Tuesday, May 15, 2007

How to Green Your Baby

by Team Treehugger, Worldwide on 05.14.07
TH Exclusives (how to green your life)

What’s the Big Deal?

A new baby entering your life can create an enormous number of unexpected changes. Along with the little one comes a whole new category of things to purchase—not only the obvious large items like furniture and diapers, but also all the unforeseen extras that seem to accumulate. While having a baby is consumer heaven, the key is to not be gulled into an unnecessary buying frenzy. In truth, a baby has very minimal needs. On the flip side, there is more to a sustainable life with your baby than cloth diapers, organic baby food, and fair-trade clothing…read on for more.

Top 10 Tips

1. Diapers (aka Nappies)

Studies are divided on the subject of environmental impact of disposables vs. cloth. But knowing that your baby will use approx 6,000 diapers before toilet training, and that disposable diapers take 200-500 years to decompose, this is certainly a key issue to ponder. Washing cloth diapers takes water, energy, and chemicals (not to mention time), but you might want to consider the benefits of a laundering service. One study has found that home-washing cloth diapers has only 53% of the ecological footprint of disposables, and if you use a diaper laundering service that impact is halved again.

Cloth: Reusable diapers aren’t what they used to be and the days of diaper pins are all but bygone. Go for fitted cloth diapers with Velcro or snap closures for convenience, made from an eco-friendly material such as hemp, bamboo, or organic cotton. Use an organic wool cover that is both warm and breathable, minimizing diaper rash and cold bottoms at night. Use either removable or flushable liners and when washing either use a laundering service or wash at home at lower temperatures. With a new baby around you’ll probably notice a lot more laundry piling up, so make sure you’ve optimized your setup with an efficient machine and non-toxic detergent. If you can line-dry, that is ideal, but don’t bother ironing.

Biodegradable diapers: Made with plant-based plastics (also known as bioplastics), these diapers non-petroleum based and are compostable. While these have been found not to break down under landfill conditions, there are other options to compost them such as using a composting toilet, an earthworm system, or a highly active and properly conditioned composting area. Hybrid diapers, like gDiapers, have removable inserts that can safely biodegrade when flushed.

2. Breast or bottle

This one’s a no-brainer: breastfeeding is best. It's free, has health benefits for mother and baby, has no environmental impact, and is a precious bonding experience. However, in our commerce-driven society there are products for everything, and breastfeeding is no exception. For breast pads, ditch disposables and try re-usable organic cotton or wool felt pads. While there are many great, organic nipple creams available, some locally produced olive oil or organic lanolin does a great job.

If bottle feeding becomes a necessity, pumping your own is the first choice. Beyond that, using a fair-trade organic infant formula is preferable. If this is neither affordable nor accessible, then the next best thing is to ensure the brand of formula you buy is from a company not profiteering from marketing their product to developing countries. These companies disregard or try to get around the marketing code set by The World Health Assembly.

3. Solid foods

At about six months, babies starts to eat real food. Rice cereal and mushy veggies turn to combinations of fish, meat, eggs, legumes, and vegetables—yep, a regular person’s diet. Buying jars of food is sure convenient, but as an adult you don't live out of jars, so why should your baby? For those occasional situations, purchase organic or fresh frozen baby foods. Otherwise, make your own. Cook up veggies, casseroles, or tofu and lentils, whatever is your thing, and freeze it in tiny containers or ice cube trays ready to take out and defrost when needed. (Be sure you discuss any concerns over dietary requirements with your health professional)

4. Clothing

All those designer baby clothes are cute and oh so hard to resist in their fruity colors. But be careful. Not only does a baby grow out of clothes amazingly fast, they are constantly sending bodily fluids flying onto those precious outfits. The baby couture might be better replaced with convenient one-piece suits in practical white terry cloth. Choosing organic hemp or cotton, bamboo or wool fabrics made without toxic chemicals are best against a baby's sensitive skin and last longer with the constant washing. Second-hand clothing is the cheapest and most sustainable option. Get hand-me-downs from friends and family or look in thrift shops, Craigslist, or Freecycle.

5. Body care and bath time

It’s very easy to get sucked into the constant advertising of baby powders, creams, and lotions. But the best baby lotion is plain old olive oil—cheap, natural, and un-perfumed. As for other products, keep it as natural, organic, and fragrance-free as possible. For more on this, take a look at How to Green Women’s Personal Care.

6. Laundry and washing

It’s quite possible that our war on germs is actually making things worse. Studies have shown that children brought up in over-cleaned houses are more likely to develop allergies, asthma, or eczema. The best thing you can do for sensitive baby skin is not to cover it with synthetic chemicals. Wash nappies with pure soap and warm water. Make your own non-toxic cleansers with simple ingredients such as baking soda and vinegar. For more, see How to Green Your Cleaning.

7. Toys

Get back to basics and try old fashioned wooden toys and organic cotton or homemade teddies. Because babies put most things in their mouths, go as natural as possible, then when baby is a little older, get hold of second-hand toys. Also aim for toys that helps build a child’s bond with nature and the natural world. The sad truth is that the average American kindergartener can identify several hundred logos only a few leaves from plants and trees.

8. Furniture and accessories

Babies don't need much—a secure place to sleep, a car seat, a high chair, and a way to be trundled around. Go for second-hand furniture, everything except cot mattresses (some research suggests a link between second-hand cot mattresses and sudden infant death syndrome) and car seats, (which can have invisible accident damage). If you buy new furniture, purchase high quality, durable pieces made of sustainable, low-toxicity materials. Think about some alternatives to the regular old wooden baby bed; try using an organic cotton baby hammock or a cot that extends into a bed and lasts 6-7 years. The most ethical option for stroller (pram) is recycled. For more on furniture, see our guide.

9. Household environment

It goes without saying that alcohol consumption and cigarette smoking while pregnant are bad for a baby. But it is also very important to avoid exposure to the synthetic chemicals contained in everyday products such as paints, carpet, furniture, bedding, and pesticides. When decorating the nursery, use natural and low-VOC paints and don't lay new carpet before the baby is born. Suspicious new items should at least be left outside to off-gas for a few days before bringing inside.

10. Wipes and liners

Diaper wipes and liners commonly include propylene glycol (a binder also found in antifreeze), parabens (a family of compounds commonly used as preservatives) and perfume, which can be made from up to 600 different chemicals. Try using good natural organic cotton wool and water and avoid disposable changing mats and perfumed diaper bags.

So You Wanna Do More?

1. To have babies at all?

With the world population estimated to pass the nine billion mark by mid-century, the sheer number of people on the planet is one of our biggest risks. While the biggest population booms are happening in the less wealthy developing countries, North Americans and Western Europeans have a per-person environmental footprint that is far above world average. It’s a big decision and a touchy subject, but the number of children you have, if any at all, is an enormous factor in your impact on the Earth. Adopting kids is also a profound contribution to a sustainable world.

2. Try attachment parenting

Sleeping with and wearing your baby, while not for everyone, is said to promote a strong bond leading to a sensitive, emotionally aware child.

3. Avoid using diapers altogether

Elimination communication is a technique of timing, signals, cues, and intuition to help baby/infant express his or her poo-related needs. This is best begun before six months of age, and while it is most commonly used in third-world countries where parents are in constant contact with their children, it has been used in the West with some success.

4. Shower with your baby

Save water and enjoy precious bonding time by holding your baby while in the shower.

5. Get crafty

Make your own diapers, breast pads, toys, and baby clothes. There are plenty of Web sites offering free patterns and advice on DIY baby goods (see below for more). Also, don’t forget about your local craft shop or group for advice and materials.

6. Avoid unnecessary gadgets

Monitors, motorized rockers, musical mobiles and the like are tempting, and can be useful or educational, but keeping the baby-related consumerism in check is a wise move. Ask yourself if you really need them? If so, try for secondhand items first.

7. Swapping

So many baby things only get used for a few months, it seems mad to buy them new, (e.g. strollers, beds, playpens, highchairs, etc). Buy secondhand, beg, borrow , or swap with friends and family to find what you need. Also remember community fairs, garage sales, and online swap sites.

By The Numbers

1. The average baby uses approx 6,000 diapers before potty training.

2. Petroleum-based disposable diapers take between 200 and 500 years to decompose.

3. Disposables used per day: Australia uses 2.2 million, Japan 6.7 million, the UK 9 million, and the USA 49 million.

4. A home-washed cloth diaper has only 53% of the ecological footprint of disposables, and a nappy laundry service has a mere 37% of that footprint.

5. Americans spend an estimated $1.4 billion on complicated births due to smoking while pregnant.

6. Disposable diapers contain chemicals that were banned in the 1980s in women's tampons, but continue to be used today to improve absorbency in children's diapers.

Treehugger Resources

Diapers are one of the biggest issues when thinking about having an eco-friendly baby. Check out our explorations on diaper alternatives like The Nature Nappy, The Cradle to Cradle-certified gDiaper, Wam Bamboo Nappies, and Eenee eco-diapers.

Here, readers offer comments on finding a stroller without the toxins.

Lovely eco friendly furniture options include Stokke Tripp Trapp chair, and the eco crib from Mothercare.

For baby food, check out Liz Hurley's line of organic natural foods and organic baby food from Ulula.

Find more on eco friendly baby creams, lotions, and powders from sources like Sage Baby, Avalon Organics, Erbaviva, and Munchskins.

And if you were intrigued about the no-diaper solution, read our story on potty whispering and this earlier story on diaper-free babies.

For clothes and cloths, go organic and get back to basics. Check out hemp towels from Transylvania and organic baby gear from Nui Organics.

If you want to buy just one perfect soft organic teddy, check out our top five organic soft toys.

Baby furniture from Nurseryworks is handmade and highly morphable.

E Magazine takes a hard look at raising a healthy child in a toxic world.

More Resources

Vegetarian Baby is a site for parents of vegetarian and vegan children under three, with topics on pregnancy, nutrition, and products.

The Guardian has a charming article entitled “How to stop your baby wreaking eco havoc.”

Organic Baby is a New Zealand site offering guides on safe, natural parenting.

Kids Health provides doctor-approved health information about children from before birth through adolescence.

Baby Center is an Australian site with information on shopping for your eco baby.

Information on formula marketing around the world can be found from the International Baby Food Action Network.

Baby Milk Action and The Australian Breastfeeding Association have more in depth information on feeding your baby.

The Real Diaper Association has hard facts on the impacts of disposable diapers and the benefits of cloth.

Colorado department of public health and the environment has facts about smoking while pregnant.

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