Per my role as a March of Dimes mom (through which I will donate one post per month to pre-pregnancy, pregnancy, newborn, or general family topics), this month I wanted to share some tips on safeguarding your home; these tips are important to consider before bringing a baby home and while you have small children in the house. I extracted and adapted these ten tips from a home safety checklist guide prepared by the March of Dimes with the assistance of Dr. Ruth Etzel (Director, Division of Epidemiology and Risk Assessment, Food Safety and Inspection Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and editor of the Handbook of Pediatric Environmental Health).
1. Stop smoking.
Children’s homes should be smoke-free -- both before and after birth. Smoking during pregnancy can cause premature birth, low birth weight (less than 5-1/2 pounds), poor growth in the womb, and subtle learning and behavioral problems -- as well as health problems -- in children. It also increases your risk of miscarriage, stillbirth, placental problems, and having a baby who dies of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Even if you don't smoke yourself, regular exposure to second-hand smoke during your pregnancy puts you at greater risk of these serious complications.
2. Check for lead paint.
The older your home, the more likely it is to contain lead-based paint, which poses special health risks for pregnant women and children (e.g., miscarriage, preterm labor, or having a baby with developmental delays). Newer homes are less likely to contain lead paint, which has been almost eliminated since 1977. The greatest risk lies in homes built before 1950; they are most likely to have deteriorating surfaces covered with paint containing high levels of lead. When paint peels, chips, or is released into the air as dust (when opening or closing windows, for example), lead can be inhaled or ingested if a baby puts paint chips or dusty fingers into its mouth.
3. Consider renovations carefully.
If you're pregnant and live in a pre-1950 home, you probably don't need to be overly concerned about lead exposure if all painted surfaces are in good shape. But if you are planning any renovations, this could expose you, your baby, and any young children in your home to high levels of lead. Before renovating, test the paint for lead (your local health department can recommend experts). If lead is found, stay elsewhere while professionals handle lead paint removal.
4. Check for water damage.
Water damage from flooding, roof, or plumbing leaks can lead to the growth of molds. Some molds are very dangerous to newborns, so it’s very important to take care of water damaged areas before your baby comes home. Mold spores can get into the air and cause health problems when inhaled. One of the deadliest types of mold (Stachybotrys atra) looks black and slimy and grows mainly on water-damaged wood, ceiling tiles, carpets, and paper products. Indoor exposure to this mold has been linked to lung bleeding and sudden death among young infants. Older children may suffer allergy symptoms including nasal stuffiness, sneezing, coughing and eye irritation.
5. Check appliances.
Most homes have fuel-burning appliances, such as gas stoves, gas water heaters, gas-powered clothes dryers, wood-burning stoves, space heaters, and gas or oil furnaces. If these are not correctly installed and maintained, they can emit carbon monoxide (CO) during use. CO is a colorless, odorless gas that accounts for hundreds of poisoning deaths each year in the United States. Pregnant women, their unborn babies, and children are most vulnerable to its life-threatening effects. Be sure to get all fuel-burning appliances, chimneys, and furnaces checked by a professional once a year or as recommended by the manufacturer. And install a CO detector outside your sleeping area.
6. Check your basement.
In certain areas of the U.S., Americans are exposed to radon, another colorless, odorless gas. It comes from the decay of radium in rocks and soil and enters the home through cracks in the foundations, porous cinderblocks, and granite walls, so exposures are generally higher in basements than on the first floor. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends that all homes be tested for radon. You can buy an inexpensive kit that measures the amount of radon in the air in your home. If the radon level is found to be higher than 4 picocuries per liter (4 pCi/L), make repairs where necessary, including sealing cracks in the foundation. You also can reduce radon exposure with good ventilation.
7. Check your well water.
If you use well water, check it for levels of nitrogen-containing substances called nitrates. Infants fed formula made with well water containing nitrates are at risk of developing a potentially life-threatening blood disorder called methemoglobinemia. Babies with this disorder suffer changes in their blood that make it unable to carry enough oxygen to their vital organs. Call your local health department for water testing help and information.
Note that it's safe to breastfeed your baby, even if you have been drinking nitrate-contaminated water. Babies do not appear to be affected by nitrates their mothers may drink, nor is there any proven risk to your fetus from nitrates you consume during pregnancy.
8. Check your tap water.
Tap water may contain lead, a special risk to pregnant women, babies, and young children. Most large municipal water supplies now are lead-free, but some homes still have high lead levels in their water because it passes through lead pipes that connect water mains to homes, or through lead solder used to connect the pipes. If you're planning to use tap water to make formula, you can have your water tested for lead before your baby is born; contact your local health department or the EPA's Safe Drinking Water Hotline at 1-800-426-4791 or on the web.
Also, to minimize exposure to lead, let your faucet run for two minutes first thing in the morning, to flush out water that has been standing in pipes overnight.
9. Home crafters, beware!
Many artists work in home studios, which can be problematic given that many arts and crafts materials commonly used in painting, drawing, silk-screening, shellacking, ceramics, paper mache, and stained glass contain ingredients that are dangerous to fetuses, babies, and children. Pregnant women and babies should not inhale fumes from art materials and should avoid skin contact because the material may be absorbed through the skin, or get into the eyes or mouth.
When buying or using arts and crafts materials, read the labels and carefully follow instructions for all materials. Also make sure the product has been evaluated by a toxicologist; buy only products labeled "conforms to ASTM D4236," and bearing the seal of the Art and Creative Materials Institute (ACMI). When working on arts and crafts projects, ventilate the work area, wear protective gloves if you're pregnant, store materials in original, fully labeled containers out of the reach of children, and never eat or drink in your work area.
10. Avoid home and yard pesticides.
Try to avoid pesticide use if you're pregnant or have a baby or young children in the home. While there is little evidence that common low-level exposure to pesticides harms the fetus, some studies suggest that higher levels may increase the risk of birth defects. Because these substances are poisons, they pose a risk to babies who touch or crawl on treated surfaces such as carpets, floors, or grass.
If your home must be treated, use bait stations instead of spraying whenever possible. If indoor spraying must be done, stay out of the home, and keep babies and children out, while it's being treated and for several hours afterward. Clear away all food, dishes, and utensils from areas to be treated, including cabinets or drawers. Be sure the home is well ventilated during and after treatment. After the treatment, have someone else wash off any surfaces on which food is prepared or served, and make sure treated areas are well vacuumed or mopped.
If your property must be treated, have someone else apply pesticides or herbicides (weed killers). If chemicals are sprayed outdoors, close the windows and turn off the air conditioning so fumes won't be drawn into the home. Cover children's sandboxes and outdoor play equipment before such spraying. And wear protective gloves when gardening to avoid skin contact with chemicals.
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