A Search for Truth and Safe Sleep
written by: Kim Strebeck
I am a mom. I am not superwoman, although sometimes my husband loves to call me that. I work hard for my family, I stay at home with my children, I budget poorly when I go to the grocery store, I don’t clean my house enough. But I have this priority in my life: to make sure I do my best to keep my family healthy and feeling loved. I want my children to grow up and flourish in an environment of laughter, I want them to eat their veggies like candy, and I have always researched the best possible alternatives to what most of the world deems “safe”. Some call me a “crunchy” mom, but I am just a “caring” mom. I may seem a bit of an against-the-grain-er, and I like to find out the TRUTH on my own. I don’t just go with the crowd, I go with my gut. And usually, this leads me on a path of digging through the enormous amounts of research available out there in “cyber-world” to find TRUTH. The REAL truth. While it should be easy to do, I am finding more and more that truth hides itself under a cornucopia of so-called facts and opinions. And if we want to find it, we have to pursue it, or know someone who has.
In my most recent search for this elusive gem, I wanted to look into the SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) issue that has affected so many lives and families. As I am a seeker, my biggest question was:
“What, if anything, can we do to take precautions against this?”
I believe an informed parent is the best parent, and I am here today to give you information that will help you make good, solid, educational decisions for your family.
You may not even have a baby, so why is this for you? First, let me say that I am like you. My babies are older now. Yet, I am surrounded by precious bundles in my extended family and friendships. In the paragraphs to come, I am going to share information with you that I believe may be vital for your whole family.
THE TRAGEDY OF SIDS
Being a mother of older children, I have been out of the “baby world” for some time. But, I still remember bringing them home for the first time….laying them in their cribs for the first time…checking them EVERY FIVE MINUTES to make sure they were breathing. I remember the fear that came with the acronym “SIDS”. And I recall many nights of unrest, wondering if they were alive. It’s sad, but so true. I would walk up and peer into the crib, assured only by the rise and fall of their sweet chests. If I would have known then what I know today, I am sure my sleep would have been sweeter, and my fears abated. One of the statistics that made my heart pound and my palms sweat were ones like this, from the “Safe to Sleep Public Education Campaign” that states:
“SIDS is the leading cause of death among babies between 1 month and 1 year of age.” (1,2)
The leading cause. More children die of SIDS in a year than all who die of cancer, heart disease, pneumonia, child abuse, AIDS, cystic fibrosis and muscular dystrophy combined (3) . Not only that, but something that has claimed over amillion tiny, precious lives. On top of this staggering statistic, add to it the fact that I found SIDS researchers state the cause is yet unknown (4).
WHILE THEY ARE SLEEPING
While some scientists say that they don’t know why or how these deaths occur, I found a few others out there who claim to have found evidence pointing to correlations between these deaths and toxic gases found in mattresses. This was news to me, as I was unaware that mattresses gave off dangerous fumes! The more I dug, the more I uncovered concerning this factor in SIDS cases. I found so many explanations as to why this could be a possibility in contributing to a baby’s risk, I knew I must share them! To start with, let’s look at a few of the materials contained in a typical mattress. I want to act very professional when presenting these, but the momma-bear in me wants to come out and say “NOOOOOO!” Ok, here are three:
If you are like me and most of the world, you have no clue what these words represent. Be thankful because they aren’t nice. You are looking at 3 “VOCs” found in something very familiar to each of us, in a study done at the University of Texas (5).
VOC stands for “volatile organic compound”, which are emitted as gases from certain solids or liquids including paints and lacquers. Health effects can include eye, nose, and throat irritation; headaches, loss of coordination, nausea, damage to liver, kidney, and central nervous system (6).
What was the study about VOCs being done on? Mattresses! Yipes! I know, I know. I was so surprised that I had to squint my eyes at the screen to make sure I was reading this correctly. In this study, a team of environmental engineers at the University of Texas at Austin studied samples of polyurethane foam and polyester foam padding from 20 crib mattress. Their results were eye-opening, as they discovered that infants are exposed to high levels of chemical emissions from crib mattresses while they sleep! They found that body heat increased the emissions of the chemicals found, and that they were strongest in the sleeping infant’s immediate breathing zone. The study was motivated by the fact that infants spend 50 to 60 percent of their day sleeping, and are considered highly susceptible to the adverse health effects of exposure to indoor air pollutants.
Let’s think about this:
When we bring baby home, many of us go out and buy air purifiers, stop wearing perfume, switch to that no-smell detergent, all in an effort to prevent allergic reactions in our babies. And here, they may have been spending half their infancy on a mattress that is leaching dangerous toxins! It makes this mommy cringe, because I was ignorant. But no longer!
The researchers identified more than 30 VOCs (toxic emitted gases), including the three I highlighted above. I want to give you a bit of information about each of the three. Remember, these were found emitting toxic vapors in mattresses (5)! This may hurt just a little…
- Phenol is a component of industrial paint strippers used in the aviation industry for the removal of epoxy, polyurethane and other chemically resistant coatings. Phenol and its vapors are corrosive to the eyes, skin, and the respiratory tract. Repeated or prolonged skin contact with phenol may cause dermatitis, or even second and third-degree burns. Inhalation of phenol vapor may cause lung edema. It may cause harmful effects on the central nervous system and heart, resulting in dysrhythmia, seizures, and coma. The kidneys may be affected as well. Long-term or repeated exposure of the substance may have harmful effects on the liver and kidneys (7).
- Neodecanoic acid is used in a variety of applications such as paint driers, surface coatings, and cement additives. At elevated temperatures, it may form vapors, mist, or fumes. It should only be handled with adequate ventilation and in areas where ignition sources have been removed. Repeated or prolonged contact with skin may cause dermatitis (skin condition) (8).
- Linalool is the last in this short list, and I found a whole article on this, titled “Widely Used Fragrance Ingredients in Shampoos and Conditioners Are Frequent Causes of Eczema”. You can already see where this is going! Linalool is used as a scent in most perfumed hygiene products and cleaning agents, is also used as a professional insecticide, and may cause allergic reactions such as eczema in susceptible individuals (9).
Over 30 total potentially hazardous chemicals were found in this study!
As the study cited, babies are very susceptible to air pollutants. And spending long amounts of time on a conventional mattress has left them inhaling these dangerous chemicals which could compromise their precious health. This could explain conditions like allergies, eczema, skin problems, asthma. But could this go so far as to put an infant at risk for SIDS? And if so, what can we do to reduce it?
TOXIC NERVE GASES AND CRIB DEATH
I already had enough information to toss all of our mattresses off the balcony and use them for sledding down our steep driveway! Yet, deeper I go, into this issue involving our children, our future, what we hold most dear. I will save the sledding for later!
This crib mattress study is apparently not a new thing, for my research took me back to 1988, almost 30 years ago (now I feel OLD). Here, I found that research in Great Britain and New Zealand indicates that SIDS is an environmental poisoning in the crib (10). A chemist and a tent supplier noticed that chemicals in the tents were the same chemicals that had been approved for baby mattresses. This started the men on a journey to discover if there was a connection here to SIDS. The chemist began research immediately, requesting that mattresses of SIDS victims be used in his research. After testing 200 mattresses, he found that through a chemical reaction, the crib beds were contaminating the infant’s sleeping area. Much of the reaction came from the chemicals in the fire retardants. Nerve gases were produced through this reaction, thus contributing to their deaths, according to the study. I find this to be strong evidence as to the effects conventional mattresses could possible have on babies and children.
THERE IS HOPE!
I love my children so much, and I know you would do just about anything for yours (except letting them shoot you with those new air-soft rifles…don’t do it, just DON’T).
And for those little, sweet, perfect babies in our lives, we would give them the world on a platter (and then they would knock it on the ground and play the “pick-up game” over and over and OVER).
WE ADORE OUR CHILDREN. We don’t want them to hurt, we don’t want them in pain. If there is something that we can fix, we will get out the glue and put it back together. When their hearts break, we are the first to mend it. When they are at risk, we want to take that risk away, by all means! The research I conducted for this post was eye-opening and heart breaking, knowing this could be prevented. I cannot conclusively state that conventional mattresses cause SIDS. But I have seen and shared evidence that needs to be considered. As a mom, I have certainly developed a strong, evidence-based opinion on some of the practices of mattress-development. I will tell my sister-in-law who is expecting a bundle of joy and fresh diapers later this year I will let her know of an alternative to her conventional crib mattress. We want to lay our heads down at night knowing our sweet babies, our children, and we ourselves can breathe a deep, toxin-free breath of life.
What is the alternative? How about an all natural, chemical-free mattress for your baby? One that doesn’t emit toxic fumes, which could be harmful to your precious one. Maybe you are a co-sleeper, enjoying your sweet baby next to you like I did, and you need the biggest mattress you can find, sans chemicals.
In looking at the growing world of natural mattress options, I learned of a small, independently owned business in LaGrange, IL (11). It’s called My Green Mattress. Because it is! A mattress from here is made by hand, filled with organic cotton and natural wool, and come in every size from crib to king. In searching for a company that makes a chemical-free bed, I found that they fit the bill perfectly. Quite literally, too! When comparing the prices of similar beds, their crib mattresses were the best value. And unlike some of the top “all-natural” mattress manufacturers, they use natural wool as a flame retardant, while other companies use plastic-based fiber. Man made plastic-based fiber or lovely, natural wool? That’s an easy choice for me, personally! What is even more amazing is that the whole green mattress concept of their’s came out of a desire to help their chemically-sensitive daughter, Emily, have a better quality of life! As a mom, that speaks volumes to me! I love it! The owners, Tim and Cindy Masters are parents, like you and me, who just want the very best for their kids…and ours. So at this company, I think my family and I could feel right at home. We could sleep sweetly and breathe….deeply.
- National Vital Statistics Report, Volume 61, Number 43 (2013): n. pag.Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Division of Vital Statistics, 8 May 2013. Web. 13 Jan. 2016. <http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr61/nvsr61_04.pdf.>
- “Fast Facts About Sids.” Safe to Sleep Public Education Campaign.U.S. Dept of Health and Human Services. <https://www.nichd.nih.gov/sts/about/SIDS/Pages/fastfacts.aspx>
- Facts About Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). SIDS Network, n.d. Web. 13 Jan. 2016. <http://sids-network.org/facts.htm>.
- Sheppard, Jane. “Has The Cause of Crib Death (SIDS) Been Found? – Healthy Child.” Healthy Child. Healthy Child, 15 Nov. 2013. Web. 13 Jan. 2016.
- “Crib Mattresses Emit High Rates of Potentially Harmful Chemicals, Cockrell School Engineers Find.” UT News. UT News, 02 Apr. 2014. Web. 13 Jan. 2016.
- “VOLATILE ORGANIC COMPOUND.”Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 13 Jan. 2016. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Volatile_organic_compound>.
- “PHENOL, CRYSTALS.” PHENOL, CRYSTALS. Strategic Services Division, 8 Sept. 1997. Web. 13 Jan. 2016.
“Phenol.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 13 Jan. 2016.
- “NEODECANOIC ACID.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 01 July 2014. Web. 13 Jan. 2016.
“Neodecanoic Acid.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 26 May 2015. Web. 13 Jan. 2016.
- LINALOOL “Widely Used Fragrance Ingredients In Shampoos And Conditioners Are Frequent Causes Of Eczema.” Medical News Today. MediLexicon International, 28 Mar. 2009. Web. 13 Jan. 2016.
10.Quinn, Joanne B., RMA, PhD. “Baby’s Bedding: Is It Creating Toxic Nerve Gases?by Joanne B. Quinn, RMA, PhD.” Editorial. Midwifery Today, Issue 61Spring 2002: n. pag. Baby’s Bedding: Is It Creating Toxic Nerve Gases? Midwifery Today, Inc., Spring 2002. Web. 13 Jan. 2016.
11.Wight, Kathy. “Blog.” Blog. My Green Mattress, 28 Nov. 2015. Web. 13 Jan. 2016.