When I got pregnant I set about learning all the ways I could create a non-toxic environment in order to best protect my little one from the allergies and autoimmune issues that I have struggled with most of my life. This led me down a veritable rabbit hole of toxins, pollutants and potential dangers lurking in the most innocent of places, our babies nursery! A study done by the Environmental Working Group found an average of 200 industrial chemicals and pollutants in the umbilical cord blood of newborn babies. These included pesticides, and brominated flame retardants. More specifically, according to the study, of the 287 chemicals found, 180 are known to cause cancer in humans or animals, 217 are toxic to the brain and nervous system, and 208 cause birth defects or abnormal development in animal tests. I felt like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz but instead of “Lions and Tigers and Bears Oh My!” I was chanting “Flame retardants, Phthalates, and BPA Oh shit!”. The good news is that in the end it wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. I was worried it would be an impossible task and that I would have to sacrifice on style, and it turns out it wasn’t and I didn’t. In fact I dare say a few of my non toxic eco-friendly favorites are WAY cuter than most everything else out there. There is a lot of information in this post because I think it’s really important for a new parent to have, so I’ve broken it up into three parts. Here is Part One on how to create a safe non-toxic and BEAUTIFUL haven for your sweet little pumpkin.
Starting with the basics and from the bottom up. Floors. Hardwood floors, as long as they haven’t been recently stained are the best option. Real hardwood, not laminate which is loaded with formaldehyde containing glue. Carpet can pose a multitude of issues ranging from allergens and mold, to off gassing VOC’s or volatile organic compounds (responsible for that “new Carpet” smell).. If you have carpet don’t fret. As long as it hasn’t been newly installed the off gassing should significantly decrease in the first several months after installation, but do be aware that carpets can emit VOC’s for five or more years. Two of the chemicals often used as adhesive to attach carpet to the floor are Benzene and Toluene, two of the worst VOC’s. According to The World Health Organization, Benzene ( a known carcinogen) has been linked to acute and long term adverse health effects and diseases such as cancer and aplastic anemia. And according to OSHA breathing high levels of Toluene during pregnancy can lead to birth defects and mental and physical growth retardation. This particular study was in reference to women who work in environments with high levels of Toluene, but a continuous exposure to lower levels, though unstudied, is still considered a risk. Carpets and their adhesive also off gas formaldehyde, a known and well studied carcinogen. Also be sure you don’t have any areas where moisture has accumulated and could be causing mold. Vacuum often and consider putting a high quality hepa air filter in the room to clear out some of the allergens that get trapped in the carpeting. A very high quality filter such as THIS ONE can also filter some of the VOC’s. If you must have wall to wall carpeting try to find a natural fiber one such as pure wool, and use as natural an adhesive as possible or no adhesive at all. Having hardwood can mitigate a lot of these problems. Be sure the floors are not newly stained or you will still have to contend with the VOC issue. Another option is natural cork, but again be mindful of how it is attached to the floor and use low VOC adhesives or none at all if it is an option.
If you are lucky enough to have hardwood already you will need to put some area rugs down to allow for your little one to crawl around safely when they are ready. Be aware that a lot of synthetic rugs are just as bad as carpeting and tend to off gas a lot. They generally are made from polypropylene and have some sort of chemical backing, not to mention most rugs are treated with mothproofing and stain resistant chemicals. Make sure to find NATURAL fiber area rugs (wool, jute,sisal, cotton) that have no synthetic backing. You can get an all natural rubber latex rug pad to place under it here. There are some wonderful vintage wool rugs such as Kilim or Berber that are stylish, pure wool and often dyed with vegetable dyes. The rug I found for my nursery is from India and 100% wool with a cotton backing. It also happens to be RIDICULOUSLY cute! Better than many of the synthetic nursery rugs I saw. Here are a couple of options. NOT NEUTRAL has a series of rugs that are non toxic, 100 % wool and designed specifically for babies and children. They come in vibrant colors. I LOVE this rug by OYOY, it is 100% cotton and made with non-toxic AZO free dyes. Looking at Etsy, ebay or 1st dibs for a truly vintage wool rug with vegetable dyes is another great option.
UPDATE** Here is another amazing company for natural rugs. HOOK AND LOOM make amazing all natural wool and cotton rugs that haven’t been treated with any chemicals at all. I just got a rug for our playroom and it’s truly awesome.
Moving on up to the walls. In a nursery you should only use ZERO VOC paint. I really love Benjamin Moore Natura paint. It is zero Voc and still comes in just about any color you could want including the most vibrant ones you can imagine. Painting the nursery is one of the best ways to add character to your nursery. Even though the paint is zero VOC I think it’s best not to do the painting if you are pregnant. There was still a slight odor for a couple of days (kind of like vanilla to my super sensitive preggo nose), so paint and air out the room well before baby arrives. Painting a mural is a great way to add color and style while allowing you to go simple everywhere else. Do not use decals as they are generally made from various petrochemicals and will add to the indoor pollution of your baby’s room. If you do use them there are some companies that make them from polyester fabric with water based adhesives instead of PVC. this one and this one are good options. However you are still adding additional chemicals into the room with the adhesives, though on a much less harmful scale than your average PVC decals. Framing a colorful tapestry or piece of fabric is another way to add character and color without having to paint if you prefer not to. Other great paint options are AFM Safecoat, Quiet Home paints, and for the ultimate in non toxic paint, there is milk paint which is made from Casein like this one.
For window treatments choose natural fabrics. Cotton, linen, wood and silk all work, but are relatively sheer. Finding blackout shades that are not made from PVC (nasty endocrine disrupting chemicals that do not degrade and end up in your household dust indefinitely) was more difficult then expected. One option is to line your curtains or shades with a thick dark material such as wool felt. I almost opted for this but it seemed like too much work at almost 9 months pregnant. I found a nice pair of roman blackout shades from restoration Hardware kids after pestering a few people at the company to find out that the blackout material was made from a polyester cotton blend (not ideal, but much better than PVC), and none of the fabric had been treated with flame retardants. Oy. Flame retardants. We haven’t even gotten to those yet, those SOB’s really chap my hide, but I’m getting ahead of myself. A completely non toxic option is EARTHSAHDES. Though they are not officially blackout, they offer a variety of shades made from sustainable non toxic materials for the chemically sensitive and allergy prone. If you are an uber beast when it comes to toxins in your nursery, I would go for this option. Just keep in mind you will be limited to the materials they offer, most of which are hemp and bamboo, which can actually look pretty badass if you ask me. Another option is to just wait and see how your little kiddo reacts to light. You may not even need any blackout shades at all. I also recommend installing a dimmer so you don’t have to turn the lights all the way up when you are half awake and desperately searching for the pacifier that your baby threw out of her crib and is now screaming for.
EMF’s or electromagnetic Fields are also something you have to consider in a nursery. Some EMF’s are unavoidable, but there are ways to reduce them. For starters make sure that your router is not in or too near the nursery. Baby monitors are a huge source of EMF’s. They are also essential. We opted to hardwire our internet and a camera that connects to the internet via ethernet instead of using wifi. We can check the camera from any computer, iPad or phone. I understand that may be too much work for some, I know it would be for me if I didn’t have a very tech savvy hubby who takes serious issue with EMF’s. If you are using a traditional baby monitor, be sure to turn off the camera when it isn’t in use. There is a reason you can see the image on the monitor fifty feet away, because the camera emits an electromagnetic field that the monitor picks up on. So reduce exposure by only using it when you have too. Also be sure to keep the camera as far from baby as is feasible. If you are sleeping in a different room as your little one and have to have it on him or her all night, consider one of the other type of cameras that can run on wifi, or even better try the hardwire ethernet thing. Once it’s set up its simple and easy. THIS is the one we used and we love it. We still have our router and can turn on the wifi whenever we want it, turns out we very rarely need it. We also find that in certain rooms we can pick up a neighbors wifi which is convenient …shhh don’t tell. Stay tuned for Part two and three where we get to the fun stuff! Furniture and accessories!