Most of us are eco savvy. We know every decision we make as a consumer affects the continued sustainability of the planet. But what about your new baby? Well before the new baby comes along you’ll need to make some big decisions about what to buy — from nursery furniture, to soft furnishings, clothing, bath products and more. As parents, you want what’s best for your baby, and making sound environmental choices is critical. After all, who are we really saving the planet for?
Eco-friendly nursery décor
You can create a safe, healthy, non-toxic haven for your baby starting with decorating the new nursery. After all, nothing brightens a room more than a fresh lick of paint. But not all paints are environmentally friendly — in fact, some contain dangerous volatile organic compounds (VOCs). These VOCs are emitted by a plethora of chemicals that can worsen asthma symptoms, cause headaches, convulsions and respiratory problems, according to Good Environmental Choice Australia Ltd, the group that administers the Australian Environmental Certification Program. When choosing paints for your baby’s nursery, opt for those that are low-VOC or no-VOC — most paint suppliers will have these on their shelves.
Consider removing carpeting in baby’s nursery. Carpets can trap mould, dustmites and other known allergens. Choose timber flooring made from sustainably managed forests and finish it with a natural sealant. Soften timber floors by adding a natural rug made from wool, organic fibres or hemp.
Source furniture made from natural products for your baby’s nursery. If you can, avoid furniture made with plywood and particle board because they often contain formaldehyde in their glues.
Timber cots and other furniture are both timeless and durable. The chest of drawers you buy for your baby’s clothing will still be OK to use as your child grows into their teens. When buying timber furniture, buy eco-smart. Timber sourced by ravaging native rainforests or old-growth forests is not a good choice. According to the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, it’s estimated that $400 million (9 per cent) of timber products imported into Australia are suspected of being illegally sourced.
So how do you know what you’re buying? Ask the retailer where it came from and then check that it has a green tick of approval. There are two green certified logos. The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is a worldwide group promoting sustainable forestry practices, and the Australian Forestry Standard (AFC) is a not-for-profit company promoting sustainable management of Australian forests and timber products. If the retailer is uncertain, or can’t verify the product’s authenticity, look for a similar product that is certified.
Instead of strapping baby into the car to run errands nearby, go for a spin in the pram. Not only will you and bub get some fresh air, you’ll be exercising and you’ll both be helping the planet. According to Origin Australia, there’s good reason to leave the car at home when you can. Average cars produce over 2.5 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions every year.
You could also consider getting a group of mums together to exercise outdoors. It’s great for both mothers ands bubs, according to Tennille Jones who runs Healthy Mums Happy Bubs, a mother and child fitness-based group. The group exercises in a park with their babies in prams, and the bubs can also get involved when they are old enough. “It’s a wonderful bonding thing for mums and their bubs to share,” says Tennille. “It’s also a very healthy environment and kids see at an early age that exercise can be a way of life,” she says.
Keep your cool, baby
When planning your baby’s nursery, you might be tempted to install an air-conditioner to keep baby comfortable, but if your home is designed to capture natural cooling breezes, fans can often be effective enough to keep your baby cool in summer. Fans circulate air and are relatively inexpensive to run. They cost around one cent per hour compared to 30–40 cents per hour to run an air-conditioner, according to EnergyAustralia.
If you do decide to go with an air-conditioner, check the star rating before you buy. Each extra star equates to about 10 per cent lower running costs and greenhouse gas emissions, says Paul Myors, Energy Efficiency Expert, EnergyAustralia. When you’re running your air-conditioner, set the thermostat between 23 and 26 degrees, he suggests. “For each degree of cooling your costs increase by around 10 per cent.”
It’s almost universally accepted that breastfeeding is the best source of baby’s nutrition early in life. Your baby receives antibodies to help build natural immunities against illnesses and breastmilk is protective against allergies, ear infections and a host of other things. It also aids in the development of eyesight, speech and intelligence, according to the Australian Breastfeeding Association. But there are even more good reasons to pop baby on the breast instead of reaching for a bottle: you’ll be saving precious food miles, according to Carey Wood, National Spokesperson Australian Breastfeeding Association.
“If you’re breastfeeding, all you’re doing is picking up baby and putting them to your breast, so food miles are at most a few metres as opposed to potentially many hundreds of kilometres or more,” she says.
But for some mums, breastfeeding isn’t easy. To improve your chances of success it’s important to be informed well before baby comes along, says Carey. “Don’t wait until they hand you your baby in hospital; go to breastfeeding education classes and read books. And if you do need support, call our counsellors on 1800 MUM 2 MUM,” she advises.
If you choose not to breastfeed, or you’re unable to, opt for glass bottles instead of plastic, as they’re better for the environment.
As baby grows and begins to eat solids, consider choosing organic baby food, says Miriam Raleigh, paediatric dietitian. Look for the bud logo that gives baby food the Australian Certified Organic green tick of approval, she says. “This identifies that the manufacturer has met the strict and rigorous standards set out by the ACO. The baby food is pesticide-free and manufactured in an environmentally friendly way,” she says.
But not all baby foods are created equal — even if they are organic, cautions Miriam. “Organic doesn’t always mean low in sugar and salt. Often people think they’re jam-packed with more nutrition, but they aren’t, so read the labels carefully,” she says.
As an alternative, why not get creative and make your own baby food? Source fresh fruit and vegetables, puree and freeze in small containers or ice cube trays. “Make a big batch and then freeze and thaw at room temperature for an instant healthy meal,” suggests Miriam.
Rub, scrub and sparkle
Have you ever felt a headache coming on after scrubbing the shower? Your cleaning products could well be the culprits. If you feel unwell, imagine how your heavy-duty chemical cleaners will affect a tiny newborn. Many chemical-based household cleaners contain a dangerous cocktail of ingredients. Choosing safer environmentally friendly products helps the environment and the health of your family.
Instead of chlorine-based chemical cleaners, try switching to a gentle eco-friendly brand. Or you could try some good old-fashioned cleaning methods, suggests Rita Cozzi, naturopath and Program Director for Health Sciences at Australasian College of Natural Therapies.
“We are so used to getting a spray bottle laden with chemicals and, with a quick squirt, we get the job done, but there are healthier alternatives,” she says. Naturopath Alexandra Boot agrees. Choose natural cleaners such as bicarbonate of soda and vinegar, she suggests. “You do need a little bit more elbow grease, but they do an effective job and minimise the family’s exposure to harmful chemicals.”
Your grime-fighting arsenal
- Stock up on green cleaning agents. Many cost a fraction of the price of their chemical alternatives. You’ll not only save money but also help the health of your family and the welfare of the planet. Bicarb soda is a good scouring agent. It works well on sinks and toilets and freshens as well. Store in a covered container with covered holes to keep it dry.
- Mix 50 per cent vinegar and 50 per cent water in a spray bottle for a good all-purpose cleaner.
- Plant-based soaps are completely biodegradable and a good all-purpose cleaner.
- Washing soda helps to remove stubborn stains.
- Borax controls those nasty little creepy crawlies in the home such as cockroaches. It can also be used as a disinfectant and bleach.
- Lemon juice acts as mild bleach, dissolves soap scum and cleans and shines brass and copper.
As your baby begins to grow and interact with the world, introducing a few interactive toys will stimulate their senses. Choose quality over quantity — after all, your baby can play with only one toy at a time. Babies don’t need every toy that has ever hit the toyshop shelves!
Good-quality toys will last for decades, so they can be reused instead of depleting natural resources to create even more toys.
Almost everything your little one touches goes into their mouth, so select toys made from natural products: sustainable timbers, organic cotton and wool felt.
Borrow toys from a toy library — many libraries have a good selection on hand and all you need to do to be eligible to borrow is join your local library and present your library card.
You can also use your imagination and create some toys yourself using recycled materials. By tapping into your creative side with things you already have lying around at home, or sourcing pre-loved goods from recycle centres, you’re doing something positive to help the environment.
What do big, happy smiles, warm, wet cuddles and wriggly babies mean? Why, bathtime, of course! Bathtime is a time to play, a time to relax and a time to share precious moments with your beautiful baby. At bathtime, use eco-friendly petroleum-free products, then add one to two drops of soothing lavender oil for a relaxing, soothing bathtime experience, suggests naturopath, Rita Cozzi.
“After you gently wash your baby, apply an aqueous-based vitamin E cream to the areas that can dry out — ie, hands, feet and bottom,” she advises.
It’s not necessary to bath a small baby every day. Experts agree a few times a week is all you need until baby is on the move! In between tubs you can top and tail your baby. Undress your baby and wrap baby gently in a towel. Using a warm wet washcloth, gently wash baby’s face. Wipe the baby’s arms and clean their hands. Finish with a gentle wash of the nappy area.
Australian babies go through a staggering 2.2 million disposable nappies each day. You can help to combat the increasing problem of overflowing landfill by either using cloth nappies or opting for eco-friendly organic alternatives. Most cloth nappies these days are shaped like disposable nappies, you don’t have to soak them in harsh chemicals, or even pin them, meaning they’re a lot less work than their predecessors.
Dress baby in organic breathable fabrics. Swap baby clothes and accessories with your friends. Buy secondhand on eBay or from charity shops. After all, your newborn isn’t going to be interested in labels. And, because babies grow so quickly, the clothes tend to be hardly worn, so are in good condition.
Turn off the TV
As little ones grow and begin to tune into their environment, many mums and dads turn on the TV to keep baby entertained while they are doing chores. Electric multimedia devices contribute to global warming. According to the Department of Environment, Water, Heritage & the Arts, a large-screen TV, used six hours a day, generates around half a tonne of greenhouse gas a year — more than a family fridge. Instead of flicking on the TV, opt for playing interactive games, take baby for a stroll in the sunshine or read a story.
Umbilical cord study
Results of an umbilical cord study in 2004 by a US Environmental Working Group showed an average of 200 chemicals found circulating throughout the 10 newborn babies who formed the study. According to paediatrician Dr Alan Greene, who participated in the study, the report states, “Of the 287 chemicals we detected in umbilical cord blood, we know that 180 cause cancers in humans or animals, 217 are toxic to the brain and nervous system and 208 cause birth defects or abnormal development in animal tests.” A good reason to make changes to a more eco-friendly, chemical-free lifestyle before or during pregnancy.
What’s in a name?
Looking to go green with your baby, but can’t figure out the labels on products you buy? Well, you are not alone. It can be difficult for even the most eco-aware consumers to understand the jargon and hype. When you hit the supermarket shelves you’ll see myriad consumer products that claim to be the real deal. There could be an emblem of leaves on a tree, or words like “organic”, or “all-natural”, or graphic icons with “green”-looking logos.
Australian consumer watchdog organisation Choice says to minimise getting ripped off by blatantly false or misleading claims, there are some basic rules to follow.
Read the label carefully. Is the product third-party certified by ISO (International Standards Organisation) or another reputable group such as Good Environmental Choice Australia Ltd. Does it list all the ingredients in the product? Is the label written clearly, in plain English so you can understand the claims? Are the environmental claims free from unrelated hype?
After reading the labels, if you are still uncertain, are there contact details to verify your concerns? When you contact the company, can they supply you with reasonable answers to any questions?
Carrol Baker is a freelance journalist who writes for lifestyle and health magazines across Australia.