The #1 Reason to Wash Your Baby’s New Clothes

laundryLike many things that shaped my new parenting experience, I found out quite by accident about washing my baby’s new clothes. When my daughter was a newborn, a visiting aunt said, “You know it’s important to wash her clothes before she wears them.”

Not thinking to ask why (it just made sense!) I put that into practice. Only later did I learn about the prevalence of formaldehyde in new clothes.

Formaldehyde is added to clothes for many reasons – to prevent wrinkling, resist mildew growth and stains, and to set in the color. Those who are most aware of environmental and health issues in the apparel industry are beginning talks on reducing or eliminating its use, but they’re far from being implemented across the board.

You can recognize formaldehyde by its chemical odor, which is more intense depending upon how much of it has been used in a given garment. Though for health reasons I’d advise you not to sniff it and just throw it in the laundry instead.

According to the CDC, breathing too much formaldehyde can cause sore throat, cough, scratchy eyes and nosebleeds. And prolonged exposure can cause cancer. Because formaldehyde is a carcinogen. But your colors will be brighter, so… tradeoff.

To eliminate as much formaldehyde as possible in your child’s clothing, and yours (you’re his parent, so your health is top priority too!):

  • throw all new clothes in the washer, at least once.
  • air dry them or hang outside after machine drying.
  • dry-clean only clothes should be hung outside to dry
  • keep washing them and/or hanging outside until you can’t detect the smell of formaldehyde (a sharp chemical smell)
  • buy used clothes! wash these too to be safe, but likely the formaldehyde is mostly gone after it’s been cycled through one or more wearer.

As parents, it can be overwhelming to learn about the long list of potential health hazards facing ourselves and our kids. What’s helped me to navigate these is to take as much reasonable action as I’m inspired to do in any given moment. Throwing new clothes in the wash before wearing is a no-brainer for me.

To your health!

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What parents need to know about household cleaners

Once you’ve created a warm, loving home for your baby, keeping it clean is the next step. Although there are many great products on the market, making your own stash of green cleaning solutions just might get you excited about ditching the dirty. Plus, it’s more economical, and environmentally friendly. You know exactly what’s you’re putting into the air and onto your belongings, and you’re not buying an endless supply of plastic spray bottles. If you have just a few essentials, you can conjure up just about any kind of cleaner imaginable. Baking soda, vinegar, water, and essential oils top the list. But first, we’re outing a major player in the cleaning world – bleach.

Chlorine Bleach: Not Mom’s Best Friend. Many day care centers use a mixture of bleach and water as their go-to disinfectant. While chlorine bleach is strong enough to kill most germs, it also leaves behind some nasty undesirable effects. When mixed with formaldehyde or very hot water, chlorine emits a carcinogenic gas. In its typical state, it can irritate eyes, skin, nose and throat. Long-term exposure in humans can harm the immune system and increase the risk of developing asthma or allergies, particularly among those who swim in chlorinated pools. But rest assured – Mother Nature has provided us with some nontoxic alternatives.

Vinegar. Vinegar is one of the most versatile home cleaners. A 50:50 vinegar to water mixture will disinfect counter tops, make glass and windows sparkle, remove strong odors from containers, and remove greasy or dirty residue from dishes or clothes. It’s also great for removing odor from the carpet (especially if you’re going diaper-free!). Just spray and let dry.

Essential Oil. Tea tree oil has potent anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties. Dissolve 2 teaspoons in 2 cups of water, and spray on areas affected by mold or mildew (but seek out a professional if you suspect the presence of toxic molds!). The scent will be strong for a few days, but the mold will disappear and likely never return, as long as you’ve corrected the humidity.

A few drops of lemon, orange, or lavender oil can be added to a quart of water and squirt of dishwashing liquid or pure castile soap for a clean-smelling counter top spray.

Baking Soda. Baking soda is an excellent deodorizer for just about any household purpose, and is especially helpful in the bathroom. Sprinkle in the toilet, add a half cup of vinegar, and watch as the two react and bubble up. You can add a drop of lemon oil for a clean scent. Then, a quick swish of your brush and the stains should disappear.

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This content was trimmed from the vast archive of environmental and child-friendly parenting practices detailed in The Other Baby Book: A Natural Approach to Baby’s First Year by Megan McGrory Massaro and Miriam J. Katz.

How I banned flame retardants from our playroom – Part II

Our new nontoxic daybed and wool carpet

Did you know that toddlers have higher levels of flame retardants in their bodies than adults? One of the reasons is that toddlers are busy crawling on chemical-laden carpets and couches, mouthing items that have fallen on the floor and picked up the dust that gets released as carpets and furniture are used.

I felt there was really no point getting rid of our well-loved sectional if we weren’t also going to take out the synthetic carpet, which no doubt was also heavy with flame retardants. For those of you in the market, synthetic materials like nylon are destined to be sprayed with flame retardants (I’ll use the abbreviation FR from here on out) in compliance with CA law, because they are not flame retardant by nature. This applies not only to the carpet itself, but to the carpet padding as well.

I’m not a huge fan of carpets aesthetically, but I have found them to be very baby-and toddler-friendly, and I’d gotten used to the soft cushion for our playgroup attendees. I did consider having a bamboo, or better yet, cork, floor installed, then putting an area rug over that. Cork isn’t good for high-sun areas like our playroom and the bamboo option seemed to be just as pricey and much less soft. So we decided to go with the carpet.

I went on a search for carpets that didn’t have FRs in them, and soon discovered that the fail-safe way to get one was to order a wool rug, which is naturally flame retardant and therefore didn’t need to be pumped with chemicals. They also tended to be more expensive than the synthetic, stain resistant (thanks to even more chemicals) alternatives.

We scoured local stores, including one that considers itself to be eco-friendly thanks to its carpet recycling initiative. While I applaud recycling, I’m also concerned that recycling carpets with chemicals linked to cancer, reproductive disorders, hyperactivity and autism-like symptoms isn’t the most healthy practice.

Finally we found a well-priced remnant (read: leftover roll that’s been marked as clearance) from a high-end local store that advertises regularly on NPR. I was working with one of their salespeople, not one of the family members who owns the store. He repeatedly expressed ignorance about the use of FRs, and, getting sick of my broken record request for documentation that the carpet and pad contained no FRs, he said, “Look, I’ve worked with many families who order our standard rug pad and no one complains of wheezing or coughing or anything.”

If one good thing has come out of my repeated pestering of salespeople, I hope it’s that I had the opportunity to educate them. But it concerns me that I seem to be the only one out there doing this. Not that I want everyone else to rip up their carpets and have new couches made – limited budgets and resources make my choices neither wallet nor eco-friendly. But what is the alternative? Knowingly expose my children and their friends to unthinkable conditions? I couldn’t justify it.

After researching several carpet padding options, including one that’s made from recycled furniture and carpet scraps (yup, those original products contained flame retardants), we finally realized that a pure wool carpet pad was the only way to go. And the most expensive. So we ate the cost – about $3/square foot each for the carpet and the carpet padding.

I have to say we were a bit shocked when our carpet – installed with nails only and claimed to contain only non-toxic, water-based glues in its binding –  let off a new carpet smell, much like the new car smell that indicates the presence of phthalates, other harmful chemicals I avoid like the plague. But we sighed, kept our little one out of the room, and left the windows open for a few days. It’s getting much better.

Picking a carpet felt like a double-blind experiment where neither I nor the salespeople could be sure of exactly what we were getting. But we did our best and we’ll hope for the best. Here’s to a healthier future for all our children!

What steps have you made to eliminate flame retardants in your home? How have salespeople reacted to your requests?

The Hoped For, Yet Unexpected Second Baby

We trudged down a long, rugged road to conceive our son, and while future children were always in our hearts and hopes, we had anticipated a similarly turbulent course to further expanding our fam.  That disheartening path of our family-building past has undoubtedly shaped my parenting ethic and has emboldened my aspiration to be an attached, gentle mama. One specific element of my personal parenting ethic–breastfeeding–grew to become a profound and potent combination of attachment and empowerment.  Becoming a mama was such a long-held dream, and breastfeeding had become so meaningful; I made these things–dwelling in my blissfully realized motherhood and nurturing my nursing relationship with my son–my priorities.

When discussions about adding to our brood would crop up between me and my husband, these conversations were always left open-ended. I wondered about child spacing. Worried that we’d get lost on that too-familiar, dark and long path again, I wondered if it’d be prudent to wean my son altogether in order to get a jump-start on trying for another baby. In the end, I found peace in focusing my energy and attention on the relationship with the child I was already so fortunate to have. (Zero judgement towards anyone who has decided differently. That is some seriously heart-wringing stuff, and I have the utmost respect for people who have to contend with making that decision.)

Life, as it tends to do so masterfully sometimes, demonstrated disregard for our difficult decision to table growing our family. My period returned on its own at 14 months postpartum, and after three postpartum cycles, I discovered I was pregnant. It was a surprise that spun my head and world around, one that filled me with a jaw-dropping, Niagra-sized waterfall of disbelief, awe and question.

I was saturated in competing emotions: joy and trepidation; peace and anxiety; gratitude and ambivalence. I suppose these confusing feelings are par for the course when life grants a hope you long ago released. As I now trek into the 17th week of this pregnancy, that deluge of conflicting emotions has evaporated, leaving only faint water marks in its wake–now nearly invisible reminders of how stunned we were by this deeply wanted, yet entirely unexpected bit of fruit in my ute.   

In so many ways–from conception to morning sickness to support system–this  pregnancy has been strikingly different from my last. Though I’ve experienced pregnancy and childbirth before, I feel like I’m learning entirely new lessons this time. It’s exciting. And humbling. 

If you’ll join me, I hope to take you along for this journey. This pregnancy has already thrust us into big changes–my toddler is now fully night-weaned (I will share that story soon). I’m currently navigating the decision about where to birth this bundle of bebe, preparing emotionally and physically for a new bambino, and hoping to learn what attached, natural, gentle parenting looks like when you’ve got two to snuggle and wrangle. I hope that we can trade insights…

How about you? Did a struggle to conceive/sustain a pregnancy influence your parenting ethic? Have you ever debated altering your attachment tools in order to grow your family? Ever had your world rocked by a pregnancy–first, second or otherwise? How did you manage these experiences?

Rhianna blogs from her adopted hometown of St. Louis. She gives thanks to the Goddess of Elastic-banded Pants for her roundly unattractive, but so, so comfortable apparel.  Now if only the Goddess of Morning Sickness would heed her pukey pleas…

Zzzzzzz

Join me, Mama!

I love naps! Who doesn’t, right? That’s a cheap applause line if I’ve ever written one.  It’s practically “It’s great to be here in Toledo, the best city in the world.”

But I do love ‘em. I used to doze in the passenger seat on the long drive from NY to Boston; doze on planes, doze on a lounge chair at the pool, doze at my desk.  Just kidding about that last one, former bosses.  Oh that reminds me – yesterday I was watching my 3 year old jump off the side of the pool about 40 times in a row and over his shoulder I could see this middle aged dude just snoozing the afternoon away, mouth agape. I was so jealous that I wished a wasp would fly into his mouth.  Somebody’s tired, eh?

Anywho, where was I going with this? Oh yeah, so I happen to be extremely committed to awesome, consistent, gentle nighttime parenting.  My motto has always been “be the same parent 24 hours/day”.  And that, my friends, is a tall, tall order.  I’ve failed, but I keep trying because I think it’s a worthy goal and I like a good challenge.

For the first 2 years of motherhood a key component to being awesome was napping with my son.  Luckily my guy excelled at naps.  I was often the envy of playgroup with tales of his 3 hour zonk-out sessions which gave me ample opportunity to refill my tank with some shut eye by baby’s side if only for 30 minutes. Sometimes I’d be the best wife in the world and and get some household chores done to boot.
When I got pregnant with my 2nd son I was in denial that those days were over.  I fantasized about all three of us napping simultaneously.  Psych!

I’d also forgotten about the topsy-turvy day-is-night-is-day schedule of the first 60 days or so.  With #1 I remember complaining to a childless friend “I’m stuck nursing all day.”  Man, I didn’t know how great I had it “stuck” in a comfy club chair, living on Baby Time, snoozing when he did.  Just one tiny being relying on me.

My point is this and sorry for burying the lede here: Nap with your child if you are EVER offered the chance.  Just do it, okay?  Don’t think about the reasons not to, because when it comes down to it, you probably have the time or energy to cross, like, one lame thing off the To-Dos if you don’t nap.  And if you’re honest with yourself, when you don’t nap you’ll check Facebook and Perez Hilton and eat a sleeve of Thin Mints because you’re starving from breastfeeding.  So push out of your mind the dirty dishes and the last time you shaved your legs and climb in the nest. Of all the parenting choices you have in a day, that’s one decision you won’t regret.

Rebecca is Mom to one napper and one non-napper.  To quote Bill Cosby, she enjoys sleep like a good steak and is starting to “get” her grandparents 2 twin beds which she used to find hilarious.  

NonPetroleum Jelly

Photo credit: D. Kuster 2009

This is the only balm that you will ever need.

I wish that I could tell you that this is my recipe. It’s not. Instead, it is one of the ingenious concoctions of Annie Berthold-Bond (www.anniebbond.com), a best-selling author of five green living books. I came across her book, Better Basics for the Home, while I was registering for our baby shower. I instantly ordered it. It was one of the best $13 I have ever spent. It is truly a labor of love.

I made a batch of NonPetroleum Jelly when our daughter had a bout of severely dry skin at the beginning of Winter. Other lotions and creams wouldn’t touch it. NonPetroluem Jelly did the trick after one application. Safe, effective, and cheap…we had pretty much hit the jackpot. Over the course of using the first batch, my husband and I started using it on ourselves as well. We used in on our faces, lips, body, scars, cuts, dry patches, bug bites. It seemed to work on anything. I like to think of it akin to Windex in My Big Fat Greek Wedding. This balm nourishes through olive oil, protects through beeswax, and preserves through grapefruit seed extract. Try it!

NonPetroleum Jelly by Annie Berthold-Bond

2 ounces olive oil (more oil to make it less thick)

1/2 ounce beeswax

12 drops grapefruit seed extract

Combine the oil and beeswax in a double broiler and place over medium heat until the wax is melted. Remove from heat, add the grapefruit seed extract, and mix with the hand or electric mixer until creamy.

Prep time: 25 minutes

Shelf Life: 1 year

Storage: Glass jar with a screw top

If you are not sure about using the grapefuit seed extract, this is a natural preservative. Add it if you plan on storing the balm for a long time, as the oil can go rancid. I have never used it because the batches that I make never hang around more than a few weeks.

For fun, let’s do a price breakdown! For my balm I use Trader Joe’s Spanish Extra Virgin Olive Oil (33.8 fl oz for $5.99), a block on beeswax from Joann’s Fabrics and Crafts (1 lb for $6.99 after coupon). The ingredients for one batch of NonPetroleum Jelly costs: $0.35 for the olive oil + $0.21 for the beeswax for a Grand Total of $0.56. Not bad! If we add in the cost of 12 drops of grapefruit seed extract we would add on approximately $0.03.

Choose your favorite ingredients and start mixing!

Stephanie loves making her own skincare products, not only because they are better for her skin-type, but also because she is a total cheapo.

Carnival: Embracing Your Birth Experience.

Welcome to the June 2012 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Embracing Your Birth Experience

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama. This month our participants have written about at least one part of their birth experience that they can hold up and cherish.

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Photo credit: S. Kuster 2010

“Do your work, then step back. The only path to serenity”

-from the Tao Te Ching as translated by Stephen Mitchell

Giving birth is extraordinary. On the ever-changing evolutionary tree, it is one of the characteristics that binds us Mammals together. We are different. We are wonderful. On the moment that new life emerges from our womb, we can connect, suckle, soothe, and bond. There is no time for sitting on the nest. There is no room for laying eggs only to go on our way to leave them to the fate of the world. Each mammal from the tiniest mouse to the largest elephant shares a kinship in live birth and we each have our own birth story to tell.

Humans have a special place in the mammalian world. Over the course of a few million years (2Ma to present) there have been approximately 12 species of human prior to modern Homo sapiens sapiens (i.e., you and me!). How do we know this? Paleoanthropologists (the scientists that study human evolution) have examined prehistoric skeletal specimens from around the world and painstakingly put the pieces together on how humans have evolved through time. Each new skeletal find yields exciting additions to the always-developing human story. As we look at the course of human evolution from 2 million years ago to the moment that you are reading this post, there are two characteristics that stand out above all others concerning the birth process: increase in brain size and the narrowing of the pelvis.

What a combo! Homo sapiens sapiens have huge brains compared to their body size (and our brains are getting bigger!). If you look around you, this is major plus. Our technological advances are beyond compare. We have culture, computers (and, thus, The Other Baby Blog), and can fly to the moon. However, if we look at our skeletons, a problem begins to emerge. Whereas our brains have gotten larger (and, thus, our skulls as well), our pelves have not. As humans began to walk upright (on two legs), the mechanical changes required a narrowing of the pelvis (for more information on the Obstetrical Dilemma click here) for more efficient locomtion. However, if you cannot fit a fetus’ head through the birth canal, you cannot give birth (until recently, of course), and species population suffers.

The pelves of other mammals are large in comparison to the head size of the emerging baby, whereas human baby heads completely fill and expand the birth canal an astounding amount. The message is clear. Compared to the rest of the mammal world, humans have a painful and sometimes dangerous disadvantage for giving birth successfully.

But, we do it! And we do it with vigor and a primal excitement unlike any other we will ever experience. There is no perfect birth. All labor is work. It’s hard. We do our work as the Tao Te Ching suggests. No matter what happens during the journey of birth, whether you manage completely unaided or have to receive an epidural or cesearean section, we all strive towards one outcome: a healthy baby and a healthy momma at the other end. Be flexible! We are all in the trenches!

Wonderful women! Stand back from your work and embrace what you have accomplished. I have. Thank the people who have helped you through your birthing journey. You and I are now part of a long lineage of Homo sapiens who have taken part in an extraordinary (and anatomically amazing!) feat. And it feels amazing.

As you hold your newborn baby, put your toddler to sleep, or smile at your teenager from across the dinner table, it gives you a chance every day to stand back from your work and feel the serenity of what you have accomplished. Birth is just the beginning.

Stephanie’s favorite field seasons were spent at the Olorgesailie prehistoric site in the Great Rift Valley of Kenya. She studied the geology of an ancient lake littered with stone tools created by our ancestor, Homo Erectus, about 1 million years ago. 

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Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

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