Many parents have questions about cotton: Is regular cotton okay, or should you use organic? The major difference is pesticides – organic cotton is grown without pesticides; regular cotton is grown with them. Are residues from those pesticides still in the cotton clothing, sheets, blankets and other products you’re using for your baby? That’s an important question if you’re concerned about your child’s health, especially when it comes to crib mattresses.
According to the Organic Consumers Association, pesticides have been linked to several diseases and conditions, including asthma, autism, learning disabilities, birth defects, reproductive dysfunction, diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and several types of cancer. In fact, the President’s Cancer Panel – a group that meets every year to analyze and evaluate the current state of the National Cancer Program – recommends that we eat organic food in order to avoid pesticide poisoning. Here’s a quote from the latest President’s Cancer Panel Report:
“Exposure to pesticides can be decreased by choosing, to the extent possible, food grown without pesticides or chemical fertilizers…Similarly, exposure to antibiotics, growth hormones, and toxic run-off from livestock feed lots can be minimized by eating free-range meat raised without these medications.”
But food is not our only exposure to pesticides. As with other chemicals, pesticide residue can also become airborne. And when it does, it is in the air our babies breathe. This is not an issue with clothing because by the time those cotton crops become fabric, the pesticides are gone. However, the same is not true of cotton batting, which is usually what is used in cotton mattresses.
According to Debra Lynn Dadd, Queen of Green and author of Home Safe Home: “Cotton batting does contain pesticide residues, if it is not organic, as it is not as processed as cotton fabric. So it is imperative to buy organic cotton batting, as in a mattress or pillow.”
Ms. Dadd also points out that, despite the lack of pesticide residue in non-organic cotton fabric, there are other problems chemicals problems to be concerned about: “The problem with cotton fabric is the finishes, such as a permanent press finish, which releases formaldehyde. Most fabrics of any kind have a “sizing” applied, which washes out in the first wash. Five washes are plenty to remove sizing, but no amount of washing removes permanent press. Dyes are also not a concern if they are “colorfast,” that is, they don’t bleed when you wash them.”
Since cotton batting is routinely used in mattresses, and babies spend 12 to 15 hours a day in their crib, it’s especially important to choose a certified organic crib mattress – the cotton was grown and processed without any potentially dangerous chemicals.
As for your baby’s jammies, sheets, blankets and other goodies, regular cotton is probably fine. But do find out about the dyes, finishes, and sizing, as Ms. Dadd explains. Call the manufacturer if it’s not clear. And if it looks like the chemicals used might not be safe, go with organic.