The Best Nontoxic Start For Your Baby

Baby's roomWe are always taking care to protect our youngest children, using car seats, kiddie gates, and a wide variety of childproofing products. Consider the nursery, where your baby will spend the largest percentage of his or her time, and look at these eight recommendations for giving your baby the healthiest possible start.

One of the top concerns is something you might think is no longer a big problem, and that’s lead poisoning. Experts say that lead poisoning is still a huge and very common problem.

Lead poisoning is well known as a serious public health issue. It has been studied extensively and is a documented cause of brain damage in children, lowering IQs, shortening attention spans, and sometimes being at the root of impulsive aggressive behavior.

In the middle of the 1970s, lead was banned from gasoline and paint, but it persists in our environment. It was very widely used, and many thousands of houses and apartment buildings still contain lead paint.

And despite all the recent recalls, there is still a problem with lead being present in imported toys and jewelry. There have also been concerns raised about other toxic substances that can be found in baby products and bedding.

Here are tips on safer alternatives for your nursery:

Have your home tested for lead paint

You are likely to have lead paint if you live in a house or building built before 1978. To find out how much lead you have, test your home before you renovate your nursery. Even if you aren’t renovating, have your home tested, because your baby will crawling at floor level.

Most lead comes from chipping and eroding paint. When you sand or scrape paint, lead dust is also created. Young children suffer exposure when they ingest dust containing lead.

It has happened that expectant parents began renovating a room to use as a nursery, and the mother wound up hospitalized with a blood lead level high enough to poison the baby.

If you cannot correct the problem, consider moving. Home sellers and landlords must legally tell you about any known lead problems in any property built before 1978.

Don’t use a pest control service

Pesticides designed to impair insects’ nervous systems can harm the baby’s nervous system and brain.

Try Integrated Pest Management (IPM) instead, in which pesticides are only used as a last resort. Use this simple strategy instead:

  • Scrupulously rinse food from tableware and cookware.
  • Seal up cracks where bugs can get in.
  • Get rid of water sources.
  • Zero in on places that could be used for breeding, such as standing water or litter outside.
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For plain language guidelines on using IPM, see the EPA publications, “Citizens’ Guide to Pest Control and Pest Safety” and “Do’s and Don’ts of Pest Control.” Or inquire with the USDA extension office nearest you. Beyond Pesticides is a not-for-profit organization providing information about health dangers of pesticides and nontoxic solutions to use for different kinds of pest problems, as well as a list of companies that use safer methods.

Families can get better results using IPM than using an exterminator. One study found that a household using IPM continued to see a much smaller number of cockroaches after a month, while a household using an exterminator had the roaches returning only a few days after spraying.

Don’t use wall-to-wall carpet

Carpeting can collect asthma allergens like dust, mold, and mildew. Carpet fibers can retain pesticides, animal dander, lead dust, and residues from household chemicals as well.

The carpeting itself can contain these other troublesome chemicals:

Volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, account for that new carpet smell. These chemicals, including formaldehyde, come from the padding and adhesives used, and are released into the air creating fumes. These fumes can bother your eyes, nose, and throat, and cause headaches.

Most of these fumes clear out after a few months, but some remain even five years later.

Polybrominated diphenyl ethers, or PBDEs, are flame retardant chemicals that padding is loaded with, which wind up in household dust. Additional PBDEs come from electronics, upholstery, and mattresses.

Since toddlers spend a lot of time on the floor and put things in their mouths, they collect more PBDEs in their blood than other family members.

PBDEs build up in people’s bodies as well as in the environment. Animal studies have shown that even small doses of the chemicals can adversely affect attention, memory, and behavior.

Phthalates are used to make soft plastic and are in carpeting, vinyl flooring, soft plastic toys, and some kinds of plastic baby bottles. They can affect sex hormones and have been linked to reproductive defects. One study also found links between vinyl flooring in kids’ bedrooms and hay fever, asthma, and eczema.

Better alternatives for flooring in the nursery and the family room would be wood, cork, ceramic tile, or natural linoleum, since vinyl linoleum gives off VOCs.

When you remove old carpet, close off the room and avoid tracking dust into other rooms. Vacuum around the perimeter and in the corners.

If you really want to have carpeting, use small rugs that can be laundered.

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If it’s not practical to get rid of your carpeting, then clean it often. Vacuum your carpet at least twice per week using a vacuum with a HEPA filter. Steam clean it without detergents or chemicals.

Use low-odor paint

Paints, lacquers, and paint strippers, as well as thousands of other products including cleaners, construction materials, and adhesives, give off VOCs. Solvents in fresh paint have been linked to health problems ranging from headaches and dizziness to fatigue, and some are believed to be carcinogenic.

Look for products containing low or no VOCs. Many manufacturers make low-emission paints labeled as “low-odor.” Independent agencies such as Green Seal certify earth-friendly products.

Even when you use low-odor paint, wear a mask and open the windows. Ventilate with fans and let the room have time to air out. Pregnant women shouldn’t paint.

Make smart bedding choices

Two kinds of chemicals may be in crib mattresses.

Mattresses are usually treated with PBDEs, and babies spend many hours on their mattresses. Since the outside is generally vinyl or plastic, new mattresses emit VOCs.

A wool mattress is a good choice. Wool resists fire naturally. It might be treated with fire retardant anyway, but it will still have fewer chemicals. If you get a synthetic mattress, let it air out in the garage for several days. Then use a wool mattress pad to cover it, preferably an organic one.

An allergy-proof mattress casing will keep allergens from building up in the bedding, or washing the baby’s bedding weekly will help.

Use mild baby personal products without fragrances or antibacterial additives. Use laundry soap that is hypoallergenic and biodegradable.

Both cloth and disposable diapers have a negative effect on the environment

Disposable diapers use up more materials and produce more landfill waste. Cloth diapers use electricity and water when laundered.

Here are the most environmental choices:

  • The flushable hybrid diaper is a system with reusable cloth panties that have disposable liners you flush down the toilet instead of sending to the landfill.
  • Some disposable diapers and baby wipes are made without chlorine.
  • Organic cotton diapers are made with pesticide-free cotton.

Some parents use a combination of cloth and disposable diapers. Many day cares insist on disposables. Change either type of diaper often to avoid diaper rash.

Buy safe toys

Almost a third of the childhood lead poisoning instances the CDC tracks are believed to be caused by lead from toys and jewelry rather than wall paint. The Consumer Product Safety Commission recalled 4 million toys in 2006-2007 for excessive lead.

Most of the recalled toys originated in China. Also mainly from China, 170 million pieces of jewelry were also recalled because of lead content.

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Pacifiers, teethers, and soft plastic toys may contain phthalates, possible carcinogens which have been associated with hormonal disruptions, birth defects, and breast cancer, among other things.

Stiffer standards for lead and phthalates in children’s products went into effect in February of 2009. But dangerous toys may still be purchased, especially online.

Here is advice from the Coalition to End Childhood Lead Poisoning:

  • Discard any brightly painted plastic, wood, or metal toys made in China or other Pacific rim countries. The most dangerous toys have paint that can be chipped or peeled off.
  • Discard ceramic and pottery toys made outside the US, especially those from China, India, or Mexico.
  • Don’t give children metal jewelry.
  • Buy soy-based crayons. The “non-toxic” label on other crayons may not be reliable.

The safest toys are:

  • made in North America or Europe.
  • books, DVDs, or CDs.
  • most plush toys.
  • made of solid unfinished or non-toxically finished wood, organic cotton, wool, or hemp.

For pacifiers, choose the clear silicone nipples instead of rubber. Rubber breaks down sooner and may harbor bacteria.

Try teethers made of natural wood or organic cloth.

Choose baby bottles carefully

There is a concern about the safety of plastic baby bottles, since a chemical called bisphenol A, or BPA, can leach out of polycarbonate bottles. Polycarbonate is also used in a lot of other products, including food and beverage packages and certain kinds of reusable water bottles.

BPA is safe according to the FDA and the American Chemistry Council. But a group of independent scientists is critical of that position and says infants’ exposure to it should be of greater concern.

In 2008, the National Toxicology Program released a report stating concerns about BPA’s effects on the brain, the prostate gland, and the behavior of babies and children, because in studies of animals, BPA acts biochemically the way estrogen does.

Things you can do to reduce bisphenol A exposure:

  • Use bottles made from either tempered glass or the plastics polyethylene or polypropylene, marked with recycling numbers 2 or 5, which are safer.
  • Don’t use plastic bottles for heating breast milk or formula.
  • Don’t microwave milk or baby food in a plastic container.
  • Use powdered formula, which is less easily contaminated than liquid. Formula cans often have BPA in their linings.

Some products have labels that tell you they are BPA free, but products that do contain it are not legally mandated to say so on the label.

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2 Responses

  1. Structured Water says:

    For many parents, glass bottles are the only true, “green” choice since Glass doesn’t leach chemicals.

  2. Having a one year old son and another on the way, this was very helpful. The pest control bit was especially interesting, since we live in Arizona and are scared to death of scorpions!

    Needless to say, we do have pest control come, but they only spray outside of the house. I’ll check out the additional resources you listed though.

    thanks again,

    Brad Campbell

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