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!


Anonymous said...

I am not a parent yet but I already feel some anxiety about raising my children in the most healthy and sustainable way I can. I think the most important thing is that we are trying, the most important change is a change of heart. Keep it up!

Heidi said...

I couldn't breastfeed because our child was adopted, and we did use disposable diapers. But we have gotten EVERYTHING used for our child--from the crib to clothes to his little spoons! And of course adopting is very green, since it doesn't add to overpopulation!

Jennifer said...

The green baby shower is such a great idea! We have been fortunate to have lots of things handed down, which was nice and it adds sentimental value. My little one is almost 7 now and there are little treasures that he still holds on to.

I have to admit that the other toys have been harder to filter out. I'd love to see how you progress on that front :)

mames said...

i almost always use the children's consignment stores in our town, the clothes are carefully selected (i know this because they will never take any of mine). it is a great way to find big ticket items like jackets etc.

we also try to keep the toy buying to a minimum and do toy exchanges with friends.

the best advice i have is to get them outside early and let them get dirty. our guys have a natural love of the outdoors because they have been watering the garden and planting since they were a few months old. i love that they can entertain themselves with rocks, sticks and mud. lots of mud. hence why the stores will not take their clothes. :)

Kerstin Svendsen said...

nice post and adorable slipper-shoes! and if i didn't already say it to you a belated congrats!! ox

Sarah Reid said...

Making baby food is so simple. I mean, you can complicate it all up, but if you delay starting solids as long as you can (9 months or later), you can skip a lot of the pureeing stuff. Just make sure YOU are eating good stuff, and cut it up into small, unaltered pieces for your LO. voila. Homemade baby food.

We have struggled with family. Particularly since said family will not shop anywhere but Target and Walmart. I've tried gently bringing up the whole plastic thing, and have laid down the law about battery toys. I've given them catalogs from natural toy companies. I've tried to steer them towards the acceptable toys at Target, etc. Not much luck. They get what they want. For a while, we just returned it. Then they started removing them from the packages in front of my son... so we let him play with them for a few weeks, then passed them on to goodwill.

Once he turned about 3, we tried to steer them towards art supplies - it's hard to go wrong with markers and paper. Or clothes, particularly if there's something special we need that we can't find secondhand. He is 5 now, and we're homeschooling as well as considering some sort of lessons (martial arts or music) - we're going to ask family to help out with those things in lieu of buying crap we don't need.

Kids friends have been easy so far. My son (5) has only friends from families that parent similarly. As he ages and makes friends outside of our 'bubble,' I imagine we'll find a line between being anal and being too mainstream.

Ann said...

My children are probably close to your age,and I have a grandson a bit older than the Little Pea. One of the best gifts that I got when my older one was born was a baby food grinder (a small hand cranked food mill). We eventually wore out three of them with 2 kids! With it, I fed my kids exactly what we ate (minus some of the spice when they were very tiny, fully flavored as they got older). There was a "baby food cookbook" (probably long OOP called "Feed Me, I'm Yours" by Vicky Lasky (and it scares me that 30 years later, I remember this because I long-since passed it along--I'm wrong, it's revised and expanded and in print.

IlaBrook said...

Hi! New to your blog but have been a fan of yours for awhile. I started with The Super Baby Food Book 7 years ago and then modified from there. The method described is a little intense but it is full of great information you can use to fit into your own world. Best of luck & congratulations!

whitney said...

hello! We took a very laid back approach to baby food. When our little one was just starting solids we bought organic frozen everything and pureed it. Then we froze it in ice cube trays. It was great because we could mix and match flavors to make him something new and tasty everyday. The cubes also mixed great with plain yogurt. Then when he started eating more, we just gave him bites of our food. We eat healthy and I always try to have one part of the menu be especially for him (ie. something easy to eat with fingers). For example, tonight I made spinach, feta turnovers and I just cut one up for him. He had a blast getting puff pastry all over his face and gobbled the whole thing up.
Good food is good food. There's no need to get stressed over it in my opinion.

As far as the values part of your question. Like everyone says, your kids watch everything. If you lead by example your kids will follow.

Hope that helps and congratulations!

Nicola said...

yes yes yes on the used baby shower (no one would do this for me, even at my request??!!) and accepting hand me downs.
also, yes on breastfeeding and diapering.
as for the rest, my struggle has been to be both frugal AND green in the raising of my kids. there are some fabulous online resources that have allowed me to narrow to the top 10 best and, foods, you name it. i try and be armed with those when shopping. i yard sale (school annual sales are fabulous), and i try and not buy too far in advance. every kid is different and i have found my son hasn't had the need for some of the items my daughter (or friends' kids) had. and getting creative with materials, natural and recycled, has been a fun and green exercise!

lisa solomon said...

great post f.pea!!
i didn't even have a shower b/c i didn't want all the "stuff".

hand me downs are HUGE here too. and we are passing them on to other little ones.

i've also bought gently used toys on craigs list and berkeley parents network. i figure it's better to re-use any plastic stuff than buy new - and it seems like you can't avoid all plastic [my little LOVES her doorway jumper and it's been a lifesaver for me. and for $10 at least i'm re-using!]

we are also making our own food - and have been exclusively breastfeeding.

do what you can, right? do what you can. and try and make do with just what you need. don't get sucked into the whole baby machine!

cedarstrings said...

my only is 11, but I've been on a green bandwagon since the first Whole Earth Catalog (and I was a charter subscriber to Mother Earth News). DD was adopted, and done without fanfare, announcements, etc., so we had few gifts of any sort to deal with; we used a diaper service until I located a place to buy organic dipes. I didn't knit in those days, so we had store-bought soakers. Because there were about six cousins to be born in the year after my child, anything that I did buy, I made sure to buy quality that would last through two or three hand-me-downs (a practice that I continue today). Ditto the homemade infant foods. I had to deal with formula, but from her very first real food, it was pretty much the same stuff the big people eat ... just major smushing is usually adequate, without a special appliance.
Sometimes in the course of parenting you will be faced with convenience (time, proximity, money) vs principles. I refused to let guilt consume me when I bought a package of disposables for a three day road trip; when we face some of those issue today, I let my daughter participate in the discussion, or at least explain my reasoning for the decision I make. I'm very proud of her when she calls me out for doing something ungreen (like using only one side of printer paper or leaving lights on); like all values you want to pass on to your child, you can never start too soon.

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