Pregnancy is a major life event that poses a lot of physical and emotional demands from soon-to-be mothers. During the first trimester of pregnancy, expectant moms are perpetually tired, so getting enough sleep is invaluable for them. The struggle becomes even harder when the baby is born. Sleepless nights will be more common for both parents. This is why prioritizing sleep during pregnancy is very critical.
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But what if while the mother is sleeping, she and her unborn child are exposed to harmful chemicals that can negatively affect the pregnancy? What if the bed mattress that the mother sleeps on can be a potential threat to her wellness and the general well-being of her child? This may come as a shock to you, but it is absolutely possible.
Common Toxins Found in Mattresses
In 2007, the US Consumer Product Safety Commission mandated that all mattresses should conform with the country’s standards for flame resistant products. But there is one fatal downside to this: the commission did not require manufacturers to use safe materials to meet the strict regulations. Consequently, manufacturers resorted to using the cheapest possible chemicals as flame-retardants. Needless to say, these chemicals present serious health consequences—some of them even affect children inside the womb.
- Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDE)
One of the most destructive chemicals used as a flame retardant is a substance called polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE). This toxin easily enters the body and is stored in fat cells. According to a report by the Environmental Health Perspectives, California children have PBDE levels 7% higher than those found in Mexican children. This is because California has stringent rules about flame retardant consumer goods. Since the United States first adopted fire safety standards back in the 1970s, more manufacturers have pumped their products with PBDE and similar chemicals. This is why as much as 97% of Americans today have significant levels of PBDE in their system. Compared to Europeans, Americans have up to 20 percent more PBDE levels in their blood, with California children topping the list by a huge margin.
Another harmful chemical used in manufacturing mattresses is formaldehyde, a colorless and potentially carcinogenic gas that is derived from oxidized methyl alcohol. It is often used as an adhesive material that holds together the different layers of a mattress. Melamine resin, another source of formaldehyde, can also be found on some mattresses. Exposure to formaldehyde can lead to suffocation, skin irritation, respiratory allergy, and in extreme cases, cancer. In 2011, the National Toxicology Program identified this gas as a known human carcinogen.
Antimony is a white metallic element that, when absorbed by the human body, can cause reproductive problems. Some mattresses contain this element, and it is even reported to be present in the blood of babies who died from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Although it has not been scientifically proven to be a cause of SIDS, antimony is surely a toxin that is better avoided.
- Other Fire Retardants
There are other chemicals affecting pregnancy, with fire retardants being the most common. Boric acid and other brominated chemicals are some of the most notorious. Polyurethane is also a chemical to watch out for. This toxin is often injected in mattress foams to make them more fire retardant. Polyurethane is detrimental to human health because it releases volatile organic compounds (VOC) and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB) into the air. Inhaling these chemicals can be harmful.
The Alarming Health Risks of PBDE and Other Toxins
You have no idea just how much PBDE chemicals found in mattresses can destroy your health and your baby’s. These chemicals are so toxic that they can lead to neurological, physical, developmental, and fertility problems.
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- Learning impairment
PBDE can agitate the hormonal mechanisms in the body that are responsible for calcium signaling in the brain. For children, this means an impairment in memory and learning. Some studies have revealed the damaging effects of PBDE to the mental and physical well-being of children. The specific aspects affected are motor coordination, attention, and IQ. Sometimes, these chemicals even trigger autism. This just shows how extensive the reach of PBDE is. Even when children are exposed to these chemicals while they are still in the womb, they will suffer the consequences for a long time, if not for the rest of their lives.
Most of the toxins found in mattresses get mixed up with household dust before they get to your lungs, blood, and even breastmilk. These chemicals persist in the environment, and they stay in the body for a long time. Some of them resemble the molecular structure of carcinogens, so prolonged exposure will surely give you cancer.
If you’re constantly exposed to PBDE, your fertility levels will decrease—sometimes, to the point of utter sterility. PBDE can also cause fetal growth problems, essentially putting the development of your child at risk.
Some studies have revealed the ability of PBDE chemicals to reduce the levels of thyroid-stimulating hormones (TSH) in the body. Low TSH levels can lead to hyperthyroidism, a condition that is linked to a number of problems like premature birth, intrauterine growth retardation, altered fetal neurodevelopment, and an increased risk of miscarriage.
Public Movement Against PBDE: What’s Being Done Today
Because of the public’s growing concern about the danger of flame retardants, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) launched an investigation that resulted to the banning of the said chemicals. In 2012, Governor Jerry Brown also vocally advocated for the revision of California’s flammability standards to eliminate the toxins from mattresses. He said, “Toxic flame retardants are found in everything from high chairs to couches, and a growing body of evidence suggests that these chemicals harm human health and the environment. We must find better ways to meet fire safety standards by reducing and eliminating, wherever possible, dangerous chemicals.”
Off-Gassing: What It Is and How to Block It Off
Off-gassing is the release of toxins into the air. Sometimes, it happens without interference—your mattress will just off-gas even when you don’t use it. Jumping on the bed and bouncing on the mattress can release even more chemicals that you may inhale unintentionally.
Blocking off-gassing from a regular mattress is not simple. A barrier cloth and an organic mattress pad are not enough to avoid the chemicals. Even bed covers made of wool, latex, and organic cotton can do little, if any, to prevent the toxins from leaking out. In fact, plastic is the only material that can block off-gassing, and everyone knows that some types of plastic covers can also emit chemicals.
The best material to block these gases is low-density, food-grade polyethylene. This material does not use chemical additives like plasticizers and phthalates. For polyethylene to be effective, it must have the right thickness—at least 125 microns is recommended. Also, it must be clear and not colored to ensure purity. Since polyethylene is still essentially plastic, it can be uncomfortable to use in beds. This is why you’ll need an organic cotton mattress pad and an organic topper to cover it.
Live Chemical-Free: How to Choose A Non-Toxic Mattress
Now you understand the importance of choosing the right memory foam mattress. Here are some tips to help you find a mattress that is safe for you, your baby, and the entire family.
- Avoid mattresses with TB 117 labels. TB 117 is the regulation that mandated flame retardants in consumer products.
- Always wash your hands and encourage your family to do the same. This will reduce the number of flame retardants that get into your bloodstream.
- Stay away from polyurethane foam products manufactured before 2005.
- Avoid reupholstering your own furniture since this will increase your exposure to toxins.
- When buying a new mattress, ask what kind of flame retardant was used in the product. PBDE chemicals are usually not included on labels so make sure you do your own research.
- As much as possible, choose organic mattresses made of wool, leather, or cotton. Organic mattresses are those that meet the Global Organic Textile Standards.
- Look for mattresses with silica-based minerals as flame retardants.
- Use a mattress encasement cover to block allergens.
Make sure you consider these tips so you can guarantee your safety against the different kinds of toxins found in mattresses. A smart consumer move can be a wise health measure. Save your children from the damaging effects of invisible chemicals that may impair them for the rest of their lives.