Bringing a child into the world is simultaneously joyous and downright terrifying. From Day One (well, Day Minus 280 or before, really), you strive to protect your baby against anything that could harm them, including sharp table edges, electrical outlets, and choking hazards. But what about other potential hazards that are harder to spot? How many of us are unwittingly decorating and furnishing a new nursery with textiles, paints, and furniture awash with toxic chemicals that can harm us and our babies even before they’re born? In this section of the Leaf Score site, I’ll tackle the tricky issue of How to Create an Eco-Friendly, Non-Toxic Nursery.
This is a subject close to my heart as, after much to-ing and fro-ing about the ethics of childrearing in an era of climate change, I’ve finally decided to grow my family in the next year or so (thanks, Peter Singer, for your words of wisdom on effective altruism!).
Getting pregnant can be an expensive and stressful proposition for some of us, so with limited energy and money to go around, I’ll be on the lookout for safe and effective nursery items and baby products that are free from toxic chemicals but don’t break the bank. If you come across something fabulous that meets these criteria, please send some details my way so I can check it out! It’s hard for smaller companies to break through the chatter sometimes, and I love finding likeminded eco-friendly folks doing the hard work of making truly safe and environmentally friendly products.
Now, I know well that nothing quite prepares you for the unique kind of love that develops between parent and child nor for being entirely responsible for the safety, comfort, and development of another human. Everybody’s journey to pregnancy and parenthood is a little different, and everybody parents in their own way. Accordingly, every nursery set-up is also unique.
In general, though, there are certain items you’ll want in place and at hand once your baby arrives. And, believe me, once they’re here, you almost certainly won’t have the time or emotional energy to thoroughly research endocrine disruptors, chemical sensitizers, and other potential problems for every purchasing decision. Hopefully I can do a lot of that hard work for you (and for myself) in advance.
If you’re already feeling overwhelmed by decisions, or are intimidated by the names of some of the chemicals that pop up in baby products, I’ve got your back. With a little advance research and planning, you can arm yourself with the right knowledge to help you comfortably make decisions as and when new needs arise. This means you’ll know what to look out for and what to avoid, which certifications actually mean something, and a few key brands you can rely on to make non-toxic, eco-friendly products that are baby-safe, parent-friendly, and downright delightful.
So, without further ado, let’s go over your basic checklist of items for when baby first arrives. Again, this will be different for everyone, but it’s a great place to start.
Your baby will spend almost all their time sleeping in the first few weeks and months. As such, you’ll want the following key items for a safe sleep environment for your newborn:
- Bassinet, sleep docking crib, or standalone crib
- Non-toxic crib mattress
- At least two crib sheets (for quick changes when messes happen, which they will)
- Swaddling/Muslin wraps (for the first few weeks)
- Sleep sack/sleeping gown (a lot easier than onesies!).
Babies poop, a lot. So, whether you’re using the most eco-friendly disposable diapers you can find, or going the reusable diaper route, you’d better be prepared.
- Change pad(s) – you’ll probably want a spare one for when baby inevitably pees while you’re changing them in the middle of the night
- Diapers (cloth or reusable, or a combination)
- Diaper bag
- Bum cream (avoid products that contain petroleum or zinc oxide if using cloth diapers; almond oil or shea butter are good options)
- Wet wipes (So. Many. Wet wipes. Or, you know, reusable soft cloths for when you’re at home).
Baby bathtime can feel very scary at first. They’re so little! It soon becomes an absolute delight, however, and is a lovely bonding experience, especially if you finish up with a massage using safe, non-toxic baby-friendly lotion. Once they’re a little older, splashing around with eco-friendly bath toys is so much fun! Seriously, toddler bathtime is one of my favorite things.
To help make baby bathtime safe and fun, you’ll probably want to have the following on hand:
- Infant bath tub or bath seat
- Hooded towels for bath time
- Soft washcloths
- Bath toys
- Baby-friendly moisturizing lotion.
Baby about town
If you’re planning a hospital birth (or not; things don’t always go to plan!), you’ll want to have your car seat in place before the big day. The last thing you want is to be wrestling with one of these things while sleep-deprived and a bit high on life’s latest miracle, not to mention sore.
Speaking of soreness, after a couple of days nesting at home, it’s good to get yourself and baby out and about for a short stroll around the block if you can. For that, you’ll want a comfortable baby carrier and/or stroller, as well as a little extra protection against any cold weather.
Consider adding the following to your checklist for baby’s arrival:
- Car seat (and rear-facing mirror)
- Baby carrier or sling
- Hats, mitts, booties for cold weather
- Warm, soft, cozy baby blanket.
Nursing / feeding baby
Whether you, your partner, both, or neither will be nursing your new baby, here are a few things you’ll likely want available to help make those first few days and weeks as comfortable as possible. (File ‘nipple cream’ under ‘Things they don’t tell you about having a baby’.)
- Breast pump
- Breastmilk ice cube trays
- Bottles (if you’re nursing, you’ll usually want to do that exclusively for two or three weeks before introducing a bottle; that way, nursing becomes easier and other people can also help feed baby)
- Reusable breast pads
- Nursing tops
- Nursing bra
- A nursing cover (a long circular scarf also works well)
- Nipple cream
- Nursing pillow
- Bibs for spit-up
- Vitamin D drops.
Let me just say for the record that, as a new parent, your understanding of the category ‘miscellany’ will expand exponentially. It’s amazing the kind of things you’ll suddenly have a need for that you didn’t even know existed before your baby arrived.
Here are a few things you might want to consider adding to your arsenal as a new parent:
- Infant-friendly thermometer
- Gripe water
- Infant Tylenol
- Playmat with hanging toys
- Bouncing chair with harness
- Baby swing
- Baby books
- Reusable swim diaper
- Receiving blankets (2 or 3 should cover it)
- Some stuffies (my advice: when they find one they love, immediately buy a back-up, so as to avoid meltdowns while said favorite is in the laundry)
- A hairdryer with a cool setting (great for drying delicate skin to prevent diaper rash, and for calming baby down).
As you can see, there are quite a few things you’ll want to acquire to make those first few weeks with your baby as easy and enjoyable as possible. Often, the most eco-friendly thing to do is to ask family, friends, colleagues, and your wider community if anyone has any of these items to pass on to you. However, there are some cases where it’s preferable to buy new, such as when safety standards have been updated or where second hand items have degraded and are no longer safe.
Cribs are one example of this, where safety issues led to recalls and revisions to regulations, as well as to many companies, including Ikea, addressing safety concerns raised by consumers directly. It’s going to take us a while to get through all the items on this checklist for a non-toxic, eco-friendly nursery, but we’ll start with the place your baby will spend most of their time: a crib.