Many women report a strong urge to get ready for the baby as they approach the third trimester. This is the ideal time to think about what you will need to buy, or ask to be given.
You are likely to find that you don’t need as much as advertisers might like you to believe. You may want to have fun decorating a room for the baby, buying beautiful furniture, soft carpets, and an army of stuffed animals. This is not a requirement, however, and many of us will find it easier to hold off on too many purchases until we have had the baby and know more about what works best for us.
Many of us will do something most of our parents wouldn’t have dreamed of: sleep with our babies. One of the main reasons for this shift toward cosleeping (defined as the baby being in the same room, or in a sidecar-style crib), or the family bed (where infant and parent share a bed), has to do with breastfeeding. More and more women are breastfeeding their babies now, and they find it is easier if the baby is next to them during the night.
Women who sleep with their babies are following a well-established practice. In 67 percent of cultures around the world, babies and children sleep either in the same bed as their mother or both parents, or in a separate bed in the same room, until they are at least one-year-old¾and many go well beyond that age.
The United States has consistently varied from the norm. Here infants are given their own beds and their own rooms right from the start.
Mothering.com contains a wealth of information about cosleeping and the family bed. Here are just a few reasons to cosleep:
- Cosleeping reinforces the practice of breastfeeding and all the benefits that go along with it.
- Babies’ brains are not fully developed, and they are not adept at managing the shift between conscious, controlled breathing and unconscious, automatic breathing until they are three- or four-months-old. Cosleeping seems to help babies with this because of the influence of the sound of parental breathing and the external stimulation of being right next to another body. When babies and mothers are monitored while cosleeping, their brain-wave activity, heart rates, muscle movements, and breathing align.
- Research suggests that infants who sleep in the same room with their mothers have significantly lower rates of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Japan, for example, where cosleeping is the cultural norm, has the lowest rates of SIDS in the world.
- Cosleeping is reassuring to both baby and parents and may help secure their bond. Parents who work all day find this to be particularly helpful in promoting that feeling of closeness.
- Most children seem to grow out of the family bed arrangement entirely on their own. At some point, children feel they would like to have their own space and are ready to sleep alone. This may be reassuring to parents who would like to try cosleeping but fear their children will never want to leave their beds.
If you are considering cosleeping, there are a few simple safety guidelines to follow.
Decorating Baby’s Room
Regardless of the type of sleeping arrangements you and your family decide on, you may feel you want to do some work on your home. Perhaps you’d like to repaint your bedroom, or create a special playroom for the baby. While you are pregnant, you need to be cautious about exposing yourself to environmental contaminants, including those used in most home improvement projects.
It is best to avoid painting while you are pregnant. Many types of toxins, including paint fumes, can cross the placenta, exposing your baby to their effects.
First and foremost, be aware of the hazards of lead contamination. If you live in a home built prior to 1978, there is a good chance that underlying paint layers contain lead. If you sand the walls, and particularly the decorative moldings, you will breathe in lead dust. Have your home tested before you do anything, or buy a lead test kit at the hardware store.
Avoid using oil-based paints. All paints contain solvents, but those in oil-based paints are particularly dangerous. Latex-based paints can also contain hazardous chemicals that off-gas, or create fumes, which you can breathe in.
Your best bet is to look for paints that are labeled VOC-free and are low-biocide. Volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, are in paint and vaporize into the air we breathe. Low-biocide paints are 90 to 95 percent free of preservatives and fungicides. If you live in a humid area, though, where mildew is common, you do need to use a paint that contains a fungicide. VOC-free and low-biocide paints can be more expensive to use, but are well worth it.
Wallpaper, if it were truly made of paper, would be a good alternative to paint. These days, however, most of them are made from vinyl, which can off-gas and may contain hormone-disrupting substances.
Remember to keep the space that is being worked on well ventilated and sealed off from the rest of your home. Try to stay away as long as possible, and definitely as long as you can smell fumes. Try to get all the paintwork done at least a month before the baby is due.
To begin with, carpets harbor dust, and lots of it. A wall-to-wall carpet may not be the best choice for a room where the baby will spend a lot of time. As well, carpeting, the adhesives used to attach it, and the padding underneath it can continue to off-gas for up to five years.
Area rugs are a good alternative. Stick to natural fibers, such as organically grown wool, cotton, hemp, jute, ramie, or goat hair. Avoid rugs that are made from synthetic materials or backed with synthetics. Check to see if the rug has undergone any type of chemical treatment to make it stain or mothproof. Air new area rugs out for 72 hours (preferably outdoors) before putting them in place.
If you decide to have your wooden floor refinished, ask about using water-based urethane instead of polyurethane. These new products are proving to be almost as durable as the traditional sealants. After the floor has been refinished, air the room out for 72 hours before using it again.
Those antique cribs and old-fashioned rocking chairs are tempting and often seem to be so much better crafted than their modern equivalents. Any crib manufactured before 1990, however, is not subject to the current safety standards. Those standards ensure that crib bars, for example, must be no more than two- and three-eighths inches apart to keep the baby’s head from going between them, a strangulation hazard.
Another problem with antique baby furniture has to do with lead paint. Most paints used on furniture prior to 1988 contained lead. Therefore you must make sure that these pieces are completely stripped and refinished before you use them.
Recent research also indicates that halogenated fire retardants, dangerous chemicals which are commonly added to polyurethane foam and other fillings found in mattresses to reduce flammability, are released with ongoing use. Infants can inhale the chemicals or ingest them by putting their hands in their mouths after touching the products. The chemicals have been associated with cancer, birth defects, learning disabilities, and other serious disorders. Friends of the Earth (FOE) (link here to www.foe.org) can provide you with more information about this risk and help you to check products by name to see if they make use of halogenated fire retardants.
When buying a new crib and other furnishings, try to avoid those made of laminated wood, pressed wood, chipboard, plywood, particleboard or synthetic veneers, all of which use formaldehyde-based glues. Also try to avoid plastic, especially polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and plastic coatings.
Consider purchasing a rocker. A rocking chair is a good investment that you will use well into your child’s toddler years, and maybe longer. Rocking your infant will be soothing both to her and to you in the early months and can be the perfect place to nurse. You will probably find that a rocker with arms is most comfortable, especially for nursing. Cushions or padding are essential.
Bedding, Mattresses, Curtains, and Drapes
It is best to look for items made from natural and untreated fabrics, such as cotton, wool, and down products. Certified organic cotton sheets are made of cotton grown without the use of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers. Green cotton is cotton that has been conventionally grown, but is unbleached and has not been processed with chemicals. If you want colored fabric, look for labels that use the words natural or vegetable dye.
As noted in the section about cribs, products that make use of polyurethane foams can contain halogenated fire retardants, which can cause serious illnesses with ongoing use.
If you purchase nonorganic items, they will probably have been treated with finishes such as flame retardants and stain guards. Some people are sensitive to the fumes that are emitted by those chemical treatments, resulting in headaches, skin rashes, allergies, and asthma.
Before using them, fill a washing machine with water, add one cup of baking soda, and soak the fabric overnight, agitating the machine a few times. Then wash and dry at least three times, adding ¼ cup of baking soda to the detergent in the first two washes and ½ cup white vinegar to the final wash. After three cycles, if water soaks into the dry fabric, most of the finish has been removed. If it beads up, wash and dry it again.
Mattresses for cribs need to be quite firm, and they should fit very tightly into the crib itself, leaving no large gaps around the perimeter where the baby could get stuck. Avoid pillows and cushy quilts. Bumper pads for cribs may reduce the airflow in the crib and increase the risk of SIDS, and the bumper ties can pose a strangulation risk.
Consider using blinds, which can be vacuumed, instead of curtains, which can gather dust. Avoid vinyl or other synthetic blinds. Instead choose steel, aluminum, bamboo, or wood. If they have been painted or given a wood finish, hang them outside to air out for several days before installation.
Although it is hard to imagine, your baby will be crawling and walking before you know it. Right from the start avoid dangerous items such as floor lamps with narrow bases that can topple over easily. Also make sure that pull cords for blinds and curtains are hanging on child-safe brackets, designed to keep the cords high off the floor.