Allergies including asthma and eczema are increasing at an alarming rate in developed countries like New Zealand. In fact we have the second highest prevalence of asthma in the world (after the UK) with one in four of our children experiencing asthma symptoms. We believe one of the reasons for this increase is our obsession with cleanliness, which means our babies and young children are not being exposed to the numbers of bugs and germs that help them develop stronger immune systems. Research supports this idea, which is known as the ‘Hygiene Hypothesis’ but it has yet to be categorically proven. Rather than wait for science to prove us right or wrong we think it’s best to play it safe and reduce potential allergy triggers in your home.
Creating a healthier home for your baby
Indoor air: Potential asthma triggers in the air include cigarette smoke, fly sprays, air fresheners, strong perfumes and aerosol cleaning sprays. Some building materials, furniture and carpets also give off fumes that might make asthma worse. It’s best to clean your home with the windows open wherever possible and preferably with your baby in another room. If you have an older child that wants to ‘help’ with the cleaning then give them water and a cloth rather than exposing them unnecessarily to potentially harmful chemicals in cleaning products.
VOC’s: It pays to be extremely careful of the fumes which come from fresh paint or new carpet. Low VOC (volatile organic compounds) paint is available; most paint companies offer an ‘eco’ range. New carpets can release powerful toxic fumes from any adhesives or latex backing. The best alternatives are pure wool carpet, sisal flooring if the budget allows or polished wooden floors with some rugs for warmth.
In the laundry: Try to use laundry products that are free of enzymes or optical whiteners. These can leave potentially harmful residues in baby’s bed linen and clothing which is up against their skin 24/7. If these become damp, as babies linens often do, the moisture can reactivate any residual chemicals and potentially cause irritation.
New baby clothes and linen: We recommend washing these first with a gentle plant based formulation. New linen is often dressed with toxic chemicals. During the processing of conventional cotton into clothing, toxic chemicals may be added at each stage: silicone waxes, harsh petroleum scours, softeners, heavy metals, flame and soil retardants, ammonia, and formaldehyde to name a few.
In the kitchen: Bisphenol (BPA) is often found in baby bottles as well as in the lining of aluminium cans of food and drinks. Research suggests that people who drink from bottles made of polycarbonate plastic have much higher levels of BPA in their bodies. Studies have shown that BPA disrupts hormones in animals, leading to early sexual maturity, changes in development and reduction in sperm in the affected organism’s offspring. We suggest using glass or stainless steel wherever practical or look for plastics that are labelled ‘BPA Free’.
In the bathroom: Sodium Lauryl Sulphate (SLS) is a widely used cleaning agent found in detergents and body care products. It’s a strong detergent for removing stains and it is also used to create foam, so is often used in children’s bubble bath. SLS can be absorbed through the skin and penetrate systemic tissues such as the brain, heart, spleen and liver. We recommend avoiding any products with this ingredient.
Washing your hands: New parents change a lot of nappies and are forever in the bathroom washing their hands. It might seem like the right thing to use an anti-bacterial hand wash or soap, yet antibacterial soaps have no better cleaning properties than normal soap, and are often loaded with nasty chemical ingredients like Triclosan that strip your skin of it’s natural protective oils, and can aggravate the skin, leaving it red and itchy.
Natural toys: Many plastic toys are made of polyvinyl chloride, a type of plastic that’s made with phthalates. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has raised concerns about phthalates because of their toxicity, the cumulative effects of exposure to multiple chemicals in this family of chemicals, and evidence that human and environmental exposure to these chemicals is pervasive. We recommend toys that are non toxic and PVC free such as wood. Soft toys can be placed in the freezer overnight – the cold will kill any germs and dust that may be present making the toys safer to play with or chew on.
Lead Based Paint: Any house built before 1980, was probably painted with lead-based paint. When it’s removed there are risks of absorbing the lead through contact with skin, or from the atmosphere through sanding dust or flakes. To remove lead-based paint, take precautions including keeping your children and pets away.
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