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”