CONGRATULATIONS! It’s time to start planning your baby’s nursery. This is a wonderful opportunity to express your creativity and prepare a healthy room to welcome your new baby home. Here are some decorating ideas to get you started.
1. Color considerations. It used to be that little girl’s rooms were pink and little boy’s rooms were blue. While these colors are still a popular choice, don’t feel limited by tradition. Today there are endless possibilities for color. Color has the ability to set the mood and evoke feelings of peace and tranquility, inspire creativity or get us energized. Think about how you feel in a deep red room verses a space painted a soothing sky blue. Pastel colors make a room feel spacious and promote relaxation making them a good choice for a baby’s bedroom. Think about buttery yellows or soft lilac paired with sage green. Many parents prefer bolder primary colors for their baby’s room like red, blue and yellow. These also look great and have been shown to stimulate brain activity, but think about reserving them for an older child or limiting them to a designated play area in the nursery. Infants need a lot of sleep and keeping the nursery in calming colors, prevents distraction and over stimulation.
No matter what color you chose to paint, use a natural or zero VOC paint to avoid having fumes in the nursery. If you are pregnant, try to have someone else do the painting and make sure there is adequate ventilation.
2. Create a little whimsy. Think about using an object for other than its intended purpose. For example, instead of the little plastic disks under the furniture feet to prevent the dreaded floor dents, why not use baby shoes? How about using alphabet blocks with your child’s initials as finials on a curtain rod? If you are doing a nautical theme, what about hanging up a life preserver with you child’s name painted on it?
3. Consider alternatives to carpet . New carpet may look nice and be warm and soft to walk on, but it can also be a toxic nightmare. New carpeting contains too many chemicals to list which may be released into the air for a long time. Older carpets contains years of accumulated dust and dirt that may contribute to the development of asthma. There are many other flooring options besides carpeting that are now coming into mainstream design. Cork flooring is beautiful, soft and environmentally friendly. Bamboo is another attractive environmentally friendly option. Just make sure that the manufacturer and the installer do not use any glues containing formaldehyde.
Natural fiber area rugs are another option which can be laid on cork or bamboo floors to make a play area or to give your baby a soft spot to land while learning to walk. Wool rugs are available in many fun designs for children’s rooms. Some people just love the look and warmth of wall to wall carpeting and for those there is low VOC carpeting made from recycled plastic making it even more durable and stain resistant than traditional carpeting.
4. Paint a Mural . You don’t have to be Picasso, just a little resourceful. Find a picture you like and want to paint on the nursery wall. Enlarge the picture using a photocopy machine and transfer to a clear plastic sheet for an overhead projector. This can be done at a local office supply store. Inexpensive overhead projectors are readily available on E-bay. Just project the picture up on the wall, trace, and paint. Remember to allow enough time to finish all the tracing before moving the projector since it’s very difficult to re-position it to match exactly.
5. Get a Breath of Fresh Air. Air purifiers are a great addition to a nursery. They remove dust and bacteria from the air reducing the likelihood of your baby catching a cold or developing asthma. There is a wide range of air purifiers on the market to choose from. The best will have HEPA or HEGA filtration and will also remove gasses from the air. Beware of air purifiers that contain ionizers as they may release ozone into the air which is harmful to lung tissue, especially for those with asthma. Air purifiers are available in a wide range of prices but also consider how much it will cost to operate in terms of electricity and replacement filters. Think about how noisy a unit is while running. If you can’t leave it on while your baby sleeps it will not do serve much purpose in the nursery. Air purifiers specifically designed for a baby’s nursery that come in pink and blue and make a “white noise” which actually helps your baby to fall asleep are available. Now that will help you both to rest easy!
6. Add Some Green. Plants are healthy little guys to have around the house. They not only look good as a design element, but they also work hard to clean the air. NASA has tested 12 plants for their ability to remove formaldehyde, benzene and trichloroethylene from the air (Yes…those chemicals are most likely all in your home). Consider placing a Bamboo palm, Dracaena ‘Janet Craig’, Mother-in-law’s tongue, Dracaena Marginata, Peace lily, green Spider plant, or golden pothos in the nursery and anywhere else around your home. Based on the NASA study, an 1800 square foot home would need between 15-20 plants to clean the air. Of course, not everyone wants to feel like they live in a jungle but that’s why you have the air purifier.
7. Think Organic . Organic has escaped the confines of the kitchen and has made its way into the bedroom. An organic cotton and wool crib mattress is an essential item for a healthy nursery. Traditional crib mattresses are sprayed with polybrominated diphenyl ethers (nicknamed PBDEs). Several animal studies have found that PBDEs build up in the body over time and exposure during critical growth periods may cause irreversible reproductive and nervous system damage.1 PBDEs are chemically similar to PCB’s which were banned in 1976 after they were found to cause cancer and affect the immune, reproductive, nervous and endocrine system in animals2. PBDEs are already banned in Europe but unfortunately they are still widely used in the US. Although it may seem like you never get any sleep with a newborn in the house, babies actually do a lot of sleeping–about 60% of their first year! That is a lot of time to spend in close contact with a mattress treated with PBDEs. Don’t worry that you will have to trade off fire safety for general health. The wool in organic mattresses acts to regulate temperature as well as being naturally fire retardant without the addition of any synthetic chemicals.
While we’re talking organic, opt for organic sheets to go along with that mattress. Most baby bedding contains cotton, which is the second most heavily pesticide treated crop. The pesticides used on cotton are also some of the most toxic. Choosing organic bedding will ensure that your baby is not in close contact to any pesticide residues while they are sleeping.
8. Refurbish Some Furniture. Some furniture contains particle board (A.K.A. pressed wood or MDF) which involves the use of formaldehyde in the manufacturing process. The formaldehyde can then off gas from the furniture into the air where your baby can breathe the fumes. A crib should always be purchased new to ensure that it meets current safety standards so look to see that it is made from solid wood and contains no particle board. Dressers, however, can be purchased used and painted using natural or zero VOC paints to complement the design scheme. Purchasing older, used furniture is also a good way to save some money which could be put toward other necessities…like the organic mattress, bedding and air purifier.
9. Choose a Theme. The theme is something you would want to consider first but I am putting it last because it will pull everything together. There are endless ideas for nursery themes. You could choose a cartoon character, angels, lady bugs, butterflies, fire engines, cars, sports, an under-the-sea theme…you just can’t name them all. Let’s say you decide to go with an under-the-sea theme. You can paint the walls a pale blue color like the Caribbean Sea. Get pictures of sea creatures and paint them on the walls and ceiling. Use the little children’s water shoes for underneath the furniture legs. Buy a new crib, organic mattress and air purifier and find a used dresser in a style you like. You could paint the dresser a sandy color and purchase new draw pulls shaped like fish. When your child outgrows the theme, the furniture is painted a neutral color and you can just change the drawer pulls. Consider a cork floor with a wool or cotton area rug in a sea theme. Top it off by hanging a few pothos plants to give the appearance of seaweed. You’ll have a beautiful nursery that puts the health of your baby first.