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: http://theehingers.blogspot.com/2010/10/homemade-baby-wipes.html
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.
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 http://www.care2.com/greenliving/make-your-own-non-toxic-cleaning-kit.html
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.
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.