Mother Earth Living

Preparing for Baby: Create a Healthy Baby Nursery

Create a healthy, nontoxic nursery that promotes well-being and lets you cherish the everyday moments that make parenting special.
By Laura Forbes Carlin and Alison Forbes
November/December 2006
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A hardwood floor finished with nontoxic sealant is safer than conventional carpet, which outgases harmful chemicals. Cover the wood with natural fiber area rugs for a warm, soft play space.
Photography by Tamara Muth-King
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There’s no better time to create a home that supports and nurtures you and your family than when preparing for the birth of a baby. A peaceful, beautiful, comfortable nursery will support you as you care for your newborn and give your baby the foundation to thrive.

For many people, creating a nursery begins with planning how it will look. Considering how the nursery will function and how it will affect your physical well-being is equally, if not more, important. A nursery that captures the magic of childhood can be inspirational, but what good is a beautiful room if it’s not practical and healthy? When decorating, function and health are two essential, yet frequently overlooked, considerations.

Create an efficient nursery design

Caring for an infant involves many repetitive tasks; the grace and ease with which you perform these tasks is largely dependent on your environment. Changing a diaper eight times a day is less stressful if you have a changing table that’s a good height for you and has drawers where diapers, wipes and clothes are easily accessible and organized.

If your beliefs allow, set up your nursery a month in advance of your due date. If your baby comes early, you’ll be prepared; if not, you have the last month of pregnancy to rest and relax before the arrival. It may take longer than you imagine to set up the nursery; even when you have everything purchased and in the room, you still need to unpack, clean, organize and learn how to use it all. Consider breaking the room into sections for play, sleep, changing, bathing and nursing, then deal with one area at a time.

When choosing furniture, think comfort. If possible, test-drive furniture by visiting the store, sitting in chairs, feeling the texture of area rugs and pretending to use the changing table. Pay attention to places where you and your baby will spend a good deal of time, such as in the chair you plan to use for nursing.

Children come with a lot of stuff, so allot space for storage. Everything you buy should have a place. Also keep in mind that children grow quickly, and it’s easy for their outgrown items to take over the room. Leave some drawers, shelves and closet space empty. If finding space is difficult, you may need to clear some clutter.

Nontoxic cribs, carpets and more

Babies’ immature organs are less able to cope with toxins in the environment than those of adults. Yet, with all the best intentions, many parents buy new furnishings and decorations that release unhealthy fumes into the air. Many common products used to decorate the nursery—including certain types of paint, finishes, carpet, mattresses, curtains and particleboard—contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs) such as formaldehyde, toluene and benzene. Through a process called “outgasing,” or “offgasing,” VOCs are released into the air, causing harmful indoor-air pollution.

Strongly consider replacing wall-to-wall carpet in the nursery. Carpet traps pollutants, mold and dust mites that may trigger allergies and asthma. In addition, most synthetic carpet is treated with stain repellents and flame retardants and is glued down with VOC-containing adhesives, which can release fumes for up to five years. Hardwood floors with comfortable area rugs are a healthier alternative, but the wood should come from sustainably managed forests and be finished with a natural or nontoxic sealer, unless it was finished years earlier. If you’re already pregnant and have wall-to-wall carpet, don’t try to refinish floors; instead keep carpets clean using a HEPA-filter vacuum.

Look for furniture made of solid wood, wicker or rattan. Avoid MDF (medium-density fiberboard), plywood and particleboard, which often contains formaldehyde. If you’re unable to purchase furniture made of natural materials, or if your furniture is treated with a finish or wood sealer that contains toxic chemicals, place the furniture outside or in a ventilated garage. Or, open all the windows in the nursery for at least a month before you use it.

Used furniture more than a few years old has likely outgased the majority of its harmful chemicals, so buying or borrowing used furniture is a great way to practice recycling and to be health- and budget-conscious. (Make sure hand-me-down cribs meet current safety standards.) You also could consider buying furniture at an unfinished wood store and finishing it yourself with a low- or no-VOC finish.

A baby spends almost half the day asleep, so make sure the crib is a healthy environment. Mattresses made of synthetic materials, and the flame retardants used to treat them, can contain chemicals that emit toxic fumes. All-natural, untreated wool mattresses are a healthier, but often more expensive, alternative. If you do purchase a mattress made from synthetic materials, place it outside to outgas for at least a month before bringing it into the nursery. Look for sheets and blankets made from organically grown cotton. If you aren’t buying organic, wash the sheets several times before use with an unscented, nontoxic, biodegradable laundry detergent to remove some of the chemicals that could irritate your baby’s skin.

Adapted with permission from The Peaceful Nursery: Preparing a Home for Your Baby with Feng Shui by Laura Forbes Carlin and Alison Forbes (Delta Trade Paperbacks, 2006).

Resources

Information:

Children’s Health Environmental Coalition

The Green Guide
resource for eco-friendly products

Cribs, Mattresses, Bedding:

Baby Bunz & Co

Bamboosa
bamboo fiber or organic-cotton baby clothes

Cotton Monkey
organic bedding

Coyuchi
organic crib bedding and bath linens

Decent Exposures
organic-cotton baby linens

Green Nest
natural crib mattresses and wool moisture pads

H3 Environmental
healthy beds and bedding

Heart of Vermont
natural, handmade receiving blankets, bassinets, blankets

Kushtush Organics
organic-cotton baby bedding, mattresses

Lifekind
organic mattresses and bedding, nursery furnishings

Nature's Crib
wood cribs, organic bedding and baby clothes

NaturePedic
organic crib mattresses and bedding

Organic Cotton Alternatives
crib, baby basket, nursery linens

Organic Gift Shop
organic baby bedding, clothing, wood rattles

Organic Selections
organic-cotton crib bedding

OrganicWearUSA
organic-cotton and wool bedding, baby clothing

Shepherd’s Dream
wool crib sets

Under The Nile
organic baby clothes, blankets

White Lotus Home
natural, nontoxic crib; baby bedding

Natural Toys:

EcoToy Town
toys made of natural wood, organic cotton, hemp

Nova Natural Toys and Crafts
toys and crafts


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