Your Baby’s Environment
Excerpted from Grow Healthy. Grow Happy. The Whole Baby Guide.,
by Becky Cannon, president and founder of i play., Inc.
It can be fun and satisfying to prepare a safe, comfortable nest for your baby. When you put together her nursery or other space, you may consider colors, shapes, and feelings that will make your baby’s environment visually appealing and suited to her personality.
Safety locks and gates help set parameters, and furniture and storage containers control clutter, create order, and allow space for her to move comfortably and discover.
You can nurture your baby toward a radiant life by being mindful of ingredients and materials that could be toxic or disruptive to her, both in your baby’s environment in your home and outdoors. Your baby is most likely sensitive to ingredients in cleaning products, materials in furniture, and fertilizers in your yard. She absorbs these substances into her system through passive contact with her skin, putting objects into her mouth, and breathing.
You can use the following list as a reference for keeping the inside of your home toxin-free and safely exploring nature with your child.
Inside Your Home
For your baby’s first few months, she will probably spend most of her time inside your house, unless she goes to child care. The air that she breathes is a form of nourishment for her. You can help maintain healthy air quality by looking around your home and considering the scent of your environment. Take stock of your baby’s environment inside your home by looking at the cleaning products that you use, your home improvements and furnishings, and your electronics.
Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are emitted as gases from certain solids or liquids. They include a variety of chemicals, some of which may have adverse short- and long-term health effects. Because of their small size and rapidly developing bodies, babies and children are especially susceptible to VOCs. It is likely that you will find VOCs in chemical fragrances from room air fresheners and scented candles; odors from paints, furniture, cleaning supplies, dry-cleaning substances, copiers, and printers; and art supplies such as permanent markers. Other forms of air pollution inside your home may include tobacco smoke and indoor allergens such as pet dander, dust mites, and mold.
You can naturally freshen the air quality of your baby’s environment in your home with good ventilation, which is partly dependent on the weather. Open a window in warm weather, and use a humidifier in the winter. Bring in fresh flowers, herbs, and fruits to introduce a variety of natural fragrances. Use a diffuser for your favorite essential oils. You can reduce the effects of VOCs by washing new products to help dissolve residual chemicals, taking new items outside and letting them off-gas and air out, and using paints that are labeled “low VOCs” (milk- or soy-based paints do not involve the off-gassing that occurs with conventional paint).
Choosing cleaning products and laundry detergents that are low on hazardous chemicals is an easy and inexpensive way to make a significant and direct impact on the quality of your baby’s environment. Cleaning products that contain chemicals such as ammonia, bleach, and chlorine are effective for cleaning, but exposure to these chemicals in your baby’s environment can cause irritation to her skin, eyes, and respiratory tract.
Available on the market today are cleaning products that are nontoxic, ammonia-free, petroleum-free, phosphate-free, and VOC-free. You can also dilute these products with water to make them more baby-friendly. Make your own cleaners using borax, lemon juice, hydrogen peroxide, white vinegar, or baking soda. Do your cleaning when your baby is not in the room to prevent exposure to cleaning products, and avoid using aerosol sprays so that you have better control of the ingredients in your products. If the weather allows, keep the windows open while you clean.
Home improvements and furnishings
Because your baby crawls around on the floor and puts everything she finds into her mouth, she is susceptible to ingredients and materials in your carpets and rugs, flame retardants on upholstery fabrics, mold, asbestos, and paint on the wall (old paint can contain lead or formaldehyde). Exposure to these substances in your baby’s environment can affect her nervous system and brain development. Following are some materials to look out for.
A fire retardant is a substance that reduces flammability of fuels or delays their combustion. Fire retardants are found in fire extinguishers, surface coatings, textiles, rugs, carpets, furniture, mattresses, and toys. Some fire retardants contain chemicals that are potentially dangerous to the environment, such as PBDEs. Laboratory studies show that exposure to minute doses of PBDEs at critical points in development can damage the reproductive system and cause deficits in motor skills, learning, memory, and hearing, as well as changes in behavior. You can prevent the negative effects of fire retardants by using furniture, mattresses, and foam items that are PBDE-free in your baby’s environment. Consider alternative methods for fire retardants, including salt-water pretreatments and using baking soda to extinguish fires. Do not use stain guards, and avoid buying carpeting if possible. Use rugs made of natural materials, such as organic cotton or wool fibers that have vegetable-based dyes and no backing.
Formaldehyde is a colorless, flammable, strong-smelling chemical that is used in building materials and in the manufacturing of many household products. It is used to give a permanent press to clothing, to increase stain resistance, and to make fabrics colorfast. Formaldehyde is also used in foam insulation; pressed-wood products such as particleboard and fiberboard; carpeting; cigarette smoke; and unvented fuel-burning appliances, such as gas stoves, wood-burning stoves, and kerosene heaters. Formaldehyde has been banned from manufacturing and import in the EU under REACH regulation and has been classified as a known human carcinogen (cancer-causing substance) by the IARC and as a probable human carcinogen by the EPA. Exposure to formaldehyde can cause respiratory difficulties as well as eye, nose, and throat irritation. If you think you have formaldehyde insulation in your home, have the material professionally removed. Avoid cigarette smoke exposure, and make sure that all fuel-burning appliances in your house are properly vented. Wash clothing before wearing to prevent exposure of formaldehyde on your baby’s skin. Check old wood for particleboard, and buy genuine wood if possible.
Lead is a chemical element with highly toxic effects. It causes damage to the nervous system as well as blood disorders and brain damage. Lead is also a neurotoxin that accumulates both in soft tissues and in bones. Although high-dose lead poisoning is possible, it is more common for lead poisoning to occur from gradual exposure. Lead is found in water pipes, additives in paints (pre-1978), additives in plastics such as PVC, children’s paint sets and art supplies, contaminated soil, painted toys and decorations made outside the United States, and toys (pre-1976). Children can get lead poisoning by touching a lead object—or the dust or peelings of a lead object—and then putting their fingers in their mouth or eating food afterward. You cannot see, taste, or smell lead. A calcium-rich diet can help protect against lead absorption. Read the labels of your child’s art supplies and toys to ensure the products have been tested for lead. Do not give your child old or antique toys. Even if old paint is not peeling, it can still release lead particles into the air, so be sure that your baby’s environment has had all old paint safely removed.
Asbestos is the commercial name given to a variety of six naturally occurring fibrous minerals. These minerals possess high tensile strength, flexibility, resistance to chemical and thermal degradation, and resistance to electricity. For many years asbestos minerals were used in commercial products, such as insulation and fireproofing materials, automotive brakes and textile products, and cement and wallboard materials. Asbestos can separate into microscopic particles that remain in the air and are easily inhaled. People who have been constantly exposed to asbestos have developed several types of life-threatening diseases, including asbestosis, lung cancer, and mesothelioma. If you suspect there is asbestos in your home, have it professionally removed.
Mold grows in damp environments. By itself, mold is not toxic, but it can produce toxins that can be harmful if your baby eats, touches, or breathes them. Mold spores are commonly found in household dust, and when they are present in large amounts they can cause allergic reactions and respiratory problems. Remove mold from your baby’s environment by washing the area with soap and water. Throw away clothes that have mold on them. To handle mold issues in buildings, reduce moisture levels. Let in ventilation and sunlight, or turn on a heater or fan in the affected area to prevent mold growth. Wash dirty clothes and diapers so that they do not stay in the laundry hamper for a long time. Dust and clean often.
Electrical appliances and wiring generate EMFs (electromagnetic fields), which are invisible lines of force that come from an electrical or wireless device. There are low- and high-frequency EMFs. Low-frequency EMFs are emitted by electricity and appliances. High-frequency EMFs are generated by wireless devices such as cell phones, devices with screens, and computers that use Wi-Fi. They are also found in radio receivers, televisions, MP3 players, video recorders, DVD players, digital cameras, and camcorders. To protect your baby from EMF stress, limit the number of appliances in her nursery and keep cords as far from her crib as possible.
When your baby is in nature, her body resonates with Earth’s magnetic field and she is relaxed. Manmade low-frequency EMFs from electronics in your baby’s environment enter her body and create stress that affects her immune system and major organs, such as her brain and heart. EMFs can disturb sleep patterns. High-frequency EMFs are faster and create greater stress. Unplug appliances when they are not in use. Take your baby outside in nature, and relax with her. Limit your cell-phone time while taking care of your baby, and keep your phone away from her.
You have a certain amount of control over your baby’s environment inside your house. Outside, you cannot monitor or change the weather, temperature, or air quality. When it comes to taking care of your baby in the outdoors, you can learn about the elements and flow with them. If your baby has an allergy to pollen, pets, mosquito bites, or bee stings, then you can do your best to avoid situations that could cause a reaction. When exploring with your baby outside, be on the lookout for poisonous plants such as poison ivy or poisonous mushrooms. If you have a garden or lawn, be aware of chemical fertilizers or pesticides that your baby could touch or ingest. If possible, use organic fertilizers or compost when growing vegetables, flowers, or shrubs. Sunlight provides valuable vitamin D, but exposure to too much direct sun can interfere with your baby’s sensory development. Also, she needs protection from the sun on her skin when she is outside. Finally, toxic waste is an environmental substance that you cannot control, but you can be aware of it and limit your baby’s contact with it.
Toxic waste is hazardous waste that comes from the discarded by-products of manufacturing, construction, farming, septic systems, batteries, computer equipment, disposable diapers, leftover paints, and hospital waste. The waste may be liquid or solid and can contain chemicals, heavy metals, and other toxins. The waste can spread rapidly and contaminate lakes, rivers, and the atmosphere. In the long term, they can accumulate in the groundwater that you drink and persist in the environment. For your baby’s protection, avoid exposure to toxic waste and heavy metals. Manage your trash responsibly.