Flame Retardants in Baby Sleepwear: the Invisible Poison

Emily in her Fleece PJs (Before I Knew about Flame Retardants in Sleepwear)

Emily in her Fleece PJs (Before I Knew about Flame Retardants in Sleepwear)

I learned last week that pretty much all of the baby microfleece sleepwear out there is coated with flame retardants. So, today, I spent the afternoon going through Emily’s sleepwear and chucking all of the microfleece. I suppose that somewhere in the back of my mind, I suspected that it was all toxic, but the prints were cute, and I had other topics to think about. I recently joined DiaperSwappers, and one of the discussion threads mentioned the flame retardants used in fleece pajamas. Say, what? A lightbulb went off in my head.

I immediately Googled “flame retardants in baby sleepwear.” Here’s what I found:

Ok, the first thought that went through my head was, “My baby doesn’t smoke in bed, so who cares?” But babies don’t generally catch on fire from lying around in their cribs — they crawl and toddle too close to fireplaces, stoves, candles, space heaters, and other sources of heat. Since we have a wood stove that heats the house, I just bought a metal fence that surrounds it and keeps little hands, feet, and other body parts and clothing far away. Before I installed the fence, Emily would always make a beeline for the wood stove in the morning. It was impossible to steer her in another direction, because she would always head back to the stove just like it was a beacon in the darkness. I feel better now.

In 1971, Congress passed a law declaring that all baby sleepwear from 9 months to size 14 needed to be flame resistant enough to self-extinguish if exposed to an open flame for 3 seconds or more. At first, companies used an extremely toxic flame retardant called TRIS on baby pajamas, but it was phased out in 1977 because it caused cancer and sterility in test animals. Nice. In 1996, Congress decided that tight-fitting cotton sleepwear didn’t need to be doused in flame retardants because the snugness of the sleepwear prevented the flow of oxygen between the garment and the baby’s skin and automatically prevented the sleepwear from catching on fire. But worried parents still demanded flame-resistant sleepwear. Cotton sleepwear is now being treated with a chemical called PROBAN, which has been linked with genetic damage, cancer, and damage to the liver and nervous system. The fleece fabric in baby pajamas is almost always treated with flame retardants. Even if a company brags that its fleece sleepwear has not been treated with flame retardants, the fabric itself might have been chemically bonded with the flame retardants before the garment manufacturing process even began, and the clothing company doesn’t have to disclose that information to you. It’s a bit deceptive. Emily’s fleece sleepbags and blanket pajamas had no labelling of any kind indicating they were doused with toxic chemicals. Maybe they were and maybe they weren’t, but I chucked them all just to be sure.

So, I’m going to just assume that all fleece sleepwear contains flame retardants. But how do you figure out which cotton sleepwear contains PROBAN? Look at the label. If it is flame retardant-free, the tag should say, “For child’s safety, garment should fit snugly. This garment is not flame resistant. Loose-fitting garment is more likely to catch fire.” The permanent label should say, “Wear snug fitting. Not flame resistant.” I chucked a lot of cotton sleepwear that was neither snug-fitting nor labelled as not flame resistant. I also discovered tags that offered laundering instructions to preserve the flame retardant properties of the sleepwear. I chucked those garments too.

So, how do you keep those harmful chemicals away from babies while keeping babies safe from fire? Here are some options for you:

  1. Be a label reader. Stay away from microfleece sleepwear and look for garments that say, “Not intended for sleepwear” or “This garment is not flame resistant.”
  2. Choose organic cotton sleepwear or other natural fibers like bamboo.
  3. Make sure your baby’s natural fiber sleepwear is snug-fitting.
  4. Fall in love with wool. Wool is naturally fire-resistant and keeps babies warm in winter and cool in the summer. This winter, Emily has been sleeping in a merino wool sleepsack over a long-sleeved merino wool onesie and footed pajama pants that are all made by a company called Woolino. With the nights warming up a bit in the last week, I’ve been dressing her in a short-sleeved cotton onesie over a Disana wool diaper cover and covered by the Woolino sleepsack.
  5. Remove sources of flame from your baby’s proximity or put barriers around them.

We have enough toxic chemicals in our environment. Please do your very best to keep your baby safe from fire, but use natural alternatives to flame retardants whenever you can.

Don’t get me started on the baby products like car seats, crib mattresses, and changing pads containing polyurethane foam that are completely doused in toxic flame retardants. I’ll save that rant for another day.

Informing Yourself about Childhood Vaccinations

I’ve been a childbirth educator for the last thirteen years. When I teach HypnoBirthing childbirth classes, I always emphasize the idea that parents become “consumers of childbirth.” By that, I mean that they need to do their due diligence and research and make informed decisions about the medical care they receive during their pregnancies and births. They need to carefully select a caregiver to work with and inform themselves about medical procedures that might or might not be used on them. When my own pregnancy came around this year, I felt like I was extremely prepared for my birth. I was calm and confident, and the birth was a beautiful experience.

Fast forward to two months later, at my daughter’s two-month well baby check-up. Imagine my shock when my pediatrician said it was time to vaccinate her for whooping cough, diptheria, tetanus, pneumococcal disease (PCV), rotavirus, and Hib meningitis. Huh? What? I was completely unprepared. I had never even heard of rotavirus, pneumococcal disease or HiB, so I said yes to the whooping cough vaccination combination (DTaP), and refused the other three so that I could go home and do a little reading up on the subject.

I’m sure I’m not alone here. The first eight weeks postpartum were my babymoon. I was deeply in love and getting to know this new little amazing being in my life. The sudden onslaught of recommended vaccinations completely took me by surprise. If you’re going to be an informed consumer of childbirth, you need to extend your information to the world of vaccinations. In the United States, a child will receive 36 vaccinations by the time they’re five. That’s a whole lot of injections. Inside each injection is a certain quantity of aluminum and formaldehyde as well as the virus or bacteria you’re vaccinating against. California passed a law to prevent drug manufacturers using thimerosol (mercury) as a preservative in vaccines for children under the age of five because of fears of nervous system damage, but there are still some vaccines that have it.

So, what can you do? Educate yourself early, before that two-month well baby check-up comes around. This article is not written to advise you to vaccinate or not vaccinate your child. That is a personal decision that only you can make. Instead, be prepared and do your background research into the vaccines that are used in your area. In California, we have the Hepatitis B vaccine that a baby is injected with at birth, and then there are recommended vaccines for two months, four months, six months, twelve months, fifteen months, eighteen months, and another batch before the child starts kindergarten.

Here’s what I did. First of all, I went online to see what the recommended vaccine schedule was for children in California. Then I compared that with the recommended vaccine schedule from 1974 to get a sense for what the bare bones vaccinations were forty years ago. Then I looked at vaccine schedules that other countries use. And then I started reading books. There are two books that I recommend. One is “The Vaccine Guide,” by Randall Neustaedter, O.M.D., and the other one is “The Vaccine Book,” by Robert W. Sears. And finally, I visited a naturopathic physician and asked him about alternatives to vaccinations. He didn’t recommend or not recommend vaccinating my child, but he did emphasize to me that I can always delay vaccinations. It’s ok to wait. I don’t need to follow the recommended schedule, and there are catch-up schedules that I can follow instead of the regular schedule. If my child catches one of those childhood illnesses that we vaccinate against, we also discussed ways to boost my child’s immune system to minimize the impact of illness on her. He uses homeopathy, which is incredibly effective against childhood illnesses, both in prevention and minimization. Also, I spoke with my pediatrician about spacing out vaccinations so that my baby would only have one injection per visit. It would require more visits, but there is less chance of overwhelming my child’s immune system with too many vaccinations at once.

Be ready for childhood vaccinations before they overwhelm you. Whether you decide to follow the recommended schedule or the catch-up schedule or choose alternatives to vaccination, it’s up to you to research the benefits and the risks of vaccination and to be confident in the decisions you make for your child’s health. There’s a lot of hype in the media from both the pro- and the anti- vaccine groups. It’s up to you to decide what’s best for your child.

When to Avoid Massage

While my clients appreciate the many benefits of massage, such as reducing pain and stiffness, recovering quickly from injuries, reducing stress levels and blood pressure, and boosting immunity, there are also times when you should either wait or see your doctor first. I’ve realized over time that many of my clients don’t know when to avoid massage. Here are a few examples:

  • When you’re coming down with an illness
  • If you’ve just had a vaccination shot
  • If you’re recently recovering from major surgery (with general anesthesia)
  • With burns (including sunburn) or open wounds
  • With severe osteoporosis
  • If you’ve been diagnosed with blood clots, especially in the legs
  • With major injuries, unexplained pain, or fractures
  • If you have any contagious skin conditions
  • If you have any kind of blood clotting disorder
  • If you’re being treated for cancer

With these tips in mind, I hope you continue to take good care of yourself and make sure that you follow an inspiring self-care routine. Here’s to your good health!