Healthy Happy Baby: Creating a Non-Toxic Nursery

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Every new mom wants to create a beautiful little space for her precious new babe. We paint, carpet, and buy new things. All of these things contain harmful chemicals, many of them known to be carcinogenic. When you sleep at night you are breathing in the offgassing of these poisons. What is toxic to you is about 15 times more toxic to your baby's tiny body.

Commonly found toxicants in the nursery include lead, pesticides tracked in on shoes, mold, pet dander and allergens. Also harmful are volatile organic compounds (VOCs), such as formaldehyde emitted by paint and many other building materials, and flame retardants on fabrics and mattresses known as PBDEs.

PBDEs are classified as semivolatile organic compounds (SVOCs), which are slowly emitted from products and adhere to dust that is inhaled. Laboratory tests have shown that PBDEs can cause nervous system and brain development problems even at low concentrations with long-term exposure.

“Most people think that if an environment is free of odors from VOCs, it’s chemical free, but many materials contain toxic SVOCs we can’t smell,” says Mary Cordaro, an environmental consultant and founder of H3 Environmental. “In the nursery, these include vinyl wallpaper and window treatments, foam carpet padding, upholstered items made with polyurethane foam and pesticide-treated wool carpeting. After these products stop outgassing VOCs, they continue to contaminate the nursery with SVOCs at higher and higher levels over time.”

To create an environment that supports your children’s safe development, follow these guidelines on preparing a room for the arrival of a new child.

  • Buy No-Voc (Volatile Organic Compounds) Paint. When these VOCs off-gas, they may cause a variety of health problems like nausea, dizziness, irritation of the eyes and respiratory tract, and more serious illnesses including heart, lung or kidney damage and even cancer.
  • Buy used whenever possible. Besides being gentler on the planet, these items have already offgassed. Yard sales, thrift stores and E-bay are great sources for gently used baby items. Check www.craigslist.org to find what you need. (the exception to this would be crib mattresses, as these are found to be more toxic in each subsequent use due to more pee and body fluids mixing with the poison chemicals and creating toxic fumes)
  • Wash all new baby products with a cup to a cup and a half of vinegar. This removes a good amount of the toxic flame retardent chemicals that most baby products are coated in. You can remove padding from car seats, swings etc. Wash new non-organic clothing with it. Use a drop of lavender essential oil in the wash to make it smell nice and soothe baby.
  • Get rid of your carpet, which harbors mold when old, and formaldehyde, toluene, benzene, ethyl benzene, styrene, and acetone when new. Many of these are known carcinogens. p-Dichlorobenzene is a chemical in carpets that produces fetal abnormalities in test animals. Your baby will eventually crawl on your carpet, sticking those chemical coated hands into her mouth. The healthiest choice is formaldehyde free hardwood flooring or my personal favorite, natural cork or true linoleum (long before there was toxic vinyl flooring, linoleum was made from linseed oil) with natural wool rugs. If you just have to purchase new toxic carpets, or already have carpet installed - you can speed up the offgassing by leaving the carpet in the sun a few days before you install it. If there's no sun, turn the heat up as high as it will go for 8 days. Air the room out before you go to bed and sleep with the window open. Or better yet, use "Safecoat" 3 step carpet sealant to remove chemicals and seal up any offgassing (we did this and thought it worked great).
  • Open Your Windows! Do your nursery as early in pregnancy as possible and then leave your windows open. Fresh air and time allows for offgassing. An Air Purifier may work well if you live in a city or it is winter, your family is prone to asthma or allergies, or you use a woodstove as your main heating source.
  • Fill your home with plants! Many plants have been shown to help remove toxins from the air. For a list of these plants, click here.
  • Use glass bottles to store breastmilk in or to feed your baby with. Most plastic baby bottles use #7 plastic which has been found to contain hormone disruptors. There have been no studies regarding long-term exposure to these chemicals, but a small one time dose has been shown to disrupt brain patterns for hours. Polycarbanate plastic has also been linked to breast cancer. Even the new BPA FREE Plastics have been shown to leach the same endocrine disruptors, and sometimes even higher levels.
  • Don't use plastic teethers. Although many manufacturers have finally gotton rid of the toxic PVCs in their teethers, some have not. Most plastics end up having something harmful in them. Use organic cloth dolls and teethers, or wood teethers with non-toxic finishes.
  • When shopping for a crib, look for one with a metal mattress support. Particle board contains formaldehyde and other toxic chemicals that will offgas as your baby sleeps. If you already own a crib with particle board support, you can use Safecoat Safeseal to prevent offgassing.
  • Buy an Organic Mattress. Standard mattresses are soaked in carcinegenic chemicals that can cause many health problems and have been linked to SIDS. These chemicals are showing up in newborn babies cord blood and mama's breastmilk. Whether you share a family bed or sleep baby in a crib, a non-toxic mattress is a long term investment in your health.
  • The absolute best thing you can do for your baby's long term health is to breastfeed. Breast milk offers hundreds of nutrients and components that formula cannot even begin to compare with. Breastfed babies are smarter and healthier and have stronger immune systems. If breastfeeding is a challenge for you,enlist the support of a good lactation consultant or check out your local Le Leche League. Breastfeeding is the greatest gift you can give your baby.