Second-hand and chemical free

A fortnight ago, when my wife mentioned we were planning on getting a second-hand pram, one of her colleagues firmly remarked: “You shouldn't buy anything second-hand – why would you put your baby’s life at risk?”. As expectant parents you’re susceptible to the hard sell and bombarded with conflicting advice, but at times like this asking for evidence can help. Where did this second-hand claim originate? I decided to do a bit of digging.

Car seats and mattresses

The problem with second-hand things is you don’t always know their history – for a car seat that means you wouldn’t know if it was damaged as a result of a car accident.

It seems second-hand mattresses are similarly a bad idea, as soft mattresses have been linked to cot death (PDF). Seeing as a new mattress for our second-hand Moses basket is a little under £20, it’s a price worth paying.

It turns out my wife’s colleague vaguely remembered an article about the dangers of second-hand car seats – but she’d taken it further and decided against any second-hand items for her children. The original article seems to have come from a press release issued by the Baby Products Association which quite openly states it was “set up with the objectives of promoting the baby and nursery products sector in both the UK and Europe.” It’s always worth asking questions rather than just accept things at face value. “Who made the claim?” “Where did the information come from?”

Pure, safe and chemical-free

We have splashed out on a bedside crib which came with a brand new mattress proudly boasting to be ‘chemical-free’. Something that we at Sense About Science have already found is completely meaningless.

I asked Mothercare for evidence about this claim and they replied quickly saying “Chemical-free is a term used in marketing to imply that a product is safe, healthy or environmentally friendly because it only contains natural ingredients.” Mothercare accepts that the term is a ‘misnomer’ as “nothing that physically exists in Earth’s ecosystems is free of chemicals”.

But it’s a shame that Mothercare continues to misinform people by using the phrase ‘chemical-free’ in its marketing, as well as perpetuating the myth that natural is always better than synthetic (PDF). I’ve asked Mothercare to amend this claim and I’m waiting to hear back.

In the meantime it’s great to see Mumsnet championing the Ask for Evidence campaign by featuring it as this week’s ‘Campaign of the Week’. As a Voice of Young Science member put it:  "As father to a one year old I see this area as a minefield of misinformation so Mumsnet getting on board is excellent."

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