OMG! So exciting! Little One is on their way & you want an Insta-worthy, Pinterest- loving nursery… who doesn’t?! But before you rush out and spend up a storm, remember that not everything that is pretty is good. So many synthetic materials are loaded with harmful chemicals- Imagine, a noxious soup of carcinogens, endocrine, thyroid and immune system disruptors, allergens, neurotoxins and so much more delivered straight to your baby’s developing brain and body! Creating a natural nursery will be far healthier and safer for bubs… and can still be droolalicious Instaworthy!
Before I start, I’m going to talk about VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) & vinyl/PVC quite a bit so, instead of boringly repeating myself, read the health impacts of these two nasties at the end of the blog
- Walls: Low/no VOC paints & wallpaper
- Flooring: Natural fibres, hard floors or low VOC carpeting
- Air quality: Plants, ventilation & no air fresheners
- Mattresses: Natural fibers
- Bedding, clothes & other cloth: Natural fibers and organic where you can.
- Toys: Wood, cloth and silicone.
- Nappies & wipes: Re-usable cloth nappies & wipes
- Cleaning: Natural cleaners, be careful of greenwashing
- Re-use: Not everything needs to be new
- VOCs and Vinyl/PVC
Back in the day, it was normal for paint to contain lead – what the hell?! So, if you have an older home, get your paint tested and make it safe (use professionals) as lead has serious health impacts. Don’t be fooled by a nice-looking paint job, that lead paint could be lurking behind decades of garish colours and 70s wallpaper.
All regular paint emits VOCs, the fresher the paint, the higher the VOC count. If you are redecorating. use no/low VOC paint and paint at least a month before baby arrives… If you’re pregnant, don’t DIY- get someone else to do it.
Wallpaper has other toxins apart from VOCs. Popular and cheaper wallpaper uses vinyl/PVC, which is the Poison Plastic! It’s the most harmful plastic to both humans and the environment! Choose natural fibre wallpaper which does not contain anti-microbials or chemical fire-retardants and use no/low VOC adhesive.
If your nursery floor is hard eg wood or tiles, it’s unlikely that you’ll change it because that’s a freaking major! You could add a rug, which is great for head bumps, bad for vomits. Natural fibres are safe and healthy.
If you have carpet, you have the VOC issue again. Carpets older than 5 years have mostly off-gassed but newer carpet will still be releasing VOCs. The newer, the higher the count. If you plan on replacing the carpet, use low VOC carpet, wool being the best as it biodegrades at the end of its life whereas synthetic materials contribute to the waste problem. Air out carpets before installing and install at least a few months before baby arrives.
Stepping outside of the nursery just quickly- don’t use vinyl flooring anywhere that baby will crawl. Remember- vinyl is the Poison Plastic! Linoleum looks like vinyl but is safe as it’s made from all-natural materials.
Children are more susceptible to air pollutants as they breathe faster & take in more polluted air relative to their weight.
Add clean air plants to your nursery and home- NASA studied common house plants in 1989 & confirmed that plants help filter the air of the 3 most common VOCs. For best results, expose the soil as the micro-organisms within are part of this filtration process. But beware that a lot of common house plants are mildly toxic to pets and children if eaten and all can be a choking hazard so place plants out of reach.
You may want to create a lovely smelling room but steer clear of air fresheners. They contain fragrances which are ‘trade secrets’ so the chemicals don’t have to be listed. You’re therefore playing Russian Roulette; spin the barrel and you could have a safe one or an immune system toxin, developmental and reproductive toxin, respiratory toxin, neurotoxin, carcinogen or endocrine disruptor.
It’s better to use pure essential oils but be safe. Essential oils are powerful and a lot of EO’s are not suitable for babies at all, so check our blog on safe use, written by a highly-qualified professional. If we don’t cover something, get advise from a qualified professional and not a sales person.
Fresh air- open those windows and get rid of the stale air. Mould is a big problem in New Zealand and airing rooms regularly helps to keep the room mould-free.
Babies spend about 10-14 hours per day sleeping in the first few months… 14 hours up close to a toxic concoction impacting them with every breath. A 2014 study conducted found that body heat increases VOC emissions from mattresses and these emissions are strongest in the infant’s immediate breathing zone- up to 21 times more than the rest of the room!
The most common foam for baby mattresses is petroleum-based polyurethane. Polyurethane is made when methylene diphenyl diisocyanate (MDI) and toluene diisocyanate (TDI) reacting with polyols. These chemicals, individually, are highly toxic and workers in the factories wear full-body protective gear and respirators. The production process was identified by the EPA as a major contributor to hazardous air pollution. When you receive the product, it as apparently ‘stable’ but it releases toxic VOCs.
Petroleum based foams are highly flammable- think throwing a match in a can of petrol! There are hundreds of different types of fire retardants and all are either suspected or proven to be harmful to health, specifically babies. The most commonly used fire retardants can lead to endocrine disruption, developmental issues and neurological issues in children.
Studies have linked overheating to an increased risk of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome). Babies can’t regulate their body temperatures well. Combine this with synthetic fabrics which don’t breathe and a baby can easily overheat. Fleece pj’s and blankets give me the heeby-jeebies for this reason and should be banned! Merino is ideal for sleeping as it breathes.
Fleece, polyester, acrylic and nylon are all derivatives of petroleum, as is plastic. They are made up of combining highly toxic monomers into stable polymers. The problem is that not all the monomers are converted and are left in the materials to leech into skin. These can be carcinogenic, disrupt hormones and cause skin irritations. As these materials are highly flammable, they are often treated with flame retardants- as if you didn’t have enough chemicals on you already!
Always wash new materials before using as they hold onto excess dye, as well as the pesticides used in transporting from the factory and warehousing. Add ½ cup baking soda to your wash to help strip the residue.
Organic materials are better for the environment. Regular cotton growing takes quite a toll on the environment but unfortunately organic is pricier and not everyone can afford it. If you can’t, or don’t want to, buy organic then look for the BCI (Better Cotton Initative) label – they are working with cotton farmers on being more sustainable and reducing their impact on the environment and are having some great results.
Plastic toys can contain phthalates, BPA, BPS, PVC or lead. Of these, only BPA is on people’s radars & some products come with a ‘BPA Free’ sticker…. What about the other toxins? These slowly leach out, waiting for your baby to touch or suck the toy and can cause all manor of harm; endocrine disruption, developmental issues and cancer.
Natural material toys are also simpler, they don’t have the electronics, noises and flashing lights of plastic toys. This may seem more boring but research shows that these are better for developing brains because it stimulates creative play and the need to use imagination.
Billions of toys land up in landfill every year as most modern toys can’t be recycled, they are made of mixed materials. Wood, cotton and natural fibres can last for generations and are then compostable. Silicone does not compost but it also does not break down into microplastics or leach harmful chemicals into the environment.
I could write a book on this subject!
Disposable nappies have the dual issue of landfill waste (about 6,000 nappies per baby!!!) and chemicals in them touching that delicate skin. They contain absorbent gels, dyes, phthalates, by-products from bleaching and concoctions to create fragrances. These contain endocrine-, neuro-, and respiratory toxins and carcinogens. Manufacturers state that the levels are acceptable, but smoking was also acceptable and safe!
On the odd occasion I’ve had to use disposable wipes and I find them so ineffective- you need way more than 1 for poo nappies, they bunch up and fingers are super close to the icky stuff. Cloth seems to ‘grab’ the poo and my fingers feel safer.
Using cloth nappies and wipes can save you a truckload of money- more than enough to spend on that super trendy wooden play castle. Over the nappy life of 1 child (2.5 years), you could save around $4,600. Hell, that’s a holiday!
Another bonus- in the 8 months I have used cloth and just plain water for cleaning, my little one has never once had nappy rash.
Don’t go to all the trouble of detoxing your nursery and then undo your hard work by using conventional cleaning products. These cleaning products can leave residues on surfaces which your baby will suck (and they suck on any & everything!) or linger in the air which their teeny-tiny little baby lungs will breathe in.
Buy eco-friendly cleaners but be careful of greenwashing. Products labelled eco-friendly can still contain harmful chemicals, both to humans & the environment as there is no regulation of these claims. Or make your own & save some moolah – the internet is full of easy recipes; vinegar, baking soda and tea tree oil will pretty much clean anything! (Don’t use tea-tree oil if baby is under 3 months)
I know- as an online shop I’m hurting myself by saying this, but it’s gotta be said. You don’t need to buy everything new.
- Reuse what you already have eg put a change pad on top of a chest of drawers instead of buying a change table
- If you buy new, buy so that you can re-use in your home eg a nursing chair that also looks fab in the lounge
- If buying new, buy quality which lasts so that you can pass on to other families when you’re done
- Don’t disregard hand-me-downs. Babies grow so quickly that sometimes they will only wear an item a few times before they’ve outgrown it. You can save yourself a fortune by being in a hand-me-down chain
Volatile Organic Compounds- VOC’s
VOCs are chemical gasses emitted from solids or liquids and are very common in household products. Individual items release VOCs within the acceptable limit, but the compound effect of everything in the home is not considered. Health affects may include eye, nose, throat and skin irritation, headaches, loss of coordination, fatigue, dizziness, nausea, thyroid disruption, reproductive and neurodevelopmental problems, immune suppression and cancer.
Polyvinyl chloride can be hard or made flexible by adding plasticizers such as phthalates. It is incredibly harmful to the environment and to people due to the high use of chlorine in the production. Chlorine toxicity is linked to infertility, immune system damage, impaired childhood development, hormone disruption and cancer. A by-product of chlorine based chemicals is dioxins, one of the most toxic chemicals ever produced. The EPA states that there is no acceptable level of dioxins and health impacts include reproductive and developmental problems, damage to the immune system, interference with hormones and causing cancer.
Better for your little one, Better for the planet
Header photo credit to IG @mikaedmundson
This article was published in The Natural Parent Magazine on 25.05.20