TOP 6 NURSERY ITEMS TO BUY GREEN
While there are many reasons to go green, health is the reason given by most of the moms we work with at The Green Mama. A study conducted by the Environmental Working Group of the umbilical cord blood of 10 American babies found 287 chemicals. Of those, 180 cause cancer in humans or animals, 217 are toxic to the brain and nervous system, and 208 cause birth defects or abnormal development in animal tests. And that’s only when the chemicals are tested individually. No one has tested the incredibly complex mixture of chemicals we carry in our bodies.
Infants sleep 12 to 18 hours a day so it’s important to consider what they’re sleeping on. The average mattress is made with polyurethane foam (petroleum-based) and treated with a variety of chemicals such as brominated flame retardants (also known as polybrominated diphenyl ethers – PBDEs) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) for stain and water resistance. Both the materials used and the chemicals they are treated with can off-gas (release chemicals into the air) to create unhealthy indoor air quality. There is some research to suggest that this contributes to SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome). Either way, it is extremely unhealthy.
Crib mattresses are also often wrapped in polyvinylchloride plastic (PVC), which both off-gasses and contains phthalates. If complete waterproofing is necessary (it can be less than ideal because of mold issues), find one that uses polyethylene plastic instead.
When shopping for bedding, especially mattresses, look for natural materials such as wool, organic cotton, or natural rubber (not synthetic latex which is also treated with chemicals). Wool wicks away moisture from the skin and helps to regulate body temperature keeping baby dry and more comfortable. It also resists dust mites better than any other fabric. A sleep study by the Woolmark Company and the University of Sydney showed that wool breathes better than synthetics, increases the length of REM sleep, and gets the body to a comfortable sleeping temperature quicker and maintains it for a longer period of time.
Make sure to avoid chemicals such as toluene, benzene, chemical flame retardants (PBDEs), stain-resistant coatings (such as Teflon and Scotchguard), phthalates, or PVC. Ask specifically about how the mattress is made flame retardant. Most conventional mattresses use harmful chemicals, such as PBDEs, as a cheap way of meeting flame retardancy standards. Instead, look for mattresses or futons that use wool for flame retardancy.
Pajamas and Clothes
Children’s clothes (and bedding) can be treated with chemicals to make them water and stain-resistant and pajamas can contain fire resistant additives. According to Environmental Working Group (EWG), pajamas are often made with a chemical additive to make them fire resistant. These chemicals used in sleepwear labeled “fire resistant” will remain in the fabric for at least 50 washes. The Products Safety Commission (CPSC) regulations require that the pajamas self extinguish if exposed to an open flame for 3 seconds. To avoid harmful chemicals and meet the requirement, look for 100% cotton that is snug-fitting, preferably organic cotton. Also, read labels carefully and avoid clothing that says: permanent press; crease resistant; no-iron; shrink-, stretch-, stain-, or water-proofed; water repellent; and flame retardant as all of these are code for harmful chemical additives.
Most disposable diapers are made of bleached tree pulp and petroleum-based man-made materials such as polypropylene and polyethylene. They also contain chlorine bleach and SAP (sodium polyacrylate – the absorbent gel). Chlorine-bleached materials may contain traces of dioxin which is a cancer-causing chemical and an environmental toxin. SAP is possibly a contributing factor in the increased scrotal temperature of boys who wear disposables versus cloth. Increased scrotal temperature is considered a possible link to male infertility. (link to source) SAP also used to be in tampons but was banned after it was linked to toxic shock syndrome. (link to source or delete)
Alternatives include non-chlorine bleached options (e.g. Seventh Generation or Broody Chicks which can be composted!), non-SAP options (Tushies), or cloth diapers. Cloth diapers are easier and cuter than ever. Learn more about why you might choose cloth, how to maintain cloth with the least impact, and where to buy (or try on) the newest options at www.thegreenmama.com.
Baby Care Products: Creams, Wipes and Powders
These are things that get smeared all over babies’ skin. The skin is our largest organ and some chemicals can pass through and enter the bloodstream where potential health hazards are limitless. Other chemicals can cause skin irritations, which in turn make it easier for chemicals to get through and into the blood stream. The body care and cosmetics industries are almost entirely not regulated, not by the FDA or any independent certifying organization. This is true, even, for products marketed especially for babies and children. Children are particularly vulnerable because their skin is more porous and their ability to detoxify is limited.
A few Green Mama guidelines for helping to find better baby care products:
1. Less is more. Babies don’t really get dirty, a very gentle soap and water is usually all t hat is needed and is the healthiest option.
2. Avoid powders. The tiny particles can become airborne and then inhaled, which can do damage to babies’ delicate respiratory systems
3. If you wouldn’t eat it (or at least recognize and can pronounce the ingredients) don’t put it on your baby. Triclosan, sodium lauryl sulfate, and “methyl”, “propyl”, “butyl” and “ethyl” parabens aren’t just hard to pronounce they are harsh (and even toxic) additives routinely found in skincare products.
4. Fragrance is a big no-no. Fragrances are a concern in baby products where they routinely hide, often even in products labeled as “unscented.” Since scents become airborne, they are a danger for babies anywhere in the house. The large majority of fragrances (those not specifically stated as coming from 100% essential oils) are synthetic and created with a combination of chemicals that are not required to be listed in the ingredients. Most contain phthalates, which are suspected to cause cancer, disrupt hormones, and cause reproductive system birth defects.
5. Check out EWG’s Parent’s Buying Guide database for product recommendations and specific chemicals to avoid and visit their SkinDeep database to look up the safety of your favorite product.
Learn more Green Mama tips about how to find healthier skincare products and do-it-yourself alternatives.
Things baby mouth: Bottles, teething toys, and pacifiers
Plastic can seem even more ubiquitous once a baby enters a household. In general, we worry about plastic more when it is something the baby will routine put in his or her m
outh. Plastic is associated with an alphabet soup of chemicals, many that are known endocrine disruptors, irritants, or even toxins. Thus when limiting plastic we recommend starting with bottles, teething toys, and pacifiers.
The concern with baby bottles is bisphenol A (BPA), a common plasticizer found in hard plastics that has been linked to endocrine disruption, acting similar to estrogen in the body. One government-funded panel of experts linked the chemical to increased risk of reproductive problems, obesity, and breast and prostate cancer. A second panel wasn’t so sure, but both agreed that there might be behavioral impacts, such as ADHD.
Check out these real world options for safe and easy solutions. It’s best to avoid plastic and go for glass or stainless steel. But if you do use plastic, look for BPA-free or at least make sure to not put them in the dishwasher or heat them up. This increases the likelihood that they will leach toxins into the milk.
Many soft plastic toys and teethers are made with polyvinyl chloride (PVC/vinyl) and often contain phthalates (mentioned above). Look for chew toys and teethers that are made from natural materials instead. Some Green Mama favorites include wood with all-natural finishes and organic cotton.
Pacifier nipples are made of rubber or silicone. It’s best to avoid synthetic rubber (latex) as it can contain nitrosamines, a known carcinogen. 100% natural rubber, for those without a family history of latex allergies, or silicone are safer alternatives.
Design Materials: Furniture, Paint, Flooring, etc.
Everyone wants a pretty nursery and for the first baby, you’ll need new stuff to create that nursery. This often means bringing in brand new materials, painting, and buying new furniture. And with that usually comes a host of toxic chemicals. New products are the worst when it comes to off-gassing. They release VOCs (volatile organic compounds) and HAPs (hazardous air pollutants) that are harmful when inhaled. Often they continue to off-gas even after the smell is gone.
One of the worst and most pervasive toxins is formaldehyde. This is found in glues and adhesives in pressed wood that is used in furniture, cabinetry, and laminate flooring. Buy solid wood when you can and used furniture that has already off-gassed. Also, look for furniture and flooring that has been finished with non-toxic stains and coatings. If you’re buying new hardwood floors, buy them pre-finished. If you’re re-finishing your existing floors, make sure to use a low-VOC polyurethane or a natural alternative like wax or oil. Polyurethane is extremely smelly and toxic and takes weeks to get the smell out. When it comes to carpet, look for the Green Carpet Plus label to guarantee it is low-VOC. That new carpet smell comes from an array of harsh chemicals, some of the worst found in the glues. Avoid wall-to-wall carpet and glues, but if you have to use them make sure to find low-VOC options.
Luckily, for paints there are now many no-VOC options now available. (No VOC is a designation and doesn’t usually mean no VOCs but simply below a certain level). Buy No-VOC when you can and also check to see if it contains formaldehyde. Then ask if the tint that is added for color contains VOCs. If it does, use a light color because darker colors use more tint.
Learn more about ways to green your home and limit you and your baby’s exposure to harmful chemicals at www.thegreenmama.com.
Other ways to get involved and informed:
Support the Safe Chemicals Act for testing and stricter regulation of the 82,000 chemicals in use in the United States.
Watch the video “10 Americans” about toxic umbilical cord blood.
Visit the Environmental Working Group for regular research on chemicals in our daily lives.
Article by Green Mama contributor Kari McLennan and Manda Aufochs Gillespie, The Green Mama. Photos courtesy of Shutterstock.