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Eco-novice's Top Five Tips for a Healthy Nursery

Here are some simple suggestions for keeping your baby's nursery healthy and toxin-free.

Use less. I have three children. My youngest is one year old. The more babies I've had, the less baby stuff I've wanted. Even without switching to greener products, you can expose your baby to fewer toxins just by buying and using less. Buy less furniture and decor, use less baby gear, slather the baby with fewer bath and body products.

Borrow or buy used. Many products off-gas most when brand new. So using second-hand products is a great way to reduce your exposure to harmful VOCs. It's also so much less painful when your baby hates the baby gear you got for her if you only borrowed it or paid less than half price for a used version. One exception to this rule is polyurethane foam, which breaks down and sheds tiny particles (which usually contain flame retardants) more as a product ages. I don't recommend buying or borrowing foam products that are more than a couple of years old.

Sleep naturally. Babies spend a lot of time sleeping. Because of this, one of my top priorities when I started to try to live greener was to green the bed. My third baby sleeps on a mattress made of organic cotton and natural latex without any chemical flame retardant treatment, but it took me until baby #3 to get to this point. We use a wool puddle pad for leaks. Whether your baby sleeps in your bed on a king-size mattress or on a crib mattress, I would strive for natural materials without any toxic chemicals (such as brominated and chlorinated flame retardants, or antibacterial and waterproofing agents) if possible, although it's true that such mattresses tend to be much more expensive than the cheapest conventional ones. If you don't want or can't afford an all-natural mattress, look for a mattress with the Greenguard seal which insures that the mattress is not off-gassing harmful chemicals. Strive also for a solid wood (not manufactured wood) crib or bed frame to limit exposure to formaldehyde. Hopefully by purchasing less and borrowing from friends, you will be able to afford the healthy toxin-free bed you want for your little one.

Consider cloth. The first six months are the best time to try cloth diapers. Cloth diapers are far superior at preventing newborn pooplosions (runny poop up the back). Breastmilk poop doesn't stink and can go straight in the wash (it's water soluble and rinses right out). Cloth wipes work so much better than disposable ones. You'll save a bundle of money, since newborns go through a lot of diapers. And you'll keep your baby's very sensitive skin away from synthetic substances during this particularly vulnerable period of life. If you're dead set against cloth, consider using one of the greener brands of disposables (such as Seventh Generation) that discloses all ingredients used, is unbleached, and contains no fragrance.

Lower your expectations. When I try to accomplish too much, I feel stressed. And I've noticed that my baby often seems more fussy and agitated when I am stressed. My sister always likes to say that you shouldn't expect to accomplish anything for the first 6 months of your baby's life (some of my friends like to say the first year). Stress is toxic for you and for your baby. So slow down, take it easy, and just enjoy being with your baby.