Experimental Citrus Pacifier to Help Protect Babies
Alternate title: Lemons and Teethers and Babes, Hoho!
(To the tune of “Lions and Tigers and Bears.”)
Babies are delicate in ways unseen. Our knowledge of their vulnerabilities continues to improve; much has been learned in recent years alone, and more can be expected. Care needs to be taken to best ensure a healthy and long life.
The very young are at elevated risk for developmental harms as a result of exposure to environmental pollution. They are as a rule much more vulnerable than their parents to ambient environmental conditions — not only the obvious issues such as temperature, but also to noise (which causes hearing damage and psychological harm), and toxic chemicals (which cause physiological and psychological harm).
Even the unborn are at risk; for example, it is now known that many childhood leukemias actually begin in the womb. Prenatal care is of utmost import to a healthy life: Not only to provide good nutrition (which allows development to full potential while preventing birth defects), but to avoid myriad toxins, such as mercury found at alarmingly high levels in certain fish such as tuna (which, tragically, government WIC programs have encouraged poor mothers to buy, probably to increase omega-3s in the diet, yet most canned tuna is low in fat and high in meat protein — the mercury collects in the meat, not the fat, so a situation worse than failure results).
BABIES MOUTH ALL
Because households, and foods, have so many new and poorly understood harmful substances, protecting babes and toddlers becomes a challenge.
Ironically, this goal of protecting the young against environmental toxins is made much more difficult by nature, for the very young are naturally likely to seek out and ingest harmful chemicals found in their environment again and again, moment to moment, due to their orally focused exploration of the world and their frequent bodily contact with floors where dusts collect.
On the one hand, it is harmful to keep babies from exploring their world, and over-protection can in general lead to hypersensitization later (for example, to noise during sleep, or to illness if biological pathogens which help develop an immune system are excluded).
Yet dust can contain harmful carcinogens, neurotoxins, and more which have no known benefit and are difficult to prevent contact with. Over-protection then becomes impossible, so hyper vigilance is justified.
For example, there is no safe level for lead, which is commonly found in such sources as everyday tap water, household dust, and of course in chipping paint (lead paint chips actually taste sweet like candy, greatly increasing the risk of ingestion). These everyday sources may contain very dangerous levels, yet the public is not being adequately protected and most are generally unaware of their risk, which varies from home to home and is typically not screened by tests.
Simply allowing a child to play on a linoleum floor may lead to exposure to harmful phthalates, which are endocrine disruptors able to cause serious health effects, particularly during a child’s development.
Cell phones, now commonly at baby level as caregivers talk on the phone while holding an infant, can find their way into a babe’s mouth, allowing highly toxic fire retardant chemicals to be ingested.
Even pacifiers intended for babies’ mouths, and many toys which end up in babies’ mouths, are made from plastic and/or are painted, raising concerns about even those things intended for a baby to play with. Plastics can contain many harmful chemicals including phthalates and nitrosamines.
SEEKING A SAFE NEW CHEW
Babies need things to chew on. What is safe?
In an effort to assist in new best practices, Meggs experimented with offering presumed-safe, organic plant-based alternatives for chew toys, in hopes of shifting baby mouth-time to something safer than floors, doors, dust, paints and plastics.
A lemon was found very effective. Only a clean, organic (pesticide-free/Bio) lemon was used. The pesticides found on ‘conventional’ (sprayed/conventional/non-Bio/non-organic) lemons are of course dangerous for babies.
Despite the potential for sourness, this 8-10 month old human subject (pictured), sporting a few small teeth, thoroughly bonded with the lemon-as-pacifier, preferring it to other chew toys. The baby requested it again and again over a period of an hour, and even left the house suckling on it. No sour-face response was seen, and no tooth scratches were visible on the lemon.
By encouraging use of a more natural object, exposure to random unhealthy dangers can be reduced. The Indoor Exposure Assessment Division of the California Air Resources Board was consulted and did not know of any negative effects lemons might have. Keeping floors clean and minimizing the presence of toxins in the house is of course a complex and important measure to pursue as well.
There is a chance that there are unknown risks to lemons; however, lemons are edible and are associated with positive health effects generally. For instance, their juice is valued for cleansing of the liver. Citrus skin is said to be edible and to potentiate the absorption of vitamin C from the fruit. Thus oral contact with the skin of a lemon, if it is clean and free of pesticides, may very well be harmless or even beneficial.
Additional benefits to lemons include their bright yellow color, their natural feel, their lack of hard surfaces, and their durability; babies can drop a lemon over and over without damaging it. Cleaning dropped lemons of harmful dusts from floors is advised.
There are many, many guides to baby care, all of which are incomplete. Having a child is a huge responsibility; take care to learn as much as you can about being that caregiver as early as possible. The effort is worth it, and will improve your own health and well-being at the same time. One online guide which seems very helpful, yet still misses some of the issues raised here: http://www.lesstoxicguide.ca/index.asp?fetch=babycare
See also California’s Personal Exposure Assessment Program.