A disturbing subject and confusing topic for parents is the toxic sleep environment their children’s mattress or pillows might be creating. I’ve avoided writing this article for many months because I wanted to properly research and frankly, my head couldn’t take any more surprises. I regret procrastinating for so long because once you read this article, you’ll want to make changes. After spending hours talking with Chelsea, the co-founder of Sleepy Sheep, I have valuable information that can help you determine, rectify, and shop for healthy alternatives if you want your beds to become a truly healthy place where your children, babies, and family can get a restful sleep.
If you are purchasing duvets, mattresses, pillows or simply checking labels on current products in your home, 3 main categories need to be looked at – especially with researching mattresses and pillows! Questions to ask include what materials are used in the production of the ‘outside’ of the product, ‘inside’ of the product and ‘treatment’ of the product – and I don’t mean asking it how they are feeling… <grin> I mean if the product has been chemically treated.
The slippery coating on the outside of a crib mattress could be PVC, otherwise known as vinyl. This coating will off-gas because phthalates and plasticizers have been added to the PVC to make it bendy. Phthalates are problematic within your baby or child’s bed because they are toxic to human health, can cause reproductive complications (developmentally in boys and fertility in both genders), and cause life-long allergies or asthma problems that begin as babies.
What is your mattress, duvet, or pillows filled with? A popular material inside all mattresses, including crib mattresses is polyurethane foam. Don’t let another long ‘p’ word from the plastics world confuse you. Just think of polyurethane foam as plastic, made with petroleum that is highly flammable. I was having a hard time picturing this material and then I knew how to explain it to parents. Most or you have received or purchased a Disney licensed foam chair or fold out couch. We’ve had a Pooh Bear chair for years and once had a Sesame Street foldout couch. The foam chairs are fuzzy on the outside, and then you notice the breakdown of yellow chunks coming out the bottom as the foam breaks down… this is polyurethane foam and it’s really disgusting. Not only highly flammable, polyurethane foam off gasses VOCs (volatile organic compounds), especially toluene, formaldehyde which are toxic chemicals found in stinky nail polish. And with the flammability issue being a problem with fire regulations and the government – question number 3 comes along about what the filling is treated with.
Now that we’ve determined that the filling is flammable, what is it treated with? Besides the chemicals that are already in the filler (polyester, polyurethane foam, etc.) it is now also treated with flame retardants. We are protecting our children from a flammability issue by adding very toxic chemicals to our bed. Our mattresses and pillows are off-gassing us while we sleep. Exposure to flame retardants are so toxic they are a known cause of cancer – just Google brominated flame retardants and ask yourself if these chemicals should be anywhere near a child – especially a baby. I was shocked to find out from Chelsea that wool is naturally flame retardant and therefore is not subject to chemical flame retardant treatments when it’s used to create mattresses, etc.
I know, I’ve stressed out every parent reading this. If it makes you feel better, I flipped over the queen mattress my younger son has slept on for the last 4 years and everything I’ve just written about was confirmed with reading the mattress tag…polyurethane foam as the only material listed. I also rounded up pillows until I found one with the tag still on it and saw 100% polyester. My nemesis of late – polyester! Meaning we’ve all had our heads on plastic that has flame retardants in my house! So trust me that I feel your pain and have equally stressed myself as well.
But all is not doom and gloom since I had several light-bulb moments while talking with Sleepy Sheep’s co-founder yesterday. Chelsea gave me two very easy and low-cost steps you can make right away that will assist every bed in your home to become a healthier place….without having to budget for a wool mattress (not yet anyway).
Did you know that wool is naturally anti-bacterial, naturally flame resistant (!!), naturally breathable, and a natural allergen prohibitor because it’s a bad host to irritants such as dust mites? Wool is the superior material used in organic or natural bedding, mattresses, and pillows because of these wonderfully natural properties. I find it so hard to believe that chemical flame retardants could be eliminated in our beds if they simply contained wool, rather than synthetic materials. I loved learning that if Chelsea could recommend one change for a family to improve the ‘health’ of their bed it would be to replace your pillows with wool batting interior. And really, that makes a lot of sense. Think of the hours you spend with your nose and mouth inhaling the material of whatever your pillow is made from. Most pillows are made with polyester fill (plastic) which is not healthy and Sleepy Sheep sells pillows made with wool balls called knops. These are little balls of wool and you can choose your level of fullness and voila ~ you’ve made a very inexpensive change to creating a healthier sleep environment.
Another great insight from Chelsea was that their number one selling product are organic mattress toppers for crib mattresses and adult size mattresses. That tells me that people at some level know how disgusting the inside of a mattress is and want a barrier between their bodies and a traditional mattress. Check out this awesome tidbit from Chelsea – organic mattress toppers allow airflow around your body and because the interior of the topper contains wool, it’s fibers wick away a person’s sweat, and this moisture actually absorbs toxins that are off-gassing from a traditional mattress and causes the toxins to evaporate. I thought this was cool! The seal between your body and the traditional mattress is not 100% of course, but this alternative is obviously better than continuing to sleep on a mattress that is toxic to your heath. These toppers are a great alternative for parents just not ready to commit to the financial investment of an organic mattress.
When talking about a crib or child’s mattress, I really believe there is no financial compromise with their health. When new parents are spending $500 easily on strollers, I don’t think $250 is expensive for a healthy crib mattress where your baby will spend most of it’s time. Especially for a first baby – I think an organic mattress needs to be at the top of the list for people having baby showers. What better gift for a baby than the gift of health and a truly restful place to sleep.
I have more information that I will save for Part II and III of this series of toxic beds. There is a lot to learn and I encourage you to post comments to this article and share what you discovered once you started reading mattress, pillow, and duvet tags. Let’s try to get through the information together.