Why Does My One Year Old Baby Have Dry Lips Are There Hidden Health Hazards In Your Baby’s Nursery?

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Are There Hidden Health Hazards In Your Baby’s Nursery?

Would you expose your newborn baby to formaldehyde, polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) and pesticides? Of course not! Even if you were told it shouldn’t affect your baby’s health, you wouldn’t want to take that chance. However, one of the first things we do as expectant parents is to prepare a nursery for our baby. We paint, buy a crib, mattress and bed and maybe even install new carpets in the room our baby will spend most of his first year.

Did you know that these products contain formaldehyde, polybrominated diphenyl ethers, pesticide residues and other chemicals that could affect your baby’s health and development?

It’s bad enough that we expose ourselves to these chemicals, but it’s even worse for our children. Babies are more sensitive to the effects of toxins than adults for several reasons. The most obvious reason is that babies are much smaller and therefore have a lower tolerance to toxins. Babies also develop very quickly and any chemical that inhibits growth and development will have a greater effect on them compared to an adult. Babies also take in more air than adults relative to their body size, which means they breathe in more toxins than an adult. Finally, many toxic gases commonly found in the home are heavier than air and settle near the floor where children play.

There are many measures we can take as parents to make our home a more natural, safer place to raise healthy children. Listed below are the sources of many common household toxins and what you can do to eliminate or reduce the risk of exposure for your baby and yourself.


Flame retardants are likely one of the first toxins your baby will encounter in the home. Although it may seem like you never sleep with a newborn in the house, babies actually sleep a lot – about 60% of their first year! That’s a lot of time to spend in close contact with a mattress treated with flame retardants called PBDEs. Several animal studies have found that PBDEs accumulate in the body over time and exposure during critical growth periods can cause irreversible reproductive and nervous system damage.(1). PBDEs are chemically similar to PCBs which were banned in 1976 after they were found to cause cancer and affect the immune, reproductive, nervous and endocrine systems in animals.(2). PBDEs are already banned in Europe but unfortunately they are still widely used in the US. An organic crib mattress is essential for a healthy nursery. Consider buying a mattress made with organic cotton or latex and wool. The wool not only acts to regulate temperature, but is also naturally fire resistant. An organic cotton and wool crib mattress will meet the same government standards for flammability as a chemically treated mattress but is a much more natural option and avoids any potential risks of PBDEs.


Most bed linens are made from cotton, the second most heavily pesticide treated cotton in the world. Of the top nine pesticides used in cotton cultivation, five have been shown to cause cancer and are rated among the most dangerous by the Environmental Protection Agency. Even more chemicals are added during the process to convert the raw cotton into fabric. Since your baby will spend so much time sleeping, it makes sense that their crib should be free of any pesticide residues or chemical contaminants. When buying bedding, choose those made with organic cotton, grown without the use of pesticides. Children also love to put their toys in their mouths, so consider buying stuffed animals made from organic cotton, especially when babies are teething.

Another source of pesticide exposure is from treating our homes and yards. Research indicates that children exposed to higher levels of pesticides had seven times the risk of developing childhood Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.(3). As an alternative to conventional pesticides, consider using cornmeal in the yard to prevent weed seeds from germinating (available at many garden stores and online). There are several good books written on the subject of natural gardening that provide natural solutions to all kinds of lawn and gardening problems. My personal favorites are books by Jerry Baker, who has literally thousands of tips and tricks. Inside the home, insecticides made from orange peel are safe, natural and very effective at killing many common pests.


Most paints contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that off-gas into the air long after the paint has dried. That wet paint smell is actually due to the VOCs in the paint evaporating into the air. Healthier paint alternatives would be natural paint, zero VOC paint or low VOC paint. Natural paints are the healthiest choice. They are made from natural plant-based compounds and have almost no smell. Zero VOC paints are also a safe choice, are very easy to work with, have very little or no odor and are widely available and affordable. By law, paint with 5 grams per liter VOC or less can be called zero VOC paint. Tinting the paint can add a small amount of VOC but usually do not exceed 10 grams per liter VOC which is still very low. To minimize the amount of VOCs added by tinting, choose a pastel or light color for your baby’s nursery. These colors are also very soothing and will help you baby relax and fall asleep faster. The VOC content for low VOC paint varies and is usually written on the label. These paints will often have an odor at least until dry. Regardless of what paint you use, if you are pregnant it is best to let someone else do the painting if possible or at least choose a safe paint and make sure there is adequate ventilation.

Lead is another consideration when discussing paint toxins. If your home was built before 1978, it may have been painted with lead paint. Because lead can cause developmental problems in children, any chipped paint where it could be ingested poses a health hazard. Pregnant women should also be careful to avoid areas where anything that may contain lead-based paint is being sanded or refinished.

Household Cleaners and Baby Bath Items

Most household cleaners are toxic chemicals. Consider using cleaners made from plant and vegetable based ingredients and essential oils for fragrance. Rather than using a synthetic cleaner on a tile or linoleum floor where a child will crawl and play, use a drain cleaner that will disinfect without the use of chemicals.

Although there are many bath soaps and shampoos on the market made especially for baby, often these are just milder versions of the adult formula. Read the labels and ask yourself if you would want those ingredients (Yes… even the ones you can’t pronounce) in your baby’s body. The skin acts as a barrier for some chemicals however many are absorbed through the skin, a process that is aided by the heat and humidity during bathing. Natural soaps, lotions and oils are always the best choice for your baby.


Traditional carpet and the adhesives sometimes used in its installation can be a toxic nightmare. Carpet contains too many VOCs to name them all, but includes neurotoxins like toluene and xylene and carcinogens like benzene and formaldehyde, which can off-gas into the air for years. Older carpet contains years of accumulated dust and dirt that can contribute to the development of asthma. Insecticides tracked indoors from shoes also accumulate in carpets over time. There are many other floors besides carpets that are now coming into mainstream design. Cork flooring is beautiful, soft and environmentally friendly. Bamboo is another beautiful eco-friendly option. Just make sure that the manufacturer and the installer do not use glues containing formaldehyde. Natural fiber rugs are another option that can be placed over cork, bamboo or tile floors to define a space or to give your baby a soft place to land while learning to walk. Some people just love the look and warmth of wall to wall carpet and for those there is a low VOC carpet made from recycled plastic that is even more durable and stain resistant than traditional carpet.

Indoor Air Pollution

The toxins from the sources above and more fill the air in our homes. We hear reports of smog and air pollution but according to the EPA, indoor air pollution can be 3-5 times worse than the air we breathe outside. Chemicals released into the air accumulate and cannot escape especially in newer homes that are built to be airtight and more energy efficient. When the weather cooperates, we can open the windows to air the house, but when it’s cold or when the air conditioner is running, there is little air exchange between indoors and outdoors. In families with small children, leaving the windows open can pose a safety hazard. So what can we do? One of the least expensive things we can do is to bring some plants into our home that are able to remove chemicals from the air, acting as a purifier. Not all plants are created equal in this regard. NASA tested and ranked twelve species of plants to determine the best at removing trichlorethylene, benzene and formaldehyde from the air. Here’s what they found:

  • Gerbera daisy, Dracaena Marginata, Peace lily (Spathiphyllum), Dracaena ‘Janet Craig’ and Bamboo palm were the five most effective plants for removing trichlorethylene.
  • Gerbera Daisy, pot Mum, Peace lily, Bamboo palm, Dracaena Warneckei, English ivy and mother-in-law are the best houseplants to remove benzene.
  • Bamboo palm, Dracaena ‘Janet Craig’, mother-in-law’s tongue, Dracaena Marginata, Peace lily, green Spider plant, and golden pothos are the main plants to remove formaldehyde.

Just remember to give your Gerbera daisy plenty of sun! Based on this study, an 1800 square foot home would need between 15-20 plants to clean the air. I love plants and my home is full of them. I think they create a warm and inviting atmosphere but not everyone wants to feel like they are living in a jungle. In addition, some people have allergies that prevent them from filling their home with plants. For those people and as an extra layer of protection, consider an air purifier, especially if any renovations have been done to prepare your baby’s nursery.

There are several different types of air purifiers available. The best will have HEPA or HEGA filtration and will also remove airborne gases. Beware of air purifiers that contain ionizers, as they can release ozone into the air, which is harmful to lung tissue, especially for those with asthma. Cleaners are available in a wide range of prices but also consider how much it will cost to run in terms of electricity and replacement filters. Consider how noisy a unit is when running. If you can’t let it work, an air purifier will not serve its purpose.

Scary Statistics

While it is impossible to point the finger at one particular chemical, over the last few decades, cancer and asthma rates have increased, learning disabilities have increased 191% between 1977 and 1994, autism rates have exploded 556% over the last ten years nationwide.(4) and the rate of premature births has increased by 29% since 1981(5). One thing we do know is that as a nation, our children are getting sicker.

Children learn values ​​through the actions of their parents. By making healthy decisions for your baby now, you are teaching them to make healthy decisions for themselves later in life. As parents, we only want the best for our children. Why risk your baby’s health by buying products that contain harmful chemicals when there are healthy alternatives available?

  • 1. Scientific News. October 25, 2003, vol 164, p.266
  • 2. http://www.epa.gov/pcb/effects.html
  • 3. Cancer. 1 Dec 2000, vol 89 (11) p. 2315-21.
  • 4. US Department of Education, 2002
  • 5. http://www.iceh.org/pdfs/LDDI/2004NIMHeeting

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