Thursday, April 12, 2012

Planning for the Organic & Natural Nursery

If you haven’t realized yet that along with a baby comes a boat load of STUFF, then you need to check your pulse because you may not be alive and functioning. It’s not just the big stuff that fills your house with clutter, it’s all the small stuff too. And then there’s the completely non-sensible stuff that you don’t need (and never wanted) that people give you because it’s marketed as a baby product and is “cute”. What you decide is necessary or not isn’t what this blog post is about. It is about keeping all of that “stuff” safest for your baby.

For most people, this post will send you into a fear induced tirade through your baby’s nursery, looking to throw out everything considered harmful. Until you realize that EVERYTHING is considered harmful and then you’ll just find yourself overwhelmed, frustrated and angry, and not knowing what to do, or where to start. As parents, protecting your child is the number one priority in life, but realizing you can’t protect them from everything is a lesson in itself. They say knowledge is power, but I think it can cause insanity and obsession. Yet here we go, on another attempt at creating the safest, most natural and organic world for my little baby to live in.

Here is a general guideline of the toxic chemicals that are most prevalent in all of our baby’s “stuff” and why you want to avoid it whenever possible:
Flame Retardants- Many flame retardants have gone through a “trial by error” period in time. In the past we’ve coated everything from mattresses to pajamas in flame retardants in attempts to keep a baby safe when surrounded by fire- to later find out they caused serious health effects and make them illegal to be used. Chlorinated Tris (aka TDCPP) is the most popular one used today and is known to be carcinogenic, cause nervous system harm, damage brain cells and hormone disruption.
VOCs (volatile organic compounds)- found in many paints and finishes. Benzene, styrene, toluene, xylene, and formaldehyde. Some of these are known to be carcinogenic or neurotoxins, causing symptoms such as headaches, fatigue, difficulty breathing, and eye, skin, and airway irritation.
Phthalates- class of chemicals used as softeners in plastics like PVC or vinyl products. Can disrupt hormone activity, reduce sperm count, and cause liver or breast cancer.
BPA (bisphenol-A)-  used in many hard plastics and is a known endocrine disrupter. This can damage male reproductive organs, causing enlarged prostates, shrunken epididymides (sperm carrying ducts), and decreased sperm counts. This can also cause early puberty, miscarriages, and birth defects with long term exposure.
Parabens- synthetic preservatives found in cosmetics and personal care products. Can cause skin irritation, rashes, or dermatitis. It has also been found in breast tumors, and is a suspected endocrine disrupter.

Things to consider when registering/buying for your nursery

1. Padded Products
This includes things like changing pads, car seats, bassinet pads, co-sleepers, nursing pillows, and mattresses. The most common flame retardant used in many of these (about 80% of products) is chlorinated Tris. This chemical escapes easily from the padding it is located in and can contaminate and toxify the air around it.
-Choose products that use more organic ways of being fire safe, such as wool, or look for manufacturers that use safer, less toxic chemicals. Baby bjorn, Orbit Baby, and Boppy all report producing baby products without chemical flame retardants.
-Also because of the increased “off gassing” that occurs closest to time of manufacturing, looking for gently used products that may be a couple years old will decrease your off gassing. Or you can let your newly purchased padded products sit outside or in your garage for a few days or weeks so it doesn’t off gas in your nursery.
-Avoid products that contain polyurethane with the label TB117 that indicates it has been made with toxic flame retardants

2. Paints & Finishes
Look for paints that claim to be “VOC free”, natural or organic, or natural milk paints. These all have little to no fumes. If you are going to be polyurethaning or staining any items in your nursery, look for more organic stains and finishes that use things like tree resin or citrus oils. There are many products like this available for purchase online. If you’re in a pinch and going to your local Menards is all you have time for, choose water based stains or finishes. Water based stains dry faster and release less chemicals into the air. Spray paint also contains chemicals such as dicholormethane, trichloromethane, 1,4-dioxane, xylenes, toluenes and other toxins that can have both short and long term health effects like asthma.
Although you don’t have to worry about buying lead paint anymore- keep in mind that only a few decades ago, using lead paint on furniture and toys was not known to be hazardous. There are cheap test kits at hardware stores that you can use to test old pieces of furniture to determine if it has lead paint.

3. Mattresses & Furniture
The safest mattresses are those made with wool, cotton, or natural latex without vinyl cover or stain resistant coatings. You should avoid polyurethane foam mattresses treated with flame retardants. Some highly rated, safer choices include the “Naturepedic no compromise” mattress or “natural home simply affordable organic baby crib mattress”. Many of the symptoms associated with the chemicals used inside crib mattresses are scarily similar to those of SIDS. Cardiac or respiratory failure being the key health hazards.

Most of the baby furniture found in stores like Target, Babies R’ Us, etc use pressed wood. What this means is that many small bits of cheap wood were glued together into one larger piece of wood. Many of the glues and chemicals they use to do this are very toxic- one of the most popular being formaldehyde. Try finding furniture that is made from “real woods” like oak or maple. Since often these are more expensive and less available, keep an eye out at garage sales or antique shops. A special report done by Good Morning America found that a new rocker in a nursery was off gassing 5 times the legal limit of formaldehyde. So keep in mind that although sometimes more expensive, and less available, they will last much longer.

4. Personal Care Products
From morning til night, we coat our skin in many different products that can contribute to toxic inhalation and direct absorption through the skin. Items like shampoos, lotions, bath soaps, butt balms, diaper wipes, sunscreens, insect repellants, laundry soaps, and perfumes contain a long list of chemicals in the ingredient list to preserve them and make them effective at “cleaning” or “deodorizing”.

-Look for certified organic products and those with the fewest ingredients.

-Avoid care products that contain parabens, phthalates, DMDM hydantoin, fragrance, triclosan, sodium lauryl sulfate, DEA, TEA, formaldehyde, PEGs, or anything with glycol or methyl.

-If price or availability leaves you few options, try making your own. There are many helpful    resources online that use everyday household products like olive oil, baking soda, and essential oils. Here’s a quick link for making your own diaper wipes:

5. Plastics, plastics, plastics
By now most people know that BPA (bisphenol A) is a bad thing and they choose products that claim to be “BPA free”. BPA is often found in baby bottles, plastic kitchenware, and canned food. This becomes a larger health hazard when heated. Look for plastic #7 to indicate that BPA is in a product.
In addition to looking for BPA free products, also avoid plastic #3. #3 indicates that the product contains PVCs. PVCs contain phthalates and are found in food packaging, cling wraps, and children’s toys including teethers and “soft squeeze toys” like beach balls, and bath toys.
Plastics may be unavoidable in your nursery, but look for products with #2 and #5, as they are accepted as the safest and most recyclable.

If by now you’re not freaking out about all the potential health hazards surrounding your baby, here’s a video to push you over the edge:

More Helpful Tips

1. Allowing things time to off gas before putting them in your nursery is essential. It may take days or weeks for some products to fully air out before it would be safe to put them into the nursery. If done too quickly, it will greatly affect the air quality.

2. Open a window. Air quality is what is largely affected by many of these products. Simply airing the nursery out whenever possible is going to help eliminate exposure. If the time of year doesn’t allow you to open a window, take things you’re most concerned about out of the nursery and let them off gas in your garage or outside.

3. Get rid of dust. Get an air purifier with a HEPA filter- this will help eliminate dust that has been found to be loaded with chemicals. Also be sure to wash drapes, rugs, and bedding often.

4. Cut clutter. Although this seems impossible with all of the stuff “necessary” to care for a baby, the less you have- the less the risk of items containing many of the aforementioned toxic chemicals. Go through your nursery and get rid of any stuffed animals or toys your baby never uses and donate them.

5. Don’t add more fuel to the fire with cleaning products. Remember that over doing it with harsh cleaning products will only add more chemicals and problems to what you’re trying to eliminate. The Pinesol smell? Not actually from pine needles believe it or not. There is so much information on the internet now for more natural solutions to cleaning. Here’s a start

6. Start learning more. It’s never too late to have an impact on future purchases, no matter how old your child is. Many of the chemicals listed are dangerous because of their long term exposure. One of my favorite resources is book “Healthy Child Healthy World” by Christopher Gavigan.

My Nursery Story
In my idealistic state prior to creating the nursery, I envisioned a beautifully organic nursery full of organic fabrics, simplicity, and handmade products surrounding my baby. My end result was something far from it.
Sometimes being “crafty” or “thrifty” backfires. For instance… my mom had this beautiful antique dresser she found in an ally a few years ago. It had great architectural lines with great chipped paint, giving it that shabby chic feel I wanted. It was going to be the perfect changing table- and FREE. When my mom brought it up from La Crosse to my house, the possibility of it being lead paint was brought up. So we tested it and of course- my beautiful dresser was completely covered in lead paint.

Now I don’t know if it was just the lead paint, or the culmination of my organic idealistic collapse so far, but this pushed me over the edge and I started crying... crying really really hard. I had such high hopes for this damn nursery, and by now I had spray painted picture frames, bleached non-organic fabric everywhere, and had a cheap cushiony rocker- almost guaranteed to be filled with flame retardants and chemical filled stuffing. How can you possibly start with such good intentions and end up here? But I wasn’t about to start over, so after I stopped crying, I slapped 4 coats of polyurethane (water based of course!) on that dresser, painted the knobs pink and threw it in the nursery.

That wasn’t even the end of it. While doing research for this blog, I discovered that one of the most toxic car seats with chlorinated Tris in it was the Graco Snugride…. Which happens to be the car seat so beautifully waiting in my back seat right now for me to put my little angel in- awesome.

Now we did do some things right. My parents made a beautiful oak crib, and we found a gently used organic mattress for it. I’ve been able to have the windows open for the past 3 weeks, and have an air purifier running around the clock. Many of our clothes are second hand, meaning that all of the original dyes and bleaches have been sent through the washer an extra few times before my baby will wear it. We also purposely didn't get a rug because of all the glues used to keep them together. The nursery still has that “new plastic” smell, but maybe I’m just being overly sensitive.

Putting together a natural and organic nursery has been hard, and some might say impossible. When you add in that you only have control over what you buy, and not what is bought for you- it only gets worse. Although lovingly gifted to me, I’ve had to return many diapers, bath soaps, clothes and toys. Of course you feel like a complete a** doing this, but that’s just a part of what makes all of this difficult. You have to figure out what you want, strive for it, and then be ok with falling very short. If you’re anything like me, no matter how hard you try, you’ll still only compare yourself to that idealistic organic nursery and find everything you’ve done not good enough.

Good luck, and may the odds be ever in your favor.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Prenatal Nutrition and Exercise

So I already admitted in the intro to this series that I didn’t get a chance to do a pre pregnancy cleanse like I had always hoped and planned. Pregnancy snuck up on me and I all of a sudden one Sunday afternoon had to start treating my body like a “temple” rather than a collective pit for margaritas, hot dogs, cheese curds, and beer that I had been treating it like.

I feel it’s important to preface any information I give out on nutrition, that I had these grandiose ideas of how I would eat and exercise when pregnant. I imagined eating healthier than I ever had, giving up caffeine completely, buying many more organic products than I already did, and eating a lot of protein and nutrient packed smoothies. I would finally figure out how to consume those “hippy” things like wheat grass, chia seeds, spirulina, and coconut oil. The following section is a compilation of the ideal and my reality during the last 9 months of my life.

The most basic of prenatal nutrition is the importance of taking a prenatal vitamin. The biggest difference between your average “one a day” and prenatal vitamin is going to be folic acid (B6) content, calcium content, and iron. Folic acid is the big deal that everyone talks about because of its proven effectiveness at preventing neural tube defects with the baby.

Through my research and training, I feel that the mother’s diet or supplement should incorporate more protein, calcium, omega 3s, choline, and vitamin D as well. Consumption of all of this seem to be the number one issue with pregnancy, as many women don’t exactly feel like eating as nutritious as they had hoped.

If you are one of those lucky women who has no problem blending up some spinach in your morning smoothie, getting 9-11 servings of organic produce, 80gms of protein daily, or chomping down on a huge organic greens salad for dinner- good for you! More than likely the typical “one a day” prenatal is good enough for you because of the quality of nutrients you are getting from your food.

Or you may be one of those women who can’t stand to even look at a vegetable in the first trimester and has to rely on getting nutrients from your vitamins. This was my category. Luckily for me, I didn’t have much nausea associated with my produce revulsion and was able to swallow a hefty amount of vitamins to make up for what I ate, or more importantly what I didn’t eat. Below is a picture of the pile of pills I took daily… well almost daily.

I realize that this may look very different than many of your “one a day” vitamin, but here’s what’s in that pile o’nutrients: 2 multivitamins, 2 calcium, 1 choline, 2 fish oil, and 2 vitamin D. Choline and fish oil are very beneficial in the growth and development of the baby’s nervous system, and vitamin D is a very strong immune system support. This is more important for women living in areas with moderate to severe winters and are more likely to have decreased levels of vitamin D. What your “pile o’nutrients” looks like is going to vary from pregnancy to pregnancy depending on what additional issues have arisen for you-  whether it is heart burn, high blood pressure, sleeping problems, low energy, nausea… etc.

So we’ve covered category 1-the woman who actually eats as healthy as you’re supposed to and doesn’t crave doritos and ice cream; category 2- the woman who gets sick thinking of eating nutritious food, but is able to swallow a hand full of pills; and now we’ve got category 3- the stage 5 mess of nausea, puking, and a nasty gag reflex. A couple of my most nutritious conscious friends fell into this category during pregnancy and resorted a taking a one a day gummy or Flintstone vitamin. I am not going to lie to you, this is barely better than nothing at all. But you have to work with what you can while pregnant, and at least you’re going to be getting more folic acid. But please realize that this is not enough if you are able to take more. Get yourself on the most nutritious diet you can and take the highest quality of supplements that you can.

As far as ideal nutrition goes, there are plenty of books and online resources that will give you chapters and chapters of information on what to eat. There’s no way to cover everything in this short blog, so here were a few of my general guidelines.

-When it comes to produce, I am a big fan of following the “dirty dozen”. These are the 12 fruits and vegetables if bought organically, will reduce your pesticide intake by 95%! They include: apples, celery, strawberries, peaches, spinach, nectarines, grapes, sweet bell peppers, potatoes, blueberries, lettuce, and kale/collard greens.

-I also tried to start choosing products that had the fewest of ingredients possible. We picked dairy products with less preservatives like butter that only had 2 ingredients: cream and salt.

-We bought grass fed beef because of its lack of antibiotics, hormones, and increase in omega 3s.

-We bought organic grass fed milk for me only, and my husband still had to drink the normal stuff because organic milk is so expensive where I live! We’re talking $5 for half a gallon.

-Drink half your body weight in ounces of water a day

-We also found local eggs because of the higher nutrient quality, and much lower risk of salmonella.

-I also tried to increase my protein content to at least 80g a day. I got a lot of it through milk, chicken, beef, bacon, nuts, eggs, greek yogurt, and lots of cheese.

-We started getting the creamer for my coffee that only had 3 ingredients: milk, sugar, and natural flavoring.
Oops…. The cat’s out of the bag. I drink coffee…. Every day. According to research, a pregnant woman can have 300mg of caffeine a day. If you are able to give up caffeine while pregnant, that is the healthiest thing for your baby. But just in case you can’t- here are some very loose numbers to give you an idea of what 300mg looks like:
     8oz medium roast coffee- 130mg
     1 shot of espresso- 70-80mg
     Coke- 50-60mg
     Tea- 50-100mg
     Hershey’s Chocolate bar (1.5 oz)- 9mg

So I’d love to tell you that I also avoided fast food and heavily processed white flour and sugar, but that just wouldn’t be the truth. Although I knew I shouldn’t, I’ve eaten more McDonalds and dairy queen in the past 9 months than I have in the last few years. Don’t judge me… look at the picture of my vitamins again!

Again, high hopes here that fell drastically short. I had planned on becoming a runner prior to pregnancy.  This I had actually planned as part of my “pre pregnancy cleanse” or work out. I never have considered myself a runner but always wanted to be. Oh… to be one of those people who goes for a 10 mile jog because it’s such a gorgeous day. I did occasionally go for a couple mile run (usually 2, but at brief moments in my life was at good enough condition to do 4 or 5). But I knew that in order to run during pregnancy, the obstetricians always say, “if you were already a runner prior to pregnancy, then you’re fine to continue running.” Well what was I? I sure as hell wasn’t a runner

I did my best to keep working out at least as much as I was prior to finding out I was pregnant, but that didn’t really happen. I was so tired, that sleeping seemed like way more important than going to the gym. When we got a treadmill, it did help eliminate one hurdle in getting exercise and I resumed at least walking 2 or 3 times a week for 20-30min. I firmly believe that the time of year you’re pregnant makes a big difference here.  The majority of my pregnancy was over the winter, when going for after work walks wasn’t really an option. It was dark by 5pm, I was tired from work, and all I wanted to do was eat a bacon cheeseburger, watch tv on my couch, and pass out by 8:30.

And although I recommend to all of my pregnant patients the importance of yoga, lifting weights, doing squats, strengthening the core and pelvic floor- I barely did any of it myself. THIS DOES NOT MEAN YOU SHOULDN’T- it just means I’m lazier than I expect you to be :o)

For those of you with more motivation and will power than me, here are some helpful links:

Just in case any of you were wondering, I remain an optimist and plan on eating healthier than ever and working out more than ever after the baby is out in order to lose the 45 pounds that McDonalds and not exercising has built up on my body. Haha… another reality check post for another day.

Next blog will be on the nursery and collecting all the baby essentials.