If you enjoy decorating your house with plants, you may ask yourself if they are safe for your new baby’s bedroom, too. The short answer is: it depends on the plant. Read on to learn which plants are safe, which are toxic, and what to do in case your baby is exposed to a toxic plant.
Generally speaking, plants help boost oxygen levels in the room, work as air purifiers, and may even help boost the mood or promote better sleep.
Some plants are safe and even beneficial, while others can be toxic.
Parents should know the “safe” list and what to do in case the baby is exposed to a toxic plant.
Over 100,000 Americans call Poison Control Centers about plant and mushroom exposures every year. Some of these plants are particularly harmful to babies. While there is no simple test to detect which plant is toxic, parents can’t take simple steps to keep their babies away from dangerous plants and choose safe indoor plants instead.
Avoid: plants that contain oxalates
Calcium oxalate crystals can be found in various plants, including philodendron, rhubarb, caladium, calla lily, peace lily, elephant's ear, dieffenbachia (also known as dumb cane), and Jack-in-the-pulpit. These oxalate crystals are usually found in the plant's sap or juice and are sharp. They irritate the baby's tongue, throat, and gum, causing pain, inflammation, and a burning sensation if swallowed or chewed.
If a child swallows a plant that contains oxalate, parents should remove the residues from the mouth and encourage the child to have a popsicle or applesauce. If the child's skin comes in contact with the plant, parents should use soap and running water to remove the irritants. In case of serious reactions such as difficulty breathing, take the child to hospital emergency.
Avoid: plants causing digestive issues
Some plants irritate the digestive tract if ingested. As a result, the child may experience stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. While eating small amounts of these plants may cause little or no symptoms, eating larger quantities (e.g., the size of a salad) can be toxic for the baby. Examples of plants causing gastrointestinal irritation include aloe, carnations, daffodils, geraniums, hyacinths, eucalyptus, and pyracantha.
What should parents or caregivers do if a child eats these plants? First, parents need to wipe the child’s mouth and give him a snack or milk. In case of vomiting or diarrhea, it is important to offer liquids to avoid dehydration. If the symptoms are severe, call the pediatrician.
Avoid: plants that irritate the skin
Plants like mums, marigolds, poinsettia, ruby plants, schefflera, and well-known outdoor plants like poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac cause skin irritation. Dermatitis — a general term describing rashes, hives, skin itchiness, and swelling — is triggered by either a chemical or allergic reaction to these plants. Most of these plants cause chemical dermatitis. Only the skin area exposed to the plants is affected, and the symptoms occur soon after the baby touches the plant, in case of chemical dermatitis. Poisonous ivy and poison oak typically cause an allergic reaction. In this case, symptoms appear several days after exposure to plants and affect other parts of the body, not just the skin that had been in contact with the plants.
What should you do if your baby touches a plant with skin irritant qualities? First, wash the affected skin thoroughly with soap and water. Ointments based on hydrocortisone can help with inflammation, and anti-histamine medications help relieve itching and hives. In most cases, the symptoms resolve within 2–3 weeks. If severe symptoms develop, contact a doctor for advice.
Safe plants for a baby’s nursery
While some plants can be dangerous to the babies, others are beneficial in the baby’s environment. Houseplants increase the oxygen in the room and act as air purifiers. Plants have the ability to remove toxins like volatile organic compounds (VOC) found in paint and plastics. Removing these toxic compounds can relieve symptoms related to air pollutants like headaches, fatigue, or allergies. Some plant varieties like rosemary or lemon balm can even support a healthy sleep or decrease stress.
The safest plants are the herbs used to add flavor and spice to your foods. When it comes to other herbs, the spider plant (one of the best air purifier plants which are also easy to grow), African violets, haworthia zebra, Christmas cactus, blue echeveria, and the entire echeveria family of plants are safe for the children, according to experts. Worth mentioning that the baby’s tears plant is also safe for the babies. Its name comes from the fact that it has teardrop-shaped leaves, not because it would make the babies cry. The money tree is an excellent air purifier and safe to be placed in a baby’s room, as well.
Tips for parents
There is no single test to differentiate between an edible and a toxic plant. When looking to add plants to the baby’s room, consider the following:
- Check the plant’s name before buying it. Contact your local poison center or check out the Canadian Child Care Federation website for a comprehensive list of indoor and outdoor plants that may be toxic for babies;
- The plant pot and soil should be safe for the baby’s room. A safe pot should be large and heavy enough, so the baby can’t knock it over. Choose organic soil without added fertilizers;
- Teach the baby at an early age not to chew or swallow any part of the plant and stay away from any mushrooms, fruits, or berries they may see in a park.
Plants can produce a fresh, clean environment for your baby's room. However, do some research before blindly adorning your child's room with plants to ensure they're safe. Lastly, familiarize yourself with basic first aid techniques should any of the plants cause a reaction. Have the number ready and call the poison control center in your area and seek emergency care if the baby shows severe symptoms. If possible, bring a sample of the plant that your child swallowed.
- Early Childhood Learning & Knowledge Center. Even Plants Can Be Poisonous.