Move over pink and blue, the hottest new color for baby’s room is green.
More parents-to-be are designing green nurseries, turning rooms filled with stuffed animals, storybooks and miniature socks into eco-friendly havens for their little ones.
The popularity of green nurseries has been sparked by concerns over toxins in products ranging from crib mattresses and changing tables to teething rings and onesies. The health effects of common toxins such as formaldehyde, phthalates and Bisphenol A (BPA) range from birth defects and ADHD to Type II diabetes and early onset puberty.
“There is no other time in our lives when we outfit a room from scratch; all of the chemicals that off-gas from new paint, carpet and furniture create a toxic soup in the nursery,” explains Sara Snow, author of Sara Snow’s Fresh Living: The Essential Room-by-Room Guide to a Greener, Healthier Family and Home. “There are lots of simple things that parents can do to cut down on toxins and create a green nursery for their babies.”
Follow these tips to get started:
Choose eco-friendly paint: Paint with low- or no-VOCs (volatile organic compounds) will protect your baby from breathing harmful chemicals that are found in regular paint. Paint companies like Sherwin Williams, Benjamin Moore and Miller Paint sell low- or no-VOC paints that cost a small fraction more than less eco-friendly paints.
Opt for green furniture: Furniture made from particleboard or laminated wood can contain high levels of formaldehyde, a chemical that has been linked to headaches, asthma and skin irritation. It’s also a known carcinogen. The price points might be lower but Joy Hatch, co-author of The Eco-Nomical Baby Guide: Down-to-Earth Ways for Parents to Save Money and the Planet, advises budgeting for better products.
“Choosing quality, solid wood or formaldehyde-free furniture means that your baby will be safer and the furniture will hold up to the demands of generations of children,” she says. “Think about buying heirlooms rather than just picking out a cheap, trendy piece that will only last through one baby's childhood.”
Look for cribs, changing tables, dressers and rocking chairs that are made of solid wood and coated with nontoxic finishes. Or, buy used furniture.
“Most of the off-gassing occurs in the first six to 12 months of the furniture’s life,” explains Snow. “Used furniture is healthier because the chemicals have already been released.”
Shop for a nontoxic mattress: Organic is the buzzword when it comes to crib mattresses — and an organic cotton mattress cover is a good thing — but it’s not the most important material. Conventional crib mattresses are manufactured with toxic fire retardant chemicals like polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDE). Eco-friendly crib mattresses are filled with wool, which is a natural fire retardant.
“You don’t have to have an entirely green nursery; you can choose the most important things — and a crib mattress is one of the most important things,” Snow says. “Your baby spends so much time sleeping in her crib and the toxic load is so high in a crib mattress that it makes sense to make the healthiest choice.”
Opt for organics: Organic cotton clothes are probably on your radar — and your registry — but there is another product that should be organic, too: Your baby carrier. Your baby’s skin is right next to the fabric of the carrier and can absorb the chemicals, making it important to seek out baby carriers that are made from 100 percent certified organic cotton.
Be BPA-free: Plastic bottles contain BPA, a substance used to make plastic clear and shatterproof. BPA has been linked to a host of health issues, including birth defects, obesity and breast cancer. Glass bottles or BPA-free bottles contain no harmful chemicals. “There are a lot of BPA-free plastic bottles on the market now, and most of them are clearly labeled,” notes Rebecca Kelley, co-author of The Eco-Nomical Baby Guide: Down-to-Earth Ways for Parents to Save Money and the Planet.
Remember: breast milk is toxin-free and has enormous health benefits for your baby and the planet.
Shop smart: When it comes to designing a green nursery, the best thing for your baby and the planet is to think twice before adding items to your registry or your shopping cart.
“The sheer volume of stuff we are pressured to buy when expecting a baby has a huge environmental impact,” says Hatch. "Deciding what products you can avoid and buying used are great eco-friendly, budget friendly ways to [outfit a nursery].”
When you shouldn't recycle
When it comes to baby gear, there are a few things that should never be reused or recycled. Here are some guidelines on baby products that should always be new.
Car seats: The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration advises against borrowing or buying a used car seat. In addition to changing safety standards, used car seats might be missing parts, have near-invisible cracks or crash histories that will diminishing their effectiveness.
Crib mattresses: Research published in the British Medical Journal found that the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is higher when babies sleep on used mattresses. It’s worth the peace of mind to splurge on a new mattress.
Jodi Helmer is the author of The Green Year: 365 Small Things You Can Do to Make a Big Difference (Alpha, 2008).