Once upon a time, being a good parent was relatively simple. Children needed to be fed, clothed and loved.
But now, every day seems to add new hazards that require parental protection: Scary Internet predators! Indestructible flesh-eating germs!
Now add one more: Poison baby bottles.
Whether they're really a threat isn't clear. Bisphenol A, or BPA, a compound used in baby bottles and other products, leeches into baby formula. Tests in animals show it may be hazardous, leading federal scientists to find there is "some concern" that BPA might harm the development of fetuses, babies and children.
That's enough for many parents to seek alternatives.
The healthiest choice, of course, is mother's milk. But even breast-fed babies may use bottles sometimes, as well as cups and other dishes as they get bigger.
"I've done the research, and I certainly don't want to pollute my poor little baby," said Tampa resident Wendy Andrews. She said it with a smile, but she and 7-month-old Kay Marie were out shopping at Babies R Us in Tampa this week for BPA-free bottles.
Experts say Andrews is doing the right thing.
"Kids today are exposed to more environmental toxins than any previous generation," said pediatrician Ari Brown, author of Baby 411 and a spokeswoman for the American Academy of Pediatrics. "If there's an easy, simple way to avoid a potential toxin, it just makes sense to be a bit more prudent."
"There's no proof that this stuff will harm people," said David Schardt, senior nutritionist with the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a consumer watchdog group. "But it makes sense, until we know more, to spare your children from exposure."
At this point, that's easier said than done. By the end of 2008, major stores, including Wal-Mart and Babies R Us, will no longer carry products with BPA,
But when I took my baby shopping for BPA-free stuff last week, finding what I wanted wasn't easy. The first bottles I saw cost $9 each. The next were glass, which would last about five minutes at my house.
It took a return trip, the absence of the always-wriggly baby, and the help of a BPA-savvy store clerk to sort out the best options.
"We've gotten conflicting information too," Schardt said. "It just indicates how difficult it is for consumers to find out."
Schardt wants the FDA to offer consumers more guidance about which products are safe.
Baby companies are working to change their products and labels as fast as they can, said Joseph Hakim, president of Louisiana-based Luv N' Care.
But it takes time. BPA-free plastic bottles can't be made on the same molds. Other products require extensive safety tests. For example, Hakim said, Luv N' Care's makes Nuby pacifiers with a BPA collar. He has to make sure BPA-free pacifiers can't pull apart and create a choking hazard.
"We have to re-engineer out a product that is going to be safe," he said. "Companies are not jumping the gun."
In the meantime, here's what we found:
• Avoid bottles stamped with a 7 inside a triangle. If bottles lack any triangle stamp, it's best to assume that hard, clear bottles may have BPA.
• Finding baby bottles without BPA is getting easier, but it might cost you. One new brand, Born Free, is trendy but two 5-oz bottles sell for $18.99.
• Cheaper bottles from Especially for Baby, Evenflo and Dr. Brown's are clearly labeled BPA-free, but they sell out fast. At Babies R Us, some sell out the day they arrive. The chain's glass bottle sales have increased to more than five times last year.
• Sippy cups are hardest to find. I didn't spot any marked BPA-free. You'd think companies would proudly advertise this. But Hakim said Luv N' Care is still changing labels. So the Nuby No-Spill Cup I asked him about is BPA-free, but some Nuby sippy cups still have BPA.
• Once you've found your bottles, don't forget the formula. Brown advises using powdered formula. Why? Because many ready-to-feed formula cans contain a liner that's made using — what else? — bisphenol A.