Preparations for a new addition to the family often involve cleaning, painting, renovating, and new furnishings. Here are some tips to assuring a healthy home for babies before and after they are born:
- Clean green. Rely on baking soda and vinegar for cleaning and deodorizing. White vinegar is a food-grade anti-microbial. Fill a spray bottle with half vinegar and half distilled water to disinfect instead of using harsh germ killers. Sprinkle baking soda in the diaper pail to absorb odors. For heavy-duty carpet cleaner, mix ¼ cup each of salt, borax, and vinegar. Rub paste into carpet and leave for a few hours. Vacuum.
- No chemicals on carpets. Employ steam, vinegar, or natural enzyme solutions to clean carpets. Ask commercial services leave off the chemical treatments for stain protection, deodorizing, and disinfecting. Visit afmsafecoat.com for safer carpet cleaners and sealers. In stores, look for Earth Friendly Everyday Stain & Odor Remover, Naturally It’s Clean Carpet Spot-Treat, and Seventh Generation Carpet Cleaner. Or see other alternatives at greenercleanermichigan.com.
- Paint without fumes. Ask for VOC-free paint at local paint stores or online. VOC stands for volatile organic compounds. VOCs readily evaporate at room temperature. Many—including formaldehyde, benzene, toluene, and styrene—are known or suspected carcinogens. Always ventilate freshly-painted rooms.
- Water over oil. Choose water-based wood sealants and finishes, which have far fewer VOCs than oil-based.
- Rest easy. Most mattresses contain potentially-toxic fire retardants. Invest in a natural cotton or latex crib mattress with wool inside. Wool is naturally fire resistant; no chemicals needed to meet safety standards. Or, use a cotton mattress pad to create a barrier between a regular mattress and the baby.
- Puddle pads. Employ wool instead of vinyl or other plastic to protect the mattress. Vinyl can off gas hormone-disrupting chemicals called phthalates as well as VOCs.
- Dress the crib. Opt for organic or natural cotton sheets to avoid bleach and pesticide residues next to your baby’s skin. (Purchase three to insure one is always clean!)
- Sleep tight. Choose for tight fitting cotton sleepwear for infants and children instead of polyester pajamas and robes. Polyester is far more flammable than cotton and needs to be treated with fire-resistant chemicals; cotton does not. (Sleepwear intended for babies 9 months and younger does not have fire safety standards).
- Cloth or disposable. If using cloth, look for organic or natural cotton. For disposables, seek out chlorine-free (unbleached) or organic, both of which are widely available. Look for: Seventh Generation, Natural Choices, Tushies, 365 Everyday Value (Whole Foods brand), Huggies Organic, more. Or, use a hybrid with a reusable cloth cover and biodegradable disposable inserts, such as gDiapers.
- Limit body care products used on baby. Research shows a strong correlation between the amount of lotion, shampoo, and powders used on infants and the amount of phthalates in their urine. Phthalates are thought to interfere with the male sex hormone testosterone and alter genital development. Phthalates go unlisted on labels because they are a part of secret (proprietary) “fragrance” formulations.
- Wash and moisturize with natural personal care products for mom and baby. Avoid fragrances and other ingredients such as phthalates, parabens, and sodium laureth sulfate. Seek out the USDA Organic Seal or make you own products at home. Natural plant oils such as sweet almond, grapeseed, jojoba, rice bran, sunflower, wheat germ, and olive oil moisturize skin more effectively than traditional petroleum based baby (mineral) oil.
- Avoid the nail salon. Pamper pregnant/ nursing moms with polishes free of neurotoxins and hormone-disruptors. Brands free of DBP (di-butyl phthalate), toluene, and formaldehyde include acquarellapolish.com; anisecosmetics.com; gonatural.biz; honeybeegardens.com; hopscotchkids.com; iamapeacekeeper.com; nailaidcares.com; nomiss.com; zoya.com.
- Eat safe fish. Adhere to fish advisories and restaurant/ shopping guides to minimize mercury exposure (michigan.gov/eatsafefish) for children and pregnant and nursing moms. Trim off the fat to reduce other toxins such as PCBs and dioxins. Avoid shark, swordfish, tilefish, and king mackerel. Find out your safe level of tuna consumption at: ewg.org/tunacalculator.
- Go with glass bottles with silicon nipples. Silicon sleeves on glass bottles help to prevent breakage. Also opt for silicon or natural (non-synthetic) rubber if using pacifiers.
- Reduce Exposure to BPA by selecting powdered infant formula over liquid (If breastfeeding is not an option). BPA is banned for baby bottles, but is still in canned food. It leaches more readily into liquid formula. It may affect babies’ developing brains and reproductive systems.
- Choose safe chew toys. Give babies teethers made of cotton or natural wood rather than plastic. Check healthystuff.org for children’s products with fewest chemicals.
- Mix equal parts white vinegar and water in a spray bottle;
- Spray directly on stain;
- Let sit for several minutes;
- Clean with a brush or sponge using warm soapy water.
Online resources for teethers, toys, organic cloth diapers, sheets, mattresses, clothes, more:
babysoldseparately.com (Michigan company)
modernnaturalbaby.com (Michigan company)
palumba.com (Michigan company)
— Melissa Cooper Sargent, Education Coordinator, Local Motion Green