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Are old storybooks safe for baby?
Q: I was given old storybooks that smell musty because they were kept in a basement for 30 some years. Are they safe for my baby?
A: Shelly, a musty smell can be a sign of molds or mildew on the books. In many homes, the basement is damp and poorly ventilated, which promotes the growth of mold and mildew.

When you think about books for your baby, remember that your baby will naturally handle, sniff and chew them. You need to feel confident that these books are safe, since whatever is on the book will end up on your baby's hands and face, and in her eyes, nose and mouth. If the books have mold on them, it could contribute to allergic symptoms such as a runny nose, irritated eyes and wheezing, as well as asthma. Your baby might be particularly vulnerable to the health effects of mold if you have a family history of allergies or asthma, or if your baby has any other health problems. So although the old storybooks are a generous gift with lots of interesting history, it's probably safer to put them aside and not use them with your baby.

It's great that you are planning to read to your baby right from the start. Even from early infancy, reading to your baby begins to teach him to recognize the sounds and rhythm of language. What's more, cuddling with you and being read to is comforting and fun. Reading is also a great way for fathers, grandparents and older siblings to bond with the baby. Studies show that children who are routinely read to from a young age develop improved language skills and increased interest in reading, which helps improve their readiness for school. Just make sure that your baby's first books are sturdy (e.g., cardboard or plastic) and safe for him to put in his mouth. For more information on reading to your children, go to your local library; visit the American Library Association www.ala.org and learn about the Reach Out and Read Program at www.reachoutandread.org.

Finally, here are some tips from the Centers for Disease Control for limiting the growth of molds in the home:
  • In humid climates, use an air conditioner or dehumidifier to keep the humidity level below 50 percent.
  • Make sure the house is well ventilated, including exhaust fans in kitchens and bathrooms.
  • Use household paint products that can inhibit the growth of mold.
  • Use mold-killing cleaning products in the bathroom.
  • Do not carpet areas that may get wet (e.g., bathrooms, kitchens and basements), and remove any carpets that become soaked.
Karen Sokal-Gutierrez M.D., M.P.H. Pediatrician