10 Ways to Create a Healthy Nursery


Preparing for a baby is one of the most exciting times in a woman’s life, but it can also be daunting. Everyone from the baby store employee to your own mother has an opinion on what you should eat, wear, and buy. Our rule of thumb is to keep things simple, follow your instincts, and most importantly, do what’s best for you and your baby. We’ve put together a list to help guide you towards creating a nursery that promotes health and a low carbon-footprint. Even making one small change towards green living can have a huge impact on your child’s life.

Painting The Nursery
The pink and blue paints that characterized our nurseries when we were babies were loaded with Volatile Organic Compounds, otherwise known as VOCs. VOCs evaporate into the atmosphere (know as off-gassing) at various speeds, but should always be avoided. Even when the smell disappears, the off-gasing can continue for weeks, or even longer if the painted surface faces direct sunlight.

We’re lucky to be moms today because almost every hardware and paint store in town carries VOC free paint in a variety of kid-friendly colors. Instead of shutting the door to the nursery until it’s safe to enter, expectant moms and dads can set up the room as soon as the paint is dry.

Selecting a Crib Mattress
There is a great irony in the production of crib mattresses. The place where babies are supposed to safely sleep and grow is covered with plastic and drenched in fire retardants. New parents who are often eager to see their baby sleep through the night in the crib may not be aware of the chemicals their precious newborn is absorbing hour after hour. In 2004 Europe banned the most common flame retardant known as PBDE (polybrominated dipenyl ethers) because of its danger to pregnant women and children, and the US followed suit in 2007. Unfortunately other toxic chemicals quickly filled the vacancy. Some experts believe that the dangers of chemical fire retardants are not as life threatening as the dangers of fire. In order to avoid the entire controversy, we recommend two alternatives:

Option #1 Borrow a mattress or buy it second hand. It will take 2-3 years for the chemicals in a conventional mattress to complete their off-gasing. The flame retardants will stick around but the high concentration of fumes finding their way into your baby’s lungs and skin will considerably decrease. If you’re concerned about cleanliness, these plastic mattresses are easy to sterilize with a sunshine bath or a bottle of vinegar.

Choosing Organic PJ’s
Many moms may wonder why organic cotton is any safer than regular cotton after a good wash. Surely all those dangerous pesticides used in the production of traditional cotton fall to the wayside before the boll becomes a cute little onesie. But consider the finishing agents and the life of the cotton husk after the harvest. Factories who transform cotton into the form used for clothing prepare the material with chemicals that will encourage quick drying, cause minimal wrinkles, and aide in permanent press. The husk that’s left behind after harvest is reused for cattle feed. Residue from the pesticides is then ingested by the animals that are sold to slaughter houses. You get the picture.

Organic cotton is not grown with hazardous pesticides. And the fabric is not treated with finishing agents. We’d venture to say that it’s unrealistic to stock your closets solely with organic threads. But PJ’s and crib mattresses are comfortable, easy to find, and best for baby.

Maintaining Rugs, Carpet, and Floors
Bare floors is the ideal option for any home with kids. Dust mites, viruses, bacteria and other microscopic organisms have a much harder time hiding and surviving when there’s no carpet around. But the thought of babies mastering tummy time, rolling over and crawling on a hard cold floor almost seems cruel. Carpeting or an area rug in a nursery is pretty much unavoidable. To keep the carpeting as clean as possible, try the following:

A. Shoes Off
The culprit that brings the most harmful particles into our homes is shoes. Keep them at the door. If you feel uncomfortable about asking your guests to walk around barefoot, order a tasteful sign that does it for you from www.floppingfish.com and hang it outside the main entrance. Then place a basket of socks, flip flops, or Crocs just inside the front door.

B. Vacuum Regularly
Invest in a good vacuum cleaner that has a HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filter and clean your carpet as often as you can. If your vacuum doesn’t have this filter, it may suck up Barbie shoes and Legos but not the grit and grime that you can’t see. Instead it will redistribute the dirt around the room and in other parts of the house.

C. Professionally Clean Often
If you keep your shoes off and vacuum a lot, you may only need to bring in the carpet cleaner a few times a year (pets, rainy days and baby accidents will increase the need for a professional service). Always look for a company that uses toxin-free and fragrance-free cleaning solutions.

Purchasing Furniture
Toxic paint and adhesives in particle board and pressed wood plague the dressers, bookshelves, and bed frames we purchase to furnish our children’s rooms. The chemicals in these products are known carcinogens and contribute to unhealthy indoor air quality. According to the EPA, the air we breathe inside our homes can be 2-5 times worse than outdoor air, even in cities with high levels of pollution.

Instead of buying new items that pose possible threats to the health of your baby, scour thrift shops and garage sales for gently used furniture that has already had a chance to off-gas. Pick up a half-gallon of VOC-free paint and some new knobs to make that armoire or nightstand look new, or just different. Besides having a birth story to share with your baby when he or she gets older, you’ll have the wonderful story of creating a beautiful and safe nursery for your child too.

Buying Toys
Before shopping for stuffed animals, teethers, educational DVDs, or building blocks, familiarize yourself with dangerous plastics and the US Consumer Product Safety Commission report. The US CPSC lists up-to-date toy recall news that includes multiple photos of the gadget in question. Because toys often make the list well after your purchase has been made, start a “toy receipt” folder with proofs of purchase and keep them for at least 6 months. If you discover a toy in your home that is listed as dangerous, take it back for a refund and replace the missed toy. The government website even has a Twitter account to keep you informed around the clock.

Using a Baby Wipe Warmer
A wonderful luxury for babies- but a subtle energy drain. If it’s really important to you, just make sure that the warmer is unplugged when you aren’t home so that energy isn’t wasted and wipes aren’t dried out. We will note that babies do get used to the room temp wipes, which makes it easier when you’re changing diapers away from home.

Choosing a Laundry Basket
When selecting a hamper for the nursery, choose a container that is properly ventilated. Heavily soiled items should be treated right away with a non-toxic stain remover and left to soak in a bucket of water. Lightly soiled clothes can be stored in the laundry bin for several days as long as the unit is properly ventilated. Wicker or bamboo laundry baskets are ideal since they can be added to the compost bin when it’s time to get a new one.

Deciding on Diapers
The disposable vs. cloth diaper debate seems to have taken the place of breast vs. bottle. Unfortunately, using cloth diapers just isn’t an option for everyone. What is available to every family is a selection of diaper brands with a gentler environmental impact that are safer for your baby’s skin.

Conventional diapers start from a chunk of plastic that is then bleached, rolled out, melted together with adhesives, stuffed with polymers (a left-over from chemical production in other industries) and cut into a shape conducive to a baby’s body. If that’s not enough to make you think about trying something different, these diapers also take decades to biodegrade in landfills.

Newer eco diapers still have a long way to go to be truly environmentally friendly, but most don’t contain chlorine, or toxic polymers, and have fewer layers of plastic. Start with these, and when you’re ready to save the planet and save some money, take a look into the cloth version. You may be surprised at just how easy they are.

Cleaning Windows
Lead enters our homes via our shoes and windows. The shoes are easy to deal with. The windows are a little more difficult. Make it a habit to clean off your window sills several times a week, and daily in the nursery. Clean screens, blinds and curtains once a month. When it’s time to vacuum, pay special attention to the areas behind furniture if it’s placed near a window. Lead particles can build up and scatter.

Find a level of green that fits your family and then take a deep breath. At the end of the day, the most important contributors to your baby’s health are attention, affection, and love, which you give your baby every day.

About the Authors

Jordan Catapano and Lauren Maher established Mother’s Green House in 2007 to consult expectant women and families with small children on creating a healthy, green home environment.



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