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How to... Non-Toxic Nursery

Updated: Oct 30, 2023

Nurseries and children's bedrooms are always my #1 priority when designing a healthy home because babies spend the majority of their early life in their crib either sleeping or crawling around in their beds.

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Kids and babies' rooms have some of the highest levels of air pollution in the home, due to things like cheap MDF furniture, toxic mattresses, plastic mattress protectors, soft furnishings like rockers, synthetic floor coverings like carpet and rugs, and plastic and polyester toys (1)


We need to be extra considerate when designing any space for young children and babies for the following reasons:


  • They have an underdeveloped respiratory system, meaning anything they breathe, or come into contact with is absorbed into their bodies in higher concentration than that of adults (2).

  • They have thinner skin than adults so non-toxic skin contact is vitally important (3)

  • Their breathing zone is closer to the ground and therefore potential contaminants such as dust, particulate matter, and VOCs from things like carpets and mattresses (4),

  • They inhale significantly LARGER air volume per body weight than adults (5)

  • They spend a lot more time in their rooms and sleep for longer on their mattresses, usually 16-18 hours a day as a newborn (6).

  • Due to their higher volumes of air intake per unit body weight, are more susceptible to increased inhalation exposure compared to adults in the same environment (7).

  • Their delicate and developing bodies possess limited capabilities to efficiently metabolise, detoxify, and eliminate the harmful substances present in air pollution (8).

A I R Q U A L I T Y:

Controlling the air quality in a nursery is vitally important, and the best way to create a healthy sleep environment is to do the following:

  • Use a HEPA-rated air filter (sized to the room)

  • Look for filters that do not use WiFi (or can be disabled) to reduce EMF exposure.

  • Monitor the air quality (most filters have this functionality now)

  • Vacuum with a HEPA filter and dust regularly

  • Use non-toxic furniture and finishes (like mattresses, carpets, and soft furnishings)

  • Keep the room naturally ventilated

  • Manage humidity (between 30%-50% is best)

  • Professionally clean AC filters (to ensure mould spores are not spread throughout the room)

  • Avoid air fresheners, including sprays, paraffin/soy candles, plug-ins, etc. that use artificial fragrances and release toxic gases into the air

  • Avoid laundry products that leave fragrances and build up on bedding and clothing (make your own natural laundry products)

  • Avoid household cleaners with toxic chemicals and fragrances

B U I L D I N G M A T E R I A L S: The emission of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from various building materials, solvents, paints, and adhesives significantly contributes to the degradation of indoor air quality (IAQ) (9).


When renovating or building a nursery or child's room, it becomes imperative to select materials that are low in VOCs, are free from harmful substances, such as formaldehyde and lead are made from no or low-tox ingredients that have a neutral (or pleasant) scent and that do not release toxic vapours (10).


During construction, it is important to ensure adequate ventilation, and additionally, I highly recommend incorporating air scrubbers during painting processes and prior to occupancy to further enhance air quality and mitigate potential risks.


M A T T R E S S:

Babies and kids spend more time than adults in bed, and due to body heat, can warm up the mattress and cause an increase in chemical off-gassing, directly into their breathing zone (11).


A non-toxic mattress is my NUMBER ONE recommendation when parents come to me looking to make a healthier indoor environment for their babies and children. Some companies I recommend can be found at the end of this post.


I always suggest airing out new mattresses, bedding, and pillows in the sun if possible before using, regardless if the product is non-toxic or not.


However, organic and non-toxic mattresses can be expensive, or some parents have already made a purchase when they find me and that is OK! One option is to cover the mattress with an organic, non-toxic natural cover/mattress protector, which does help reduce overall VOC load (12).


I have a separate blog post outlining what to look for when shopping for mattresses and mattress protectors (USA and Australia) that can be found here, and I have a longer list of product recommendations including toppers and bedding in my e-book 'Healthy Haven' available on my website.


A few mattresses I like:

Peacelily, my boys use these, they are an Australian company that manufactures in Sri Lanka using natural latex and 100% organic cotton.

The Natural Bedding Co. I love this company, as they are Australian-made right here in Sydney, using natural latex and untreated wool, with natural hemp & organic cotton cover.

Milari Organic , another great option, they are an Australian company manufactured in China using certified organic cotton, coconut coir, pure latex, and wrapped in 100% Australian wool


Crib / Cot (more suggestions in my e-book):

The Natural Bedding Co These are my crib mattress of choice as they are Australian-made using GOLS-certified coir layered with pure Australian Downs wool in a GOTS-certified organic cotton cover (slightly different from their larger mattresses)

Milari Organic The crib mattress is made from certified organic cotton, coconut coir, and pure latex, and wrapped in 100% Australian wool.



M A T T R E S S P R O T E C T O R :

I recommended a cover for your mattress to keep it protected and dry. I personally prefer not to use a waterproof cover, but instead opt for an organic bamboo cover with a non-toxic waterproof mat, then I top with a 100% organic wool cover.


Look for covers made from:

  • Organic cotton, organic cotton flannel, or organic bamboo.

  • For added assurance, look for products that hold certifications like STANDARD 100 by OEKO-TEX® or the certified GOTS organic labeling.

  • Wool mattress pads are not entirely waterproof and may pose allergenic risks for some individuals

  • Protectors predominantly made of bamboo are often recommended for allergy sufferers and asthmatics due to their hypoallergenic properties and natural antimicrobial characteristics that help wick away moisture.

If you require a waterproof cover, it is advisable to opt for a Polyurethane (PU) or Thermo Polyurethane (TPU) material, which is an inert material that does not off-gas (13), ideally with an organic top layer such as organic cotton or bamboo sheets for added benefits (14).

B E D D I N G:

Bedding is also equally important when it comes to a non-toxic bedroom. As mentioned earlier, some people may already have a conventional mattress, so choosing non-toxic bedding (and covers) is the next step to reduce exposure.


When choosing organic bedding consider the following:

  • Look for bedding made from certified organic cotton, organic bamboo, or organic wool, as these materials are free from synthetic pesticides and chemicals (conventional cotton is sprayed with pesticides and treated with chemicals so is best to avoid [15])

  • Opt for bedding that promotes breathability to help regulate temperature and prevent overheating.

  • Hypoallergenic Properties: Organic bedding is often naturally hypoallergenic, reducing the risk of allergies and skin sensitivities.

  • Non-Toxic Dyes: Ensure that any printed or coloured bedding uses non-toxic, water-based dyes that are safe for your baby.

  • Look for certifications such as GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) or OEKO-TEX® Standard 100, which guarantee the organic and non-toxic nature of the bedding.


F U R N I T U R E:

Creating a safe environment extends to the items you bring into it. Choosing non-toxic furniture and fixtures can reduce the off-gassing load and help promote cleaning indoor air.


Many furniture items such as dressing tables, change tables, bookshelves, cribs, bed frames, rocking chairs, and closets are made from composite wood products like medium-density fibreboard (MDF),


MDF is a timber product made from soft and hardwood, these are glued together with wax and adhesive resin containing urea-formaldehyde, both the wood dust and the formaldehyde are a known Group 1 carcinogens (16). It may also contain various chemical additives, such as flame retardants, fungicides, and preservatives; which release VOCs (17).


Look for solid wood or second-hand furniture (from a mould-free home) if possible. Solid wood is more expensive, so if you can only afford 1 or 2 items opt for ensuring the crib or bed frame is solid. Ikea does a great affordable solid crib.


Finishes and fixtures such as paint, wallpaper, carpet and flooring, curtains and blinds, as well as other items like cushions, stuffed and plastic toys, play mats, sleeping bags, clothing, and bedding, can contain VOCs which also contribute to poor IAQ (18).


Lists of product recommendations can be found in my e-book and on my social media.



P R O D U C T S:

When discussing a non-toxic bedroom, it's crucial to consider items you bring into the room such as nappies, wipes, creams, change table mats, books, and toys; all of which come directly come into contact with your little one.


Opting for non-toxic options helps create a safe and healthy environment for their growth and development. When selecting non-toxic products, be mindful of the following:

  • Look for products made from organic and natural materials, free from harmful substances like phthalates, BPA, lead, and synthetic fragrances.

  • Seek out products with certifications such as Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS), Australian Certified Organic (ACO), or Australian Made to ensure their authenticity and adherence to strict non-toxic standards.

  • Consider products that are sustainably produced, using renewable resources and environmentally conscious manufacturing processes.

I have a longer list of product recommendations including nappies, wipes, and creams in my e-book 'Healthy Haven' soon to be available on my website. A shortlist of recommended non-toxic products available in Australia and the USA include:


Nappies:

Rascal and Friends (available at Coles so extra points for convenience)

Healthy Baby (USA) First and only EWG Verified diapers


Baby Wipes: I won't go into details here but this is a great article about what to look for

Bunjie (available at Woolies so extra points for convenience)

Tooshis (available at Woolies so extra points for convenience)


Creams:

Best:

Little Innoscents Organic Intensive Soothing Cream (good for a whole variety of ailments, and they also do a great sunscreen)



E L E C T R O M A G N E T I C F I E L D (E M F)

EMF is invisible areas of energy, or radiation; which is associated with the use of electronic and wireless devices, and natural and man-made lighting (19). The presence of electromagnetic fields in nurseries and bedrooms poses potential dangers, including disturbances in sleep and various associated symptoms (20).


Due to their smaller head diameter, radiation penetration is greater in children than in adults, resulting in more pronounced energy-absorbing "hot spots," which are the most sensitive areas to radio frequency (RF) radiation; secondly, children's nervous systems are more susceptible to the impact of electromagnetic waves compared to adults (21). While research on the effects of EMFs on children's health is inconclusive, it is important to follow precautionary principles and minimize their exposure to EMFs. The potential carcinogenic nature of EMFs, as recognized by the IARC, should not be disregarded or influenced by bias (22).


EMF is emitted by our phones, Wi-Fi routers, smart tv's, baby monitors, meter panels, solar panel smart meters, and nearby phone towers and power lines can interfere with the body's natural sleep patterns, leading to difficulty falling asleep, restless sleep, and frequent awakenings (23).


Minimising babies' and young kids' exposure to EMF and radiation from wireless and wired devices is crucial for their well-being. Research suggests that prolonged exposure to EMF and radiation emitted by devices may have potential health risks, especially for developing bodies and brains (24).


Taking proactive measures such as:

  • Use a wired baby monitor instead of wireless ones, (or audio only), avoid WiFi-enabled monitors, or if you must use this, keep as far away from the baby as possible

  • Keep electronic devices away from the baby's sleeping area, Avoid placing electronic devices such as smartphones, tablets, or laptops near the crib to minimise EMF exposure.

  • Distance! All electromagnetic fields decrease over distance, so move the source away as far as possible (25).

  • Turn off your Wi-Fi router at night (use an outlet with a timer to help)

  • If you are installing solar, ensure your smart meter is installed as far away from sleeping zones as possible (garage is best).

  • When not in use, switch wireless devices like smartphones and tablets to airplane mode or turn them off completely to reduce RF radiation emissions.

  • If possible, utilise wired internet connections instead of Wi-Fi in the nursery. This can be achieved by running Ethernet cables to the nursery for devices like computers or smart devices.

  • Reduce the amount of time your child spends in front of screens such as TVs, tablets, or smartphones to minimize both EMF and RF exposure.

  • Opt for low EMF lighting solutions such as LED or incandescent bulbs, as they emit less electromagnetic radiation compared to compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs). (26)

  • Consider using EMF shielding products like curtains, blankets, or paint that are specifically designed to block or reduce electromagnetic radiation.

  • Ensure that the nursery is free from electronic devices during sleep time to provide a more EMF-free and peaceful environment for your child

By prioritising the reduction of EMF exposure, parents can ensure a more secure and balanced environment for their little ones' physical and cognitive development.


Study in this area is still emerging and is often inconclusive due to complex factors, such as the difficulty in conducting controlled studies, the influence of funding and biases, and the challenges of studying long-term effects (27). The overall scientific consensus acknowledges limited evidence regarding the health effects of EMF exposure. Regulatory bodies and health organizations continue to monitor research for public safety.





References

  1. Pickett AR, Bell ML. Assessment of indoor air pollution in homes with infants. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2011 Dec;8(12):4502-20. doi: 10.3390/ijerph8124502. Epub 2011 Dec 5. PMID: 22408586; PMCID: PMC3290986.

  2. Bijlsma. N., 2021. Healthy Home Healthy Family: Is where you live affecting your health? Third Edition. Red Planet Print Management. China.

  3. Bijlsma. N., 2021. Healthy Home Healthy Family: Is where you live affecting your health? Third Edition. Red Planet Print Management. China.

  4. Moon JH. Health effects of electromagnetic fields on children. Clin Exp Pediatr. 2020 Nov;63(11):422-428. doi: 10.3345/cep.2019.01494. Epub 2020 May 26. PMID: 32683815; PMCID: PMC7642138.

  5. Moon JH. Health effects of electromagnetic fields on children. Clin Exp Pediatr. 2020 Nov;63(11):422-428. doi: 10.3345/cep.2019.01494. Epub 2020 May 26. PMID: 32683815; PMCID: PMC7642138.

  6. Bijlsma. N., 2021. Healthy Home Healthy Family: Is where you live affecting your health? Third Edition. Red Planet Print Management. China




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