Friday, March 6, 2009
Is Your Pediatrician Green?
This may be the first time you have selected a pediatrician; if you already have children, you may have an established relationship with their pediatrician, or you may have inherited a treasured family doc from when you were a child. In any case, here are five representative questions you may want to ask politely to gauge physicians' thoughts on things green:
1. What advice do you give to new parents about introducing solid foods?
If their first suggestion is to begin with processed white rice flour cereal or processed conventional jarred foods, they may still be working from a twentieth-century industrial mind-set. To learn more, continue the conversation by asking for their advice about introducing whole grains, fresh tastes or organic foods. Green pediatricians are often conscious of nutrition and care about establishing the nutritional habits of today's babies in ways that are better than those of previous generations.
2. How do you recommend treating ear infections?
If they say that all ear infections should be treated with antibiotics, they may be behind the times. The Academy of Pediatrics now teaches that, in many situations, ear infections will heal better on their own, without antibiotics (but pain relief should be given for the ear pain). The first steps toward sustainability that pediatricians often make in their practices are to reduce the unnecessary use of antibiotics.
3. How do you recommend treating eczema in babies?
If their first response is to use steroids or prescription drugs, they may not yet be thinking green. Often, a better first approach is to reduce exposure to eczema triggers or to gently moisturize the skin. Green-oriented physicians are more likely to treat the cause rather than just the symptoms and will opt for the gentlest treatment possible.
4. What kind of baby shampoo do you recommend?
If they mention a conventional brand, they may not yet be thinking about sustainable and pure products. If they mention any of a number of greener options, such as Baby Avalon Organics, Burt's Bees, or Tom's of Maine, that's a good sign that they are at least aware of a variety of greener options for common baby products.
5. Do you buy organic foods for your own family?
The answers to these types of questions will help you get a sense of their own green lifestyle outside the practice of medicine. Often physicians will start thinking about green issues for their own lives before they start integrating them into their practices. If they have made even small steps in this regard, they may be more supportive of your efforts to raise your baby green.
In addition to conversations with prospective pediatricians, you can also get some insight into the green potential of a medical practice by making an office visit simply to observe. What kind of lighting is used? (Incandescent bulbs are very non-green.) What kinds of cleaners are used? (A strong scent of bleach or ammonia is the tip-off that green cleansers are not yet in use.) Are there any babies in the waiting room who are wearing cloth or hybrid diapers? (This is a good sign that other parents with environmental concerns have chosen this doctor.)
And from the comfort of your home, you can learn a lot about some physicians and their practices by looking at their Web sites -- many pediatricians have them now -- and by talking to other parents.
Dr. Greene is the author of Raising Baby Green, founder of DrGreene.com, chief medical officer of A.D.A.M., chair of the Organic Center, a member of the advisory board of Healthy Child Healthy World and a clinical professor of pediatrics at Stanford University's Packard Children's Hospital.
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