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Our Top 5 Favorite Ways to Make The Nursery Natural

Our Top 5 Favorite Ways to Make The Nursery Natural
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Our Top 5 Favorite Ways to Make The Nursery Natural  

We started last week with the walls of our barren nursery and some photos for inspiration.  But the room is still empty -- and still starry-eyed with love for my new infant son, in all of his sweetness, I am reluctant to bring anything into his sphere that isn't as natural and organic as he is -- my hard-working honey also doesn't want to break into his college fund to do it.  So where do we go from here?  How do we take a nearly empty bedroom, and turn it into a nourishing space where we don't compromise style or cheap functionality for health?  Here's my hit list of small ways to make your baby's nursery feel like a safe, organic haven.  

1.  PAINT:  

I'm revisiting this as item #1, because this is what can separate the healthy from the toxicities of off-gassing -- and is not limited to walls.  Milk paint (check out our blog on The Beginnings of a Natural Nursery: Milk Paint) is the safest paint product on the market. Made entirely of biodegradable ingredients, free of VOCs, heavy metals, and carcinogenic preservatives such as formaldehyde, milk paint provides the perfect solution for raw new or repurposed furniture in need of an update to fit the nursery color palette. porter's milk paintFull disclosure: milk paint provides a unique layered look that often shows the brushstrokes, and needs to be painted on quickly. I find this look charming and vintage, but if you’re looking for a more traditional finish, you might prefer latex paint such as AFM’s SafeCoat. Its free of VOCs as well, formulated specifically for people with chemical sensitivities and without formaldehyde. A word to the wise: a lot of the more popular paint brands now offer ‘environmental’ or ‘no-VOC’ versions. While this is certainly a step in the right direction, most of these paints still contain dangerous preservatives such as formaldehyde or its precursors, ammonia, acetone -- especially in high-pigment colors. None of these preservatives are pregnancy or baby-friendly. Be particular about the brand you choose with the thought that even when the room is done off-gassing, baby still may want to gnaw on the newly-painted crib rail or teeth against the corner of a dresser (or invent any number of reasons to use your walls and furniture in un-foreseeable ways). Remember the lead paint scares of the last decades? Be fussy about paint.


Now that the walls are painted, the place needs furniture! When choosing a crib, or other furniture pieces, remember (as we mentioned in our paint discussions) that the railing, once they can stand, often becomes a chew toy.  Solid natural wood is ideal for a crib.  Consider the finish on woods or toxins in a paint finish that can chip and be ingested.  Although it may not be deadly, you may not enjoy the idea of what those chemicals are doing inside your little one.  For dressers and night tables, a favorite solution for us at Mommy’s ER are vintage pieces of furniture. Older pieces are most often made with solid wood, whereas new pieces, especially economical ones may be made from wood composites and plywood -- which generally contain formaldehyde. If in doubt about the paint used on vintage pieces, strip and refinish for an updated look.

3.  TEXTILES (aka nursery accessories and baby fashion):

This, to me, is the fun part of putting together the nursery... It is also the part that benefits from extra attention to healthy and sustainable details. Skin is the largest organ in our body, so what we put on it can have real health impacts. So can the air we breathe in from fabrics that off-gas. Fortunately, the market is now chock-full of great natural fibers.

Because cotton is such a breathable fabric, organic cotton can now be found for everything from bedding and clothing to stuffed animals. It tends to be more expensive than non-organic cotton, so I often get the question, is it really worth it? The answer is a qualified yes. According to recent reports 25 percent of the world’s insecticide use and 10 percent of the world’s pesticide use goes to cotton crops -- which is both harmful for the environment, and for your baby’s sensitive skin. Organic cotton is grown without the use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, making it a hypoallergenic choice. Will these differences represent a significant health concern for your child? Well, it depends on the child, and your economic constraints, but to me, the key here, as with everything, is to minimize your baby’s exposure to chemicals where we can, to leave their systems as clean and ready as possible for the exposures we can’t control so easily (smog and car pollution, general air quality, vaccinations if you choose to get them, and the inevitable additives and toxins they receive just by virtue of living in the 21st century world.) Need an eco-friendly AND econo-friendly solution? Check out Kate Quinn organics for some wonderful sale items. I have stocked little Ammie’s nursery with clothes that were just as cheap as non-organic by hitting their clearance sales... And no more are the days when the natural choice means he looks like I put him in a burlap sack (which was true in the infancy of his older brother) -- he looks just as cute and stylish for it!

Wool represents a more durable and widely available choice for carpeting or rugs. Wool is naturally resistant to molds and mildew -- two allergy threats for young respiratory systems. A recent study out of Wales shows that adults who slept with wool-fill comforters had lower heart rates (indicating deeper sleep) than subjects who slept with other fibers. While baby surely doesn’t need, and shouldn’t be using a comforter, this study indicates to me that our bodies can actually tell the difference between fabrics in subtle and not-so-subtle ways.

Finally, linen offers a textural and natural option for drapes and upholstery. Although it won’t generally wear as well as synthetics, our favorite linen rocker has stood the test of time now through two babies.  I also have to wonder when a fabric claims to withstand heavy wear, what chemicals and synthetics make it this resistant? It may be that what is made to withstand a marker-wielding five-year-old will be irritating to baby’s skin... Slipcovers in this case, can help with wearability concerns without the health trade-offs. Which brings us to...

4.  TOILETRIES, LOTIONS, CREAMS... and other things that come in pretty bottles :) :

I’m only half-kidding. I love the look of a great vintage bottle (its more than half the reason I never let us run out of Thayer’s Witch Hazel :)) But since baby’s skin is both sensitive and absorbant, I’m fussy about what fun bottles deck out Ammie’s room, and changing station. My favorite for diaper-changing are chlorine-free wipes that I’ll wet with witch hazel for natural cleansing. And that’s it. What’s missing? Baby powder -- and this is very much on purpose. Even though it dries moisture, themain ingredient in baby powder is talc -- which has frighteningly similar properties to asbestos. While the diaper changing station could easily be its own blog, the bottom line is, I keep it simple. I even had a friend whose sensitive children were wiped with soft paper towels soaked in water. We personally invested in a wipe-warmer. Why? Because over dinner one night when we disparaged the use of such a ‘silly’ device, a dear (and candid) friend offered to come over to our house, dip our toilet paper in water then put it in the freezer to see how we liked it. Nuff said, Ammie’s bum will never know the sting of wipes that aren’t gently warmed to above room temperature... (Satisfied, Z? :))

Our bath regimen is equally simple. I recommend organic, paraben-free washes -- babies don’t get dirty enough to warrant industrial strength soaps! -- which provide enough cleansing to get rid of toxins from the air without stripping him of his natural oils. I use products with calendula included to additionally soothe the skin and counter-act cradle cap. I keep olive oil on hand for gentle baby massage. And I’ll put them both in refillable bottles that nurture my aesthetic sensibilities. Otherwise, I leave the fancy bottles for my own overstuffed bathroom cabinet.

5.  And now the not-so-fun part, CLEANING:  

Less is more when it comes to cleaning baby’s room. We’re aiming for getting the dust out, while still feeling good about tummy time that ends up creating puddles of drool on his carpet. The bottom line is that baking soda, white vinegar, lemon, water, and occasionally hydrogen peroxide are all that are really needed to keep the room clean and fresh. Vinegar is a wonderful all-purpose cleaner that is deodorizes and disinfects effectively on just about everything but marble (Kate and William, if your baby’s room has marble in it, steer clear :)). Lemon is as antibacterial as a cleansing agent as it is in an immune building tea. And baking soda has scouring power along with deodorizing functionality (sprinkle some of this in the diaper pail, or keep an open box in the vicinity of the changing area -- outside of baby’s reach.) A mixture of white vinegar, lemon juice and baking soda in water serves as a wonderful all purpose cleaner (My recipe is an adaptation from Eartheasy.com, which recommends 1/2 Cup of white vinegar, and 1/4 Cup of baking soda for every 2 Liters of water), while a spray bottle full of 1/2 water, 1/2 white vinegar is great for carpet stains. Not feeling in the mood for a DIY cleanser -- or like me, does too much smell of vinegar conjure memories of when your puppy would pee on the oriental carpet or throw up in the hallway? Try Bac-Out, an amazing natural stain remover that smells intoxicatingly good to me, and uses the power of natural enzymes to remove stains.  Mommy's ER Cleaning Recipes

If there’s a safe spot for it, you might also include a plant such as a peace lily -- which effectively detoxifies and improves air quality -- especially VOCs, and philodendrons and golden pothos which pull formaldehydes from the air. Mommy’s ER DVD 3 talks about this more in depth, along with other ways to detoxify.

In addition, try to keep clutter put away so that you can dust easily and often when baby is not in the room. (This is, admittedly a case of “do as I say, not as I do.”)  And let the air settle after cleaning before bring baby back into the room.  

Each of these 5 natural nursery recommendations feels like it deserves its own blog post. And maybe someday soon it will get it. But in the meantime, these are the general guidelines I keep in mind for Ammie’s nursery as we put it together... Hopefully together we’ll find that the deliberate attention to health-friendly details will make this room all the more inviting to stay and play -- and that the health-friendly attitude toward style and cleaning we’re fostering for our babies will seep into the rest of our homes.

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