know if midwives attended births in hospitals and/or birthing centers or just at home. I really didn’t have a clue and I have a feeling that I was certainly not alone in that regard.

Here in the United States, giving birth in a hospital with a doctor is the norm. Yet in the majority of cases a midwife-attended birth in a birthing center or at home is just as safe. However, many women have never heard of midwives or what they have heard is often full of misconceptions.

It wasn’t until I had given birth to my daughter, officially joined the “mommy club,” and made some mommy friends of my own that I began to hear more and more about midwives and learn about the role that they play in helping women prenatally, during birth and postnatal.

A midwife attends a woman in labor - from The Business of Being BornI was fortunate in that one of my best friends ended up deciding on a midwife-attended home birth for her second child. She had such a wonderful experience that when I was pregnant with my second child, I decided to leave my new OB (even though she was a far cry better than my previous one) and have a midwife-attended home birth as well.

Thankfully, the word is slowly getting out and more people are learning about the value and importance of midwives thanks to Ricki Lake’s documentary “The Business of Being Born,” which I highly recommend all women and their partners see. It’s available on Netflix.

Here’s a bit more about midwives to help clear up any misconceptions.

What is the role of a midwife?
According to Midwives Alliance of North America, “Midwives are trained to provide comprehensive prenatal care and education, guide labor and birth, address complications, and care for newborns.” You can read about the different variations of midwives at MANA.

Why choose a midwife?
“Throughout most of the world, and most of history, women have labored and birthed with midwives. It is only in the last few decades that it has become common in the U.S. to birth in a hospital setting with a doctor. Being pregnant and giving birth are normal life processes for which a woman’s body is well-designed. Midwifery care has been proven to be a safe and nurturing alternative to physician-attended hospital birth.” – MANA

How does the care of a midwife differ from that of a doctor?
Midwives practice using the Midwifery Model of Care which is based on the fact that pregnancy and birth are normal life processes. This is a fundamentally different approach to pregnancy and childbirth and is in stark contrast to the standard Medical Model of Care.

The Midwives Model of Care includes:

  • monitoring the physical, psychological and social well-being of the mother throughout the childbearing cycle
  • providing the mother with individualized education, counseling, and prenatal care, continuous hands-on assistance during labor and delivery, and postpartum support
  • minimizing technological interventions and;
  • identifying and referring women who require obstetrical attention

The application of this model has been proven to reduce to incidence of birth injury, trauma, and cesarean section.

The women I know who have experienced both the medical model of care and the midwifery model of care prefer the midwifery model. Personally, when I saw my midwife for my prenatal care I felt like a real person, rather than just a number (which is how I felt at one OB’s practice, that I left I might add). I loved that my prenatal appointments with my midwife lasted an hour at a time and never felt rushed. I loved that I formed a bond with my midwife and that she knew me (and my daughter who accompanied me to all of my prenatal appointments) before I gave birth.

MamaAudrey at Deconstructing Motherhood remarks about her decision to go with a midwife and birthing center instead of a doctor and hospital:

I felt like I was in control of my pregnancy at the birth center and that my voice was important. At my doctor, I felt like just another number with a voice that needed to be silenced when heard. Thus began my prenatal care with nurses and midwives.

Mary at My First Pregnancy Ever agrees that there is a big difference between the two models of care.

And I think I can now rant about why I love my MW better than my doctor already. I went to my doctor on the 7th and saw the MW on the 9th. Both were very nice to me but you can so see the difference in their scope of practice.

She goes on to compare and contrast the two visits.

Ultimately the decision on who to have attend her birth is up to the mother, but it is my hope that women might learn from my mistakes and do their research ahead of time. Interview more than one doctor and/or midwife until you find one that is right for you. Knowledge is power.

Related links:
Midwives Alliance of North America
The Big Push for Midwives
Citizens for Midwifery
Midwifery Today
Motherbaby International Film Festival
The Business of Being Born

Blogs by Midwives:
Close to the Root by Kneelingwoman
Navelgazing Midwife
The Journey of an Apprentice Midwife
Homebirth: Midwifery Mutiny in South Australia
Midwife: Sage Femme, Hebamme, Comadrona, Partera
Meconium Happens

* Photo credit: Business of Being Born

Attachment parenting works for us & announcements from API

API buttonAs many of you know, I’m a big advocate of attachment parenting. I’ve seen the benefits of raising my children according to AP principles such as breastfeeding (feeding with love), baby wearing, responsive nighttime parenting, gentle discipline, etc. My husband Jody and I didn’t start out the road to parenting set on AP, it just kind of happened. For us it just feels natural, like we are trusting our instincts.

We’ve seen the way that Ava has blossomed into an almost 4-year-old who is secure, loving, friendly, healthy, imaginative and independent, and we attribute this largely to the way that we raised her. Julian is only 16 months old, but he too is a very happy, healthy, well-adjusted little person. I believe that by meeting our children’s needs when they are little, they have come to learn that they can depend on us and trust us for the long haul. It’s certainly not all been easy nor a bed of roses, but anyone who thinks parenting is convenient is surely mistaken. It is my hope that by building a solid foundation with them when they are young, we are creating a lasting, trust-based relationship that will endure throughout their adolescent years and into adulthood.

I feel fortunate that I have found a support network of like-minded parents here locally through Attachment Parenting International.

Attachment Parenting International (API), a non-profit organization that promotes parenting practices that create strong, healthy emotional bonds between children and their parents, has several exciting changes they would like to announce, including:

  • A newly redesigned web site and new logo at Attachment (Check out the photos on the home page – at least one might look familiar to you. It’s Jody and Ava on the right and I also took the first picture in that grouping. A few more of my pictures are scattered around the site. My little claim to fame. hehe.);
  • Attachment parenting worldwide support forums;
  • Parent Education Program – a comprehensive series of classes for every stage and age of child development from infancy through adulthood;
  • A new book based on API’s Eight Principles of Attachment Parenting by API co-founders Lysa Parker and Barbara Nicholson which is expected to be available this summer;
  • A series of podcasts, webinars, chats, and forums with API Advisory Board members and other supporters of AP. Future events are scheduled with Dr. Bob Sears, Dr. James McKenna, and Kathleen Kendall Tacket. Check out the events page for more information.

These are just a few of many exciting things going on at API. I hope you’ll stop by the website and check it out for yourself. Perhaps you’ll find something that resonates with you. :)

International Women’s Day – March 8

International Women’s DayToday, March 8, is International Women’s Day. Never heard of it before? Me either until just yesterday, but I’m so glad that I did.

Celebrated on March 8 every year, “International Women’s Day (IWD) is the global day connecting all women around the world and inspiring them to achieve their full potential. IWD celebrates the collective power of women past, present and future.”

For me, today means reflecting on how far we as women in the United States have come in the past. We have the right to vote, to own property, to get a higher education, to work. Yet it is obvious to me on a daily basis that while we have a lot of rights, there is more work to be done. I need only think of the current battle going on over a woman’s right to have the birth she desires and know that we have a long way to go.

And while our rights as women here in the United States seem pretty good overall, women elsewhere around the world are not as fortunate. Mom Grind notes at a UN Conference in 2001 it was stated that “in the world as a whole, women comprise 51 percent of the population, do 66 percent of the work, receive 10 percent of the income and own less than one percent of the property.”

And Women’s Lens reminds us that in many places, there are still “women who are enslaved; women who are tortured; women who are suppressed; women who are aborted before they can become women because of their sex; women who are discriminated against; women who are overlooked because they are not men; women who are illiterate; women who are circumcised against their will; women who are vilified because they speak out against injustice; women who are threatened with death because they refuse to bow to the men who rule them.”

So yes, women have come a long way in parts of the world and we should celebrate that, but we also cannot lose sight of the fact that we have a lot of work ahead of us.

What does International Women’s Day mean to you?

You can learn more about IWD on: