Sarbajeet Mukherjee, General Manager, Consumer and Retail Services, South Asia – UL, gives you expert advice on choosing the right products for your baby
Shrinking families invariably mean that a baby is lavished with attention, even before birth! Much to the amusement and puzzlement of older generations, it is not uncommon to see new parents indulge in a shopping frenzy to amass baby care products and accessories.
While most parents wouldn’t think much about spending extravagantly to make their little one’s early days comfortable and exciting, how many actually heed to the safety considerations of these products? Before you pick that digital thermometer from your local pharmacy or order it off your favourite e-commerce site, do you diligently check for safety certification marks issued by regulators or independent product testing and certification laboratories? Did you know that thermometers, even digital ones, need to be calibrated frequently to show accurate temperature? Most probably, the answers to all these important questions are no.
The danger of poor safety culture in India
India has undoubtedly witnessed unprecedented economic growth. Unfortunately, there hasn’t been an accompanying shift in either public perception or government policies toward quality and safety issues —this is all the more glaring in the case of consumer products, including the baby care segment.
In the US, for example, there are stringent standards that manufacturers must adhere to before releasing their product in the market. They are mandated to test their products against these standards, obtain quality and safety certification for them by an independent, third party laboratory. Separate agencies exist to oversee and regulate food and non-food items—the US Food and Drug Administration and the Consumer Product Safety Commission, for instance. Any lapses in these processes, results in huge product recalls and tarnishing of the brand name.
To keep the regulatory system alert, there are dedicated databases that record injuries and accidents in children involving products, such as the Rapid Alert System for non-food products of the European Commission. With such a rigorous and elaborate standards structure in place, consumers are naturally geared to demand and expect safe and high quality products.
This intricate mechanism of strong regulations, coupled with industry vigilance, is woefully lacking in India. Almost all standards pertaining to consumer products are voluntary rather than enforced, and there is no legal requirement for product recall. Moreover, enforcement of existing regulations is dismal at best. It is no wonder that consumers in India are ignorant or unconcerned about safety standards and regulations.
Why should standards matter?
Quite simply, standards build trust. This trust is especially vital when it comes to baby products, given the tender age of the consumers in question. Every year, thousands of children fall victim to accidents, several of them fatal, on account of contact with malfunctioning or substandard products ranging from toys to high chairs. Even if there is no immediate calamity, there is grave danger posed to the baby’s health, on account of toxic substances present in these products. Consider this:
● An international movement called Campaign for Safe Cosmetics 2011 found that formaldehyde-releasing chemicals, a safety hazard for babies, was found in the products of a prominent brand of baby products.
● The European Child Safety Commission does not recommend the use of either baby walkers or baby bath tubs, for the high risks they pose.
What should you do?
While there are no specific regulations governing baby products in India, it is still advisable to check if the product has been certified as safe for use by any international body or an independent testing laboratory —check for marks like US FDA, CE, CSP, FSC and UL. You must keep in mind that these products may not be designed for Indian conditions, and hence visit the manufacturer’s website for operation and maintenance information in different geographical regions. For health devices like nebulisers and aspirators, or even a thermometer, it is always best to check with your baby’s pediatrician before use.
Skin care and cosmetic products are major cause of concern. Choose only those items that are non-fragrant, labelled ‘hypoallergenic’ and do not contain toxic chemicals like formaldehydes and parabens.
Given the increase in cyber crimes, be wary of choosing electronic devices like baby monitors. Use only equipment that is certified as safe for cyber security as well, lest personal details, like your baby’s location is compromised.
In the end
As a parent, it can be frightening to know that you are inadvertently subjecting your baby to harm through your shopping choices. The remedy lies in educating yourself about the potential hazards a product is associated with, thus prioritising safety over aesthetics or economics at the time of purchase. Make it a habit to read the product information before you checkout the product, either at a store or an online portal. Like medicine, when it comes to the safety of your baby, prevention is always better than cure.| MB