By Erika Landau, M.D., and Abigail Brenner, M.D.,
When it comes to babies, keeping toxins out of the air in your home as much as possible is important. Chemicals used for general household cleaning can do a terrific job removing grease and grime, but they can be particularly dangerous for the young, developing respiratory system of a newborn — and to his or her skin.
Fumes from paints and materials used in carpeting can have an impact on breathing. Of course, smoke, dust, and mold are other known culprits that can cause respiratory problems and allergic reactions.
Window seals, screens, fans, curtains, and upholstery should be freshly cleaned before the newborn comes home, because dust and grime accumulates on them. Make sure that the air conditioner filters are changed and that the heating system is checked and ducts are cleaned if necessary. Smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are absolutely necessary to install and/or check near every room.
Well before your baby arrives, it’s a good idea to get your home improvement projects done and to thoroughly clean your home. You will likely be painting a nursery, which ideally should be done at least a few weeks prior to the baby moving in — using only low- or no- VOC (volatile organic components) paint. Even if the paints you use are organic, some of these fumes can still cause harm. Finishing the painting weeks ahead of time gives the room a chance to dry and the paint fumes to dissipate. It’s never a good idea to allow a baby to sleep in a freshly painted room (such as painting it after the baby is home), because the fumes are very dangerous to a baby.
Pregnant women should not be exposed to toxins of any kind including paint, as well as household cleaners, especially aerosol products, insecticides, etc.
Also, if you have other household projects such as removing and/or installing new carpeting, do it two to four weeks before the baby comes home — especially if it is going in the nursery. This allows time for the fumes and odor to subside and the carpet to get worn in a little bit. New carpet has toxic agents sprayed on it at the factory that smell the strongest when it’s brand new. It helps to have a window open and a fan on for 24-48 hours after it’s installed. If possible, buy carpet made of natural fiber — and of course, one that is non-flammable.
When it comes to household cleaning, choose cleaning products that are environmentally safe and non-toxic. Because you are bringing home your most precious possession, you will want your home to be as clean and safe as possible.
Natural Cleaning Products
In general, the chemical products used for cleaning are harsh; they can cause eye irritation, pulmonary problems, nausea, and allergies. In addition, they can be rather expensive. It’s actually very easy to clean an entire home using only natural products that are readily available at the store and often much less expensive.
Here are some “staples” of natural cleaning products that are much safer to use, especially when a newborn is living in the house:
Vinegar: Regular white vinegar mixed with equal amounts of water will clean windows, mirrors, floors, and the bathroom.
Baking soda: Mixed with equal amounts of vinegar, this combination will clean sinks, the bathroom, and toilets. On its own with water, it will clean hard surfaces.
Olive oil: Olive oil (extra virgin not necessary!) works great for polishing furniture.
Lemon: Lemons and all citrus fruits cut grease really well.
Tea tree oil: Dilute 8-10 drops in 2 cups water for a good disinfectant.
Borax: This product can be used to combat certain fungi, cockroaches, and fleas.
On a regular basis, try to maintain a clean, safe, and non-toxic environment by dusting regularly, opening windows for fresh air, vacuuming with a filter and changing the filter frequently. Also refrain from using room deodorizers, because they have chemical components.
Household plants are good to have in your home because they purify the air by absorbing toxins and breaking down chemicals. Don’t place them directly in the baby’s room, but do place them around your home, away from where your baby will be regularly.
Be very careful of the plants you buy for your home. Some plants can be poisonous to children and pets.
Good non-toxic plants include:
- African violets
- Jade plant
- Reed palm
- Boston fern
- Weeping fig
- Spider plant
- Zebra plant
Toxic plants to avoid in the home include:
- Bird of paradise
- Elephant ears
Find a complete list of safe and unsafe plants at the American Academy of Pedial website, AAP.org.
Copyright © 2011 Erika Landau, M.D., and Abigail Brenner, M.D., authors of The Essential Guide to Baby’s First Year
About the Authors
Erika Landau, M.D., co-author of The Essential Guide to Baby’s First Year, is a New York pediatrician who completed her training at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and was a research fellow at The Rockefeller University in New York. She is a fellow of teh American Academy of Pediatrics, has a private practice, is an assistant professor of pediatrics and director of teh Student Health Center at Mount Sinai School of Medicine.
Abigail Brenner, M.D., co-author of The Essential Guide to Baby’s First Year, attended New York Medical college and completed her internship and residency in psychiatry at New York University Bellevue Medical Center. A board-certified psychiatrist in practice for more than 30 years, she is a Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association. She is the author of Transitions: How Women Embrace Change and Celebrate Life and SHIFT: How to Deal When Life Changes.