The natural nurseryHome » Latest issue » Good, issue 21 » The natural nursery
Creating an eco-friendly room for baby is easier than you might think – focus first on the basics and choose natural, organic and sustainable materials
A healthy start
We all know that good insulation is the key to a warmer, drier and healthier home. Because babies’ immature immune and nervous systems are still developing, they’re generally much more susceptible than adults to environmental pollutants such as mould spores, dust and fumes. But adequate ventilation and maintaining a constant bedroom temperature of between 16 and 20°C will help keep your baby happy and healthy.
Insulate the ceiling, floor and walls to reduce energy loss. Double-glazing (or insulated floor-length drapes) will stop heat escaping through the windows and cut down on external noise during your baby’s sleep times. One really simple and cost-effective option is to sew lined duvet inners to the back of the nursery curtains.
For winter, replace unflued gas heaters with clean-burning, efficient alternatives. Inefficient fan heaters are also best avoided. While mould and mildew resulting from a damp home will exacerbate respiratory problems, excessive heating in the baby’s room may also dry the air too much, which in turn will dry the mucous membranes lining your baby’s nasal passages and could cause coughing.
If you’re unsure of the room’s temperature and to help you keep it within the desired range, try using a wall-mounted thermometer.
Dust isn’t something you want in babies’ rooms, especially if they’re prone to respiratory problems.
Up to around six months of age, babies instinctively breathe through their noses, not their mouths, so a stuffy, blocked nose will cause stress and discomfort.
Pure-wool carpets and rugs harbour fewer allergy-causing dust mites, while wooden floors are easy to vacuum and mop.
With floorboards, it’s a good idea to install underfloor foil, which will significantly reduce heat loss and draughts from below. If the house is carpeted, have the carpet in your baby’s room (and the rest of the house) professionally cleaned using eco-friendly products.
Try local company Cleanspace, or for a new flooring option, consider sustainable cork – it’s both a natural heat and sound insulator.
Busy patterns, black and white stripes and bright primary colours provide stimulation for a baby’s developing brain, and are ideal for toys and daytime play areas. Opinions vary, but colour theory suggests that calming, paler shades are better suited to nursery walls to help your baby sleep. Pastel blues and pinks may seem a bit old hat, but there are loads of lovely neutrals and soft deco hues to choose from.
Preparing a baby’s bedroom usually involves choosing a suitable wall colour and applying a nice, fresh coat of paint. But that lingering new-paint smell is caused by the release of potentially harmful volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Thankfully, healthy, water-based, low-VOC options are available. Check out Hudson Paint’s 100 percent acrylic chalkboard paint for a wall you can write on.
Resene’s KidzColour range has 72 shades and includes Resene Magnetic Magic and Resene Blackboard Paint so little ones can at a future time personalise their rooms and put up artwork without damaging the walls. Resene has a number of low-odour products approved by Environmental Choice – but you should still open windows and doors to ensure adequate ventilation both during and after painting. Even low-odour paints need air circulation to cure properly and help paint emissions disperse. Don’t put your baby to sleep in a newly painted room until the paint smell has completely disappeared.
Soft furnishings make your nursery comfortable and warm – and natural, unbleached, eco-dyed fibres are best. Sheets, cushions and mattress protectors made from organic cotton and bamboo fibres, available at Organic Baby, are ideal choices. For blankets, wool, especially merino, is perfect. Try Nature Baby, Isolation Merino or Babu for merino handknitted blankets.
Organic cotton, hemp, linen and jute are excellent fabric options for curtains. When selecting a bassinet or cot mattress for your baby, avoid anything containing plastic, polyester and polyurethane foam, and make sure the mattress has not been manufactured with potentially toxic chemicals such as PBDEs (polybrominated diphenyl ethers), solvents and formaldehyde. These chemicals are typically used to make products flame-, moisture- and stainresistant. Instead, opt for natural rubber, latex or wool products. Nature Baby mattresses use 100 percent certified organic wool knops encased in a certified organic linen/ cotton blend, while Innature’s hypoallergenic, antimicrobial and dustmite resistant mattresses are made from natural latex, coconut fibre and wool. Bacteria, mildew and mould cannot live in latex foam.
Safe and sound
Steer clear of nursery furniture made with MDF and laminates, which can off-gas harmful fumes. Instead, choose sustainably sourced plywood from Carter Holt Harvey or solid wood options. Vintage furniture can add character to a baby’s room and a piece passed down through the family may also have sentimental value, but check that your pre-loved cot complies with current safety standards and is painted with lead-free paint. Consider where you place your baby’s cot or bassinet. Choose a draught-free spot away from potentially draughty windows and preferably beside an insulated internal wall.
Be sure to fit safety catches on windows. These serve a dual purpose: they restrict the opening, keeping intruders out while allowing air to flow into the room; and when your child becomes mobile, they’ll prevent accidental falls. While you’re on the job, don’t forget to install a smoke alarm in or near your baby’s room. Visit the NZ Fire Service website (www.fire.org.nz) for more.
Furnished with love
Few DIY projects are as much fun as decorating a nursery. You can let your imagination run wild with whimsical themes and colour combinations you wouldn’t dream of using elsewhere in your home.
Remember, though, that your child won’t always be into Winnie the Pooh or Dr Seuss, so choose big-ticket items that will last the distance or can easily be modified. For example, customise a plain white or timber chest of drawers with cheerful, coloured drawer pulls that can be repainted or replaced as your child grows.
Opt for removable decals or borders, and use cushion covers and artwork to reflect your chosen theme. You can then sell such items when your child is ready to reinvent their room. If you want to add a splash of colour, paint a feature wall and leave the rest in neutral tones.
For the final touch, inject more personality with a mobile and toys made from sustainably-harvested wood and non-toxic paints.
There’s a compulsory standard for all cots sold in New Zealand, and anyone selling a non-complying model risks a heavy fine. If you list a cot for sale on Trade Me you must first check that it complies with the standard. Here’s a quick checklist for buying second-hand:
• A sturdy construction – so the cot won’t tip over and the bottom can support a baby’s weight.
• No sharp edges and no gaps or protrusions that could trap a child or catch their clothing.
• Cot sides high enough to stop a small child climbing out and spaces between the cot bars between 50mm and 85mm wide.
• No broken or wobbly bars and corner posts that don’t stick up more than 5mm.
• All bolts and screws are tight.
• A snug-fitting mattress without gaps so a baby cannot become trapped underneath.
For more information and to check the guidelines for portacots, go to www.consumer.org.nz/reports/second-hand-childrens-products/cots