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This article is from the WebMD Feature Archive

Bringing up baby organically

There's a new movement underway to go green, starting from the first days of life.
By Colette Bouchez
WebMD Feature
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks

Going green with baby is a growing movement among parents of newborns who are taking an organic approach to bringing up their baby, and we're not just talking vegetables!

Indeed, the idea is not only to fill your baby's tummy with organic foods, but also to go green with everything from baby clothes and nappies to bedding, baby furniture, carpeting, and more. It seems that having a baby can be a powerful catalyst for embracing the eco-friendly life, with rising sales of green products, including chemical-free nappies and natural cleaning products.

The UK Soil Association says that despite the economic downturn, sales of organic food in the UK reached £2.1 billion in 2008.

But does any of it really matter, and is there any science to show that a "green baby" is any healthier than a child wearing normal nappies or eating non-organic peas and carrots from a jar?

For many, the answers begin with the definition of what is "organic".

What does going green really mean?

The food industry’s definition of what is considered organic is clear. According to the British Nutrition Foundation (BNF), food that carries the certified organic label must contain at least 95% of organic ingredients (manufacturers of organic foods are allowed to use specific non-organic ingredients).

If the food contains between 70% and 95% organic ingredients, the organic ingredients can only be mentioned in the ingredient list, the BNF says. The front of the label must state clearly the total percentage of organic ingredients.

Labels that make claims such as "natural", "free range", or "hormone-free" do not necessarily mean a food is produced organically.

However, when it comes to other, even more expensive organic products like nappies, baby clothes, bedding, and furniture, the waters get a little murky. Moreover, some manufacturers sometimes interchange the terms "organic" and "natural", which may lead parents to assume a product is safer or healthier than it might be. For example, bedding that is made from all cotton, a natural product, can be labelled as "natural", but it can still be grown using pesticides and manufactured using a variety of chemicals.

Does organic equal common sense

There is very little research to prove that organic or naturally grown products are better nutritionally, or safer, than non-organics. However, even without hard science, some experts say going organic simply makes good sense. US paediatrician Lawrence Rosen says one reason is that anything that reduces a baby’s exposure to potentially harmful chemicals of any kind will have important health benefits.

He says "There's still definitely a gap between what we know to be true scientifically and what we theoretically think is true, but either way, avoiding even potentially damaging compounds, particularly in young babies, can never be a bad thing, and it simply makes good common sense". Dr Rosen, who is in charge of paediatric integrative medicine at Hackensack University Medical Center in the US, also says that while we may have less evidence of the good that "going organic" can achieve, we do have very strong evidence of the kind of harm that is being done through non-organic living.

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