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Give Your Baby the Best Start

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WebMD Feature provided in collaboration with Healthy Child Healthy World

From car seats to child gates, and corner bumpers to outlet covers, we take a lot of precautions to protect our children. Here, we tackle the room your baby will spend most of her time in, the nursery, with eight simple recommendations that are important to giving your baby a healthy start in life.

Topping the list of concerns is something you may think is history: lead poisoning. "Lead poisoning is still a big problem, a huge problem," says Philip Landrigan, MD, a pediatrician and director of the Children's Environmental Health Center at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City.

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Lead poisoning has long been recognized as a serious public health risk. "Lead has been well-studied," says Landrigan, "and is known to cause brain damage in children -- loss of intelligence, shortening of attention span, impulsive and aggressive behavior."

While lead was banned from gasoline and paint in the mid-1970s, it's still pervasive in the environment. "Lead paint was so widely used, there are still hundreds of thousands of homes and apartments with lead paint," he says.

And lead paint on imported toys and jewelry continues to be a problem, despite a number of recalls in recent years, he says. Beyond lead, questions have been raised about potentially toxic chemicals in plastic baby products and bedding -- all things to consider when you're creating a healthy nursery.

Fortunately, there are many safe options for your child's room. Here are some tips on giving your baby the best start:

1. Test your home for lead paint.  If you live in an old apartment or home (built pre-1978), there's likely lead paint on walls and window frames. Find out how big your lead problem is. Have your home tested before you renovate or redecorate the nursery. In fact, Landrigan advises doing it even if you don't redecorate, since your infant will be crawling on the floor.

The main source of lead exposure is chipped paint and dust formed when the paint starts eroding. Scraping and sanding lead paint also releases lead dust into the air. Ingesting the lead-filled dust is how young children can get serious lead exposure. 

Landrigan has seen it happen: A young couple with an older home renovates a room to create a nursery. "Three, four months pregnant, they start sanding down the old paint," he says. "Then mom shows up at the hospital with a blood level of 50 or 60 -- sky-high -- which will go from her bloodstream and poison the baby."

You have several options when it comes to testing for lead. A lead paint test runs about $100 to $200. You need a properly certified inspector from the EPA or your state health department to do the testing in your home.

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