Do you Know what's in your Baby's Mattress

By Emily Lynne Ion

A newborn spends between 10 and 14 hours a day lying on a crib mattress, whether sleeping, playing, or observing the world around them. Their faces press into it, causing them to breathe inches from its surface. For the first year of your child’s life, the mattress is the central object in their environment.
Due to improper manufacturer disclosure and minimal governmental regulation, many of the items we purchase for our baby’s first room are not the healthiest. Manufacturers are under no obligation to let the public know how they construct their products. So, we buy bleached, chemically-treated sheets, toys covered in unsafe paint, and straight-from-the factory mattresses.
Let’s start on the outside and move inward. The vinyl surface of most traditional mattresses is a hard plastic called polyvinyl chloride (PVC), a combination of chlorine and petroleum. To soften the plastic, hormone-disrupting phthalates are added to make the mattress flexible. Phthalates are recognized by the Environmental Protection Agency as probable carcinogens and, when ingested, may interfere with, mimic, or block hormones. Extensive studies identify hormone disruption to be most severe on the development of normal body functions. Some of the health effects for newborn boys include hormone alteration, reproductive system defects, and low fertility. For girls, phthalates are attributed to early on-set puberty. Many manufacturers are removing phthalates from other children’s products, such as baby bottles and toys. However, phthalates are not currently being removed from crib mattresses because without them they would soften and become unsafe.
Inside that vinyl covering, nearly all crib mattresses today use polyurethane foam as internal filling. Over time, the foam breaks into small, dust-like particles that can easily become airborne and release various problematic ingredients in the form of volatile organic compounds (VOC), another probable carcinogen. Once leached out into indoor air, VOCs can cause respiratory disruption, such as eye, nose and throat irritation, as well as headaches, nausea, fatigue, dizziness, and allergic reactions.
But the larger risk from polyurethane foam is its high flammability. To meet the minimum flammability standards set by government agencies, industrial strength toxic chemical fire retardants are added. The most common fire retardants used to treat polyurethane foam for the past several decades have been PBDEs, and in particular, pentaBDE. PentaBDE has recently been banned in Europe and by the State of California (as of 2006), after studies confirmed disruption of brain development and hormone systems.
PVC plastics, phthalates, fire retardants, leached VOCs – none of this is widely known and yet, especially for newborns, this information impacts healthy fetal development. The good news is that now there are many safe alternative products to prevent your child from toxic exposure.
Naturepedic, a Healthy Child Healthy World Alliance Partner, produces “no compromise” organic, eco-friendly mattress and bedding for newborns and toddlers. Made sustainably, the exterior is constructed of environmentally friendly polyethylene, a non-toxic, waterproof plastic. The mattresses are filled with organic cotton. And the flammability issue? Naturepedic uses non-harmful ingredients that meet Consumer Product Safety Commission standards. Newly certified by GREENGUARD, all Naturepedic products are guaranteed to be free of phthalates, vinyl/PVC, and polyurethane foam.
As are all things that err toward prevention rather than convention, the price tag for a safe mattress is a bit higher: a crib mattress usually starts at around $250, a toddler mattress starts at around $600. If you’re not able to splurge on an organic mattress, a more economical safeguard is to place an organic wool mattress pad down. Wool is a naturally flame resistant material that wicks away any moisture and provides that essential barrier between your child and the mattress. In addition, be sure to let your conventional mattress off-gas outside before installing it in the nursery. Use your own nose to dictate when its ready be inside: if it still reeks of the factory, it’s not ready to be near your baby.
At Healthy Child Healthy World, we advocate the precautionary principle, a fancy way of saying “better to be safe than sorry”. Although there is much we don’t know about how chemicals impact our health, we do know that with each day, science implicates them in more and more chronic illnesses and disabilities. The combined chemicals present in conventional mattresses have been linked to cancer, autism, asthma, birth defects, ADD/ADHD, and learning and developmental disabilities. When there are safer options available on the market, why take any chances with products that may damage the health of our children? You’ll rest easier knowing you’ve been safe, rather than worrying about being sorry.

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