September 26, 2008 at 2:41PM
by Deirdre Dolan
The cool weather is coming and my mother asked me the other day if she could buy my girls some winter pajamas. This was obviously a great offer, but the pajama question is complicated, and as I started in on my spiel I could practically see the wind coming out of her sails. Okay, so maybe its not that complicated, but there are a couple of things to consider when dressing little ones for bed.
In 1971 the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) standardized childrens sleepwear specifying that garments exposed to an open flame for 3 seconds must self extinguish. You might remember a stifling pair of polyester pajamas from your youth; polyester was a popular bedtime fabric because of its inherent flame resistance -- most polyesters anyway, including modacrylic (Verel, SEF, Kanecaron); matrix (Cordelan); and vinyon (Leavil). Flame retardants are woven into the fabric during manufacture and become part of the fabrics molecular composition. The resulting polymers are very stable, so youre not compromising your childs health, just their comfort. (There is an environmental negative in that polyester is made from non-renewable petrochemicals however.)
Cotton clothes treated with chemical fire retardants were approved by the CPSC, but untreated cotton wasnt, and subsequent data showed a significant decrease in sleepwear and fire related deaths and injuries among children. Maybe the question of sleepwear being flame resistant seems crazy to you because you dont smoke or you dont have a fireplace in your home, but there are other fire hazards to small children running around in loose pajamas that you might not foresee -- stoves, candles, house fires, bbqs, etc. (Cotton pajamas are considered acceptable for babies under nine months by the CPSC because they dont move around as much.)
Polyester lost a lot of popularity by the 90s, and in 1996 the CPSC amended their regulations saying that cotton was okay to sleep in if they were snug fitting and wouldnt allow any oxygen to fan flames between the pajama and the childs skin. Some clothing companies produce cotton flame retardant pajamas by adding something called PROBAN (from the chemical tetrakis hydromethyl phosphonium chlorida, or THPC) to the fabric or garment in the finishing stages. The flame retardant is trapped in the fiber, but the cotton still feels soft. If flame touches PROBAN treated cotton it extinguishes quickly, but theres plenty to worry about. The THPC has been linked to genetic abnormalities and damage to the liver, skin and nervous system. It also promotes the growth of cancerous tumors.
Most sleepwear made from synthetic fiber is polyester, and according to the CPSC, under 1% of either polyester or cotton sleepwear garments are treated with flame retardants. Clearly the best pajama choices are polyester or snug fitting cotton, organic if possible. I prefer sort of tight onesies that zip up the leg because getting a tired child into tight fitting two piece pjs can be a wrestling match.