I’m Back on Mondays with Marlo

  • March 2, 2015 9:10 pm

I had the exciting chance to go back on Marlo Thomas’ show and answer questions about everything from organic food on a budget to what three common household chemicals are surprisingly toxic. Check it out.

Moms Clean Air Force: Seafood and pregnancy

  • October 23, 2012 8:41 am

My latest post for Moms Clean Air Force is about the dangers of seafood for people–pregnant or not. Has your OB or doctor ever warned you to be careful about which fish you eat?

Q&A: Glucose Tolerance and Screening Test Alternatives?

  • October 3, 2012 8:13 am

Question:

Hi Alexandra,

I’m entering my third trimester and know I am going to have to take my glucose test [for gestational diabetes screening] at my next OB visit. Is there any (organic?) alternative to that standard gross dyed orange drink loaded with high fructose corn syrup? I have been avoiding foods containing dyes and HFSC when pregnant and would prefer not to have to drink this stuff.

Best,

Holly

Answer:

Hi Holly,

First of all: congrats! And jinx. I’m outing myself here as I haven’t really been talking about this publicly, but I also just began my third trimester and dealt with this recently, so good timing.

If you’ve been avoiding dyes and HFCS for your whole pregnancy, one drink certainly won’t harm you and your baby, but I totally get where you’re coming from. That’s how I wound up in my doctor’s office eating 47 organic jelly beans at once. Oh the heart palpitations. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The answer is yes, there are alternatives. The wild card is if your OB or midwife is willing to let you try them. Basically you need 50-grams of glucose for the test and there are any number of ways to get that into your body, wait the required hour, then take the blood test. I’ve read anecdotal stories about pancakes with syrup and orange juice doing the trick. Same goes for cinnamon rolls or other sugary treats.

I also found this study about jelly beans as an alternative to the beverage and shared it with my OB who was happy to let me eat them instead of drinking. Keep in mind that while the study says it takes 28 jelly beans, you need to look on the “nutrition” label on the back of the jelly bean brand you choose; the glucose level is different in different products. We did the math together and I wound up having to eat a whopping 47 of  the beans I bought for the purpose. Kind of gross and I would have preferred something else but I suspect it would be harder to measure out the exact grams of glucose in a pancake breakfast. I was so jazzed I left the office during my hour wait and did 5 errands before I came back for the blood draw.

While my OB was open and willing to let me swap where I was getting the glucose from, the nurse who took my blood did look at me like I had three heads when I mentioned I had eaten jelly beans instead of had the drink. Her bias didn’t phase me. I drank the glucose drink when I was pregnant with my daughter, now 6, and vowed never to do it again. I’m glad I didn’t have to.

I know people who are allergic to various food dyes and I think this is a great alternative for them, too.

Let me know how it goes.

Best,

Alexandra

Q&A: Recycling Baby Items?

  • September 19, 2012 9:08 am
Question:
Alexandra,
I attended a Montclare seminar in April on Greening and I was wondering if you had any suggestions where locally one can recycle breast pumps and children car seats as well as strollers.  I found this website that recycles old car seats, strollers, etc.  But you have to mail your items to Texas.  I was hoping there was something more local.  One thought perhaps Montclare can sponsor a green drive for used baby / toddler goods like high chairs, strollers etc.  Though we would need to find a place to recycle it all or do a bulk ship to Texas.
Anyway, if you have any suggestions, I appreciate it.  Many thanks.
- Karen
Answer:
Hi Karen,
Thanks for reaching out. You’ve hit on a frustrating situation. I share your frustration. There are definitely places to recycle items such as those, but it requires work on your part to do the right thing. Unfortunately, Goodwill does not accept any of these items (anymore), but anyone should technically be able to find a local organization that accepts car seats and strollers. Baby Buggy, for example, is local here in New York City, and it accepts both strollers and car seats–but only if the car seats have never been used (!).  Little Essentials also accepts both strollers and car seats.
Recycling breast pumps is a little trickier, to say the least. You can’t donate breast pumps as they really should not be shared from one mother to another; breast milk is a bodily fluid and can contain the sort of things any bodily fluid can contain that aren’t exactly the sort of thing you’d like to share (HIV, hepatitis, etc.)–especially with your infant. My understanding, which I wrote about in The Complete Organic Pregnancy,  is that milk can get backed up into the parts of individual home pumps (industrial pumps have mechanisms that block this from happening and that’s why they’re safe to share). The FDA calls them single use products. I asked my intern Kelley to call Medela, a well known single use pump manufacturer, to ask them what they suggest parents do with breast pumps that are past their useful life or are no longer needed. She got the runaround and wound up calling four times! Basically all of the customer service people told her to just throw them out. Sad but true. She asked if they could be recycled and was told that some parts might be recyclable. The only way to find this out, of course, is to check with local municipalities to find out. So you’d have to look and see what number plastic it is and then call 311 here in New York to see if there is a place that takes oddly shaped plastic parts made out of that kind of plastic. It’s not my understanding that these can go in regular NYC plastic recycling bins. It would be a special drop off situation, if anything at all.

I don’t like this response anymore than you like reading it. A while back a group of consumers petitioned Brita to make their water filters recyclable. I think it is high time someone–you?–starts a petition asking breast pump manufacturers to do the same. It should not be this hard to not add tons of breast pumps to the landfill.

Best,
Alexandra

My intern Kelley’s thoughts on the documentary Toxic Baby

  • August 15, 2012 8:42 am

Kelley and I went to see a screening of Toxic Baby together and I asked her to let me know what she thought. I loved what she wrote to me so much, I asked her if I could post it here. (I’ll admit that part of why I loved it is that interning with me, which isn’t exactly the most gain-office-experience-traditional internship, is adding  a new layer of information and insight to her studies.) And she agreed. Her thoughts are below. If you haven’t had a chance to see Toxic Baby, I urge you to find a way to do so, or organize a screening near you. You can also see Penelope’s TED talk online. It’s worth a watch.

—-

“I had the great opportunity to view a screening of Penelope Jagessar Chaffer’s documentary Toxic Baby. After screening this film about the health hazards of chemical exposures, it would not be an exaggeration to say that my mind was blown.

As an environmental studies student in college, you would suspect that the majority of the film would be a reiteration of what I have previously learned in class. However this was not the case. The majority of what I have learned in class has been mainly focused on the food system and global climate change. Though these two topics are extremely important, Chaffer’s documentary does not focus on these. Instead, Toxic Baby’s main focus was the toxicity of chemicals in products and in the home – aspects that have not yet been covered in my course of study.

The film follows Chaffer and her discovery of the dangerous effects that certain chemicals can have. It was not until she became a mother that she discovered this information and made it her duty to protect her child from these toxic chemicals. The film consults with experts on the dangerous effects that chemicals such as phthalates, parabens, and flame retardants have on pregnant mothers and their children. All of these chemicals are endocrine disruptors and exposure to these chemicals are linked to an array of health issues, such as cancer, many different birth defects, and many more.

Reading about these issues, you can sometimes get very lost, and that is why seeing Chaffer’s journey as a mother exploring these issues is so great. It lays out the information easily for the everyday person and with the perspective of a mother.

What concerned me most after viewing this film is really the lack of public knowledge of the subject. As I stated before, my own academics have not touched upon these environmental health concerns – and I’m an environmental studies major! Imagine the lack of knowledge of the general population in regards to this problem.  And in the film Penelope’s knowledge on the subject only came about during motherhood. Hopefully, as this film gains notoriety and is seen by the general public, we can raise awareness of this serious issue and get these chemicals out of our homes.”
Thank you Kelley for coming to see the film with me and for letting me share your thoughts.

Call Your Senator About Safe Chemical Act Vote Tomorrow!

  • July 24, 2012 1:33 pm

I blew off two hours of work this morning because I was glued to my computer watching the live streaming Environment and Public Works Committee hearing “Oversight of EPA Authorities and Actions to Control Exposures to Toxic Chemicals.” Today’s hearing came right before tomorrow’s vote on the Safe Chemicals Act, which Senator Lautenberg, among others, has been working on for years and years.

These hearings aren’t always the most riveting things to watch, but I laughed, I cried, I even cheered. Too bad it wasn’t on national television. It was good stuff. There were some incredible moments (Senator Barbara Boxer telling Marshall Moore, Director of Technology, Advocacy and Marketing Great Lakes Solutions, A Chemtura Business, to take an ethics lesson was a highlight) and some amazing testimony (I’m partial to moms and so was particularly moved by the strong words from Dr. Heather Stapleton, an environmental chemistry assistant professor at Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment, and from Hannah Pingree, former Speaker of the Maine House of Representatives, who is currently 6 months pregnant and knows more than a few things about body burden).

This is such a crucial moment. The fate of America’s public health is in government hands. So I’m writing this quick post to urge you to call your representatives and ask them to support the Safe Chemical Act being voted on tomorrow. The current legislation, the Toxic Substance Control Act, from 1976, is wildly outdated and ineffective (and wasn’t strong enough to begin with). If you don’t know who your senator is, you can call 202-224-3121 to be directed or look it up online.

The science and the evidence are undeniable. As people pointed out today at the hearing, the majority of Americans believe chemical companies must have unbiased proof that their products are safe before they come on the market, much like pharmaceutical companies are required to provide. This currently isn’t the case in our country.

If you think the burden of consumer product safety should be on the manufacturers and that humans—especially kids, who are more vulnerable than adults—should not be guinea pigs, please pick up the phone. This isn’t about anything other than common sense.

I was typing notes quickly as Senator Boxer posed the following closing question, so forgive me if it’s a bit paraphrased: “Do you believe that chemical manufacturers should have to show through unbiased studies that their products are safe for pregnant women…. If someone can’t answer that question with an affirmative response, they are putting special interest before the health of people, their own kids, and the first responders.”

Even if I missed a few of her words, it’s well put.

Now go make that call, please.

Q&A: Breastfeeding vs. Formula

  • January 19, 2012 8:28 am

THE QUESTION:
Hello,

My name is Helene…I wanted to have your opinion on my little issue. I just had my 3rd baby, a little boy, Alexander. Like you, I believe in a sustainable and green way of life. I have been breastfeeding all my babies but this time I’m very tired and I feel my husband wants me to start the formula. I don’t know what to do because even the organic formulas are not a prefect solution. I have read that most of the toxic products come from the can that contains the milk.
Do you have an opinion on this matter ?

Have a nice day and thank you in advance for any piece of advice you can give me.

Helene

THE ANSWER:

Helene,

Sorry for the delay in responding. I know how hard these early weeks can be. I hope you’re managing to get some rest.

Since you–like me–are so devoted to breastfeeding, are there other things you can do to make you less tired? A lactation consultant can help you get your son on a schedule that might give you some time, and help you figure out when to pump so your concerned husband, babysitter, or even older children can help you feed the baby while you get some rest. Can you hire a babysitter to help out a few hours so you can have time to yourself and to rest? These are the things I would try before heading over to formula. At this point–last time I checked–even the staid old American Academy of Pediatrics suggests breastfeeding for a full year (and introducing solids at six months). Here’s a quote from a report they did in 2005: “Exclusive breastfeeding has been shown to provide improved protection against many diseases and to increase the likelihood of continued breastfeeding for at least the first year of life.”

If you are going to introduce formula, can you continue to breastfeed some? Organic formula is absolutely preferable to conventional–especially when it comes to genetically modified ingredients. I think choosing organic and reading ingredients is at least as important as the can linings, which can contain the hormone disrupting chemical BPA. One way to minimize the contents of the can’s lining getting into the formula is to use powdered over liquid. BPA can still be found in the linings of cans containing powdered formula, but the Environmental Working Group says powder is a better choice.

It’s important to consider the water you will mix with the formula. I prefer filtered for so many reasons, including that it helps minimize exposure to excess fluoride in the water, which can lead to dental fluorosis. The CDC says you can use bottled water for this purpose, but  that involves a lot of wasteful plastic bottles, on top of the formula containers.

I hope this helps and that you find your groove and get some rest. I know it was a long time after my daughter was born that I finally got some! This too shall pass.

Best,
Alexandra

Q&A: Mattresses, Mattresses, Mattresses

  • January 9, 2012 11:15 am

I’m behind in answering questions. So here are a few quickies, both mattress-related.

THE QUESTION

Hi Alexandra,

I discovered your website when searching for organic/natural mattresses. Like yourself, I practice green living, and I was appalled at all of the chemicals when my husband and I started searching for a mattress a few months ago. After purchasing and returning a temprapedic, we are still in the market for a mattress. To what extent have you researched mattresses and the wool, cotton, latex in them?
Have a wonderful new year!

Birgit

THE ANSWER

Hi Birgit,
Thanks for getting in touch. It’s great you’ll be replacing the foam. Did you happen to see this earlier post about mattresses on my site? I’ve been writing about mattresses on and off since 2005 when I first researched The Complete Organic Pregnancy. Wool, cotton, and natural latex can all be great alternatives. Hopefully you can find a store near you that stocks these mattresses so you can try them out for softness/hardness. Many stores do now have them.

Hope this helps. Happy sleeping.

Best,
Alexandra

THE QUESTION

Hi ,

I found your blog, when I was searching for the green furniture for my future baby, so I decided to email you. I’m looking for a organic and hypoallergenic mattress, but there are so many options on the market. Any suggestions?

Thanks,

Aleksandra

THE ANSWER

Aleksandra,

See above — hope you saw the earlier post I wrote about mattresses. If you’re buying pretty much any organic mattress, you’re already setting your baby up for better breathing space in her room. That said, you’re right, there are tons on the market. If you have a store near you that stocks them, head on out and ask questions. Push on them, sit on them, see how you feel. Is it too soft? Soft isn’t said to be great for babies. Does it feel nice and hard? Find out what is being used as the flame retardant and what else is in there.

Though I have mentioned brand names in the past, and have linked to stores in some of the links on that last blog, I’m not overly fond of naming names. Manufacturing issues arise and materials can change. It’s always best to zero in on the materials you want (hypoallergenic and organic), then find a brand that sells mattresses made with those materials. From there you can call up manufacturers and ask further questions you might have. Some so called organic mattresses now have third party certification–an added layer of trust since the word organic is really only regulated when it comes to food.

It’s a good problem to have too many organic options to choose from. This wasn’t always the case. This way you’re guaranteed to find the right version for you.

Best,

Alexandra

What You Don’t Know: Top 10 Ways To Have A Conscious Thanksgiving

  • November 14, 2011 12:46 pm

Thinking about Thanksgiving. If you’re on Twitter and available 11/15 at 10 p.m. EST, join me, Jessica Applestone of Fleisher’s and The Holistic Moms Network for a holiday meal Twitter party. Follow @alexandrazissu and @fleishers and the hashtag #HolisticMoms.

1. Know where your turkey is from — local/pastured is great.
2. Choose fresh food over canned to minimize exposure to the hormone-disrupting chemical BPA.

3. Shopping at your farmers’ market will help you with #1 and #2, support local farmers, minimize packaging waste, and will make everything taste fantastic.

4. Ditch your non-stick cookware! Choose cast iron, enamel covered cast iron, and stainless steel instead.

5. Don’t forget your beverages — filtered tap water and sustainably produced wine are two fantastic options.

6. Reduce waste by serving on reusable–not disposable–plates and drink out of reusable glasses. Use silverware, not plastic.

7. Make stock with vegetable scraps and turkey bones. Recycle and compost what you can.

8. Store leftovers in glass, not plastic.

9. Clean with natural cleaning products.

10. Enjoy!

Q&A: Coffee

  • September 29, 2011 9:57 am

THE QUESTION:

Dear Alexandra,

I have a quick, but perhaps complicated question about coffee for you.  Every morning I have at least a cup.  It hadn’t really occurred to me until recently that my coffee habit could have environmental repercussions.  So, what coffee should I be drinking?

Thanks,

Cynthia

THE ANSWER:

What a great question and oh so appropriate considering September 29th (today!) is National Coffee Day (as if every day isn’t national coffee day in my apartment). The answer is a little complicated and a bit controversial.  Chances are you live in the United States, very very far away from any coffee plantations. This presents a problem for the most hardcore locavores (cough) whose diet consists of only local foods.  For the rest of us who are reluctant to give up our morning mug, there are options, which I explain in The Conscious Kitchen.

I’d like to state for the record that while I am a hardcore locavore, I literally do not put a toe on the floor in the morning without my coffee. I know this sounds bad. If you’re tempted to judge me, I suggest you try writing three books in as many years with no nanny and a small person in the house! I did give coffee up for years–when I was pregnant and breastfeeding–so I know I can do it. I just prefer not to.

But enough about me! The excerpts:

“The key thing with coffee is to source it carefully, especially since by some estimates it is the second most widely traded global commodity after oil.  Think of the eco-repercussions of drinking the worst-farmed beans, 365 days a year.  When it comes to coffee, the best brew goes beyond just choosing organic or sustainable beans for personal and environmental health.”

“To ensure that the workers growing your coffee are being treated right, look for fair-trade certification (TransFairUSA.org) on your bag of beans.  This, they say, takes into account fair prices, labor conditions, direct trade, democratic and transparent organizations, community development, as well as environmental sustainability – the last of which is especially crucial for the rainforests, where a great deal of coffee is grown.  Fair Trade Certified products tend to come from small producers on small farms that belong to larger cooperatives.”

“Coffee traditionally grows in shade, under a natural canopy that’s home to many birds.  According to Sierra magazine, low-quality coffee can be grown more easily and cheaply in full sun, ‘but only with extensive use of pesticides.’  The Rainforest Alliance certification label covers both worker treatment and birds (Rainforest-Alliance.org).”

“Coffee and fair-trade fanatics can compare and contrast these certifications at length, but keep in mind that choosing either over conventional coffee is key.”

Most importantly, if you buy consciously, you’ll have a better tasting brew.  Canned conventional coffee is probably a nasty mix of downed twigs, dust, and floor sweepings according to Treehugger.com.

And remember to always bring your own mug, use reusable or unbleached filters, compost your grounds, and doctor it with organic/local milk and fair trade sugar.

Happy National Coffee Day everyone!  I think I’ll have two cups to celebrate. Cheers!