Rattles, stuffed animals, blocks, play gyms, board books, teethers. Babies and toys are practically synonymous (and we bet your living room is filled to the brim with them!). From the time they’re an infant, your wee one interacts with a range of toys that are vital to their growth and development. Yep, not only does your kiddo look adorable hanging out on their tummy time mat or cuddling their doll, it’s likely helping form problem solving skills, physical dexterity, creativity, language acquisition, and even empathy.
Toys are terrific, but on the flip side they can also pose health risks to your baby – and it’s oftentimes beyond the obvious things like choking. Like unregulated ingredients in many skincare products, toys can contain chemicals, such as: Lead, BPA, Phthalates, and Formaldehyde.
Remember, our world is filled with chemicals and they aren’t all dangerous (even water is a chemical)! The problem is that certain synthetic chemicals and substances have been studied and deemed harmful to human health … yet they are still used in commercial products due to lax regulation (yes, even products marketed for children!). Babies are extra vulnerable because their developing bodies absorb toxins more easily than us adults. Plus, they put literally everything in their mouths. *cringe*
While you may seek out personal care products for your baby that are free of the bad stuff (we can help with that!), consider looking for consciously-created toys as well. Here’s a quick guide on how to choose safe toys for your tot.
Here are 5 tips for avoiding toxic toys every parent should know.
#1 Pass on Soft Plastic.
While plastic toys in general can be a landmine to navigate, the worst offenders are soft plastics. A recent study found more than 100 potentially harmful chemicals in plastic toy materials that may pose possible health risks to children. We know it’s pretty impossible to avoid plastic toys, so here are some helpful tips:
- If your baby is at the age where they’ll be mouthing and gnawing on them, just say “no, thank you.”
- If they’re teething, look for wooden or food-grade silicone teethers. (If supervised, let them chew on frozen fruit OR your clean finger.)
- Look for those that are PVC-free and BPA-free.
- Prioritize polypropylene (aka PP or #5 in the chasing arrow recycling symbol) because it’s one of the safest plastics.
PS: Please DO NOT panic if your little one has plastic playthings galore. Keep reading for tips on how to limit plastic toys in your home.
#2 Be A Fact-Finder.
If you have the time to do a little detective work (we know most parents don’t!), contact toy companies directly to ask about their safety standards and what their toys are made of.
Also, the US Public Interest Research Group publishes an annual report called “Trouble in Toyland” (this is their 36th year doing it!) and you don’t have to read all 32 pages to get the 411. Their website has it all broken down into bite-sized findings and tips.
#3 Choose Your Wood Wisely.
Instead of plastic, purchase toys made of solid wood that’s either unfinished or finished with a natural oil (like linseed, jojoba, beeswax, or walnut oil). Any coatings or paint should be water-based or food-grade to avoid possible lead contamination. Beware: Plywood or particle board LOOKS like wood, but it’s actually manufactured with a toxic glue that contains formaldehyde–a chemical that’s been linked to cancer.
#4 Beware of Bargains.
When you need inexpensive toys (like for party favors or stocking stuffers), it’s normal to head to the dollar store or bargain bin. Sadly, the cheaper a toy is the more likely it was made with cheap (aka: harmful) materials. When it comes to toys, adopt a “less is more” mentality and save up for the highest quality toys you can afford.
Bonus tip: For older kiddos who really don’t need any new toys, this is a good excuse to introduce other types of gifts (like magazine subscriptions, museum passes, movie tickets, or trips to the ice cream shop).
#5 Research Recalls.
Head to the Consumer Product Safety Commission's website for information on product recalls (you can even sign up for the latest notifications!). You can even search for products you already own using this page. If your baby plays with hand-me-down toys or thrifted items, be sure to vet them ahead of time.
If this all seems bleak, we get it. Remember: there is no such thing as “perfect” parenting. Instead of purging all your kid’s favorite toys, try this:
- Share this information with the family and friends who love buying toys for your cutie, then ask them to buy gifts off of a wish list that you’ve approved. Or to make it simpler: request books and only books! (Probably goes without saying at this point, but make it clear you don’t want those squishy plastic ones.) Let’s be real, most kids already have ALL the toys they’ll ever need (and then some!).
- If you do decide to immediately raid your kiddo’s toys, only toss the non-essential ones (Your baby will be pretty upset if they wake up to find that their favorite stuffie has gone missing!)
- Kids, and their tastes in toys, change as they grow. As your baby loses interest in their current playthings, phase them out for safer options.
- Above all, don’t sweat it! We know it’s unrealistic to live in a bubble, so move forward in whatever way makes sense for you and your budget.
Do you seek out non-toxic toys for your kiddos? Share your questions, comments, knowledge, and advice below!