Having A ‘Sustainable’ Baby - How to Raise a New Human Without Creating New Problems for The Planet
Words by TCA Community Builder and new mum,
In February this year, after many years of deliberating whether to have children at all, given the dire state of our planet, I gave birth to my son, Jack. Indeed, to cut carbon we are advised to have one less child and my thoughts for a long time involved not having even one child of my own and maybe adopting or fostering instead.
At some point in the last few years the innate biological desire to create a baby reared its head and I decided at 37 years old to make a go for it while I still could: this has turned out to be the best decision of my life. I vowed as I tried to conceive that the choices we make as parents during his upbringing would ensure our child would cause as little damage to this world as possible; and that we would raise him valuing our planet and its inhabitants both human and non-human, encouraging him to help restore our beautiful Mother Earth in the process.
Onto the less romantic, messier and important details…
I never realised just how many nappy changes there would be per day or the amount of mess that can occur. The guilt of nappies worried me pre-baby and still does to be honest, so I bought cloth nappies for Jack pre-birth with the re-usable bamboo pads and roll of bamboo liner to go inside all from Juicy Bumbles but there are many other similar brands out there to try.
Baby bladders are weak so they just wee all the time consequently using their nappies very fast for the first few months. The reusables are uncomfortable when wet compared to disposables and they tend to leak more and need changing every two hours. Jack always knows he is wearing a reusable too and inevitably will poo the minute he wears one as it feels so soft on his bum; hence a lot of rinsing and wash cycles.
If I have run out of reusables, I’m going out for the day or Jack is sleeping through the night then we use disposables. I have found you need that ease of use and long-time wearability out of your nappy during these times but other Mums may have had a better or worse experience in this department. I experimented with a few including Kit and Kin and supermarket own brands but the best I found for value, the amount they could hold, and comfort, were Little Stories nappies from Boots. They are made of 40% plant-based materials, sustainably sourced bamboo and 40% recyclable packaging, still not brilliant but good enough for a disposable.
Wipes are also an issue; you need a big surface area and for them to be sensitive for your little one’s skin. I tried a few brands but settled on paying the extra for Water Wipes which are recyclable, made of 99.9% water, are biodegradable and plastic-free too.
I experimented with using cotton wool pads but found them to be too small to handle the pressure of a major toilet incident. I used flannels for a while too but found these to be inconvenient as I had to use so many. You also need something portable too and wet wipes are really the only solution for on-the-go poops.
The washing machine is on frequently. I try to do my bit by doing as much washing as I can in one go, washing on low at 30 degrees whenever possible and by using Smol washing pods. I have been using Smol for a couple of years now and highly recommend the minimal, plastic-free packaging, lower levels of added chemicals and the price plus they are delivered to your door. Washing myself is another story and I struggle to have enough time to shower every day and as most new mothers will testify this starts to get quite low on your priority list. I may be stinky (I hope not) but at least I’m saving water!
I have tried to breastfeed Jack as much as I can and for as long as possible but I have always struggled with a full supply. This bothered me as a vegan; as it meant that I had to use cow milk to supplement my supply but I have slowly made peace with it as it’s only temporary.
I intend to raise Jack as a vegan both from a moral point of view but also with impending food scarcity, I want him to realise he can have a full and healthy diet from plants. In the meantime, I am trying to buy baby milk with minimal packaging and that is as good for the planet as possible. I’ve been using Hipp organic milk which, if bought as powdered milk, comes in basic cardboard packaging and a foil wrapper which are both recyclable and at least the milk is organic.
When he is weaned, we plan to make all of his food for him by regularly batch cooking and eating fresh, unprocessed food as much as possible. We want to avoid pre-made pouches or jars which look wasteful and expensive and would like to teach him to love home-cooked food but, as we are quickly discovering, this may change when time is running too short to prepare everything well in advance.
We hope when Jack gets older that he will enjoy growing with us at the allotment. He goes with us every time and likes the fresh air and looking at the trees currently, but in time it would be great if he takes an interest in growing from seed, without using pest control and enjoying the benefits of seasonal produce.
All the gear...some idea!
When we planned to have Jack, we didn’t realise how much technology or electricity we might need. You need things like a thermometer, baby night light, steriliser, microwave or bottle warmer for warming milk, batteries for toys etc. I have tried to make sure everything we use is charged via low power USB leads which sustain their charge or recyclable batteries for toys plus we try not to have anything on for longer than necessary.
For warming milk, after lots of experimenting we favour the Tommee Tippee bottle warmer which only uses a little bit of water and energy to heat a bottle (much less than a kettle) and for sterilisation we also use the Tommee Tippee bottle steriliser which is quicker than using a pan of water and uses much less water too.
In terms of necessary equipment for a baby - things like slings or carriers, pram and a buggy - we bought ours second hand or were gifted items from friends thus giving new life to older objects rather than buying new. If you are thinking of using a baby sling or carrier there are local sling libraries available in most towns where you can hire a sling for a couple of weeks and try it out before you buy for only around £10. This is so useful if you don’t want to end up buying several before you find the one that’s right for you. We plan on selling these items on again or giving them away when we are done so they have a third chance of bringing up a baby!
We haven’t bought from a second-hand baby clothes website yet but there are ones out there such as Kidamajig where you can find good clothes that still have a lot of use in them which are available at a much lower cost than new. Charity shops are great too and we still love Jack’s Superman sleep suit that we bought for £1 at Oxfam. We plan to do much more shopping in charity shops for him and will recycle his clothes by giving to pregnant friends, charity shops or local baby banks.
At the end of the day...
There is a lot of homework to be done in bringing up a sustainable baby and parents must be forgiven for not getting this right immediately or at all! Despite all of the planning you do during pregnancy, nothing prepares you for the lack of sleep, lack of time and often lack of money that accompanies having a baby.
When under pressure you’ll go for the quick and easy option and, to be honest, on a rough day sustainability is the last thing on your mind. There are also unforeseen issues that will crop up and with all the good will in the world your baby’s comfort and health come above all else - even saving the planet!
I try to remember that we have brought an entire human being into the world with a whole lifetime ahead of potential consumption and waste. Investing the time and effort now to bring them up with the right attitude towards their environment and allowing them to learn just how many resources they use from a young age is important.
If you are able to teach your child that there is enough to go round for everybody if we stop exploiting, over-indulging or taking from others in the process then, in my opinion, we have done enough to send them on the path to sustainability for life!
Tiffani has worked in live TV broadcasting for the last 18 years and teaches yoga in her spare time. Tiffani is an animal rights activist, keen environmentalist and fosters her strong interest in sustainability by growing her own food in her allotment. She joined Extinction Rebellion in 2019 after realising that the public have to take action now and into our own hands to avert a climate catastrophe. Tiffani believes The Climate App will be a key way for everyone to do their bit and more for our planet going forward.