Why Second Hand Is Healthier for Your Baby

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Image: Flickr, Joe Shlabotnik

Hand-me-downs. The very thought brings terror to any new parent who remembers the taunting children suffered for the sin of not having new possessions. We are uncertain already in the face of the daunting task of raising a tiny life to health, wealth and wisdom, without even the benefit of an owner's manual! How do parents react? Consumerism. Buying new for the baby is a ritual of modern childbirth: new nursery, new carseats, new clothing.

Think again. The German Bundesinstituts für Risikobewertung (BfR, or National Institute for Risk Assessment) has warned that newborns need better consumer protection advocacy. Pediatrician Axel Hahn of the BfR explained: Many parents completely remodel the room for the nursery, without giving thought to the amount of harmful substances newborns face from the new furniture, paint and carpet. The conclusion? Second hand--even for baby clothing--is often the healthier choice.Second hand articles have had time to naturally lose the dangerous chemicals which are most easily emitted or leached from the articles to which babies are exposed. New furniture, much of which emits formaldehyde from the glues and particle board constituents or chemicals added as flame retardants, will have rid itself of most of the harmful emissions by the time it comes up for second hand sale. Baby clothing has been through enough wash cycles to ensure the chemicals added during textile manufacturing and distribution are gone. And who can remember being upset by a few smudges in the paint or carpeting of their nursery?

The discussion was raised in the context of the seventh Forum for Consumer Protection in Berlin. Children are especially sensitive. They have a much larger ratio of skin surface to body size, respirate more quickly and have faster metabolic rates. Attendees of the forum were unified in the opinion that risk assessments done for adults can no longer be applied also for children.

Specialists at the Forum also discussed better labelling of chemical contents. Currently, only toxic product recipes are required to be reported to the BfR, for example from cleaners. But often the risks of chemicals are due to the sum amount of the exposure, of to exposure to a combination of different substances. The BfR proposes a coded system of disclosure of all chemicals in the products.