When the family is waiting for an increase, it is easy to get lost in the variety of more or less useful gadgets that are targeted at new parents and their babies. There is a great risk of overconsumption and since children are particularly sensitive, it is essential to think and read about the products before shopping. Many companies want to capitalize on our parental instinct to give the best to our children. As the economy often gets strained when the family is growing, companies like to suggest cheap offers. Stay critical of them. Try to find out what is really vital to get, and what may turn out to be unnecessary. For example, some children do not like a pacifier, to use a stroller/ shawl / harness or to sleep in a crib. If possible, wait until you will grasp the nuances of your child’s preferences before you buy anything. Maybe you know someone with older children so that it is possible to borrow stuff?
Under this category, we have combined advice for you who are or about to become a parent. Approach it as a guide and not as a list to check off. Becoming and being a parent is sometimes dizzying, so start with what feels easiest for you (and get help from a partner or other relative).
General advice and tips about the home environment
Many parents have a strong need for “nesting” during their pregnancy and often start “children’s room projects”. It is often cozy to prepare and make it as welcoming as possible for the new family member. But what does that mean? What to keep in mind when it comes to home environment and conscious consumption?
- As with most things: Preferably buy used. It is cheaper, more environmentally friendly, and in addition, used textiles have already been washed several times, which means that residues of hazardous chemicals have disappeared.
- If you buy new, consider choosing textiles with organic labeling. Wash them before the usage and choose eco-labeled, unscented detergents. Avoid fabric softener.
- Buy mattress covers that are free from PVC.
- When it comes to toys, think of quality over quantity. Besides, a 6-month-old baby is just as interested in an old milk carton as in an expensive toy. It takes a long time before children have requirements for which toys they prefer – take advantage of it and save money on the purchase!
- If a product smells “new” and / or strong, it may be due to the chemicals that it is treated with. Ventilate the “new” until the strong or chemical smell disappears.
- Make sure that the stuffed animals that end up in the baby’s bed are made of natural materials, organic or CE-marked. Wash them if they are new.
- Be aware of the fact that new products bring “new” dust into the house. It can be flame retardants in the new sofa, new stereo or in the new carpet on the floor. Think about what you can buy used, inherited or reused. Choose carefully and do research – it will help you a lot!
When it comes to chemicals it is a very complex and difficult subject to grasp. There are chemicals in everything, many are harmless but some could be harmful, even in small amounts. The vast majority of chemicals are not known yet because the research available does not provide the testing of each new chemical. Through relatively simple means, however, you can make a big difference for your children and for the environment.
In recent years, there is an ongoing discussion about hormone disrupting chemicals. It is a special group of chemicals that can cause major health problems even in very small doses. The reason for that is that they are similar to the body’s own hormones and thus can disrupt various processes in the body. The immune system, nervous system and reproductive system are particularly sensitive. Younger children are, of course, more sensitive to chemicals than adults as they grow and develop. They also put more things in their mouths and they eat and drink more in relation to their weight than an adult does. According to the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation, there are currently about 800 established chemicals that we know or suspect to be hormone disruptors. They can be found in everything starting from toys and clothes to electronics and furniture. For example plasticizers in plastics are available as flame retardants in electronics and as residues from pesticides in food. PCBs, bisphenol A, phthalates and heavy metals such as lead and mercury are some known examples.
However, there are several simple tricks to use as a parent for making the environment safer for their child. One of the most important things to keep in mind is the child’s exposure to hazardous chemicals and heavy metals. You can find dangerous chemicals in many of the products we use on a daily basis, and also in the homes we live in. It can be found in e.g. the paint for the walls, the mattress, the sofa and the cleaning products, children’s clothes and toys.
Some tips on hazardous chemicals and heavy metals
- As a consumer, you have the right to know what kind of chemicals are used in what you are considering buying. Maybe the store personnel will not yet have the answers, but as we ask the important questions, more people will become aware of the situation and how we can choose better alternatives. What makes the child’s overalls water-resistant? How come the cloth is not sensitive to stains? Are there chemicals in the stuffed animal that make it flameproof? What kind of plastic does the baby bottle consist of and what does the list of ingredients in the bath foam look like? Start by asking questions when you shop.
- Do not allow children to chew on things that are not intended for children.
- You should pay extra attention when pregnant because the fetus is very exposed, the placenta is not a sufficient barrier. Many dangerous chemicals and heavy metals are also passed from mother to baby through breast milk.
- Always choose products that are eco-labeled and asthma and allergy tested.
- If possible, use electronics in rooms other than the bedroom and leave it off when not in use. Electronics are flame retardant and when the electronics get hot they can emit dangerous chemicals. The chemicals collect in fine dust and can land on both the pillow and the mattress we sleep on.
- Never allow children to play with or disassemble electronics. They can contain heavy metals such as lead, cadmium and mercury as well as flame retardants that can be dangerous to your children.
- Chemicals accumulate in the smallest dust particles and children who crawl or play on the floor are the most exposed. Vacuum and clean the floors regularly.
- Ventilate the room!
- Be careful with the use of plastic in your home, especially in your kitchen. Plastic may contain phthalates which are hormone disruptors. They can be released when heated or from plastic that is scratched / damaged. In other words, do not use scratched cutting boards. Preferably heat only micro-safe plastic in the microwave. Choose plates, mugs and cutlery made of stainless steel, glass or wood rather than plastic for your children. Store the food in a stainless steel, glass jar. Beware of plastic marked 7 or the letters PC – they are made of polycarbonate and may contain bisphenol A.
- The Medical Products Agency recommends that children under the age of 16 should not dye their hair at all. This is because hair dye contains strong substances, many of which are documented to be allergenic.
- Avoid fragrances, they can be allergenic. Many of them are already banned.
- When buying new, choose organic hygiene products, textiles and toys to avoid unnecessary chemicals.
- Always wash new textiles and other products as much as possible before using them.
- Choose eco-labeled products. Then you know that the materials are really organic and that the production has been controlled.
The Swedish Chemicals Agency advises against keeping electronic products in rooms where children sleep. The reason for this is that, for example, mobile phones, televisions, computers and other things can emit small amounts of chemical substances into the air. These are substances that the product contains to get a certain property or function. For example, there are flame retardants in TVs to prevent the TV from flaring when used and heated. When we use TV, small amounts of flame retardant can evaporate and end up in the air and dust. The Swedish Chemicals Agency mentions the bedroom specifically because it is a place where children spend a lot of time, but it is of course good to avoid such products in all rooms in the house where children spend a lot of time.
The temptation to renovate to prepare for the arrival of the child is real. But paint, building materials and textiles can release chemical substances, especially when they are new. If you need to renovate, try to choose eco-labeled building materials. Rather choose wooden floors over plastic floors. Research what is best from an environmental and health point of view when wallpapering or painting. Prepare yourself by checking out the environmentally friendly options available when it comes to colors and other materials.
Children are extra sensitive to dangerous chemicals and this is also relevant for unborn children. Therefore, it is good to refrain from renovating if you are pregnant. It can also be a good idea to wait a few weeks before a baby is allowed to move into a newly renovated room, so that there is enough time for chemical substances to disappear.
When cleaning the house the most important thing is to avoid dangerous chemicals and use detergents that are made from natural ingredients instead . It is both environmentally and economically friendly. With soap, eco-labeled detergent and vinegar, you can cover most of the home’s cleaning needs. You can supplement it with bicarbonate (baking soda), lemon and other kinds of soap if needed. The Ekotipset on Instagram has many environmentally friendly tips!
FAIR ACTION nonprofit organization that works for fair trade and supervise Swedish companies on trade with low income countriesFORSKNING:SE Microplastic can contribute to both disruption of individuals and systems
CHEMICALS IN CHILD’S DAILY LIFE Governmental agency within the Ministry of Environment that examines and analyzes products so that they do not contain prohibited substances.
The Swedish Chemicals Agency has a good guide for buying and consuming TOYS
NICE THINGS ON THE WISH LIST An easy-to-read summary from Swedish Consumers of two reports from Swedwatch and Fair Action (formerly Fairtrade Center) on the conditions in the toy industry.
THE CONSUMER AUTHORITY Governmental agency that works with legal protection, product safety and information for the consumer.
SWEDEN’S CONSUMERS Non-profit umbrella organization that monitors and works for politicians, business and authorities to always put consumers’ interests first.
SWEDWATCH An organization that monitors Swedish companies in low-wage countries and has monitored companies in, among other things, the toy industry.
RAPEX EU Information & Warning System. Rapex is a network where EU countries’ regulators can notify each other of dangerous products and thus protect consumers.