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Babies, Food and Lead

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By Randall Neustaedter OMD

First kids' lunch boxes, then Thomas the Train sets, now diaper bags. Lead seems to be everywhere. Kids' toys and baby supplies are no longer as safe as parents once supposed. And babies are the most susceptible to damage for the toxic effects of lead. The limit for lead in paint in 600 parts per million, but when Channel 7 News in Boston had diaper bags tested for lead, they found levels much higher than that. They purchased five diaper bags at a department store and had their lead levels tested. One changing pad contained over 2,000 parts per million, over three times the limit for paint. Changing pads and fabric in other diaper bags contained over 1,400 parts per million. Vinyl lunchboxes were found to have even higher levels of lead. The Center for Environmental Health found a level of 56,400 parts per million in one lunchbox made by Targus.

The solution is to avoid all vinyl products and use as many organic and cotton fabric options as possible.

Poor Diets at Day Care

A recent study looked at duration of breastfeeding and early introduction of solid foods in babies attending day care (Kim, 2008). The picture is not pretty, and not unexpected. Infants who started child care at younger than three months were less likely to have been breastfed and were more likely to have begun solid foods at less than four months of age than babies under parental care. They also gained more weight. Even infants in part-time child care gained more weight during nine months than those in parental care. This early pattern is probably also a predictor and risk of childhood overweight in later years.

Infants who are fed solids, especially cereals, at an early age are also more likely to develop eczema (Forsyth, 1993) and the autoantibodies associated with juvenile diabetes (Ziegler, 2003). If babies were still breastfeeding when cereals were introduced, the risk of diabetes autoantibody formation was significantly reduced.

Mothers need encouragement and the opportunity to continue breastfeeding as long as possible, expressing milk, partial breastfeeding at night, and, whenever possible, the opportunity for nursing sessions at day care centers.

I have also been concerned about the quality of food in day care and in preschools. Typical foods include juice, commercial formula, processed cereal, and baby food in jars for babies. Older toddlers typically get Goldfish and white processed flour in the form of crackers. Meals often consist of more juice, mac and cheese, noodles, pasteurized milk from cows fed growth hormones, and white bread. Hopefully, fruit is also offered.

I advise parents to pack snacks and lunches using healthy whole food choices for their infants and preschoolers and insist that day care providers and teachers feed this food from home to their children.

Forsyth, J S, et al. Relation between early introduction of solid food to infants and their weight and illnesses during the first two years of life. British Medical Journal 1993 Jun 12; 306(6892):444.

Kim J, Peterson KE. Association of infant child care with infant feeding practices and weight gain among US infants. Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, 2008 July; 162(7):627-33.

Ziegler, A-G, et al. Early infant feeding and risk of developing type 1 diabetes-associated autoantibodies. Journal American Medical Association 2003; 290:1721–1728 .

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