When parents think about safety in the nursery, they tend to think about falls from changing tables, baby getting sandwiched between the rails getting caught up in cords. But the materials used in a nursery can carry a lot of chemicals that are harmful to a child's health.
1. PAINTING THE NURSERY
Painting is one of those things expectant moms and dads have come to cherish. It's usually the first stamp on your home that a baby is on the way, but while you're dreaming of animal murals or circus stripes, you'll want to choose a paint that contains no (or only low levels of) volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
Some VOCs are extremely toxic, so caution is always best. Low-VOC paints have been the talk of the town the past few years, but newer products contain no VOCs, and this is what you really want.
Expectant moms who want to paint the nursery should only use VOC-free formulas, and if you can't find one or can't squeeze the extra cost into your budget, choose a low-VOC paint and let dad do the work.
This may sound perfect for a cozy nursery, but it's not always the most healthful option. Most carpeting is made with synthetic materials - often petrochemicals - and there are a variety of hazards that can be introduced in your baby's space via the carpet. The backing, adhesives, carpet fibers and dyes in a carpet can contain VOCs and other toxic materials.
According to the EPA's guide "Greening Your Purchase of a Carpet," VOC levels "typically fall to very low levels within 48 to 72 hours after installation when accompanied by good ventilation." All carpets should be installed well before your baby takes up residence in your home (or in the nursery, at the very least).
When the carpet is installed, open windows to vent fumes, then leave the door to the room closed for at least three days. When purchasing carpeting, be sure to look for options that feature nontoxic dyes and are low in VOCs.
You might also consider manufacturing practices, choosing a product that is made with recycled content, was manufactured with renewable energy, and can be recycled.
3. A WOOD FLOOR
Opting for wood may be a better option all around. But skip laminate, which can contain many chemicals in the glues. Keep in mind that wood stains can generate toxic fumes, so babies and pregnant women should stay away from home until you're sure VOC levels are very low.
4. NURSERY FURNITURE
It's the next logical step, and there can be some not-so-healthy surprises in store.
Many wood products are made with formaldehyde, a chemical that, according to the EPA, can irritate the eyes and throat, cause nausea and cause difficulty breathing; it's also known to cause cancer in animals and "may cause cancer in humans."
The advocacy organization Environment California released a report in 2008 that found six of the 21 baby furniture products they tested emitted "high levels" of formaldehyde. What's more, "several brands of cribs and changing tables emit formaldehyde at levels linked with increased risk of developing allergies or asthma," the report stated.
Formaldehyde-free furniture - from cribs and changing tables to rocking chairs and shelving - has a higher price tag, but it may well be worth it.