Monday, June 30, 2008

Working Toward Becoming BPA-Free: This Stuff's Not Just in Your Water Bottle

Of course becoming parents changed our lives. Who knew it would also change our water bottles? But our increasing awareness of risks associated with exposure to BPA (inspired, of course, by Violet) led us to do exactly that. Our Nalgene bottles have been replaced by shiny new Siggs (non-leaching aluminum water bottles), and that was just the beginning.

Bisphenol A (BPA) is an industrial chemical used to make polycarbonate plastic resins (all number 7 plastics are polycarbonate and contain BPA), epoxy resins, and other products. Numerous studies have shown BPA to cause serious health effects, including cancer, diabetes, infertility, and behavior disorders, even at low doses. Mainstream media has covered the growing concerns over BPA and other toxins (like PVC and pthalates) in plastic - particularly plastic water bottles and baby bottles - extensively as of late. What isn't discussed as often are the other common items contaminated by BPA: for example, baby formula, canned food, and dental sealants.

According to Center for Disease Control (CDC) data, people are routinely exposed to unsafe levels of BPA from such sources. Not surprisingly, babies and children are the most vulnerable; their bodies' immature detoxification systems allow increased exposure to BPA which, according to the National Toxicology Program (NTP) brief on BPA could impact developing reproductive systems, hastening puberty and even leading to breast/prostate cancer, and affect behavior in children. It's scary stuff, and probably can't be avoided entirely, but there are alternatives to many of the major offenders.

Baby bottles. Most plastic baby bottles contain BPA, which is of particular concern because heating items containing BPA has been shown to increase the rate at which it leaches from the plastic by 55 times. Canada has actually banned baby bottles containing BPA from the market there. We have always used glass Evenflo bottles for Violet, but I understand there are BPA-free plastic bottles out there, too.

Sippy cups/water bottles. Most plastic sippy cups also contain BPA. Though Violet is still figuring out the sippy cups thing, her choices are BPA-free: a Safe Sippy and a Thinkbaby trainer cup. Other good options we intend to explore for her: Kleen Kanteen and a Sigg kid's bottle. Both Kleen Kanteen and Sigg make BPA-free water bottles for big people too (stainless steel and aluminum, respectively).

Food storage containers. Toxins in plastic food storage containers may leach into the food inside. This, too, is more likely if the container is heated, but even ordinary use and washing is sufficient to break down the plastic and allow leaching to occur. We avoid all number 7 plastics for our food storage, and all of Violet's food is kept and heated in glass. We're working toward replacing the rest of our Tupperware and Rubbermaid containers with glass storage pieces like Pyrex as well.

Canned food. Though the public eye has been focused recently on our exposure to BPA from plastic, BPA is also found in the lining of metal cans, where it leaches into the food or drink inside; independent studies have shown that exposure to BPA from such sources is significant. The EWG tested 97 canned foods and found that of all the foods tested, chicken soup, infant formula and ravioli had the most concerning levels of BPA: “Just one to three servings of foods with these concentrations could expose a woman or child to BPA at levels that caused serious adverse effects in animal tests.”

Though fresh, whole foods are always our first choice, we do rely on certain canned food staples like beans and tomatoes. Where other forms of items like these (for example, dried beans) aren't available or practical, we've switched to Eden Organic for almost all of our canned goods - they package their foods in a BPA-free can.

Dental sealant. Yes, that mysterious substance most of us have somewhere in our mouths contains BPA. And it's leaching out into our heads. What to do about that is less clear, as there don’t appear to be any safer options available for treating cavities. In a recent discussion with my dentist on the subject, I managed to talk my way out of a filling and into a crown. I guess that’s one way to avoid additional exposure to BPA, but I’m not sure I’d recommend it.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

It's Official!

Kristin and Mat are married! It was a whirlwind weekend of wedding activities: Mom and I hosted Kristin's shower on Friday, Mat's mom put on a huge rehearsal dinner that same night, and Saturday my sister and her man got hitched. The events were celebrated with family from all sides and from all over, many of whom were meeting Violet for the first time. Violet, of course, charmed them all, but it was her second cousin Paige who forged a special connection with her as soon as they met. We look forward to getting those two back together soon.

Weddings are ultimately all about family. And as I said in my (teary) toast, Mat was really a part of ours long before the ceremony took place. But we couldn't be happier about making it official. Congratulations, Kristin and Mat! We love you guys.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The Beginning of Beautiful Friendship

These two are going to be trouble.

Sunday, June 15, 2008


Violet lights up every time she sees him, whether he's been at work or just in the next room. He taught her to play peek-a-boo, give a high five, and play her tiny drum (we might regret this later). And he's just getting started.

He is my perfect partner in parenting, as in life. He has given himself over to fatherhood wholeheartedly, embracing everything from the art of the tiny manicure to the latest literature on vaccination reactions. And he makes our daughter smile wider than anyone else can.

Happy Father's Day, Dada. We love you.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Attachment Parenting Is Keeping Us Up at Night: Why We Haven't Gone the Cry-It-Out Route

Violet has never been much inclined toward sleep. A standard stretch usually won't exceed four hours, and more frequent waking (like every hour) is far from unheard of in our house. As a result, Eric and I have yet to get a solid night's sleep in the last 10 months.

We have marveled at the discovery that our bodies (and our minds - though arguably to a lesser extent) can continue to function on just a few inconsecutive hours of rest a night, but that doesn't make it any less painful. And yet, each night, when we hear her cry, we stumble once more to her side to soothe her or bring her back to our bed.

Mainstream American parenting culture tells us that she should be sleeping through the night by now. A common approach to accomplishing this is the Ferber/extinction method, otherwise known as “cry-it-out.” Have we considered it? Of course. Believe me, we’ve considered everything. But ultimately, crying it out just isn’t compatible with the principles of attachment parenting we believe in.

Attachment parenting is no newfangled trend. Though the term originated with pediatrician Dr. Bill Sears, the theory behind it was advanced by developmental psychologist John Bowlby in the 1960s. According to attachment theory, a strong bond between babies and parents is crucial for the child’s social, emotional, and even physical development. That bond is simply not reinforced by refusing to respond to the baby’s cry.

There is scientific evidence to support the proposition that leaving a baby to cry alone can cause physiological, if not psychological and emotional harm. Studies have shown that periods of crying and upset are accompanied by a flood of the stress hormone cortisol; frequent and prolonged exposure to cortisol can affect brain development in areas relating to memory, emotional regulation and attention, and behavior. The presence of a loving parent has been demonstrated to lower levels of cortisol even during episodes of crying.

Although such information is always of interest to us, on this issue we find ourselves guided less by science and more by instinct, and even a little common sense. Proponents of cry-it-out suggest that this method teaches the baby to "self-soothe." I find it hard to believe that a baby left to cry it out has actually soothed herself to sleep rather than falling asleep after exhausting herself crying. It's true that babies subjected to the cry-it-out technique may eventually cry less at night, but who's to say that is a reflection of self-soothing skills rather than the result of basic behavioral conditioning?

Cry-it-out, is, after all, operant conditioning method designed to extinguish a specific behavior. The baby, having learned that her attempt at communicating her need for comfort by crying does not elicit any response, will eventually cease in her efforts. Thus the crying stops - and behaviorists declare the process a success. But while she may not cry any more at night, it's likely not because the reason she was crying has been resolved - why the baby was crying has no place in a behavioral analysis and therefore was never addressed.

All babies, in fact all people, wake frequently at night. If (hopefully when) Violet is able to wake at night and soothe herself back to sleep, we'd like for it to be because she is ready to do so, not because we've left her with no alternative. Some would counter that in being responsive to her nighttime needs, we're spoiling her, and that she'll grow up demanding and dependent. But as acknowledged by Harvard Medical School Department of Psychiatry researchers Commons and Miller, physical contact and reassurance at this young age fosters the kind of secure attachment which will provide Violet a foundation from which to establish her independence.

We think that's worth a few more sleepless nights.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Saturday Session

Last Saturday I met my good friend Leslie at the park to shoot some portraits of her gorgeous three year old girl, Sienna. It was an eye-opening experience for me, as my daughter is not exactly mobile yet, and Sienna ran circles around me for over an hour. Literally.

But I had a blast running after her, and she was even willing to stop once or twice and flash me a smile before bolting again. Beautiful!