Becoming a parent has changed many things in my life, as one would expect. Like so many others, I feel a constant responsibility to make the right choices and decisions, in all the areas that impact my daughter. I know I will not always succeed, but I always try to do my best. Luckily, there are a lot of people, organisations or even brands out there to help, with their piece of wisdom, their recommendations and their products – any help is welcome when keeping a newborn alive is the focus of your days!
When my daughter was born, I blindly went with all the obvious choices that seemed to be endorsed by people of trust. For instance, Pampers nappies (or diapers, depending on what side of the pond you are) are sampled in the birth packs you receive from your midwife in the UK. So I duly stocked up on their nappies, at least that was something simple and trustworthy and I had enough other things to worry about and keep myself busy. Can you imagine my shock, a few months later, reading an article in a consumer watch magazine, and finding out their nappies were actually full of chemicals and scored badly in product reviews. These reviews were not based on their ability to retain baby fluids and to keep their bottoms as dry as possible, which is usually what parents look as the key driver to chose a brand over another, but on how safe and natural these nappies were. Suddenly I realised that things were a bit more complicated than I had thought. I had naively trusted big brands to be safe for my baby but I actually needed to be more conscious and selective. Organic food had been an obvious choice for me from day 1, but it was now clear I needed to show the same level of caution for other products I had been using for my daughter, without having any idea they could do her (and the environment) some harm. I started checking packaging systematically and picking up brands and products which claimed to be “organic”, “natural”, “eco friendly” and generally free from things that sounded bad (paraben, BPA, artificial stuff and so on). And I applied the same review to other products in my house.
Add to that I moved from the UK – which is still under the EU laws that I broadly trust but wish were even more strict – to the US which I would sum up as “the land led by lobbies” – so where I expect all regulations to actually be quite more relaxed than back home. It makes it all a bit more difficult as labels vary, and it is not always easy to identify which labels or denominations are the official ones and which one are just a bit of marketing magic dust.
Earlier this week I found out that this game of “trying to do the best thing” is even more complicated! A mum I follow on Instagram shared an article from a French consumer magazine showing some of the nappy brands presenting themselves as eco-friendly or natural were actually not as clean as what they let us believe. These brands, that are sold at a premium price and make you feel that at last you have come to a safe place, are actually not entirely saying the full story about what goes into their products.
So I started to look into the details… how naïve I had been… again! I am a trained marketer and worked for a few years for a big food manufacturer where I worked extensively on product claims, what can be and cannot be said, especially when it comes to health. I know how regulated marketing claims are, to ensure consumers are given truthful information. But it looks like I’ve been outsmarted by some of my peers!
I spent my evening doing some research on what were the safest brands I could buy for my daughter in the US (as the ones with the top marks in the French article are unfortunately not available here). I am so grateful that some parents have been doing all the hard work and put together informative reviews as, not having done a chemistry degree, I am totally baffled and confused by the ingredient lists an would be totally unable to know just through reading the label if I’m holding something good to keep or best to avoid. One website in particular was super helpful and the next morning I had it duly open on my iphone while walking down the aisles in the supermarket.
Hours of reading online to try to identify everyday products that I would feel comfortable using with my daughter have left me so disappointed with the companies that manufacture products for children… and for us! How can they carry on using stuff that are not good or never been fully cleared, but also use marketing tactics that make us feel we’re making safe choices for our family and for the planet when we’re not? As if being a parent was not in itself one of the biggest challenges, there is not one aspect of our lives when we do not need to keep our eyes wide open and never let our guard down? The brands that will manage to be fully transparent and offer great quality products in the safest way possible for our children’ health and the environment will be the ones going a long way. I hope the others will carry on being exposed for what they are – a fraud.
Some interesting reading: