Hand-me-downs are also a good choice for bedding. Even if they are conventional cotton, the fumes and toxins will probably be long gone by the time you get them. Wash everything before you use it. And on a warm day, air it all out—crib mattress included—outside.
“So many of the toys, which usually go directly into a baby’s mouth, are plastic—which has its own concerns—or have lead in them,” says Greene. “Go for the old-fashioned toys made of sustainable wood and cotton.” Besides the old standbys, like books and wood rattles, there is a whole new generation of rag dolls and stuffed animals made with organic fibers such as cotton, hemp and wool.
Although much more research is needed in the area, certain plastics may be something to avoid. “In general,” Greene says, “plastics that are labeled [for recycling purposes] 1, 2, 4 or 5 are safe for normal use. Those with numbers 3, 6 and 7 all have problems—especially 3, which is PVC. Number 7 is problematic because it has some of the worst offenders as well as some of the newest compounds, made from potatoes and corn, which are good.” Greene suggests making toys out of everyday objects.
“At home, when my kids were young, we took a basket and put in fun, natural things—a wooden spoon from the kitchen, a whole lemon—it is pretty and smells great—other fruits and vegetables, brightly colored fabrics.” After all, a baby doesn’t know to ask for the latest plastic toys on the market (as a parent, you will have plenty of that kind of pressure in later years).
Major toy retailers have voluntary bans in place preventing themselves from using diisononyl phthalate (a chemical compound used to increase plastics’ flexibility) in toys that are intended for the mouth for children under 3 years old, so if you buy teethers, rattles, etc., at a retailer like Toys R Us, they will probably be fine. Try to keep your infants and toddlers away from soft toys intended for older children (such as Barbie dolls).