An Earthy Mother sharing her experiences in today's world....

Friday, December 31, 2010

The problem with plastics in children's toys...

When I was pregnant with my son, I voraciously collected toys for him. After all, children need toys (and plenty, right?) and pregnancy seemed to stir in me some sort of insane hoarding creature. I scoured eBay, I went to garage sales, I searched the sale bin of every shop I walked past, I raided Op Shops (church or charity stores in Australia are called Op Shops- short for Opportunity Shops). By the time my son was born, I had amassed a wonderful collection of brightly coloured toys- tables to stand at that had things to flip, shakers and rattles, cars and jittery creatures. I never considered anything could be an issue with these plastic toys- I played with similar ones when I was a child, and they must be safe. Plastic is plastic, and plastic is fine. Everything is plastic, anyway! You can't avoid it, right? And my son loved his pile of amazing toys.

Then, I had the fortune to discover the truth about Bisphenol A when I was looking into getting him a sippy cup to go with the introduction of solids. I read everything I could, and it started to make me concerned. Some of these plastics were toxic, and had been considered toxic for over 50 years? Affecting the endocrine system? No thanks! I was so cautious about making sure all the food-related plastics in our home were stable and BPA free- and then I turned my attention to the pile of toys lurking in our lounge room.

The first cull, I removed all older toys and anything which appeared to contain PVC. (The European Union has banned the use of PVC in children’s toys due to health concerns.) The reason I removed the older toys was because I started to become aware of lead in plastics and the release of toxins as older toys degrade. Everything I read had me thinking further and further about what my son was being exposed to. I had to consider how this fit into my choices so far... I didn't vaccinate my son, I was careful about what we ate, we chose organic foods, we had a chemical-free home, I didn't put plastic nappies on him, we didn't eat artificial sweeteners- and yet my son was rolling about amidst a mass of plastic joy. Plastic joy which was probably affecting his nervous and endocrine system while he giggled and mouthed everything in sight. Why hadn't I questioned this yet?

So I set about shifting my habits. I collected wooden toys everywhere I went and I asked for them as gifts for his 1st birthday. People were wonderful about it, actually- many people bought us some really lovely handmade gifts which were as simple as a wooden car or a small set of blocks. I made a simple suggestion on the invitations- 'We would appreciate toys made of natural materials, or books.' I expected people to simply ignore this, but nobody did. Every person found it easy to pick one or the other, and my son received some lovely books and some wonderful natural toys made from wood, bamboo, wool and metal. It wasn't anywhere near as hard as I expected. Our friends and family said they didn't mind it at all, and some started reconsidering plastic toys in their home, too.

After his birthday, I had the opportunity to remove all plastic toys from our home- we now had a lovely basket of wooden animals, an abacus, some large felt balls, a wooden walker and a wooden Wheely Bug ( this shop has a great selection, and cheaper than anywhere else). I bagged all the plastic toys up and donated them to charity. Our lounge room went from cluttered to clear and my son seemed to enjoy his toys more. He would walk animals across the floor instead of kicking aside toys littering the floor.

But enough about our journey into a plastic toy free environment...

Here is some info on the specific problems with some plastics:


Polyvinyl chloride, also known as vinyl, is the plastic used in products when they need to be flexible. Teething rings and soft, flexible toys are just some products that are manufactured from PVC plastic. PVC is a health hazard and a pollutant- it contains lead, pthalates, cadmium, light stabilizers, barium, heat stabilizers, anti-oxidants and other chemical compounds. PVC production has increased 100-fold during the last 40 years- more and more products are being manufactured from it because is it relatively inexpensive.


The disposal of PVC can also impact human health through our environment. Dioxin is one of the most toxic chemicals known to humans and is a by-product of both the manufacturing and the incineration of certain chlorine based products, including PVC. The Environmental Protection Agency classifies dioxin as a Class I Carcinogen. Exposure to dioxin has been shown to cause immune system damage, reprodutive and developmental problems and hormone interference. Dioxin is in our foods and is fat-soluble, having an accumulative effect as it travels up the food chain, increasing drataically in concentration- much like mercury. We cannot eliminate dioxin easily from our bodies. However, Dioxin does travels through breast milk and crosses the placenta- pregnant and breastfeeding women should avoid Dioxin at all times.

PthalatesPthalates (pronounced "thalates") are chemical compounds which make PVC soft and stretchy and account for a high percentage of a finished product's weight. Pthalates never chemically bind to the plastic and leach from the plastic at a rate of up to 1% each year. The European Union Scientific Committee reported in April of 1998 that the two most common pthalates, DEHP and DINP, seeped from PVC toys at dangerous levels. DEHP, labeled by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as a probable human carcinogen, is the most commonly used phthalate in PVC plastics. Bottles of DINP (the phthalate most commonly used in toys) used in the lab must be labeled with a warning, part of which is: "May cause cancer; harmful by inhalation, in contact with skin, and if swallowed; possible risk of irreversible effects..." A teething ring may contain 40% of DINP by weight.

Bishenol A (BPA) <-- I can't say what I want about BPA without clogging up this whole blog, so have a click here and read some of the info for yourself.

There is simply too much mounting evidence against BPA, which is why BPA is banned from many countries now. However, many older toys contain BPA, as well as cheaper toys which contain clear plastics. Less than 5% of BPA used goes into food contact applications such as cups or plastic containers. Anything clear and shatter-proof in your home is likely to contain BPA unless stated otherwise.


High levels of lead are also found in PVC and some other plastics. Studies show that vinyl windows deteriorate with exposure to heat and sun. This deterioration releases lead dust at dangerous and toxic levels. Vinyl window shades containing lead have been banned in the U.S- but what about toys made from PVC? Aren't they often left in the sun, by a window, or in a car? A study conducted by Greenpeace and the University of North Carolina raised some concern that the same type of deterioration can happen in toys.

Here's hoping there is some food for thought here to help push you towards eliminating some plastics from your home. The less there is, the less likely it is that you are all breathing in Phthalates. The more plastic toys in one area, the higher the concentration of phthalates which you are all being exposed to.

Some great places to buy affordable wooden toys are:
Etsy and MadeIt have some wonderful hand-felted toys which can be under $5 an item. Many of these stores have sales.
Facebook pages have garage sales, so keep an eye out on specials.

Ask some people around you where they get cheap ones- these pages are from Australia so if you like elsewhere then there is bound to be some online eco toy shops with sale items.

The other alternative to purchasing toys is to give your children natural objects to play with, so here are some ideas (which you'll find in many Steiner/Waldorf schools as well):
*Baskets of smooth pebbles and rocks
*Baskets of shells
*Making playsilks from soft materials or silk scarves from second-hand stores
*Make your own knitted toys or hand sew some felt animals, food and fruits- this is easier than you think, simply google some felt food tutorials and get started. You can also make them from plain materials. I was a novice sewer and I managed to make some wonderful felt strawberries on my first go:

*Make your own wooden blocks by choosing small branches and sawing into small sections, then sand off the edges to make eclectic blocks which can be expanded upon from branches you find in your neighbourhood:

Your options are only as limited as your imagination, and your children can come up with some wonderful ideas to help as well.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Unnecessary Cesarean Birth of Sophie- guest blog by Lauren Ferrari

The Unnecessary Cesarean Birth of Sophie-
a guest blog by Lauren Ferrari

I was living in Puerto Rico during the course of my pregnancy and the birth of my daughter. The hospital where I received my care was horrendous- it was small, cramped, overcrowded, understaffed- it was awful. Because my husband is in the military it was our only available option at the time.

I didn't like the Obstetrician allocated to me at all. He berated me about wanting a natural, drug free birth, saying "you'll be begging for an epidural! "I even asked the Obstetrician about midwives but he told me "There are no midwives in Puerto Rico." (In retrospect, he was probably lying.)  I really hated him but could not switch doctors- in Puerto Rico, after 20 weeks you cannot switch care providers. No one will take you; you're considered a liability. I begged, cried, called every doctor around- nobody would help me. I had the choice of flying to California to be with my mom, but I was scared my husand would miss the birth (military leave is hard to organize). There was no other option. I wasn't aware of freebirth and I had no-one around me normalizing birth. The irony is that the day of my 36 week appt, I had just gotten off the phone with my insurance company, telling them I could not take it anymore and wanted to fly to California- but my plans were thwarted that very day.
I went to a prenatal appointment at just over 36 weeks, and my doctor told me to go to the hospital for observation overnight. He said my BP was "high," while it was only 130/90 and I'd been crying (I had to wait 4 hours to see him every appointment and was beginning to lose it!!). I went, and heard nothing for 24 hours. They wouldn't let my husband stay with me, made me lie in bed with an IV and fetal monitor, made me use a bedpan, wouldn't let me eat or drink, gave me no call button, etc. I spent 24 hours sobbing in fear for my unborn child, and wanting my husband! The next day, my OB stormed in, yelling that I should have been "QUIET AND HAPPY TO BE IN THE HOSPITAL!!" What?! It was shocking how mean he was. He went to look at my test results, then came back and said that I had pre-eclampsia and was going to have a C-section. He even said I could be induced, but "it could take a few days." To this day I'm shocked he just went right for surgery, when ALL resources about pre-eclampsia recommend attempting induction first if the pregnancy is nearly full-term!! He just wanted to be over with it faster and get more money from my insurance company. Truly sick. I had NO symptoms (and believe me, I had read about pre-e and was well aware of the symptoms), and he didn't show me my test results. I don't believe I had anything wrong with me at all. During the C-section, my OB never spoke to me or offered any comfort, even though I was scared out of my mind for our daughter's lungs, what with her not even hitting 37 weeks. He also didn't come check on me ONCE during my 3 days recovery in the hospital, only dropping by for 2 minutes on the last day to sign my release forms!! I never saw him again, and refused to have him see me at my post-partum visit.

After the surgery, they sent me off to recovery, alone. My daughter was put in the nursery and my poor husband kicked out into the waiting room. I didn't see him for 8 hours, and he was only allowed one glimpse of her at 6 hours old. She was perfectly healthy, as was I, and we were kept apart for TWELVE hours!!!!!!!

My beautiful daughter, before I had even seen her.

I begged to see her over and over, and the nurses ignored me, and every so often just said NO. It was excruciating. They also refused to give me pain medication, even when I was convulsing from the agony. I remember nurses coming up to me and PUNCHING my stomach like a ball of dough, with no warning!! I was screaming and begging them to stop, pushing at their hands. It was horrific.

When they finally let me see her, I held on to her for dear life and kept her with me. Before they even brought her to me, some nurses showed up claiming she was "starving" and needed to eat. I was alone and in a drug haze, so I freaked out and said okay!! They gave her a BOTTLE before I even got to hold her!! To this day I'm very surprised we nursed easily!!

Once I had hold of Sophie, I wouldn't let her go. I was so happy just to have her in my arms.

NO one helped me take care of her, even though I could barely move from the pain. My husband wasn't allowed to stay overnight the 3 days I was in the hospital, since I was in a shared room, and of course no one on staff bothered to tell me my MOM could stay and help me!! She had flown all the way from California to Puerto Rico to be with me the moment she found out about the C-section.

Needless to say, I suffered from PTSD for several months afterwards, and would sob hysterically if I saw a happy Baby Story on TV, or talked about my experience.

 It's been 4 years now, and I can talk about it without crying. I refused to be a victim again, and studied normal birth for a couple years to prepare myself for a natural VBAC. It did not go exactly as I'd hoped, but it was actually a healing experience nonetheless. My body is not broken, and I had my child the way I was meant to. :)