Green babies:

🕔Sep 22, 2008
As I drove into town to meet two other moms for coffee, I glanced back to see my baby just about to doze off for her nap. The dilemma: drive a little extra to get her to sleep, or deal with a cranky baby and a shorter, much-anticipated social outing? As an environmentalist fighting climate change and promoting renewable energy solutions, I couldn’t bring myself to keep driving. But this is just one of the many challenges to being as ‘green’ a parent as possible during the early years. Even before having my daughter I struggled about whether or not I should bring another life into this world. Our personal ecological footprints are too big in Canada, and climate change brings such an uncertain future. Is the work I do to make the world a better place enough to offset the addition of another being? After much deliberation, a committed partner, a love of kids and an ability to rationalize, we decided to expand our family to three. The condition was that we would raise our child in as eco-friendly a way as possible. While the drive to minimize our footprint is now even closer to my heart, some things have definitely challenged pre-birth ideals. Below are some green parenting suggestions we’ve committed to—as well as some humble admissions.

Clothes and toys
Probably the easiest way to be more eco-friendly is getting into a cycle of hand-me-downs with other parents, or purchasing used at thrift stores or garage sales. So many little sleepers didn’t even fit Lucia when she was born because she was already too long for them. Fortunately we didn’t buy a thing and have passed everything down through a rotation of new parents in the current Smithers baby-boom. If buying new, there are some great, affordable options for organic, fair-trade clothing including MEC, Fig and Parade (all Vancouver-based companies).
There’s so much pressure to have a bunch of stuff before your baby’s even born that it adds more stress to new parents. I remember saying “no” to a ‘bouncy chair’ before Lucia was born—even though everyone told us we wouldn’t be able to live without one—because our small house was already crammed with the diaper-change area, side-car bed and stroller storage. In the end, we borrowed one for four months and it definitely provided us with some calm, hands-free time. But other things, like a Bumbo chair and exer-saucer, Lucia didn’t even like. All kids are different, so the more you borrow rather than buy, the less clutter and unnecessary stuff you end up with.
One of the biggest challenges is avoiding the onslaught of plastic. Not only is there the risk from Bisphenol-A, but a surprising number of items contain lead. For us, it’s also trying to minimize the petroleum products in the house. There are some natural-rubber and wooden toys fairly easy to come by. To our delight, other committed parents in the Valley gave Lucia toys such as a quilted square with tags all around and a birch-bark teething star. She’s also been entertained by a simple paper bag for a surprisingly long time.
Luckily, we in the Northwest have the great outdoors to encourage active play and exposure to nature. Time spent outside is refreshing and introduces new sights, sounds, smells and touches to your newborn, as well as some tasty dirt! Mushroom and berry picking can be done with a newborn strapped to your back, or with ‘assistance’ from a toddler. Winter is also a wonderland; cross-country skiing and skating are potential activities for even the wee ones (pulled behind in sleds or snuggled under mom or dad’s coat).

Green bums
Cloth diapers are an extra effort but are worth it for the environment and comfort of your baby. While cotton is an energy-intensive crop, cloth diapers are another item that can be bought consigned or passed on as your baby grows out of different sizes. Bamboo and organic cotton options also exist if you must buy new. Our hydro bill rose slightly with increased laundry, but we have the advantage in the north of drying diapers by the wood stove (or other heat source) in winter, and on the clothesline in summer (which also helps whiten them). The hump seasons are definitely more taxing on the hydro bill with the dryer going more often. Energy-efficient washers and eco-friendly laundry soap also help reduce environmental impacts.
While we prefer cloth diapers, like many parents we use disposables to minimize already frequent sleep disruptions. The problem is that a plastic coating in disposable diapers means they’ll be around for 500 years! A friend of ours recently discovered ‘G-diapers’—a biodegradable cross between re-usable and disposable—that offers a ‘green’ alternative for nights and outings. Unfortunately they don’t seem to work with all bottoms (Lucia’s, for instance), but investing in the $30 starter kit is worth a try.
Other parents we know have committed to the “Diaper-free” solution which has parents cueing their kids to pee or poo starting from an early age and raising their kids with significantly fewer if not zero diapers. We aren’t quite as hard-core, but encourage bare bum as much as possible around the house or outside, with only a sacrificial towel to wash, if that.

Local and organic foods
Breastfeeding is the ultimate in local eating; in fact, it could be called the zero-mile diet! In her first days, Lucia lost 10 percent of her birth-weight, and we really had to work to keep her on breast milk and not be given formula. Although breastfeeding doesn’t necessarily come ‘naturally’ to all moms or newborns, assistance from lactation consultants and nurses, along with dedication, will result in a multitude of benefits (including health, relationship-bonding, developmental, convenience, cost savings, and environmental).
Eating local foods and spending hours cooking have always been things I’ve literally savoured. But the reality of breastfeeding means that hunger pangs can strike me at any time. Although I managed to stock the freezer with a bunch of healthy meals while still pregnant, I’ve since then guiltily bought quick eats such as frozen perogies and pizza crusts for this time-constrained, energy-sucking period.
This year the Bulkley Valley Farmer’s Market participated in a program that supports new mothers. Booklets of five three-dollar certificates were distributed weekly at Pregnancy Outreach. The result was local, organic foods for babies and moms, as well as support from and for farmers. It was a great supplement to my neglected garden and also helped stock my freezer and pantry.

Transportation is our biggest contributor to climate change, and also the biggest challenge to ‘green’ parents. Before Lucia was born, I had dreams of spending the summer biking around with our ‘Chariot’—a stroller that has bike and cross-country-ski attachment options. The reality, I soon learned, is that you’re supposed to wait until your baby can hold her head up and even wear a helmet before cycling with her in the carrier. Now that she’s over six months and sturdy, I’m comfortable taking her the six kilometres to town.
Admittedly, since having a kid, I now understand the mini-van. With kids now required to remain in carseats until age nine, more than one child means no room in the car for friends or visiting relatives. A fuel-efficient choice is still the best option, but small cars may not suit every family. Keeping tires properly inflated and sticking to the speed limit will help improve the fuel efficiency of your vehicle.
Although easier to say than to practice, lengthy ‘nap drives’ and idling should be avoided. Other sleep-inducing methods, like walking your newborn in a front carrier or stroller, are good alternatives.
Ironically, one good thing about the inconvenience of wrestling your kids in and out of carseats is that it tends to minimize driving for short trips around town to run errands.
One of the biggest transportation-related impacts from those with family outside the northwest is flights to visit relatives, or when they visit you. Signing up for carbon-neutral programs or taking your own initiatives, such as planting trees or installing renewable energy systems, are ways of ‘taxing’ your travel footprint.

Work for change
When my newborn slept immobile for large chunks of the day, I would gather my mushy brain and voluntarily keep working to advocate for policy changes that I think will make a difference to her future. Time available to do this kind of work has definitely decreased with increases in Lucia’s mobility!
Now I couldn’t imagine life without my child. We all need to be doing our part for the environment, from improving energy efficiency in our homes to reducing car trips. This is all in the name of our children and future generations. When it comes to having a new kid on the block, it ain’t always easy being green. As with expectations on parenting generally, do your best and humbly accept that, as a sleep-deprived mom or dad with a cranky baby, you may not be able to do it all, all the time.