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Nursery Linens

You'd think making up your baby's bed would be approximately the same as making your own. But there are differences, from the things you add to the things you take away.

Probably the biggest difference is what you won't use on your baby's bed. No top sheets, no quilts, no pillows. And don't let that beautiful comforter and pillow sham sold with your crib set fool you; they should only be used for decorative purposes. The only things your baby needs are listed below. Anything else poses a risk of SIDS and suffocation and should be removed anytime the baby is in the crib.

That doesn't mean you can't dress up your crib a little, and there are all sorts of styles and colors of linens to choose from. This is a fun, no-pressure decision — and a chance to express your master decorating skills and exceptional taste!

your basic choices

fitted sheets
A fitted sheet is really your only crib necessity. Most mattresses—and thus most sheets—come in a standard size, but specialty mattresses will require their own sheets. Some manufacturers offer sheets with an elastic band that goes under the mattress to hold them snugly in place.

waterproof mattress pads
Regardless of mattress choice, you'll want to add a waterproof mattress pad under your fitted sheet. It will add a comfortable layer of padding to a mattress already encased in waterproof plastic lining and will help protect premium organic mattresses (which aren't lined) against middle-of-the-night accidents.

antiallergen encasements
All mattresses are prone to dust mites, and crib mattresses are no exception. And since dust mites are the biggest cause of airborne allergies, an antiallergen encasement that goes over the mattress is a good investment. Most adults don't bother with encasements because they're hard to get on and off for washing, but with a baby-sized mattress, it's a small effort that's well worth it.

bumpers
Bumpers are more than just decorative: they provide a padded layer that keeps little baby parts from slipping through open rails. While crib styles and safety standards have evolved and bumpers are no longer a necessity, some parents think the crib doesn't look quite fully dressed without one. When your child can pull himself up, you'll want to remove the bumper so he can't use it to climb out.

skirts
Just like a dust ruffle on a full-size bed, crib skirts are purely decorative and completely optional, although they can be great for hiding under-crib storage. The skirt moves with the different mattress settings, though, so when the mattress is at its highest setting, the skirt might not cover up much.

features to look for

  • Snug fitting. For safety's sake, choose sheets and bumpers that fit snugly.
  • Washable. Make sure everything's machine-washable, even encasements and pads.
  • Healthy. Babies can spend as much as 70 percent of their first year sleeping, so make your crib a gentle and healthy environment by choosing organic and chemical-free bedding. Sheets are commonly treated with formaldehyde—even baby sheets—but if the package says "Oeko-Tex certified," the sheets are formaldehyde-free.

usage tips

  • If you're going to spend the extra money for chemical-free, antiallergen, or organic linens, make sure you also invest in chemical-free, sensitive laundry detergent so you're not adding the chemicals back in.
  • If you use an encasement, be sure to follow the care instructions to ensure that you maintain the allergy-free environment you've started. Most encasements must be washed in hot water and tumble-dried every three weeks.
  • Do yourself a favor and have more than one set of the essentials—especially sheets, pads, and blankets. Accidents will happen, and you'll be washing often.

accessories

  • Sleep positioners. Keep your baby in the recommended position—on his back—with these bumpers that are placed next to the hips: the bumpers keep your baby from rolling onto his front accidentally but should not be used once he starts rolling over on purpose.
  • Wearable blankets. Bedding that bunches up around a baby's face can cause dangerous re-breathing of oxygen-depleted air, a possible cause of SIDS. Wearable blankets replace loose blankets in the crib, lessening the likelihood of infants getting blankets over or around their face.

building your bedding

Once you have all the pieces in place, how do you put them all together? Start with your dust-mite encasement, which you put right on the mattress. Next comes the waterproof mattress pad, then the fitted sheet, which should fit snugly and be completely tucked in.

If you've chosen a bumper, there are special considerations to keep in mind for safety's sake. Tuck your bumper between the mattress and the side of the crib so that only two or three inches are sticking out. (In other words, don't gently set the bumper on top of the mattress like you see in most stores and photographs of beautiful cribs.) This not only improves the airflow at baby level, it also minimizes the likelihood of little hands and feet getting caught between bumper and mattress. And be sure to attach the bumper securely so that it can't come lose.

Bumpers tie on to crib rails, so it's a little trickier with cribs that have solid ends. You'll need to start and end your ties on a rail side of the crib. Many people who choose this style of crib just skip the bumpers.

What to do with the lovely comforter and pillow sham that came with your crib set? Quilts and comforters can be used as play mats on the floor, hung on the wall, or hung over the crib railing when the baby's not in the crib. And pillows can go on your rocker but should never be left in the crib with your baby. Just because you've got them doesn't mean you have to use them! The only thing your baby should have loose in the crib is a lightweight breathable blanket.

additional information

building your bedding
Once you have all the pieces, how do you put them together? Start with your dust-mite encasement, which you put right on the mattress. Next comes the waterproof mattress pad, then the fitted sheet, which should fit snugly and be completely tucked in.

If you've chosen a bumper, there are special considerations to keep in mind for safety's sake. Tuck your bumper between the mattress and the side of the crib so that only two or three inches are sticking out. (In other words, don't gently set the bumper on top of the mattress like you see in most stores and photographs of beautiful cribs.) This not only improves the airflow at baby's level, it also minimizes the likelihood of little hands and feet getting caught between bumper and mattress. And be sure to attach the bumper securely so that it can't come lose.

Bumpers tie onto crib rails, so attaching them is a little trickier with cribs that have solid ends. You'll need to start and end your ties on a rail side of the crib. Many people who choose this style of crib just skip the bumpers.

What to do with the lovely comforter and pillow sham that came with your crib set? Quilts and comforters can be used as play mats on the floor, hung on the wall, or hung over the crib railing when the baby's not in the crib. And pillows can go on your rocker but should never be left in the crib with your baby. Just because you have them doesn't mean you have to use them! The only thing your baby should have loose in the crib is a lightweight breathable blanket.

healthy baby, healthy world
From food to textiles, organic and eco-friendly products have become a hot issue — particularly when it comes to children's products. Pound for pound, everything that is harmful to us has an even bigger impact on a tiny person with a developing immune system.

But how do you know what to buy? What's worth the extra expense, and which items are just hopping on the bandwagon? Organic standards are always changing, and you're not alone if the whole thing leaves you feeling confused. But in the meantime, here are some things you can do to create a pure, nontoxic environment for your child that will let everyone breathe a little easier.

  • Sleep better with healthier bedding. Baby blankets and sheets can contain formaldehyde and other harmful chemicals. Look for organic bedding and Oeko-Tex or IVN certified fabrics that are both comfortable and healthy.
  • Make sure clean is also healthy. Babies can be very sensitive to the ammonia, chemicals, and fragrances found in commercial cleaners. There are many nontoxic (and often biodegradable) cleaners to choose from that are both safe and effective.
  • Keep personal care pure. Less is more, and sometimes a little warm water and a washcloth will do the trick. For the other times, look for mild soaps, fragrance-free shampoos, hypoallergenic solutions, and ointments with simple ingredients.
  • Pick the right paint for your nursery. Look for paint with low or no VOCs (volatile organic compounds), and be sure to have the room painted several weeks in advance of baby's arrival so fumes have a chance to dissipate. Also, choose furniture with water-based finishes or low-VOC paints, and avoid materials that off-gas (that is, release toxic fumes).
  • Stock up on simple toys. Choose simple toys that are PVC-free (meaning no polyvinyl chloride), made of naturally finished wood, or made of washable fabrics.
  • Let in some fresh air. Make sure your baby's room is well-ventilated, and open the windows to let in fresh air when the weather allows. Be sure to use an air purifier to help minimize dust and other irritants.
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