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As a child of the 80s, I’ve spent most of my life thinking very little about the ingredients I put into and on my body. Growing up, Kool-Aid was king. Storage containers were plastic, with lines scratched permanently in the surface and the original form misshapen from too much time in the microwave.
Sun-In made my hair blonder; Nair kept my legs smooth; and I don’t even want to know what kind of toxic chemicals went into my body in the form of sunscreen, bug spray, and so much more.
Dramatic as my parents would tell you I can be, I try my best to be non-alarmist, and you’ll never hear me yelling that you need a home full of natural baby products, or else.
We’re undefining motherhood here, after all–equipping you with knowledge and information to make the best decisions for YOU and your family, and that doesn’t look the same for all of us.
But for moms who’ve gone through infertility or pregnancy loss, there’s an intense concern regarding the chemicals that go into our bodies and the potential relationship between those chemicals and our fertility.
In a poll of Undefining Motherhood community members, 74% of infertility and loss moms reported switching to more natural products. Of them, 93% were equally concerned about using clean baby products.
That’s why, despite potential cost and geographical barriers to access, clean baby products like nontoxic shampoos and diapers have become the new must-have accessory for moms after infertility and loss.
Thank you to healthybaby for sponsoring this article, allowing us to do a deep dive into research on the connection between endocrine disruptors and fertility. All the content included is my honest opinion. I only work with brands and recommend products I personally use and love.
“Chemical” Connections to Infertility
When I found out I was losing my first pregnancy, I tried to take heart in the knowledge that it wouldn’t likely happen again. My friend Whitney talked to me about her two losses before she had living children, and I wondered how she’d survived this trauma twice. I never imagined I’d go through it four times.
When I lost my second pregnancy a short few months later, something in me snapped. I was sure there was a problem, and I was determined to find it and fix it.
(Spoiler alert: I didn’t miscarry because of “chemicals” I had put in my body, and if anyone suggests switching your household and skincare products as the primary solution for solving your fertility woes, run. Run far, far away.)
Even in that dark time, when I would’ve happily blamed anything I could reasonably conceive of for causing my losses, I knew “natural” products weren’t the sole solution.
But the more I learned about so-called endocrine disruptors, the more I felt like this was one area of the uncontrollable fertility journey that I could control.
(Note: You'll see lots of quotation marks in this article. "Chemicals." "Natural." "Clean." That's because I think we throw these words around with reckless abandon and without clear enough parameters for what they actually mean. Since attempting to define them is far beyond the scope of this article, I instead use these words with caution and quotation marks. When talking about more easily definable terms, like endocrine disruptors, I'll simply use words without quotation marks).
What are endocrine disruptors?
There’s a book called It Starts with the Egg that has a cult-like following in fertility and recurrent pregnancy loss circles, and while its narrative can be a bit judgmental in tone, I found their arguments about endocrine disruptors compelling enough to warrant further research.
According to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS),
“Many chemicals, both natural and man-made, may mimic or interfere with the body’s hormones, known as the endocrine system. Called endocrine disruptors, these chemicals are linked with developmental, reproductive, brain, immune, and other problems.
Endocrine disruptors are found in many everyday products, including some plastic bottles and containers, liners of metal food cans, detergents, flame retardants, food, toys, cosmetics, and pesticides.
Some endocrine-disrupting chemicals are slow to break down in the environment. That characteristic makes them potentially hazardous over time.”
Endocrine Disruptors and Fertility
Research is limited on the long-term impact of different endocrine disruptors in humans, but because of the known effects in animals, a lot of fertility doctors worry about the impact these common “chemicals” have on patients.
This is a huge part of the reason people working with fertility clinics often find themselves overhauling the shelves of their bathrooms and kitchens–fragrance-free soaps and laundry detergents suddenly taking over their homes.
According to Dr. Lora Shahine, a Reproductive Endocrinologist at Pacific NW Fertility (PNWF), endocrine disruptors “Bind to hormonal receptors and interfere with the function of reproductive hormones like estrogen and testosterone.”
One endocrine disruptor common in household products is phthalates.
According to Dr. Shahine, “Higher levels of phthalates have been associated with disruption in menstruation, ovulation dysfunction, and increased risk of endometriosis. Studies have shown that higher levels of phthalates in both men and women trying to conceive are associated with longer times to conception and eventual diagnosis of infertility (inability to conceive for one year). Studies have shown that phthalate exposure has been associated with poor egg quality and poor sperm quality.”
This type of information swayed me, and the more I got to know other moms in the infertility world, the faster I learned I’m not alone.
Families struggling to conceive or carry to term are switching to “natural” products in droves, shedding lifelong brand loyalties for body washes that are free of parabens, and jumping on the natural deodorant bandwagon.
Choosing “Natural” Products for Baby
And this isn’t where it ends.
Because this community, full of passionate people working hard to grow their families, wants desperately to protect their eventual children from the struggles we’ve endured.
While most of us know there are many factors beyond our control, there’s so much to be said for controlling what you can. In fact, when I polled the Undefining Motherhood community about why they made the switch to “natural” products, one of the most common answers was:
“It was something I could control.”
We’ve learned the hard way that we can’t always control if or when we have babies. We can’t control getting pregnant. We can’t control the health of a pregnancy, or of a baby once they’re born.
But you know what can we control?
- The ingredients in the diapers we put on our babies’ skin
- The fragrances we allow near our newborns
- The formulas we choose for common products like baby shampoo, diaper rash creams, bubble bath, lotion, and soothing balms for sensitive skin
- Whether we use fragrance-free products, products free from preservatives, or organic ingredients to touch baby’s delicate skin
Companies focused on safer baby care products owe a debt of gratitude to the fertility community, who often fear harsh chemicals and crave natural ingredients for their own kids.
Many parents who have had fertility trauma only want the best natural baby products they can get their hands on, and we can understand why!
“Using cleaner products was something I could control. I wanted to try everything and not think ‘what if.'”— Sanne, Road to Rainbow
How To Avoid Getting Pulled Into A “Non-Toxic” Rabbit Hole
Here’s the thing.
Remember what I said about using quotation marks in this article? There are a lot of buzzwords around this topic that some corporations and influencers capitalize on in order to sell more products. And when you’re selling good products, I’m all for good marketing. What I’m not for is fear.
That’s why it was important to me during my fertility struggles, and especially with my children, to find products I trusted to care for my babies and their bodies. But they had to come from a place of caring–about humans and the environment. Not from a place of using fear-mongering to get me to spend a few extra dollars on every pack of wipes.
So imagine my excitement when I heard a baby care company use the words “endocrine-disrupting chemicals” instead of just “chemicals.” My ears perked up, so I started digging, and now Branham’s bathroom is full of products from healthybaby.
Prioritizing “Clean” Baby Products
When choosing which “natural” baby products to use, I considered the following:
- What spends the most time touching my baby’s skin?
- What covers the most surface area on her body?
- What’s reasonable to switch based on cost and function?
- What am I running low on already?
If you’re thinking of making some changes to cleaner alternatives for baby products, the answer to these questions can help you get started.
Just like I love bamboo baby pajamas because they feel so soft against Branham’s skin and they cover her whole body for hours at a time, I also love healthybaby’s good, clean diapers covering her little bottom all day long because I know that they are a safer alternative to most disposable diapers.
How to Decide What to Switch
For environmental reasons, it makes the most sense not to toss mostly full bottles of shampoo, although I did opt to donate some unopened ones that I didn’t think I’d use.
But this was a personal choice–we’re often gifted baby products that aren’t brands we’d choose, but that doesn’t mean we need to toss those products into a landfill and create waste when someone else would happily use the same product.
It’s also much more economical to finish using the products you have at home, then make the switch product-by-product when it’s already time to buy more.
I polled the Undefining Motherhood community to find out what baby products mamas liked to make sure were “clean” and “natural” after making the switch to natural products after their fertility journeys.
The most common responses were as follows:
- Shampoo/body wash
- Laundry detergent
- Cleaning supplies
- Diaper cream
- Nipple cream
These are all great options for switching, and if that’s your goal, I recommend starting with those you’re low on anyway, so it’s easier to spend the money on new products when you were already going to have to.
Plus, there’s less waste that way, which is ideal.
What surprises me, though, is that no one gave the answer that is most important to me personally–diapers! So I’d like to talk about that in an effort to better understand why “natural” diapers are so important.
Why I Love “Natural” Diapers
When I say “natural” diapers, here’s what I mean: diapers made from plant products. You may hear “organic diapers,” “nontoxic diapers,” or “environmentally friendly diapers.” Let’s be real– it’s all manufactured and processed, so “natural” is a bit of a misnomer, no matter how cleanly the product is made.
Here’s why I love them:
1. They’re Safe On My Baby’s Skin ALL Day
First, they’re on my baby’s skin all day everyday. There is literally nothing that touches my baby’s skin more often than her diaper. So if I’m concerned about not allowing potentially harmful chemicals to seep through into her bloodstream, why wouldn’t diapers be my first natural product switch?
(Okay, if I’m being honest, the answer to that question is clear: cost. But companies are trying to combat that. Enter the diaper subscription service. We’ll get there.)
This is why I want a diaper free of all the endocrine disruptors my fertility journey taught me to avoid. I don’t want my baby’s butt spending the day touching phthalates, fragrances, or chlorine that’s usually found in diapers.
(You may also notice diaper companies touting that they’re paraben-free, which is fine, but it’s worth noting that disposable diapers don’t typically contain parabens.)
Second, I love a diaper that’s derived from plants for environmental reasons. Lots of diaper companies have begun touting their diapers as being “biodegradable,” and I was sold by that rhetoric with my oldest child, Jack’s diapers.
Then I learned a lesson that was hard to swallow–when I put a diaper in my trash can, it doesn’t biodegrade. Instead, I would need to separate out the biodegradable ingredients and compost them.
And if you do that, more power to you, mama. But I do not have time to pull apart a diaper and compost only the biodegradable components.
But companies like healthybaby, who focus on plant-based materials and ingredients in their diapers, are at least minimizing their environmental footprint as much as possible by “supporting sustainability at the front end of a diaper’s life cycle, where it can make the most impact.”
Specifically, during the production process, they replace petroleum with plants.
According to researchers, the production of enough traditional disposable diapers to get a baby through the first year requires “50 pounds of petroleum feedstocks and 20 pounds of chlorine.”
As a mama who’s worried about the environment that’ll be left for her babies, using diapers that replace petroleum and don’t contain chlorine (thus, it’s not on Branham’s skin) helps me breathe just a little more easily.
Diaper Subscriptions Can Help Ease Cost & Environmental Burden
Clean baby product companies are taking note of the large number of parents looking for nontoxic options for things like shampoo, diaper cream, diapers, and baby wipes.
Healthybaby takes things a step further with their diaper program, giving parents an affordable option to put the best products on baby’s skin while also saving time and money.
“Diapers vary in cost, but experts advise that you should budget at least $1000 for diapers and $450 for wipes for the first year alone. That’s approximately $120 a month. Parents who choose to use disposable diapers should also expect to go through as many as 3,500 diapers in their child’s first year alone.”Katie Adams, Investopedia
With disposable diapers and wipes costing so much money, and also requiring me to constantly pay attention to quantity so I re-stock as appropriate, I’m hooked on healthybaby’s monthly diaper bundle.
For $130/month, I can get:
- 5 packs of organic, EWG-verified diapers made from premium organic cotton and FSC-certified wood pulp (and yes, they’re super soft and absorbent!)
- 4 packs of plant-based wet wipes
- Stage-appropriate developmental activities
Not having to keep an eye on diaper counts and knowing Branham has soft, comfortable diapers free of harsh chemicals makes day-to-day life simpler and better. And I spend basically the same thing I would buying diapers and wipes individually.
Are Clean Baby Products Right for You?
With companies focusing more and more on creating affordable options for shampoos, cleaning products, and diapers, it’s becoming easier and more accessible to take small steps to feel like you’re making a lasting impact on your own and your children’s health.
So it’s no wonder 74% of people in our community started looking for greener alternatives during or after their fertility journeys.
We aren’t here to tell you to make the change, mama. Seriously–there’s a lot of noise out there, and we’re staunch believers in filtering through it and choosing which battles are worth fighting for you, which also means that plenty of battles are simply not worth it.
But if this is one of your battles, as it is for 3 out of 4 moms in our community, we want you to know about the cleanest, easiest ways.
For me, cleaning concentrates, paper packaging, and high-quality products from healthybaby make life easier, greener, and better.
What clean baby products do you love in your home?
Katy Huie Harrison, PhD, is an author, mom, recurrent miscarriage survivor, & owner of Undefining Motherhood. She lives in Atlanta with her husband, 2 children (Jack & Branham), and dog (Charlotte). She believes our society puts too many expectations on women that make womanhood and motherhood restrictive. Her goal is to shift the paradigm about what it means to be a woman and mother, giving all women a greater sense of agency over their own lives. You can find Katy and her work featured in places like CNN’s Headline News, Romper, Scary Mommy, Demeter Press’s Motherhood and Social Exclusion, & more.