'Warning for mums to be - Don't paint the nursery' was the headline in the Daily Mail recently and I'm sure you saw it across TV screens and radio broadcasts. New advice to pregnant women says painting the nursery may put their unborn babies at risk from exposure to chemicals. The royal college of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists warns pregnant and breastfeeding mothers to ditch the synthetic chemicals and their fumes in paint, new fabrics and furniture, food packaging and cosmetics, toiletries and cleaning products.
This was met with some disdain by the Mumsnet chief who claimed the list's sheer volume made it 'almost impossible to follow' and several commentators said there should be no more stress put on pregnant women. However Professor Scott Nelson, Chair of the RCOG Scientific Advisory Committee said 'There are growing concerns over everyday chemical exposure effects because many chemicals have the potential to interfere with the hormone systems in the body, which play key roles in normal fetal development. Realistically, pregnant women are exposed to a complex mixture of hundreds of chemicals at low levels, but methods for assessing the full risk of exposure are not yet developed.'
He went on to suggest that women concerned about chemical exposure should contact their obstetrician or midwife. There-in lies the main problem in my opinion, I absolutely believe that we should all be avoiding potentially toxic chemicals but my concern is that most people, perhaps even the authors of this report don't know which viable alternatives to recommend.
The truth is it's easy to ditch the chemicals in most instances. It's the small change big difference approach that works, most of us won't have the luxury of a new purpose built eco-home, even an opportunity to do a major eco-refurbishment however we can make choices on which cleaning, laundry and personal care products we bring into our homes. It doesn't have to cost the earth either (in both senses) if you think old style. We all know about vinegar and paper for cleaning the windows, half a cup of Bicarbonate of soda in warm water will clean most surfaces (add a drop of tea tree oil for the areas that require an anti-bacterial attack). A used lemon will shine a ceramic sink better than any brightly coloured detergent and don't forget of course the 1950's housewife's magic ingredient - elbow grease, and they also knew, just as expectant mothers today, what a great position squatting down to clean the floor is in pregnancy!
Forget air-fresheners. To freshen the air half fill a plant spray bottle with water and add three drops of essential oil such as Eucalyptus / Citronella (wards off insects too) or Lavender. For laundry, avoid the harsh detergents and fabric softeners and use eco plant based surfactants or opt for Soap nuts or Laundry balls. (Ah yes the wonder of Balls and Nuts!) Try the Ecoegg laundry ball ( it changes the molecular structure of the water and indeed contains Bicarbonate of soda pellets). Soapnuts are even funkier, having been used in India and Nepal for ever as a detergent. They're technically berries rather than nuts and grow on the Sapindos Markrossi tree - a very sustainable tree that bears fruit for over ninety years, You can buy a huge bag for around £5 - £8, all you need is to pop five or six soapnut shells into the drum with the washing, and when they come into contact with water they create Saponin (soap). You can even boil up the soapnuts and make your own liquid detergent, use a hand blender or just shake it up and voila - incredibly cheap foamy detergent that can be used to clean the car, surfaces, even as a shampoo - top tip add a few drops of Lavender or Eucalyptus oil so that it smells nice)
If it's time for redecoration, there are some non-toxic paints available but as for painting the nursery, who needs one? The baby has been snuggly inside the mother for 9 months - best to co-sleep (safely and not under the influence of drugs or alcohol).
I think the warning from The Royal College was right. - but there is a natural alternative for just about everything, so next time, let's have some suggestions!