If you ask me what I remember most vividly from the first few months of each of my 4 children’s lives, I’d love to be able to tell you that I recall the supple feel of their new, smooth skin, their big blue eyes staring at me in fresh, daily wonder and the peaceful, almost imperceptible way their tiny backs rose and settled as they slept.
I’d like to tell you all of that, but, in truth, what is sharpest in my mind to this very day is the around-the-clock nursing, the constant hovering over a stove watching bottles and breast pump parts bob around in hot water, the desperate freezer searches for bags of stored breast milk.
Feeding babies is a full-time job and it requires physical and mental stamina. And, unless you’re straight-up breastfeeding 100% of the time, it also requires some non-toxic know-how. Don’t be concerned if the following is all news to you; any step you take going forward will benefit your baby in very important ways.
So, without further ado – because, in about 10 minutes, someone’s gonna be wailing for liquid eats – an informative and practical guide to safely feeding your soft skinned, wide-eyed, little one…
Choosing a safe baby bottle has become a loaded issue, what with myriad conversations about how plastics pollute our bodies and the world. The big topic for a long time was BPA – Bisphenol A – a known endocrine disruptor. Found in the bodies of 98% of Americans, it’s a worrisome synthetic chemical that’s tough to avoid.
Most baby bottles haven’t been made with BPA for some years and the US government officially banned BPA from bottles in 2012. So, problem solved? Not so fast. There have been quite a few studies done about “regrettable substitutions,” chemicals that have replaced BPA but have either little health data or similarly concerning data, as well as reports, including this one from Mother Jones, which indicate that many other plastics, including the so called “safe” plastics, leach synthetic estrogens, which can affect many aspects of development.
What’s a new mama to do? Two words: Go glass. And two more words: Go Stainless. Glass and stainless steel are as safe as you can get and the baby market is crawling with brands that make this an easy buy. Born Free, Weego Baby and Lifefactory are just some of the companies that offer glass bottles wrapped in silicone sleeves. These bottles can last a long time, but should be checked regularly for chips or cracks. Klean Kanteen’s child line, Kid Kanteen, makes stainless steel bottles, as does organickidz. Silicone nipples should top them all off.
What about what you put in those bottles? If you’re buying powdered or concentrated formula for regular use or supplementation, you have to mix it with water, but these days, options for water types flood our lives. It’s a good idea to talk to your child’s pediatrician early on to get information about your local water quality and what’s normally recommended in your area.
According to the CDC, cold tap water, run for several minutes first, can be used to make infant formula, but because of concerns about mild fluorosis (white spots on permanent teeth), babies who are fed formula exclusively should have their formula alternately mixed with fluoride-free bottled water, often labeled as de-ionized, purified, demineralized, or distilled. A good option is Gerber Pure Water.
In addition, The American Academy of Pediatrics more conservatively recommends that sterile water be used for infant formula, at least for the first few months, which often means boiling water for no more than one minute and letting it sit for thirty seconds before use.
In either of the above cases, tap water should be filtered, especially for infants. Brita makes effective carbon filters, which are appropriate for many water supplies, and now offers stainless steel pitchers as well. GE also makes carbon filters, including faucet mount and under-sink filters, as well as reverse osmosis filtration systems which are important for certain water sources. For more detailed information, check out the Environmental Working Group’s Water Filter Buying Guide, which provides information about specific contaminants and the filters best suited to reduce those contaminants.
Nursing moms have a few choices of their own to make. While milk straight from the breast is best in terms of vitamins, bacteria-killing properties and fat content, expressed milk has a place in our busy lives. Two popular breast pump companies, Medela and Hygeia, make BPA-free breast pumps and accessories. Hygeia prides itself on its “eco friendly breast pumps” that can be reused or recycled. Medela has responded to the call for plastic-free products by offering up certain glass pump parts, as well as glass bottles for pumping and storage.
And, speaking of storage, because breast milk can last in the refrigerator for 5 to 8 days and in the back of a self-contained freezer for 3 to 6 months, both are good options for keeping milk on hand. Years ago, my freezer was filled with BPA-free plastic storage bags from Medela, but, if I was pumping away today, I’d more often use glass bottles or glass storage containers, like these from weangreen.com.
When thawing and warming breast milk, avoid the microwave, as it can heat the milk unevenly and pull out nutrients. Bags of breast milk should be thawed overnight in the fridge, transferred to a non-toxic bottle, and then held under warm water. Glass bottles and containers can also be put in the fridge or placed directly from the freezer into a bowl of warm water.
While the cycle of feeding/pumping/storing might have you running for a bed as soon as baby conks out, there’s still one more thing you have to do: clean it all up. If you live in an area with a safe water supply, you only need to sterilize your bottles and breast pump parts before the first use, by boiling them for 5 minutes in a pot of water or running them through an entire dishwasher cycle on the top rack. After that, however, you can regularly clean all the supplies in warm water with a non-toxic dish soap. My favorite is Better Life’s Dish it Out, but any mild plant-based soap that is free from synthetic chemicals will do the trick.