THE QUESTION:

Hi Alexandra,
I was really interested in your post about buying safe toys for your daughter.  I found this extremely timely, as I’m expecting my first child momentarily (literally; due date is tomorrow!).  I’d love to know your philosophy on stuffed/plush animal toys– most all the ones we’ve received as gifts are made in China.  My husband and I are trying to avoid products made with harmful chemicals, sketchy manufacturing processes, etc. through product research and just buying LESS stuff (which dovetails nicely with our having no place to store it anyway).  Stuffed animals don’t (hopefully) contain lead paint, which I feel like is the concern I’ve read most about with toys made in China.  But are there other concerns with stuffed animals you’re aware of?
Best regards,
Carter
THE ANSWER:

Carter,
Get off your computer and enjoy your final moments of freedom! Kidding! Well, not really.
Still here?
Fine, I’ll answer. Great question–you’re right to wonder. Stuffed animals often contain questionable/unhealthy flame retardants and are filled with random plastic pellets–also potentially unhealthy. It’s difficult to impossible to know which contain what. The dyes are also of concern, especially as young children mouth everything.
When you introduce a “lovie” to your baby, start with one made from certified organic cotton. Usually a company that bothers to use  organic cotton on the exteriors of their plush toys is doing ok on the interiors as well as the dyes. But there is no guarantee here;  unfortunately there is no one standard/third party certification families can turn to to be sure. Ask questions about materials, interiors, flame retardants, and dyes as well as read the fine print when you shop. I also like to consult HealthyStuff.org.
As for the stuffed things you have already gotten as presents, use them for toys when your baby is a bit older. Or do as I did–exchange them! I spent hours with a sleeping girl strapped to me wandering around town in the delirious haze of early motherhood exchanging gifts for things we might be able to use. It was an amusing way to spend the time and stock up–we really hadn’t bought much of anything before she was born as I was convinced we needed nothing more than my breasts, love, some diapers, and a blanket. Plus we also have little room for stuff. Makes me laugh to think of it now. You could also always exchange a few stuffed items for glass bottles or other staples to donate to mothers in need.
Enjoy your babymoon. There’s nothing like it.
Best,
Alexandra