Getting your home ready for a new baby? What you need to know about toxic chemicals in household and baby products.

For some mums-to-be, the urge to clean and tidy their home in the later weeks of pregnancy is as great as the urge to reproduce in the first place!

For others, like my sister, it’s an accurate sign that the birth is fast approaching; she knows that once she starts scrubbing the skirting boards she may as well go to the hospital!

The term nesting refers to an instinct or urge in pregnant animals (both mammals and birds) to prepare their home for the upcoming newborn(s). In human females, it often occurs around the fifth month of pregnancy, as late as the eighth, or may not occur at all. For some, it may be strongest just before labour.

Getting home ready for a new baby is a huge job, and one I’ve now undertaken twice.

I remember the big bake ups and extra meals I made to stock the chest freezer before both baby’s arrivals like it was yesterday. I also recall dropping the cake tin, and cake, after my third trimester belly got in the way while removing it from the oven and I’d rather forget almost passing out when scrubbing the shower and bathroom with chlorine bleach in the final weeks of my first pregnancy.

Nesting typically involves tidying and cleaning our homes from top to bottom, a task most of us undertake using everyday household cleaners. Although the urge to nest is probably as old as human evolution itself, the cleaning products used these days are only a generation or two old.

In place of inconspicuous products like bi carb soda, vinegar and elbow grease that our grandmothers and great-grandmothers used, today we choose chlorine bleach, cloudy ammonia and antibacterial sprays and wipes. These products contain endless lists of chemicals, many of them untested on humans. It’s kind of ironic to think that if you worked in the factories where these products are made you’d be covered in personal protective equipment to reduce your exposure, a precaution we sadly don’t take in our homes.

We go to such great lengths to get our homes ready for baby, completing tasks like washing and folding baby clothes and cloth nappies, decorating the nursery, stocking the freezer with meals, installing safety latches on cupboards and safety gates on doors, that we tend to overlook one of the greatest hazards in the home, chemicals.

In fact, rather than reducing the amount of chemicals found in the home before baby arrives, we tend to add MORE!

Baby washes, lotions, instant sanitisers, nappy creams, wipes and disposable nappies (yep, they contain chemicals too!) are all welcomed into our home when we have a baby.

It’s not just the chemicals that we’re exposing ourselves to in our nesting pregnant state that’s the issue, it’s the ongoing use of these chemicals in our homes that goes on to impact the health of our children.

Babies and young children are at a higher risk to the harmful effects of toxic chemicals because their immune systems, organs, tissues and nervous systems are growing and developing rapidly each and every day.

Also, children tend to crawl, play in dirty areas, and use their hands and mouth to explore and learn about their world. Even as children get older, their play, behaviour and lack of awareness to hygiene continues to make them more vulnerable. Adding harmful toxins for them to breathe in or lather onto their skin and hair only increases risks of health problems.

Household products such as bleach, ammonia, window, wood, oven, bath and toilet cleaners, dish and laundry detergents, and air fresheners can be dangerous to a child’s health. Such chemicals in our homes have been linked to conditions including asthma, eczema, neurological problems, early puberty and Autism Spectrum Disorders.

The Children’s Environmental Health Centre (CEHC) has developed a list of ten chemicals found in consumer products that are suspected to have a link to autism and learning disabilities. The top ten chemicals are lead, methylmercury, PCBs, organophosphate pesticides, organochlorine pesticides, endocrine disruptors, automotive exhaust, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, brominated flame retardants, and perfluorinated compounds.

Sounds a bit scary, huh?

These days it’s pretty hard to totally avoid chemicals; they’re all around us in the air we breathe, water we drink and bathe in, and food we eat. The news isn’t all bad though, as we can take many steps to reduce chemicals in our home and lower our exposure.

This is a guest post by Laura Trotter, Environmental Engineer, with a Masters of Science degree in chemistry and mother of two busy boys. Laura is passionate about educating and inspiring mums to parent more sustainably . Download her FREE eguide ’11 Steps to Ecofy Your Home”


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  • Bronwyn

    Pinky, I love your books and your live chats on babies and parenthood. They are one of the things that have kept me going through raising my little ones.

    But, I’d really appreciate it if – in this article – you could back up your claims with some evidence. I totally agree that we should be mindful of the substances that we use in our homes, but you claim that “such chemicals in our homes have been linked to conditions including asthma, eczema, neurological problems, early puberty and Autism Spectrum Disorders.” If you could provide a reference to some peer-reviewed research that backs up this claim, it would make it a whole lot stronger.

    Likewise, the list of 10 harmful chemicals from the CEHC do sound scary, but that’s mostly because most of them have long, complicated names. It’s not at all clear to me that they are found in household cleaning products. Most are found in the environment, either in air or water. The exception is brominated flame retardants, which may be in furnishings, but I am still not sure they would be in cleaning products. But if you do have evidence that this is the case, I will happily be corrected!

    • Laura Trotta

      Hi Bronwyn,
      This post is a guest post written by myself, an environmental engineer with a Masters of Science degree in chemistry, and founder of the Home Detox Boot Camp, an 8 week program that guides participants through the process of creating a healthy home without synthetic chemicals.
      The article’s intent is to highlight the general high number of synthetic chemicals we have in our homes (typically in cleaning products but also in our furnishings, plastics in the home, body products and pest control products), many of which are adding to the chemical load on our bodies and are manifesting in a variety of health conditions such as those mentioned in the article.
      The list of 10 harmful chemicals are those found in many consumer products (not restricted to cleaning products).
      There are many peer reviewed articles out there by medical professionals on this topic and it was covered in great detail recently by ABC’s Catalyst program in “Our Chemical Lives” (available on iview).
      As mentioned, this is a general article to help make pregnant women and mothers of young children more aware of some of the impacts of chemicals in their homes. These impacts are covered in greater detail in the Home Detox Boot Camp by our medical contributor, Dr Natasha Andreadis one of Australia’s leading endocrinologists.

  • Liz

    love this article Pinky & Laura! Anyone looking for more info on toxic chemicals should check out Alexx Stuart’s “30 days to your low tox life” course. I’m not affiliated with Alexx, I just finished the course and loved it. “the Disappearing Male” is also an excellent documentary showing the science behind the effects of these chemicals. There are so many better choices we can make for our kids, particularly in pregnancy and infancy.

    • Laura Trotta

      Thanks Liz! So glad you enjoyed the article!

      I’m soon be re-opening the virtual doors to my popular 8 week Home Detox Boot Camp, where I guide participants through a thorough home (and life) detox. You may already be up to speed with some of what I cover, but you can check out my free training series in the link at the end of the article above.

      All the best with your journey as you continue to detox your home. 🙂

  • Dina

    HI there. I am very interested in this but all I really want is a list of products that are safe. I don’t have time to scour the ingredients of all these products to try and work out which ones are safe or not. Does anyone have a list? I’ll just go out and buy those. Done.

    • Pinky McKay

      Have a look at Ecostore products – safe, gentle and work really well.

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