Bringing home a new baby is a beautiful and emotional experience for every new parent. Keeping the baby healthy and safe is your highest priority, but the amount of information out there on all the dos and don'ts can be overwhelming. This is especially true given that "green" or "eco" baby products have made their way into the mainstream. The problem is that not all of these products are equivalently safe.
As a nursery designer, a lot of my clients want to keep their baby's exposure to toxins and chemicals to a minimum, but with all the buzzwords, "green" marketing and endless options available, it's hard to understand what the best choices actually are for your child.
Here are seven ways you can ensure that your nursery is a safe and toxin-free environment for your baby to grow and thrive:
1. Choose Zero-VOC Paint.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC's) "include a variety of chemicals, some of which may have short and long-term adverse health effects." Make sure to choose a zero-VOC paint for the nursery. Of course, though, it's still best to keep all the same house-painting rules in mind when using zero-VOC paint. After all, no fumes are good fumes. So keep the windows and doors open as long as possible after painting to let any existing fumes air-out.
2. Buy furniture made with non-toxic materials (and finishes).
Furniture making involves a ton of materials, many of which we don't even think about. And many of these materials involve the use of chemicals such as glues, varnishes, paints, stains and fibers.
So be mindful of "ingredients," the same way you might do for your cosmetic products or food. Look for furniture that is made with solid woods rather than compressed fiberboards, and water-based stains or paints. A non-toxic finish is especially important on the crib since many babies and children will chew on the top crib rail.
3. Choose an organic crib mattress.
Babies can sleep up to 16-17 hours a day in infancy. Think about it: that's a lot of time spent on the mattress! If there's one thing I recommend most to my clients, it's buying an organic crib mattress for your child, since that is the surface closest to the baby's face for extended periods of time. In addition, make sure to get an organic mattress pad and organic cotton crib sheets too.
4. Choose a natural fiber rug.
Especially as crawling and playtime enter the picture, your baby will also be spending a lot of time on the floor. Since tummy time and play time are actually quite an important part of your baby's development, the floor should be made comfortable and safe, not simply an after-thought. Stay away from rugs made from polypropylene or other synthetic materials. Make sure to check the backing of the rug as well, which may be a synthetic material or contain adhesives.
5. Move the air around.
There are studies showing that increased airflow in a room reduces the risk of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome). Additionally, and in a less extreme vein, it has been shown that keeping the air moving indoors also helps to clear away toxins, as it keeps the air from becoming stale and stagnant. Combining airflow with a HEPA air filter in the nursery can do wonders for air quality.
6. Never bring in scents or fragrances.
There's no denying that nurseries tend to get smelly every now and then. As a result, you may be tempted to bring in a scented candle, reed diffuser or air freshener, but resist! These products often contain harmful chemicals.
Instead, try opening a window or using a safe alternative to help with the smell, like pouring baking soda into the diaper pail. Keep the diaper changing area clean with a baby-friendly and non-toxic cleaning spray.
7. Don't forget the rest of the house.
Even if the nursery is toxin-free, the rest of your home may not be. Any products that may come in contact with your baby should be as safe as possible, like lotions, soaps, and even your favorite perfume! The EWG's Skin Deep Cosmetics Database is a great resource for checking the toxin content of your household and cosmetic products.
Part of my job is to help educate parents on nursery safety with regards to baby-proofing as well as minimizing toxins and chemicals in the home. Even though there are more limited options for organic textiles and non-toxic furniture, knowing these things to look our for make the process a lot easier.
Photo Credit: Full Spectrum Photography