Car Seats Can Be Toxic and Here Is What You Can Do

I don't want moms to ignore the report because they can't stand more fear-inducing news about baby gear. So instead, embrace the great information compiled at.
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Parents-to-be do a fair (sometimes absurd) amount of gear-gathering before the birth of their babies. Each family has their own must-buy (or get hand-me-downed) list that may or may not include entire nursery sets, bassinets, wardrobes, swings, activity mats, stroller(s), slings, carriers, infant tubs etc. etc. etc. It's shocking how much stuff something so small acquires.

One item that every family no matter what their economic stature or parenting style will wind up with is an infant car seat. In New York City, where my baby girl was born, parents are required to have an infant car seat in order to be discharged from the hospital, even if home is a few walk-able blocks away. No one actually checked ours, but I was told at my birthing classes that a seat was the law and had it ready. Frankly, the car seat was the most unobjectionable piece of equipment we got. What could be wrong? It's designed and needed to protect babies. Win-win.

Maybe not. A new report released today by the Ann Arbor-based Ecology Center shows that chemicals including PVC, brominated flame retardants, and lead are found in car seats and can possibly lead to developmental and health issues in babies. Um, what? Here we all are buying uncomplicated and safe safety gear and we're harming our children? How terrifying.

Ok, it's not that toxic chemicals didn't cross my mind the first time I looked at a car seat. As co-author of The Complete Organic Pregnancy I knew all too well that certain plastics and foams offgas frightening chemicals and that things that are meant to keep your babies comfy and cozy (like conventional crib mattresses) often harbor toxic flame retardants you don't want those baby lungs breathing in day and night. Car seats are plastic, they're (sometimes) cushioned, they sit in unventilated, often hot cars all day long. My gut reaction was that they must be toxic. But I pushed that thought to the back of my head. I had to. I have to use a car seat. We all do. And I couldn't find a less-toxic alternative.

When The Ecology Center first got in touch with me and my co-author a few months back to let us know of their findings, I had an Aha! moment. I knew they were toxic! It was quickly followed by an Oh no! moment. I don't want moms to ignore the report because they can't stand more fear-inducing news about baby gear, nor do I want them to think they can give up using a car seat to protect their babies health.

The best thing to do is not to think of this information as too scary or just more bad news. Instead, embrace the great information the Center has compiled and put up at They tested over 60 new car seats and compiled a list of the best and worst in terms of toxic chemical content. I wish I had had this resource back when I was in the market. (If you're a chemical junkie, the ones they tested for with a portable X-Ray Fluorescence device include bromine, which is associated with brominated flame retardants, chlorine, which indicates the presence of PVC and phthalates/ plasticizers, lead, and heavy metal allergens.) The report states that these chemicals have been linked to major health problems such as liver, thyroid and developmental issues in children. Given the stink about lead in paint, it is beyond me how it's permitted to be used in baby-related items. But there you go. Shouldn't everything that surrounds small, vulnerable, developing babies be toxin-free? Or at least as toxin-free as possible?

On they list the current most toxin-free seats, including ones without flame retardants and PVC. Meanwhile, we can all use some parent/consumer common sense when it comes to car seats. I know as much as any parent that you sometimes strike bargains with the devil to get the nap-averse kids to sleep, but try to avoid having them catch z's in their car seats when not in the car. I have several mom-friends who had their babies sleeping in them inside their homes for the first few months of their lives. Look for a safer breathing space for the babes to snooze in. And whatever car seat you do have, treat it gently. Heat can break plastic down over time. Keep the seat out of the sun when possible. Open your windows and air your car when you can. And whatever else you do, buckle up.

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