Childrens' products investigation

Which are essential for your infant and which are just marketing hype?
 
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01 .Personal care products

Mum shopping with child

There’s a booming market in products tailored to babies and toddlers, but CHOICE has found many are simply unnecessary.

We took a look into products targeted at young children (or, more likely, their parents), including:

Being the parent of a baby or toddler can be an anxious time, especially when it’s your first. Parents are barraged with a huge amount of information about what’s good and not so good for their baby. While most understand the basic taboos, a trip to the supermarket can throw the seeds of doubt into even the best-educated parent.

Products targeted at little ones can be found in many supermarket sections, from baby yoghurts in the dairy fridge to sunscreen and body lotion in the personal care aisle. For almost every adult product there’s invariably a “baby” or “child” version sitting next to it on the shelf, often at a price premium. While some are appealing, it can be difficult to tell which ones are worth the extra expense. And with the amount of marketing hype, guilty parents could be convinced these products are a “must have” when in fact, they’re not.

With so many of these baby and toddler products now available, it’s impossible to examine them all in depth. CHOICE tracked down some of the more common ones found in supermarkets to help you decide which are worth it and which should be left on the shelves.


Toothpaste

ToothpasteWhile it might be easy to dismiss cute, mini-sized tubes featuring cartoon characters, make no mistake: children’s toothpaste is necessary. For children 18 months to six years, the Australian Dental Association (ADA) recommends no more than a pea-sized smear of low-fluoride toothpaste on their brush. Adult-strength toothpaste is not suitable for children under the age of six (unless you live in a non-fluoridated area where it’s recommended to use adult-strength toothpaste).

Children’s toothpaste contains considerably less fluoride than the adult version, and too much fluoride can cause dental fluorosis, a condition where the teeth’s enamel surface appears mottled. Most dental fluorosis is very mild and doesn’t damage teeth, and occurs only during tooth development in early childhood, so older children and adults aren’t at risk.

Fluorosis levels have halved since the early 1990s, with the wider use of low-fluoride children’s toothpastes and recommendations that children use only very small amounts of it.

Kids' toothbrushes

Little mouths need little toothbrushes. The toothbrush should be:

  • easy to hold
  • have a small head and soft, flexible bristles that don’t irritate.

Once your baby starts sprouting teeth (usually from six months) it’s a good idea to start getting them used to a small toothbrush but, according to the ADA recommendations, you shouldn’t use toothpaste until they’re about 18 months old.

Moisturisers and body wash

Moisturiser“Aloe-infused organics” and “soothing naturals” are just two baby moisturiser descriptions we found on supermarket shelves. One lavender-scented body wash even claims to help your baby sleep better. Despite such appealing claims, soft baby and toddler skin generally doesn’t need moisturising, according to dermatologist Dr Phillip Artemi and pharmacist Tina Aspres, who co-authored the recently released book, All About Kids’ Skin. They say babies and toddlers with normal skin don’t need soap or moisturiser. “Unless a baby or toddler suffers with a skin condition, such as eczema or dermatitis, skin care should be very simple,” says Artemi.

Our experts go on to say that “natural” or “organic” products aren’t necessarily better than a synthetic product or any less likely to irritate. Some of these products contain an array of essential oils that can be irritating and allergenic. And to be called “natural”, says Artemi, products may only contain as little as 1% natural ingredients.

When it comes to your little one’s skin, less is definitely more. A warm bath is all that’s needed, but for babies, a simple bath oil and for toddlers, a soap free wash, can be added. Following a short, warm bath, the skin should be patted dry. If you really want, you can apply a fragrance-free moisturiser such as sorbolene cream while the skin is still moist, but it’s not necessary.

Shampoos

As a rule, it’s best not to use heavily fragranced shampoos intended for adults on your baby or toddler. Choose simple shampoos that are fragrance-free and less likely to cause irritation when washing hair. Our experts say parents should opt for a baby-specific shampoo as these tend to have milder, lower-foaming surfactant formulas that are designed to not burn or sting the eyes. Baby shampoos are also oft en free of frothing agent’s sodium laurel sulfate or ammonium laurel sulfate, which can dry out hair and skin. But don’t overdo it; scalps produce very little oil until puberty so it’s not necessary to wash children’s hair very often.

Sunscreen

SunscreenYou don’t need a special sunscreen for kids and there’s little evidence to suggest there’s a safety issue with most of a sunscreen’s active ingredients. Sunscreens usually contain zinc oxide or titanium dioxide – physical blockers that leave white marks on the skin. However, they are often in nanoparticle form in sunscreens, making the product transparent but still able to block the sun’s harmful UV rays.
Currently there’s no legal requirement for manufacturers to disclose their use of nanoparticles on product labels, despite some recent scientific opinion recommending caution around exposure to nanoparticles. While this may become an issue, it shouldn’t be a deterrent from using sunscreen, as whatever the risk from nanoparticles may be, currently what we know is that the risk from overexposure to the sun is greater.

It’s recommended young babies (under six months) are better kept out of the sun entirely, especially in the middle of the day, using hats, clothes and shade. If you occasionally need to use sunscreen on babies, only apply it to small areas of skin that can’t be otherwise covered.

For babies and toddlers, our experts prefer sunscreens that contain physical blockers only and are free of chemical absorbers of UVA and UVB, fragrance and PABA. But these are not always marketed as children’s sunscreens – Eau Thermale’s Avene SPF 30, Hamilton Sensitive and Ego Sunsense Low Irritant are examples. And not all “specially formulated for kids” sunscreens are free of them. “Hamilton Toddler states it has the lowest levels of sunscreen active in any Hamilton product, as well as being fragrance-free and PABA-free, but it still contains chemical absorbers,” says Artemi.

Other sunscreens marketed specifically for toddlers, infants and children may simply use fewer possible irritants in the cream base.

 
 

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The Dietary Guidelines for Children and Adolescents in Australia state that once children are 12 months old they can be given full-cream cow’s milk to drink. Once a child is over two years they can switch to reduced-fat milk instead. It’s also recommended that young ones limit excessive consumption of other energy-dense drinks, such as fruit juice and soft drinks.

Toddler formula

Infant formula is designed to be a breast milk substitute for babies younger than 12 months. However, there has been a proliferation of toddler formulas that look almost identical to baby formula but are instead marketed squarely at the parents of children aged one to three years instead.

As a response to the World Health Organization’s code for marketing infant formula, in 1992 Australia developed a voluntary, self-regulatory code of conduct for manufacturers and importers of infant formula. Signatories are restricted as to how they promote infant formula, however, toddler formula falls outside the scope of the code and marketing hype abounds.

Advertising for Heinz’s Nurture Gold toddler milk claims “adventurous toddlers can sometimes be so busy exploring that they can be distracted from eating. You can be sure your toddler is getting the goodness of cow’s milk plus the vitamins and minerals such as iron, iodine and zinc, probiotics, prebiotics and omega-3 DHA."

With spin like this, parents could be forgiven for thinking they’re depriving their toddler of valuable nutrients if they don’t give them toddler milk – but this simply isn’t the case. Paediatric dietitian Kate Di Prima says that while toddler milk could be used as a very short-term solution for children who may be malnourished after an illness, it’s not necessary for healthy toddlers.

Many toddlers can be fussy eaters, but this doesn’t mean they’re getting inadequate nutrition or they need toddler milk. As well as being an expensive way of providing nutrients easily obtained from food, excessive consumption of these types of milk can set up problems further down the track. Too much can fill a child’s small stomach and make him or her reluctant to try food, and it can also contribute to constipation. Unless you’ve been otherwise advised by your GP or health professional, give toddler formula a wide berth.

Juice

JuiceIdeally, babies and toddlers are better off drinking only milk and water, but for many little people sweet and tasty juice is a favourite. We found products such as Nutricia Golden Circle Hint of Juice and Heinz Summer fruit drinks, which are designed for babies six months and older. While these drinks don’t have any added sugar, they’re little more than very watered down fruit juice. They’re certainly not necessary, and at more than $3 for six small packs, they’re not economical either.

If you really want to give your child juice, it would be cheaper and more practical to give them a small splash of fresh juice mixed with water in a cup. Or even better, says DiPrima, “don’t even go there in the first place – juice is not a necessity”.

All toddlers and babies need a variety of healthy snacks throughout the day, and finger foods are an important part of a toddler’s diet, especially in their second year. It’s also an important time for parents to help develop their child’s taste for healthy foods by offering a wide range of flavours and textures.

Baby foods formulated for infants up to 12 months and toddler foods aimed at children aged one to three years are governed by specific food regulations, however, some of these products aren’t necessarily different from snacks made for older children or adults. Products packaged with “kid friendly” messages aren’t guaranteed to be healthy for your child. Just avoid products high in saturated fat, added sugars and salt (labelled as sodium). Dietitian and spokesperson for the Dietitians Association of Australia, Clare Evangelista, says parents need to take a proactive role in reading nutrition panels when looking for snacks for their children. “Parents can save a lot of money looking for regular products with low levels of sodium and/or sugar rather than buying the kid version, and this way the whole family consumes a healthy diet, not just the toddler.”

Savoury Snacks

Kids fruit snackSavoury crackers, biscuits and cheese sticks in small, easy-to-hold and oft en individually wrapped portions can be a lifesaver when you’re out and about with a hungry child. The danger with many of these snacks, however, is high levels of fat and sodium – with sodium being the dietitians’ major concern. The Nutrient Reference Values for Australia and New Zealand state that toddlers aged one to three shouldn’t have more than 1000mg of sodium per day, so check the nutritional panel on the pack. Even something as apparently innocent as cheese can be loaded with salt; a 20g Kraft Dairybites Cheestik contains more than 30% of a toddler’s upper daily limit for sodium.

Not all child-friendly savoury snacks are loaded with salt and fat. Heinz Little Kids Cheesymite Bread Sticks, for example, which are designed for children aged one to three years, have moderate levels of fat and sodium, lower than many other savoury snacks. However regular Sakata Plain Rice Crackers are lower in fat, sugar and sodium, will appeal to the whole family, and pricewise will give you a lot more biscuit for your buck.

Sweet snacks

Baby muesli bars, tiny biscuits, fruit bars and even baby yoghurt are all waiting to appeal to your baby’s sweet tooth, even if he or she doesn’t have any yet. While it’s not possible to list every product in this category, there are some rules of thumb when considering sweet treats. Your average, active three-year old shouldn’t be having more than about 74g of sugar per day. When you consider that a couple of pieces of fruit and a cup of milk could contribute about 40g of sugar, there’s not a lot of (wiggle) room left for sweet snacks.

The products DiPrima particularly dislikes are strapstyle fruit bars, which she says are just concentrated fruit sugar in a gum-like consistency without the benefit of fibre that comes in fresh fruit. They can also stick to the teeth and contribute to dental caries.

Yoghurts may seem like a healthier option, but it pays to read the pack as many yoghurts contain quite a lot of sugar. Even babies have their own yoghurt. Aimed at the six months-plus market, Yoplait’s baby yoghurt claims to have a texture close to breast milk that is gentle on little tummies and clings to the spoon, making it easy to eat. While technically it doesn’t include added sugar, apple juice contributes to its 14.4% sugar content and it costs a lot more than a serve of natural yoghurt with some puréed fresh fruit added.

Evangelista says parents should bear in mind that just because a product is marketed specifically for children it doesn’t mean your child needs it. Her basic rule is, “if you don’t normally eat it, there’s a good chance your child doesn’t need it either”.

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