How Your Home Environment Affects Your Baby

by Teresa J. Mitchell

How Home Environment Affects BabyBabies explore their worlds by rolling around, crawling over, touching, poking, sleeping on, and practicing hand-to-mouth coordination by tasting it. The world is their conquest even if the "world" is your living room carpet.

Could that inquisitive spirit expose your curious conqueror to more than just knowledge?

Scientific evidence says the rise of chronic diseases, cancer, autism, asthma, birth defects, and learning disabilities could be coming from the chemicals found around your home.

You have the power to turn your potentially toxic home into a safe one for you and your family. This won't take a lot of time or money. Take these three baby steps today to green up your home environment.

Whether you replace a common cleanser with a safer alternative, toss a couple organic vegetables in your shopping cart, or opt to open the window for a few minutes, you've marched forward on your quest for a safe home.

You can create a healthy environment where you and your baby can flourish in as little as 10 minutes.

Tour Your Home for Hidden Toxins

Walk through each room. These are the common hiding places for harmful chemicals. Even a small change can have a huge impact in greening up your home.

The Kitchen

Plastic food containers: It's cheap, convenient and usually doesn't break, even when a helpful child sends it bouncing to the floor. Plastic containers have a down side. The chemicals can leach into your food, especially if you re-heat food in them. Instead of popping the plastic in the microwave, dump the food into a microwave-safe bowl or container that isn't made out of plastic.

✓ Read the numbers on your plastic storage containers. Those labeled #1, #2, #4 or #5 are safer.

✓ Opt for glass or stainless steel containers.

Pots and pans: Non-stick coating on pots and pans can release toxic fumes at high temperatures. If any of your cookware is scratched, little bits and pieces of that coating can mix into your food, yuck!

✓ Stick to cooking with low or medium heat. Never preheat the pots or pans on high.

✓ Cook with Ceramic ovenware and cast iron or stainless steel cookware. Cast iron pans have the added bonus of iron from the pan positively entering your food for added nutrients!

Cleaning products: Conventional cleaning products can contain harmful chemicals. These ingredients might not be listed clearly on the label. Buyer beware!

✓ Look for natural or non-toxic cleaning products that don't contain harsh solvents, fragrances, chlorine or ammonia. Their labels will be clearly marked. Most common grocery stores carry these types of products.

✓ Use baking soda for scouring, lemon juice or vinegar as an antibacterial agent, and other safe pantry items for cleaning.

The Family Room

TV dust: Electronics can contain flame retardants. When your TV heats up, its plastic casing releases toxins that settle into the pool of household dust. Your inquisitive explorer can potentially breathe in the contaminated dust or chew on a toy coated with it. We're not saying you'd purposely let your baby eat dust -- dust happens and babies find it.

✓ Dust your older TV regularly with a damp (not wet) cloth.

✓ Look for a PBDE-free model when you purchase a new TV.

Walls and painted surfaces: Homes built as recently as 1978 can have lead paint on the walls and other surfaces (like windows). Even low-level exposure to lead can affect brain development, before and after your baby's born. Volatile organic compound (VOC) fumes have been known to cause headaches, respiratory irritation and other problems.

✓ Test your home for lead. If the paint in your home contains lead, work with a professional to have it safely removed.

✓ When you have the urge to redecorate, purchase a low- or no-VOC product. Any major hardware or large retail store will have these types of products available.

Carpet and furniture
Fabrics can be welcome hosts of allergens like mold, pollen and dust mites. They also happily trap dust that could contain toxins like pesticides, lead, and fire retardants.

✓ Vacuum frequently with a HEPA filter. Many vacuums have these built-in. There are lots of vacuums to choose from to battle the dust mites.

✓ We suggest replacing your carpeting with wood floors, or redoing the floors found underneath. If redoing your wood floors, don't go the toxic route!

The Bathroom

The under-the-sink arsenal: Just like we mentioned in the kitchen section, the same common crew of bathroom cleaners can contain toxic ingredients, too. Manufacturers don't have to list the ingredients on the label.

✓ Shop for natural, non-toxic brands. Any major retailer can provide access to alternative cleaning compounds.

✓ For the safest clean, make your own pantry-safe batch of cleaning supplies using soap, water, baking soda and vinegar.

Personal Care Products: Did you know that most personal care products haven't been tested for safety by the FDA, the Cosmetic Ingredient Review Panel, or any other institute? Some of their common ingredients have been linked to health problems.

✓ Ask yourself, "What's in this stuff?" If you can't pronounce the ingredients, consider passing on the product. Try non-scented products. According to Dr. Leon Kircik, spokesman for the American Association of Dermatology, "fragrance is often what people are allergic to."

✓ Check the Skin Deep's cosmetics online data base. You can type in a product or ingredient to find out if there is a known toxic effect.

Your Child's Room

Sleeping safely: Mattresses are treated with flame retardant and coated in plastic. "Off-gassing" can affect your child's health and development.

✓ Get rid of synthetic mattress off-gas plastic fumes by airing the mattress outdoors before using. Cover the mattress with a cotton or wool mattress pad.

✓ Consider buying an organic mattress. They are a little pricier than the non-organic variety, but isn't your family worth it? If you really can't afford one, try the step above.

Diaper covers: Diapers are definitely in close contact with your baby throughout the day! Could your diapers or laundry detergent contain harmful chemicals?

✓ Use fragrance-free disposable or cloth diapers.

✓ Go green with your diaper choices -- chlorine-free disposables, cotton reusables with flush-able liners. Use baby wipes that don't contain chlorine, dyes, and fragrance.

Lurking in the Toy Box: Do you think toys are safe because they are up on the store shelves? Think again. Your baby might get a taste of harmful chemicals from toys made of PVC or lead and other toxic heavy metals from a doll to a painted train.

✓ If the only label you used to look at when buying a toy was the price tag, we encourage you to check the product for PVCs. Keep an eye on the Consumer Product Safety Commission's list for any product recalls.

✓ Opt for toys made of natural materials like wood, organic cotton or wool. If you receive baby gifts of items you don't want around your baby, gently recycle to the charity of your choice.

The Dangers of Smoking

It's more than the hazy cloud of toxic yuck that creeps into the air. Unfortunately, you don't have to be a smoker for your child to be exposed or affected. After a cigarette is puffed, it leaves more behind that just its smell. Researchers have found that the residue from the cigarette clings to furniture, clothing, walls, rugs and floors.

Your baby's "tasting is knowing" behavior, or your active toddler's curiosity help them scoop up bits of this dust. The best way to reduce exposure to these toxic chemicals is not to smoke. In the real world, though, someone your baby knows could be a smoker.

How do you deal with that fact? If you or your spouse smokes, designate a jacket and hat as "smoking clothes." Wear them while smoking, remove them before entering the house, and hang them outside. Before picking up your baby, wash your hands and face. Still, it's best for your health to just quit.

How do you make your home a safe place for your family? Share your favorite tips and products with us!

References and Sources:
Stapleton, H, Klosterhaust, S, et al. (2011, May 18) "Identification of Flame Retardants in Polyurethane Foam Collected from Baby Products." Environmental Science and Technology, 2011, 45 (12), pp 5323–5331. Accessed (2012, March 7).
2. Harley, K, Chevrier, et al. (2011, August 30) "Association of Prenatal Exposure to Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers and Infant Birth Weight." American Journal of Epidemiology.
3. Chevrier, J, Harley, et al. (2010, June 21) "Polybrominated Diphenylether (PBDE) Flame Retardants and Thyroid Hormone during Pregnancy." Environmental Health Perspectives.

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