A new baby on the way?
If you're soon going to be welcoming a new little arrival to the family, you'll no doubt be planning how you'd like to decorate or furnish your baby's nursery. The first decisions that come to mind are probably colour schemes and which baby equipment you'll need, but there's another very worthwhile consideration…. keeping the nursery as non-toxic and chemical-free as possible.
Babies have very underdeveloped immune systems so they're far more sensitive to toxins in their surroundings. Bearing in mind, we're exposed to an invisible barrage of chemicals on a daily basis, it's worth giving some thought to how to minimise this for your new baby.
Here are 10 ways ways you can keep your baby's room as chemical-free as you can…
1. Decorate your nursery using organic paint
There are various specialist ranges of organic or natural paints now available in the UK. They don't give off fumes or odours and won't create a burden or irritation to your baby's immature lungs.
These paints are completely VOC-free and non-toxic, with one brand claiming the paints in its solvent-free range are 7,000 purer than the low odour ones you'll find in the DIY shops! Wow! That represents a far better option for your baby's room…. and your whole house, for that matter.
It doesn't look like there's currently any certification scheme in the UK for organic paints so it's worth researching the different brands carefully to gain confidence that they're as non-toxic as they claim and to establish which brand best suits your budget and needs.
2. Hang organic cotton curtains, or blinds
Depending on how confident or talented you are with a sewing machine, you can either make your own from organic cotton, or have them made with a fabric you source yourself. Or, buy from a specialist organic home furnishings company – there are a few out there but if you're struggling to find one that's right for you, Etsy might offer further options, if you need someone to make these for you but don't know anyone personally.
Non-fabric blinds like Venetians can be a good alternative to curtains and these do provide a contemporary look. They might not retain heat in the room so well, nor keep the light out as effectively as some curtains, but they are easier to keep clean and dust-free (just close them to go over them with a soft cloth, duster or hoover attachment). They're certainly more readily available than organic cotton curtains and are often a more affordable choice too. An added benefit of blinds is that plain designs are more likely to still work with a changing décor than nursery-themed fabric, as your baby gets older.
3. Natural furniture
Do avoid MDF, or any other form of engineered or reconstituted wood products – these are definitely materials you don't want your baby to be wrapping their gums round or to be sinking their emerging teeth into! They can contain and release carcinogenic formaldehyde and other hazardous toxins used in manufacture. Instead, choose natural wood furniture that's made with non-toxic paint, varnish, waxes or glue. Alternatively, paint your nursery furniture yourself with the above mentioned organic paint, or search for furniture that doesn't have any added finishes.
Ideally, opt for sustainable, responsibly sourced, certified FSC wood. This helps to safeguard the planet's resources and to protect forests and ecosystems that are reliant on woodland areas for their habitat.
4. Organic or wool mattress
Mattresses made with natural materials will help to keep your baby from overheating – and the dangers that represents, especially in your baby's first year when cot death is such a worry. Do beware though, of toxic chemicals that may have been used in the history of those materials' production and, above all, fire retardants which are almost universally used in mattresses, to comply with the fire safety standards that are set out in BS7177.
I love The Wool Room's zero chemical certified organic wool cot mattress, covered with organic cotton. It's also certified anti-allergy and is very breathable, so it really does deserve this particular mention! The organic wool is Platinum Grade British wool (British wool ensures high welfare standards for the sheep) and has the rare attribute of meeting the UK fire safety standards without having to add any chemicals, nor use any flame retardants.
5. Non-toxic cleansing
Avoid using baby powder or talc. It's rightly had lots of bad press for good reason. Last year, a Californian woman successfully sued Johnson & Johnson, alleging that J&J's baby powder caused her ovarian cancer – she was awarded over $70 million in compensation. Another $72 million payout was made to relatives of another woman who died of ovarian cancer and a further $55 million was paid to another survivor of the disease. Around 2,000 other cases are pending.
There are a few organic or natural baby powders available, but if you must use them, apply them sparingly and take care to avoid creating a puff of powder. Tip it gently into your hand or a cloth, well away from your baby.
Organic cotton wool and ear buds are great for all the family to use as well as for your baby - Organyc are a brand with a wide range of organic cotton maternity, feminine and baby care products.
6. Organic skincare
Your newborn's skin is so delicate and really doesn't need any shampoos or bath products for a while. Just simple warm water is all that's needed on such young skin. Let your baby's skin build up some natural resistance and oils andhen you do feel you'd like to start using washes and shampoos, try to buy certified organic, non-drying and, preferably fragrance-free.
Consider using soft washable organic cotton squares with just water when nappy changing, to avoid any skincare products, although when out and about, organic wipes or gentle lotions with organic cotton wool might be more practical.
Don't be too quick to believe mainstream brands' claims of their baby products being mild or gentle – they often contain cheap detergents which are known irritants, most commonly Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS). See our recent article for more information about organic labelling on skincare products and what to watch out for.
We love Trevarno's 100% organic soaps and Green People's Babies and Children range, who label their products with percentages so it's easy to see how much of each product overall is made with certified organic ingredients.
7. Organic nappies and wipes
Reusable, washable, cloth nappies are popular with ethical parents, not wanting to contribute to the huge volume of landfill waste caused by disposables. Even taking into account the initial cost and the cost of washing cloth nappies, for both your pocket and the environment, these are more economical but they're also better for your babies' bottoms too! They provide even better value if you have twins or children who are close enough together in age to still be in nappies at the same time.
Organic cotton nappies are inevitably going to be the best choice for your baby's skin and they come in designs that are pretty much as simple to put on as disposables.
A cheaper option, still using organic cotton, would be to buy - or you’re your own - organic cotton terry squares and use them in the old fashioned way! There are online guides to the different way to fold nappy squares – with a little practices, you soon get the hang of the folding technique that you prefer – and, being just flat squares of fabric, they're much quicker to dry than the shaped nappies.
You could also make your own washable organic cotton wipes from small squares of fabric, or alternatively, organic cotton disposable wet wipes are also available for more convenience.
8. Cleaning and household products
Of course, keeping your baby's nursery free from dust is going to really help to cut down on allergens in the air and in furnishing, but don't be lured by all the advertising of mainstream household cleaners which are likely to do far more harm than good.
Avoid soaps and household cleaners containing chemical anti-bacterial agents such as Triclosan. Even the FDA in the US has stated that no evidence has been found to support the claims that these prevent illness any more than just washing with plain soap and water. Various harmful health effects have been found, particularly in young children and it can interfere with fetal development. It's been found in umbilical cord and urine samples and has been linked to endocrine and thyroid disruption, allergies, inflammatory responses and is also deemed to be contribution to the serious problem of antibiotic resistance.
Research home made natural alternatives to commercial cleaning products. White vinegar is a really cheap and effective disinfectant, which can be used neat or diluted in a mist spray as required, although do test any surfaces you use this on first. Your home may smell like the local chippy briefly, but the vinegar smell soon dissipates! There are many other natural alternatives that can be easily and economically made at home.
Do also avoid using air fresheners and sprays.
There are some very gentle and non-toxic laundry detergents available too…. try Alma Win's Organic Liquid Laundry Detergent or Sodasan. Liquid detergents may cause less irritation than powders, which might not dissolve fully - and we never use as much as the detergent manufacturer recommends!
9. Nursery Flooring
The first consideration is whether you want the comfort and extra warmth of carpet or whether you prefer solid floors which are easier to keep clean and hygienic.
Carpets and their backing, can harbour dust-mites, bacteria, dust, allergens but, worst of all, a cocktail of nasty chemicals, including fire retardants, all of which off gas into your home's air. Off-gassing in underlay and upholstered furniture such as chairs and sofas also shouldn't be overlooked. If carpet is a must for you, a naturally dyed 100% wool one would be likely to be a less toxic choice.
Depending on your choice of solid flooring, the same is true of the chemical off-gassing of various toxins with solid floors – for example, vinyls are commonly made made with PVC, containing phthalates and laminate flooring can contain formaldehyde. Solid wood flooring, with non-toxic varnish, wax or paint, would probably be the best option if you decide against carpet, teamed with organic or naturally dyed wool rugs providing areas of softness and comfort underfoot. These floors can be draughty though so make sure an gap sealing is done with a non-toxic product and that your baby isn't sleeping in a cold spot.
10. Organic toys
It goes without saying that we're passionate about the benefits of organic toys! As you're very probably reading this from our website, I won't harp on too much about these in this article, as you'll find more information on other areas of this site!
I'll summarise though, by saying that it's worth bearing in mind that when your child is sleeping they're likely to be cuddling and holding their sleeptime companions against their skin for long periods of time. Babies and toddlers also do, of course, constantly put their toys in their mouths probably more than anything else… perhaps even food! Organic cotton toys provide a reassurance that they're not exposed to, nor ingesting anything toxic or chemical-laden.
Of course, there's a whole range of reasons why organic cotton is the way to go, but I'll be covering that in more detail in another blog post next week!
I also strongly believe organic toys are the best choice for babies and children who are prone to eczema. In fact, it was because our own children suffered with eczema and would overheat at night from cuddling synthetic toys, which would provoke eczema flare-ups, that we looked to finding organic toys for them instead. From there, The Organic Toy Company was founded!
I realise this might all sound a bit daunting and some of these tips might not be within your affordable or practical means. We all want the best for our children and it's a real frustration when the cost of keeping our families as safe and healthy as possible is sometimes beyond our reach. My advice though is to just do what you can and work forwards from there. Sometimes it is actually a more cost-effective option to go make non-toxic choices but anything you can do to detox your home and your children's surroundings, however small, is a step in the right direction.
We love hearing your comments and feedback. Please share any ideas, experiences or questions you might have, in the Comments section below.