Teether_Flickr_cantaloupe99You bought your baby BPA-free bottles. Her teethers are without plastic-softening phthalates. And goodness knows you never microwave his milk in plastic. But the steady stream of warnings about chemical threats to your child is enough to drive a parent mad (as if sleep deprivation alone wasn’t enough to do the trick).

I remember my own panic after I got out a bright pink Boppy pillow for nursing and noticed the giant tag assuring me that it was fireproof. Looking at this fuzzily synthetic item, that tag could mean only one thing: the pillow was packed with some sort of chemical flame retardant. I chucked it across the room and grabbed a down pillow off my bed.

Before and after my daughter was born, I’ve been anxious and vigilant in my effort to keep her safe from potentially dangerous chemicals that are added to every commercial item imaginable.

So it was a real relief when I recently had the chance to talk at length with two of the nation’s top experts in pediatric environmental health for an article I wrote for Seattle’s Child. And it wasn’t so much the chance to add more items to my to-be-avoided list as it was an opportunity to get back to the basics. Here’s what I mean.

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  • In our interviews, Dr. Catherine Karr and Dr. Sheela Sathyanarayana reviewed the best ways to keep  kids safe. Their tips (which are covered in more detail in a tip box with the article) include keeping your home clean to reduce exposure to dust that might contain lead from chipped paint and flame retardants that are released from electronics and foam cushions. They emphasized getting rid of mold that can trigger allergies and making sure kids are physically active.

    The doctors, who are part of the Northwest Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit, also provide their advice to doctors, nurses, and patients in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Alaska. The UW-based program is part of a national effort to keep kids safe through education and outreach.

    Karr and Sathyanarayana reminded me that just because an exposure happens, it’s not guaranteed that your child will suffer an ill effect.

    While parents are advised to keep kids away from dangerous chemicals as best they can, the doctors warned against parents becoming obsessed with the impossible task of removing all of the risk to their kids.

    That said, both were hopeful that the US government would take stronger action to make sure that everyday products are non-toxic through legislation such as the Safe Chemicals Act of 2010. They also called for a bigger investment in research targeting the effects of chemicals on babies and children because of their heightened sensitivity.

    As the science and regulations improve, parents would do well to counteract dangerous exposures by providing loving, stimulating, safe homes.

    “Being a thoughtful parent, you can do a lot to ensure your kid’s health,” Karr said. “It’s not just the chemicals.”

    Teething ring photo cantaloupe99 courtesy of Flickr user cantaloupe99 under a Creative Commons license.