Poison Slumber

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Years ago, when women came into the prenatal yoga class that I teach, and told how they had just bought themselves a nice new mattress, I thought, what a loving, nurturing thing to do for yourself when you are pregnant. Now, when I hear that same thing, as I so often do, I cringe. I cringe because I don’t know how to gently tell her the things that I have learned; that the mattress she has just purchased, unless organic, is constructed of, and then soaked in, toxic chemicals that she will be breathing in each night as they offgas. Many of these chemicals are known to be carcinogenic, and some are already banned in European countries. These chemicals do cross the placenta, and they do enter the breastmilk. They have been found in newborn babies cord blood at alarming levels. They are not only found in adult mattresses, but in crib mattresses as well. In fact most everything we purchase new for our precious babes are soaked in these toxins – from car seat covers to swings to strollers. They call these poisons “flame retardants”. We see the label and think we are being protected. In an effort to protect the very rare person who may burn in their bed or carseat, millions of people and tiny babies are being exposed to toxins that may be mutating our bodies towards cancer. No studies have been done on the effects of breathing in these chemicals night after night for our entire lives, and our government supports and encourages their use.

I had my first baby thirteen years ago, and my second fifteen months ago. The things I have learned and the changes I have made in my parenting between the two are vast. With my first child I could barely justify organic foods. With my second I cannot justify NOT buying them. Immunization was an agonizing process of researching and praying with my son. It was not even an option with my daughter. I began to hear and learn about environmental toxins and knew in my recent pregnancy that I would do everything I could to create a non-toxic environment for this baby. I began to research and the things I found out shocked and terrified me. One of the worst pieces of information was regarding mattresses. We had long heard it whispered that new beds were toxic, and had been sleeping on an uncomfortable futon, which we wrongly believed would not be as toxic. As I researched, I found out that studies had linked these chemicals to SIDS, every mother’s worst nightmare. When the flame retardants (particularly antimony, arsenic and phosphorus) mix with the fungi caused by baby’s urine, perspiration, and drool in a mattress, poison gasses are released. Breathed for an extended time even in minute quantity, these nearly odorless gases can interrupt the choline/acetylcholine transfer of nervous impulses from the brain to the heart and lungs. That shuts down the central nervous system; heart function and breathing stop. Babies who have been recently immunized, or have compromised immune systems are at even higher risk. In New Zealand, which had the highest rate of crib death in the world, a mattress wrapping campaign was begun. Parents were urged to wrap their mattresses in a high-grade polyethylene plastic. Since the conception of this campaign in 1996, not one baby has died on a wrapped, or an organic mattress. This is a 100% success rate and yet the crib death researchers are not acknowledging this very important connection. In America, no one is telling us to wrap our mattresses and the chemical soaking of beds continues.

In adults the nightly breathing in of these toxins may cause nausea, watering eyes, runny noses, headaches, respiratory problems, impaired learning and memory (ADHD?), birth defects, liver, kidney, brain and heart muscle damage. People with allergies, asthma, and other preexisting conditions are at even greater risk. In our exploration of trying to buy a non-toxic bed we also investigated the popular “memory foam” type mattresses, which boldly claims to be non-toxic. After sifting through many, many consumer reviews, we found that people who had purchased these mattresses suffered the same symptoms, with a few more added – nosebleeds, vomiting, and most commonly, horrible joint pain. Doctors could not figure out what was causing their symptoms, but when the mattresses were removed, these people became healthy once again. I have to wonder how many more folks are out there in ill health who would never suspect they are being poisoned by their bed! I have come to believe that those who are sensitive and actually have a noticeable physical reaction to their new bed, or other environmental toxins, are actually the lucky ones. They are forced into to getting rid of the poisons. The people who do not feel the effects are still at risk, though many may not suffer the consequences for years to come.

What we do know is cancer is running rampant through humans and something is causing it. We are eating it, drinking it, breathing it. Many environmental exposures are out of our control. This one is not. We have choices. An older bed is better than buying a new toxic one; at least until it begins to break down and create poison dust floating around your room. An organic bed, or a natural latex bed uses wool as a natural flame retardant. No toxic chemicals necessary. It may seem like a huge expense - but if you have the option to NOT breathe in toxic fumes for 1/3 of your life - it suddenly seems like a great long term investment in your health. If you are on a tight budget, wrapping your crib mattress may be an option to explore. Whether you co-sleep or crib sleep your baby, a non-toxic night’s sleep is a key ingredient to your family’s health.

Written by Talia Rose – doula and mom of two who is committed to giving families information and more affordable options for healthy living.