You’re pregnant! Images of beautiful nurseries fill your head as your thoughts turn to how to prepare your home for your little one. Whether you are adding a new room, remodeling an existing space or simply painting and furnishing a room, you want it to be beautiful and perfect. You want the best for your baby.
But you wonder…can you trust the products you see, the ones labeled as “non-toxic”, “natural” or “safe” for baby? Are green certifications safe enough?
EWG’s Baby Body Burden study made it starkly clear that what the mother ingests, absorbs and inhales directly affects the fetus. Nearly 287 chemicals were found, the majority being carcinogenic, neurotoxic and developmentally toxic. But until most recently, what has not been so obvious is the impact from chronic, extremely low level exposure to these chemicals, the kind of exposure that a pregnant mom or a newborn is exposed to when living in a recently remodeled or furnished home.
Dr. Bruce Lanphear, MD, MPH, well-published expert on children’s environmental health, co-produced “Little Things Matter” a project to raise awareness about the impact of toxins on the developing brain. He states: “There is strong evidence that learning disabilities and lower IQ scores can be attributed to extremely low levels of exposure to toxic metals like lead and mercury, persistent toxins such as polychlorinated biphenyl (PCBs), and other toxins including organophosphate (OP) pesticides and compounds used as flame-retardants.” He concludes that thirty years of research led to the inescapable conclusion that these little things matter.
The reality is that these chemicals are already in our homes. Then, to add insult to injury, remodeling materials and new furnishings, including many green products and materials, introduce yet more toxins, including odorless chemicals that never “go away.”
So if you’re ready to make changes to your home now, I want to suggest something radical, especially if you’re pregnant, soon to be pregnant, or you have small children: don’t do it! That’s right. Don’t.
I know, you had the perfect “look”, the time seems right, you’ve figured out your budget, your partner is ready, willing and able to pitch in, and you heard about some great paint that doesn’t smell.
But here’s why it’s best to wait: the fetus, newborn and small children are extremely vulnerable to toxic chemicals and other contaminants at levels well below what an adult might tolerate. And unfortunately, there are no green certifications and seals comprehensive enough for the health of the developing fetus or the newborn. It’s also very difficult for the average person to discriminate truth from “green-washing” of otherwise standard building materials. Even materials that are truly green and healthy for an adult, can be taxing on a newborn’s delicate system when those materials are new.
But the most compelling reason to re-think nesting is that your home most likely needs to be seriously detoxed because it already contains toxins that are harmful to babies. Even if you don’t smell anything toxic, you feel fine in your home, and you are not chemically sensitive, your home needs a check up and clean up.
So I propose that instead of spending your budget on adding new rooms, remodeling or creating a new nursery, first put your money where it really counts: making your home a truly safe haven.
Toxic environmental contributors to address are: outdoor pollution (that comes indoors), lead, chemicals from building materials, interior furnishings that never go away, cleaning and personal products, mold and electromagnetic fields.
When your child is older and past the most critical time in his or her development, you can undertake your safe, non-toxic projects.
Parents are the target of intense marketing to create a nursery with new furniture, paint, carpeting and bedding.
But a pretty-looking nursery filled with new, and potentially toxic materials, is not worth compromising your child’s health for the rest of his or her life.
The Best Nursery For Your Newborn is a Healthy Home
Give your child the best chance for normal development by cleaning up existing contaminants in your home first.
1. Replace All Toxic Household, Cleaning and Personal Products
- Visit ewg.org for guidance on chemical-free laundry and cleaning products with the lowest toxicity, or make your own inexpensive cleaning products with non-toxic ingredients, such as baking soda and distilled white vinegar. There are many easy DYI recipes online.
- Keys Soap, Inc. offers a line of my favorite pure, affordable, therapeutic personal facial, body, make up and hair care products that contain no synthetic chemicals. Many are great for babies and children too! Or, visit EWG for guidance on personal products with the lowest toxicity.
- To reduce exposure to estrogen mimicking chemicals called plasticizers, replace your vinyl shower curtain and/or liner with a plasticizer-free version such as mold resistant hemp or phthalate and chemical-free nylon, polyethylene or polyester versions. Make sure the shower curtain is not treated with any antimicrobial chemicals. (Note: Don’t assume that PVC-free EVA, or polyethylene vinyl acetate, is plasticizer free. PVC-free isn’t good enough. It must be 100% plasticizer free.)
- Replace all food and beverage containers for eating, drinking and storage with glass versions and use stainless steel or ceramic baby feeding spoons. Replace plastic water bottles with glass bottles that come with an exterior protective silicon sleeve.
- Replace all products containing synthetic fragrance and antimicrobial chemicals, including candles, plug-ins, sprays and hand sanitizers with healthy versions: pure beeswax or GMO-free soy candles, pure organic essential oil products (avoid citrus and pine if you live in high ozone/smog areas). Avoid hand and body wash products containing all toxic antimicrobial chemicals, which kill the naturally occurring “good bacteria” on your skin that kills microbes. Wash your hands with pure soap and water.
- Stop all pesticide use indoors and outdoors, and use only chemical-free pest control. For more information on non toxic pest control, go to B.I.R.C. (Bio-Integral Resource Center), PAN North America (Pesticide Action Network) and Beyond Pesticides.
2. Don’t Just Replace – Remove!
Get all those toxic products out of the house. Toxic cleaning, personal, maintenance, pest control and other household products don’t just stay put in their packages just because you’re not using them. Low levels continue to contaminate your home from packages in cupboards and on shelves. Many toxic conventional personal and cleaning products are too toxic to put in the trash or send down the drain, so take those to your local hazardous waste facility, as well as toxic household maintenance and pest control products. For products you must keep, such as touch-up paint, keep it in your garage as long as the garage is not used as a living space, laundry room or playroom. Otherwise, place it in a separate shed.
3. Control Dust to Reduce Toxic Odorless Chemicals and Particulates
The quality of air in all homes includes a combination of highly toxic, odorless chemicals including organophosphate flame retardants, pesticides and estrogen-mimicking chemicals called phthalates from modern building materials, interior furnishings and consumer products. These chemicals, called “semi-volatile organic compounds” or SVOCs, never go away, and adhere to airborne house dust, which you and your child inhale and ingest. Also, children and pets live closer to the floor where house dust settles and SVOC contaminants are more highly concentrated. To effectively reduce chemicals in your house dust as well as allergens like pollen, and the heart and lung damaging ultra-fine particles chemicals from smog, try these important dust control steps:
- HEPA-vacuum floors and upholstered furniture frequently. But not all HEPA vacuums are worthy! Do your homework and make sure the HEPA vacuum you purchase is described as completely air sealed or air tight. Some but not all canister models made by Miele, Nilfisk and Electrolux are air sealed.
- Place a “true” HEPA filter in each bedroom and if possible, the most lived in rooms in the house. I prefer HEPA air filters that also contain a substantial amount of high quality coconut shell carbon, and do not emit high EMFs (electromagnetic fields). There’s more information about these on my website under Products: Mary Cordaro, Inc.
- Leave your shoes at the door. Some people don’t like to do this, but here’s the reality: outdoor shoes track in pesticides, bacteria and other toxins. This builds up on floors, but particularly wall-to-wall carpet where it can never be washed out. Your baby spends a lot of time on the floor – along with all that muck. So, no street shoes.
4. Check for Sources of Lead
There is no safe lead level for children. The tiniest amount inhaled or ingested by a small child is associated with serious neurological and other health effects. If your home was built before 1978, and especially if you have peeling, chipping, dusting off or deteriorating interior or exterior paint, get a lead inspection by an EPA certified expert. For information on sources of lead, and to find a certified inspector, go to EPA/Lead. Be sure to test older bathtubs and sinks too. You can do your own quick lead screening with Lead Check Swabs which can be purchased at Lowes or other hardware stores.
5. Check for Sources of Mold and Moisture
Whether or not you react to mold, mold is toxic, period. The developing fetus and newborn are particularly vulnerable.
- Visit this EPA page for a primer on moisture and mold prevention.
- If you suspect or smell mold, get a mold inspection. Do not attempt to clean up mold yourself, even if it’s just on the surface, especially if you are pregnant or breast-feeding. Hire an IAQA certified, independent mold inspector to survey your home. If given a choice, pick an experienced inspector with additional training in “building science”. Find one here. Do not hire a mold remediation company for the inspection because it’s a conflict of interest. The independent inspector will do “clearance testing” once the remediation is complete. Insist that a mold remediation company uses no chemicals whatsoever.
6. Reduce Sources of EMRs (Electro-Magnetic Radiation)
Toxic EMR is all around us. Although invisible, it is a physically real, measurable source of toxic contamination referred to as “electro-pollution”. Thousands of laboratory and population studies associate EMR from wireless and wired sources with serious health effects, including cancer. A recent study associated pregnant mice exposed to cell phone radiation with behavioral problems in their offspring. It is essential that pregnant women and children are not exposed to high levels of EMR. There are many measurable ways to reduce exposure to EMRs, listed in my article here: Mary Cordaro Reducing Electromagnetic Radiation from Wireless Sources from Cell Phones, Cell Antennas, Baby Monitors, Cordless Phones, Wi-Fi and Tablets. Top tips are:
- Limit cell phone use to emergency use only. Do not carry your cell phone on your body.
- When you’re at home, forward your cell phone to your corded landline and put your cell phone and tablet in airplane mode, or turn them off completely. If you don’t have a land-line, keep your cell phone at least 15 feet away from you and your children. The toxic EMR levels radiate out 15 feet from smart phones and tablets in standby mode!
- Replace cordless landline phones with corded phones.
- Turn off Wi-Fi, and instead, use Ethernet cables for your laptops and computers. At the very least, turn off Wi-Fi completely during sleep.
7. Change Your Furnace Filter
Check your forced air heating and AC filter and change it at least twice a year, or as required. Make sure to purchase fiberglass-free furnace filters.
8. Control Dust Mites
- Dust mite allergens may be irritating to skin and lungs. Even if you and your child are not allergic to dust mites, reducing the allergenic feces left behind by dust mites is a big step toward a healthy bedroom.
- Encase mattresses and bedding made with down, polyester, polyurethane foam, Dacron and even organic cotton batting (unless a layer of organic wool batting surrounds the organic cotton batting) with dust mite barrier covers that are phthalate-free, and are completely untreated with antimicrobial chemicals, silver, or any other permanent treatments.
- Wash sheets weekly in hot water, especially if anyone in your family is allergic to dust mites.
With so much work to do to get ready for baby, tackle these challenges first. They may not be as fun as picking paints and fabrics but they will do far more to ensure you’re your baby is safe, healthy and happy. Take it step by step and do whatever you can to ensure that your nest is the best.
About Safe Baby Healthy Child’s Healthy Building and Indoor Environmental Expert,
Mary Cordaro is President of Mary Cordaro, Inc. a consulting firm she founded in 1989, specializing in healthy building and remodeling; diagnosing and solving toxic contaminant problems in homes and workplaces; and educating about healthy building practices and non-toxic lifestyles.
Since becoming certified in the German field of Baubiologie* in 1992, Mary has gained national prominence for her integrity and meticulous adherence to the highest standards of health for homes. These standards go far beyond “green certifications” to embrace the most sensitive people, including the developing fetus, as well as the overall health of the Earth.
Mary Cordaro’s integrated approach to creating a healthy environment is unique. To determine the source of a complex problem quickly and accurately, Mary specifies healthy building and interior materials and products, and directs a team of highly experienced specialists and scientists in the fields of mold and moisture, EMFs, chemicals, water, heating, air conditioning and ventilation, and building science.
Mary shares her vast knowledge of environmental health topics through speaking engagements at professional conferences as well as online webinars.
She also has a growing following of health practitioners, medical doctors, parents, architects, environmentalists and design professionals who understand the enormous health benefits of shifting away from environmental toxins.
*Baubiologie is the study of how the built environment affects human and planetary health.