There’s a lot to consider when planning a healthy nursery for your new baby. From floor to ceiling and everything in-between, the choices and opinions about what’s safe and what isn’t can be quite overwhelming. Use these tips to cut through the clutter to help you create a cozy, healthy place for you and your baby.
Deirdre Imus, author of Growing Up Green, recommends that you start with a simple list. Think about common sense things like air quality, objects in the nursery, and all that your baby touches like bedding, blankets, and sleepwear. The list will help keep you focused in the months ahead as you prepare the room. The list is also useful for a “green” baby shower. Place desired items on your wish list to help your loved ones with gift decisions.
When it comes to air quality, you have to consider what’s on your walls as well as what’s in your furniture, bedding, and carpeting.
“One of the first things people do is paint the nursery,” said Imus. “You don’t want VOCs (volatile organic compounds) in any of those paints. Likewise, you want to avoid any furniture with formaldehyde finishes. They can take years to off-gas.”
Off-gassing refers to the releasing of gas that was trapped in a material – be it paint, wood, or fiber. VOCs can be natural or synthetic. Industrial chemicals such as fuels, solvents, and coatings usually have VOCs. Some VOCs have negative health consequences and are regulated. Limiting exposure to babies is important because they’re so much smaller; their bodies are affected to a larger degree as compared to adults.
While some sources say that VOCs off-gas, or release into the air and disappear once the paint smell is gone, Imus reminds that the baby breathes what mom breathes in utero. So even if you plan on painting months before the baby arrives, you’re still inhaling those VOCs. That’s why it’s best to use non-VOC paints such as those that are milk- or water based. Fortunately, these are easy to find on the market today.
One way to find non-toxic paints and other materials for your nursery is to look for those that are certified by third party organizations such as the GREENGUARD Environmental Institute (GEI). GREENGUARD-certified products are independently verified and must meet stringent standards for low chemical emissions based on established health criteria from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the state of California Air Resources Board (CARB). Their robust search engine at www.greenguard.org makes it easy to find a wide variety of certified products from paints to cribs. For example, a crib search will lead you to a variety of choices including www.qcollectionjunior.com, which has a line of products from organic baby bedding to non-toxic cribs.
According to Urvashi Rangan, PhD, Project Director for Consumer Reports GreenerChoices.org, if you’re putting in new wood flooring, consider nailing instead of glue. “Flooring glues are often made with urea formaldehyde compounds,” explained Rangan. “It’s trapped within the product, and it takes longer to off-gas.”
If you’re considering wall-to-wall carpeting, think again, recommends Imus. “It’s a breeding ground for bacteria,” she says. “Your baby’s going to crawl all over that. From vomit to drool, it’s going to require a lot of cleaning.”
Instead, use throw rugs that can be easily washed. If you already have wall-to-wall and can’t replace it, clean the carpet with pure steam. Many rug-cleaning companies now offer chemical-free services. The same is true for pesticides. There are companies and choices that will naturally keep bugs away without adding toxins to your environment.
When it comes to baby, keeping it clean and toxin free counts with everything – dishes, clothing, as well as surfaces. And with babies, there’s constant cleaning to be done. There are many commercially made toxic free choices and some simple things you can do with everyday products, too. Lilian Holm, an Evanston, IL-based physical therapist and mother of two, recommends vinegar and baking soda to clean. “People think they’re not going to get the house clean, but that’s not true,” she says. “You can also use vinegar for clothes. It removes soapy residue and leaves no scent. The clothes and bedding are fresh and soft.” All new items should be washed before use.
Chicagoan Jennifer Zuman, owner of a Pilates studio and mother of three boys, with a fourth on the way, recommends natural fibers such as cotton, bamboo, and wool as fabric choices for everything from bedding to upholstery to blankets.
“In the last couple of decades, it’s surprising how many extremely unnatural compounds there are out there,” says Zuman. “We have to be more defensive now. You can’t just assume a blanket is a blanket.”
Fortunately, babies require very little. The room needn’t be ultra expensive nor extravagant. Think simple and natural. A basic baby bed, changing table, and good bedding go a long way. Go with natural woods, organic fabrics, and non-VOC paints and finishes and you’ll have a beautiful and healthy room for years to come.