Creating a Green Baby Nursery

Most days the fact that I am an Interior Designer by trade doesn’t cross my mind.
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I’m consumed with meals from scratch, changing diapers, potty training, and reminding myself to eat when I’m hungry (which is all the time being almost 7 months pregnant). My hands get itchy, though, when we’re doing renovations and all the fabulous ideas spin through my head. The first and foremost concern with any remodeling in our own home is about keeping it as minimally toxic as possible. Especially important while being pregnant, as even a little exposure of the fetus to toxins can be detrimental.

We are in the process of finishing our attic this summer, which is getting delayed as usual. This in turn frees up our current office space to make a room for the kids – finally! Guess what, my almost three year old never had a nursery. She didn’t mind and it wasn’t even necessary. Here are some things to consider if you want to create a non-toxic baby nursery – with the first being most important.

  1. Do you need one? So we didn’t have a nursery primarily for lack of space. But guess what, most babies don’t need one. Actually, they would much rather sleep with you and it is healthier for an infant to sleep near the mother. For a baby to have their own room is a very Western and dare I say – American idea. It is also fairly recent as the size of a typical house has exceeded reasonable proportions. The current trends in downsizing and attachment parenting have many parents thinking “Do I even need a nursery?” For thousands of years babies worldwide have slept with their parents through toddlerhood and even into childhood. Why are we so eager to detach the babies from us the moment they are born? Then we’re the ones complaining how distant they are from us when they are older. The ‘greenest’ thing to do is skip the nursery and get a co-sleeper or put the crib in your room. Your baby will thank you.
  2. Playroom? Once you think about the above and have it sorted out, consider that a playroom may be more necessary for a baby than a sleep room. If you have the room to create one that’s great. I can tell you how much pain it would save me if we had a separate play room and all the toys wouldn’t be in the living room! That’s considering we don’t even buy any toys and have less than the average American household with kids.
  3. Finishes. Once you decide what you actually need or want, consider the primary finishes in the room. Starting with the wall paint consider going VOC free. Even low VOC paints can emit toxic gases for years. Indoor air is far more polluted than the air outdoors because of all the toxic finishes used. Zero VOC paints have become very affordable in the past few years, so don’t expect to pay a whole lot more than usual paint. I’m a personal fan of Mythic and have used it with great success, I’m excited they’ve finally made it affordable too!
  4. Flooring. There is no black and white with flooring. It’s hard to find non-toxic flooring without paying a premium. Even so called Eco-friendly cork or bamboo are often finished with a less than toxic stain or sealer. Consider that most flooring made to European standards is of higher quality when it comes to off-gassing and manufacturing process (read: IKEA). When it comes to rugs, you’re best off sticking with wool. This wonder material is naturally stain resistant, antimicrobial, and healthier than synthetic fibers. You’ll be surprised how inexpensively you can purchase one at discount stores or online even with free shipping. Yes, it will cost more than polypropylene or other synthetic rugs. Do you want me to tell you what’s in those?
  5. Furniture: If you can’t afford Eco-friendly furniture, your best bet is buying items that are made of real wood, not pressed particle board that often contains formaldehyde within the glue. Ask the company how the wood is treated or stained. Some may use natural stains without even specifying it on the product. Again, consider buying European made/designed products that are made to higher environmental standards.
  6. Crib or sleep zone: Whether your newborn will be sleeping in a crib or with you, you simply must consider what they will be sleeping on and breathing in while they sleep. All conventional mattresses are treated with hazardous fire retardant chemicals and inconclusively may play a role in SIDS. Since the infant spends so much time sleeping during the first months, this environment ideally should be pure. Not all of us can afford an organic mattress, we could not. It’s great if you can. Consider letting new non-organic mattresses off-gas outdoors for at least a month before the baby is born and then wrapping it in a protective barrier such as a dust mite barrier tight woven cover. Since we co-slept with our baby, she was in our bed most of the time. To keep the baby from rolling off the bed you can use positioners or an in-bed co-sleeper, I found a couple of pillows at the edge under the fitted sheet worked great. I topped of the surface with organic cotton sheets/receiving blankets and/or organic wool blanket (or puddle pad) that was the baby’s direct sleeping surface. Whatever you use, it should be breathable and preferably organic. Make sure you clear away your adult comforter if the baby is sleeping in your bed during the day on his/her own. Mostly it is just common sense.
  7. Steer clear: There are a few materials that just shouldn’t be present in any kids room in any shape or form. Steer clear of vinyl (including the popular wall stickers), foam, polyurethane, and ultimately anything petroleum derived. Stick to natural materials – wood, wool, linen…
  8. Keep it clean: I would rather my baby sleep in a room that hasn’t been thoroughly cleaned for a month than a room that someone cleaned regularly with toxic chemicals. Non-toxic ‘green’ cleaning is a must in a household with kids – or any home for that matter. Consider that every toxic cleaning product you use in your home pollutes you air and can trigger everything from asthma, to cancer, headaches, migraines, and developmental problems. Kids touch every surface that you clean and breathe in this polluted air with hazardous chemicals. Your best bet is a simple wet microfiber rug to wipe dust (where many toxins settle, especially in older homes) and a non-toxic all purpose cleaner (not at all expensive these days). Whenever possible, air out your baby’s room (when baby is not present in the winter) to provide a supply of fresh healthy air.

I could go on about creating green nurseries, there is so much to consider and so many great products out there. Ultimately though, your baby belongs next to you when they are little – so it’s okay to put off creating the nursery for a few years. I can tell you honestly that these years of co-sleeping with our baby have been nothing but a blessing! It’s one of the best decisions we’ve made that goes against societal norms and in line with motherly instincts.

Photo: Levi Gruber

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