Nest with Care Not Chemicals
‘Nesting’ is a powerful and natural urge that takes hold on many mums-to-be, a happy prepping of painting, cleaning, buying, arranging, washing and more buying! I nested like pro; a creative DIY-er, bargain hunter extraordinaire and armed with visiting Pro-DIY parents, who were just as excited to nest along with me! Such happy days but oh, if I could do it all again … having a baba with chemical sensitivities, has made knowledge and hindsight a beautiful thing!
- Babies are born sensitive - their skin is three to five times thinner than adult's and made up of smaller cells.
- Their surface area is between three and five times greater than an adult, relative to body weight.
- Babies inhale more, relative to body weight.
- Which means – the effects of both contact and airborne chemicals are far greater, with absorption through epidermis and lungs straight into their developing immune systems. The strength of which will determine their battle to eliminate toxins, be healthy and thrive.
The mind games begin here, believing all baby brands and products are trustworthy and safe (non-toxic) - they’re not. The most important part is, what it’s made from – not the shop, product endorsements or popularity. The assumption that because ‘everyone else has’ makes it normal and so it’s considered safe but that’s often far from true and hard to fathom until you’re made aware – only then do you begin to ask questions.
Comes with two hefty price tags. Firstly; the obvious one - we thought our baby shop knew we were coming and put their prices up! The second is that ‘new’ is often synonymous with toxic VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds); Formaldehyde and countless Petrochemicals off gassing - which is potentially a far greater price to pay.
Formaldehyde is a carcinogen. Petrochemicals are derived from petroleum oil and gas. Both play a major role in industries producing clothing, household items, building, transport, pharmaceutical, food and agriculture to give us polymers, synthetic fibres, dyes, rubber, plastics, soaps, perfume, detergents, fertilizers, paints, floorings, aspirin, the list is endless.
Exposure to VOCs and the effects are also wide and varied, an individual’s toxic overload levels are unique, depending on exposure, duration and immune strength. According to The Hazardous Effects of Petrochemical Industries: A Review, the toxins accumulate in both tissue & organs can cause brain, nerve and liver damage, birth defects, cancer, asthma, hormonal disorders, skin irritations, allergic dermatitis, tummy pains, headaches, hearing and behavioural problems and nausea.
Painting and Furniture
The transformation of spare room to nursery often sees walls painted or papered, floors re-carpeted, a rug laid and new furniture bought - all potentially giving off a heady toxic brew of VOCs. Whilst there are now many options for low VOC paints, be sure to carefully choose a brand which is entirely VOC free. Water-based wallpaper glues and vinyl adhesives are also less odorous but not Formaldehyde free. MDF or flat pack furniture off gasses over a long period of time emitting the Formaldehyde that glues the particles together. Synthetic, stain resistant ‘eco’ poly blend carpets are Petrochemical, Xylene derived, as well as the spongey soft underlay beneath them.
Safer Alternative – either don’t redecorate or at the very least, allow months for the room to off-gas! It can be really difficult choosing flooring, ultimately I think wooden floor boards are best with natural fibre rugs. Babies and children spend so much time crawling and playing on the floor – so it’s worth thinking longer term and going through the list of pros and cons! If bare boards are not an option, leave down what’s there rather than replace with new.
10 years post nesting, we re-carpeted and chose pure wool (NZ wool carpets are treated with pesticides due to climate and carpet beetles) so do the research and ask questions. Luckily the company was fantastic and agreed to off-gas our entire 2 story, 3 bedroom house load of carpet for 3 months, vacuuming it daily!
For furniture, scouring Op shops, markets and online for solid wood is the way (checking for bora, mould and mustiness as you go!) then happily clean or up-cycle using a solvent, fragrance free cleaner and your beautiful VOC free paint!
We found a wooden 2nd hand cot online and bought a new ‘regular’ cot mattress, thinking it a good compromise -I can still recall the smell of it!!! We took it out of its plastic wrapper and took it outside for days, when we brought it inside – the smell in the room was overpowering for weeks!
The ‘off-gassing’ was an overwhelming blend of toxic VOCs; Formaldehyde and petrochemicals Toluene and Benzene permeating from every part of the mattress, from the synthetic fibres of the fabric cover and dyes, polyurethane foam and synthetic latex core, glues, flame retardants, stain and mildew resistance, not to mention the awful smell from the plastic wrap bag it came in – toxic Phthalates. Once the mattress was inside, the only option was to keep the windows open for maximum ventilation and hope baba wasn’t on their way!
Safer Alternative – budget depending; look for a new organic wool filled mattress with an organic cotton/linen cover (wool is naturally flame retardant) and natural fibres are great for both breathability, moisture and cosiness. Alternatively, 100% natural latex with natural fabrics can be a good option, both come with a unique ‘smell’ but rest assured knowing it’s non-toxic. For many, an older mattress that has had years to off gas and has been carefully stored may be practical and sensible option.
1940’s babies often slept in a bottom drawer on a wool blanket - which actually doesn’t seem like such a bad idea!
Bedding, Clothes & Cuddly Toys
Avoid synthetic fibres whenever you can – especially for bedding and clothing next to skin, not forgetting snuggle toys with synthetic fill.
Man-made fibres like Nylon and Polyester are polymers derived from Petrochemicals; Benzene and Xylene. Buying new, even when choosing natural fibres like cotton and wool also has pitfalls - Formaldehyde resin – perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) are increasingly being added to all newly manufactured clothing for ‘hanger quality’, giving clothes a wrinkle free appearance in the shops and is the ‘new clothing’ smell you may notice, either instore or when you get home. Multiple washes and vinegar rinses help to reduce the resin over time.
Safer Alternative – buy 2nd hand online, look for natural fibres, cotton and wool and ask what laundry detergent they’ve been washed in – the safest choice is a fragrance free, plant based sensitive skin friendly laundry detergents; Eco Planet or ecostore. Like-new baby clothes and bedding can always be found at Op shops too but be sure to give them the sniff test for pongy powders. If you can afford them, buy new and choose organic and organic dyes – after bub has grown out of them, re-use or recycle and sell them on!
So before you start nesting and ticking off your list, consider both chemical burden and budget, asking yourself how much it’s really worth?
For chemical info on washable v’s disposable nappies or what not to bathe baby in – be sure to check in with CanaryBird.nz for the latest.