August 13, 2009
adventures in green babyhood
Being a professional environmentalist as my day job, I always figured that when our baby came along, I'd just naturally be the greenest parent in town. No stress - I'd just know which products to buy or avoid, how to find them, and I'd have boundless energy to explore the greenest ways to raise our Little Pea. Ha, ha. I do know some wonderful parents who fit that description, but despite my best intentions, and my own expectations, I am sadly not one of them.
But I do really, really care about sustainability, the environment, and in particular how pollution affects children's health. So I am struggling to make this green parenting thing work. For those like me, here are a few things I've been able to make work. And for those who fit the green parent profile better than I, please please share some of your suggestions in the comments!
Breastfeeding is absolutely the most affordable and sustainable way to feed a baby, not to mention the healthiest. The decision to breastfeed is probably the most important step we've taken in terms of sustainable babyhood. I realize that there are many reasons that some families are not able to breastfeed, and nobody should feel guilty if they can't, but I am very grateful to be able to feed the Little Pea this way.
Baby formula is a multi-billion dollar industry in the United States, is typically made from soy or cow's milk. Soy and dairy are both huge agricultural industries with all the associated pollution and energy problems that you already know about, not to mention all the packaging, shipping and waste that buying such a product entail. How wonderful that our bodies almost always make this product unnecessary!
People always want to give you baby gifts, no matter how much you protest or try to avoid it (at least, I tried to). I didn't want people to buy things we didn't need or want, or that contained toxic plastics, etc. But I also found it very hard to say to people, "Don't get anything, but if you do, you have to do a lot of research and spend a bunch of money to get us something that meets our values."
Thankfully, I have an awesome sister, who organized a green baby shower. She asked people to give us hand-me-down or hand-made gifts, or if they bought something, to please consider organic and non-toxic products. It worked beautifully. Many of our friends and family gave us copies of their favorite books from their childhood, something wonderful that they made, a big box of hand-me-down clothes from their kids, or something great they found at the thrift store. We also got lots of organic blankets, burp cloths, etc. I could never have asked for this (there's something too Puritanical about me), but my sister did a wonderful job with it.
Before the Little Pea was born, we got some great advice from a friend: to never, ever turn down an offer of hand-me-down baby stuff from friends or family. As a result, we have more baby clothes than one baby could ever wear, and we've had to buy almost nothing. Friends have given us a crib, co-sleeper, stroller, high chair, tub, baby seats, toys, books, blankets, towels... it's amazing how many times these things can be used, by so many babies, before they ever begin to even show any wear. We are lucky to have a big community of friends with little ones. Even if you don't, because your family is small or you're new in town, you can get much of what you need from thrift and consignment stores, saving oodles of money and reducing a lot of waste.
diapers: We've covered this area a lot already on Sew Green -- check out earlier posts on diapering here and here.
I am really interested in other folks' strategies for green babyhood. And I'm particularly looking forward to learning more about stuff like making baby food, toys, and how to communicate your values to kids' friends and grandparents. No parents are born knowing how to do all this stuff, and supporting each other has been critical for me - thanks to all of you for sharing what you've learned, too!