How on earth do I choose baby toiletries?

Your baby will arrive any day now and you’re trying to figure out which hygiene products are needed, how much to stock up in advance and which brands to buy – all of which are very legitimate concerns! You obviously want to provide the best care to your baby, and you definitely don’t want to be running to the nearest pharmacy or health store at 1.am with a crying baby because you’re out of diapers. Here are a few practical tips to get you started. 

There are 4 main considerations to take into account when choosing any product you intend to use with your baby, with varying degrees of importance depending on your character, life-style and belief-system: 

  1. Is it perfectly safe? 
  2. Is it practical? 
  3. Is it affordable? 
  4. Is it eco-friendly? 

More often than not, it is virtually impossible to find a product which ticks all of the above boxes (believe me, I’ve tried!). Let’s take diapers as an example. If you want to be a purist about safety and the environment, cloth diapers are the only solution that is perfectly safe and eco-friendly, with 0 chemical products and very little waste. Any disposable diaper brand which promises as much is very good at branding and probably getting away with false claims so far. In Europe for example, regulation does not require diaper manufacturers to declare the exact diaper composition as of the time of writing (august 2020). Independent tests basically try to guess which chemicals might be present and test for them, showing varying results of toxicity. Results can also vary significantly from one year to the next, as brands quickly adapt the ingredients to replace the detected toxins. In addition to the difficulty of getting hold of robust information, even when you do, you practically need a pHd in biochemistry to actually understand the information at hand and be able to judge its potential to cause harm to your baby.

For those brands that claim to use no harmful chemicals, supported by independent tests so far, the price-tag is usually significantly higher than traditional brands. For example, in France, a one-month package from eco-friendly, allegedly safe brands such as Joone, Little big change, or Lilidoo can be up to 15 to 20 euros more expensive than more conventional brands such as Pampers. Is it just marketing? Is it worth the extra cost? Is it practical? Here’s my take on it. 

Concerning safety, you need to distinguish 2 things: short-term safety and long-term safety. Short-term safety includes avoiding allergens and disturbing substances which can cause almost immediate discomfort and irritation to your baby or even eczema. A good rule of thumb to pick your products is to make sure that anything you buy for your baby is specifically made for babies, preferably perfume-free and marked as ‘hypoallergenic’. In case a particular product causes a reaction for your baby, it will typically be easy to detect the cause and change the product so I wouldn’t worry too-much about this in advance, as long as you’re following the advice above.

As for long-term safety, the question is much more complex and far-fetched, with the impact, if any, appearing years or decades later. While there are studies that link extended exposure to certain chemicals to incidence of cancer or other diseases in later life, it is difficult to establish the causality among the myriad of environmental factors that are involved. Still, you wouldn’t be wrong in applying the principle of precaution when you can. That said, very often, that comes at the expense of practicality. In my experience, hygiene products that contain less chemicals, especially those marketed as organic, are sometimes less efficient. Organic diapers might leak more often. Organic cleaning water might not clean as well. So ultimately it’s up to you to weigh it out. For me, as an anxious and over-worried first-time mom with no experience with babies whatsoever, I was more comfortable going with tried and tested products that do the job. One avoidable diaper leak is one too many when you’re sleep-deprived. Of course, if you feel so strongly about this then there’s no harm in trying different products out for yourself to see which one works best. My advice would be, whichever product you pick before your baby arrives, do not over-stock, as you have no idea how your baby will react to it.

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