Mattresses and Bedding
Most conventional mattresses are made from polyurethane foam, nylon, polyester, and vinyl—all derived from petroleum—and are treated with anti-microbial and fire-, wetness-, and stain-retarding chemicals, including polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs). These chemicals can accumulate in breast milk and in fat, and have been shown to inhibit brain development in animals. As alternatives, consider crib mattresses made with organic cotton, wool padding, and natural rubber and free of chemicals.
The most common cause of eczema rashes in infants is food allergies—often allergies to something a breastfeeding mother has eaten—according to Dr. Harvey Karp, author of The Happiest Baby on the Block and The Happiest Toddler on the Block. But the number-two cause is irritation from soaps, laundry detergent, or chemical treatments on bedding—especially sheets—which come into direct contact with the skin, Dr. Karp says.
If you do buy a conventional (and less expensive) mattress, let it air out as long as possible before the baby arrives. A mattress cover made of untreated cotton flannel can provide a comfy barrier between baby and any offgassing chemicals, while protecting against minor leaks. A wool pad, naturally water-resistant, beneath the sheet provides an excellent second line of defense.
Janine Kourakos, a first-time mother in Brooklyn, New York, bought one of these for her daughter, Sofia. "I couldn't bear to have anything artificial touching her perfect skin," she explains, adding that the wool "feels warm in winter and cool in summer." The American SIDS Institute recommends that parents put nothing (including comforters, blankets, and top sheets) in a crib besides the baby and the clothes she's wearing.