Raising eco-babies

The way we live, eat, drink, travel, shop, communicate and live our lives affects our eco-footprint. These days everyone is being urged to make changes to their lifestyles to reduce the impact we have on the Earth. 

Raising babies and children are among the most important things we will do in a lifetime, and doing it as environmentally friendly as possible, may be the most important thing we can do for their future. Here are our EB member tips on raising eco-babies:

ON THEIR BUMS

Cloth nappies
Though there has been research about the environmental impact of cloth nappies vs. disposable nappies, the clear choice for many is cloth. Modern Cloth Nappies (MCN's) are not only convenient, easy to use and readily available these days, they also look good! Be warned they are addictive, and you will need to resist the urge to buy more than you really need, just because they look so cute on your baby's little bottom.

To reduce the impact:

  • Dry pail them instead of soaking in large amounts of water.
  • Wash using eco-friendly detergents.
  • Dry them on the clothes line in the sun.
  • Use MCN's made from organic fabrics, such as hemp and bamboo.
  • Try sourcing your nappies from a local seller/ maker, or make your own.
  • Use them for your next babies, or sell them.

Disposables
If you think cloth seems too hard, start by using just one cloth nappy per day. Put it on your baby after they have just had a dirty nappy. You can throw it in the wash with your usual load. Soon you can add more to your collection and phase out using disposables as you are able to. Don't feel guilty if you cannot go to cloth full time... every bit helps, and keep on taking steps towards being more eco-friendly. Consider a system such as Weenees, which are a cross between disposable and cloth, using flushable inserts.

We all want the best for our precious babies, and we truly can make a difference to the Earth they will inhabit for the rest of their lives.

There are also eco-disposables which claim to be better for the environment by using more natural materials and breaking down faster. Some can be composted, meaning less waste sent to landfill. They do cost more, and may be worth keeping for using on outings, and putting cloth nappies on your baby at home.

To reduce the impact:

  • Compost them where possible.
  • Look for a composting service in your area, or contact your local council about starting one.
  • Keep them for outings, and use biodegradeable plastic nappy bags, if needed.
  • Remember, whatever your choice, the poo always goes in the loo!

Also, it may seem something you'd never consider, but look into Elimination Communication (EC), instead of using nappies at all. By using timing, signals, cues and intuition to handle your babies toileting needs, and avoiding using nappies altogether or for the majority of the time.

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IN THEIR TUMMIES  

Breastfeeding
Breastfeeding is the obvious choice to reduce environmental impact, as it requires no heating or storage, and no processing, packaging, distribution or waste. You can also buy or make washable nursing pads, and use re-useable containers for EBM. However, it can be a tricky skill to develop and may not be possible for every mother or baby. If you are bottle-feeding using formula, then don't feel guilty, but consider the below tips.

To reduce impact:

  • Buy organic formula, if it is suitable to your baby.
  • Recycle the tins and other packaging. Use the scoops for kids toys, or use in your home made cleaning products.
  • Look for glass bottles, or plastic that can be recycled.
  • Continue using the same bottles as your child grows, just buy larger teats as necessary.
  • Sterilise bottles using a steam method, such as microwave, or wash them in your dishwasher. Avoid chemical solutions, or boiling in large amounts of water. 

Solids
When the time comes for starting solids, what is good for your baby is also good for the environment.

To reduce impact:

  • Make your own food, using Australian-made organic produce, and store in reusable containers.
  • If you are buying prepared food, look for organic baby food sold in tins or glass jars.
  • Keep the glass jars to re-use for food, or for other storage.
  • Reduce the use of packaging, by making your own rusks and snacks.
  • Use wet face washers for clean up, instead of baby wipes.

TIME FOR BED
Babies spend a large part of their day in bed, so you want their sleeping area to be comfortable and conducive to sleeping well If you are going to co-sleep, you may avoid setting up a nursery at all and can reduce heating or cooling requirements, if you are all in the same room. But you can set up your baby's room to be cosy and stylish, without negatively impacting the environment.

To reduce impact:

  • Use natural paint on the walls, which also has health and safety benefits for them.
  • Use removable decals, rather than wallpaper and decorations which require adhesives to put on, and chemicals to remove.
  • Use handmade crafts and photo frames made from natural materials to personalise their room.
  • Make hand-made blankets and decorative cushions/ wall hangings etc., using natural or recycled materials.
  • Buy linen made using organic and natural fabrics, such as cotton, hemp and bamboo.
  • Use appropriate layered sleep wear, such as Grobags or muslin wraps, to avoid overuse of heaters and air-con, as able.
  • Buy pre-loved cots, change tables and chairs, ensuring that safety standards are still met, and beware that some very old cots may have lead-based paint, which will need to be thoroughly removed, and wear appropriate safety gear.
  • Use natural paint to refresh furniture, or clean thoroughly using vinegar or bi-carb solutions.

BATH AND CHANGE TIME
With their delicate skin, and frequent trips to the change table, you need to choose toiletries and bath products that work well, but are gentle and easy to use. They also need a range of comfortable, practical (and cute) clothing. You can provide all this, whilst doing your part for the environment too.

To reduce impact:

  • Use pre-loved clothing where possible, from friends and family, markets, online, maternity & baby shops, or local classifieds.
  • Make your own clothes, using natural fabric and materials, and natural or even recycled wool, from pre-loved knitted clothes from markets/ op shops/ back of your cupboard!
  • Buy clothing and towels made using organic and natural fabrics, such as cotton, hemp and bamboo.
  • Use reusable, washable wipes (such as flannelette squares or soft face washers) and make your own solution, such as cooled chamomile tea, or just water. You can use a soft tissue with natural moisturiser or nappy balm for stickier messes, if needed.
  • Buy Australian made, organic toiletries, of which there are a good variety these days to try.
  • Use a baby bath, or large bucket/ container in the bath, instead of filling up the whole bath. Use the water as grey water on your garden, making sure any bath wash you use in suitable (some essential oils may not be).

PLAYTIME AND EDUCATION
Babies and children go through many developmental stages, requiring different types of stimulation and entertainment. They often only need their baby toys for a short time, before moving onto the next phase. You can also start educating them about supporting the environment at an early age.

To reduce impact:

  • Take babies for a walk in the pram for entertainment. It's never too early for walks in the park or around natural areas, pointing out the wonderful things nature can provide!
  • Try buying pre-loved toys from op shops, or online, or join a toy library. Check for safety, and clean them thoroughly when you get them home.
  • Buy better quality brands and look after them, so you can keep them for next children or sell them/ pass them on.
  • Look for toys and games made from natural materials.
  • Make your own hand-made toys and dolls, or look for local stores, markets or WAHM's who are using natural materials and eco-concepts.
  • Consider the type of playgroup or daycare you would like them to go to, such as Steiner or Montessori, who teach the values and respect for the Earth that you want your babies to learn, and that are willing to use cloth nappies etc.

GETTING AROUND
Prams, strollers, capsules, car seats and other equipment are often big purchases and their production can have a big impact. Consider baby wearing, instead of buying prams or strollers, by using slings or carriers, or make careful decisions about the equipment that is right for you.

To reduce the impact:

  • You can buy or make a sling/ carrier, and avoid buying prams or strollers altogether.
  • Look for pre-loved prams, car seats and other equipment. Check they meet safety requirements.
  • Hybrid cards may not mean much to babies, but they could help reduce the impact of emissions on the Earths' atmosphere, when getting out and about. Or look into your local public transport for pram friendly buses, or walking paths in your area.
  • Buy better quality brands and look after them, so you can keep them for next children or sell them/ pass them on.

HOME SWEET HOME
Be aware of the environment you are raising your babies in, that is, your home and garden. Not only do you want to provide a safe, pollution and nasty-chemical free place to live, play and sleep, you can start to influence them on being eco-friendly from an early age.

To reduce the impact:

  • Use natural cleaning products and methods for your house, laundry and garden.
  • Avoid overuse of water and energy, and plant more trees to counteract the extra emissions you may produce with having babies in the house.
  • Set up grey water systems or install water tanks, to counteract the extra water you may use having babies in the house.
  • Start a vegetable and fruit garden, to be able to provide them with hand grown produce as they start solids.

BUYING AND GIVING
It's easy to overindulge and spend money on babies and kids these days, when overwhelmed by the amazing array of fashion, toys and consumables available. There is also a tendency in our 'throw away' society to replace buying a small amount of good quality purchases with a large (unnecessary) amount of poor quality items that don't last. You can make conscious decisions about providing for your baby, as well as encouraging your friends and family to make better choices to support the environment too.

To reduce impact:

  • Quality over quantity. Encourage the purchase of better quality items, not a heap of things that your baby doesn't need or could possibly not even end up using.
  • Direct gift-givers to stores or websites selling eco or handmade toys, clothes and gifts.
  • Encourage hand-made gifts, using natural materials where possible.
  • Encourage gifts that will support the Earth, such as trees planted on the baby's behalf, or sponsoring endangered animals.
  • Request your family deposit money into the babies bank account, to be put towards better quality, bigger purchases, instead of overspending on things you don't need.
  • Be an advocate for your child's future, rather than fall into trends or fashions that your baby has no care for.
  • For birth announcements or thank you cards, try setting up an email notice system, sending out e-cards, or use recycled paper and cards instead.

Your choices today, their home tomorrow
We all want the best for our precious babies, and we truly can make a difference to the Earth they will inhabit for the rest of their lives. Becoming aware of the issues, and learning as you go is a great start. Making every possible change or choice you can, to reduce your impact, is something we can all aim for. Though we often have busy, complicated and exhausting lives as parents, this is one of the most important roles we have today. Raising eco-babies!

This article has been compiled by EB member Dixiebelle, with the assistance of members within the Environment forum. You can chat to these members in the Environment forum here.