How to Raise an Eco-Baby on a Budget

Baby on white background with clothing, toiletries, toys and health care accessories. Wish list or shopping overview for pregnancy and baby shower. View from above. Child feeding, changing and bathing

Going green can seem like an unrealistic expense if you’re the parent of a young baby. But it doesn’t have to be. The key: Make your essential purchases eco items and limit the amount of nonessential stuff you buy, especially when it comes to baby stuff.

Focus on what your baby ingests – and more

Perhaps you’re already opting for organic or local foods as well as BPA-free bottles and sippy cups. Focusing on the things that babies put in their mouths is smart and needn’t put much extra strain on your budget if you reduce the amount of packaged foods you buy. But what about the rest of your baby’s daily life? Some simple changes will minimize your child’s exposure to potentially harmful chemicals at home, and also reduce your family’s impact on the environment.

Some of these changes can even be made for free — taking off your shoes as you enter your home, for example, is the public health equivalent of washing your hands. This isn’t a germ thing (germs are good for forming strong immune systems in babies). The bottoms of shoes contain everything from pesticide residue to car exhaust, neither of which you want on your floors, especially if you have a crawling infant at home. Yuck, right? Also free: Stop spraying pesticides on the lawn. They’re dangerous for babies and the environment, and you can spend those pesticide dollars on unsprayed, organic apples.

And there are other eco-trades that don’t require more cash than you’re already spending. For example, ditch conventional cleaning products for equally effective and safer green versions. These can cost about the same as their conventional cousins, and the swap drastically reduces indoor air pollution. In fact, everything you’re buying and bringing into your home – paint, diaper cream, nursery decorations, toys, clothes – has a safer counterpart. Yes, the greener versions can be more costly. But by buying less, you can:

•    offset the extra costs of safer, greener products
•    avoid exposing your child to questionable chemicals that can interfere with his development. A shocking number of these chemicals are found in consumer goods of all kinds
•    and protect the health of your baby’s planet by using fewer resources and tossing less outgrown kiddie gear into the landfills.

Paring down is the mark of any good (or budding) environmentalist!

The less is more approach

This less is more approach works well for babies, and later on, for children; they don’t “need” all that much. Think about it: What does a newborn need besides breasts (or a bottle), diapers and seasonally appropriate clothing? What you save, you can spend on an organic crib mattress. This is a great starting point; babies spend up to 18 hours a day sleeping (if you’re lucky). Organic crib mattresses generally cost $100 more than conventional versions, which is about the equivalent of a giant plastic swing and a changing pad, neither of which you need, and both of which could be releasing chemicals that you don’t want around your baby’s lungs.

Want a mobile for the crib? Draw your own simple images  (black and white patterns are said to be very stimulating for wee ones) and stick them over the baby’s changing area. Bathing her? Don’t slather her in cream (what’s softer than baby skin?) unless there’s some reason to. Cosmetic ingredients aren’t very well regulated; even products intended for babies may contain hormone-disrupting fragrance, questionable preservatives and carcinogens. See a rash on her face? Instead of opening a tube containing synthetic and petroleum derived ingredients you can’t even pronounce, head to your kitchen cabinet. A dab of (preferably organic) olive oil cures most dry patches. If you prefer ointments to olive oil, you can get lovely natural products that are safe for babies (and parents). And pay attention to the grown-up creams, lotions and perfumes you wear. The baby you’re nuzzling can absorb them.

If you’re ready to pare down and green up, here are five good trades you can make in the nursery.

Five Eco-trades for budget greening

1 .Don’t really need

Multiple swings, bassinets, bouncy seats and the like. One kid can’t sit in so many places! These are also the items that tend to be made of the worst plastics to have around a developing baby. Minimize exposure by paring down the excess.

Greener, healthier alternative

One hand-me-down or second-hand place for your baby to sit, lie or swing while you’re busy. Cotton or other natural materials on metal frames are preferable to plastic coated fabrics on plastic bases. And try your child out in the seat or swing at a friend’s house or in the store prior to purchasing. Some like them, some don’t. You don’t want to spend a lot on something the baby won’t even use.

2. Don’t really need

Plastic crib pads – putting growing lungs next to plastic is questionable. Some of the worst-for-baby plastics have recently been banned in toys and gear for kids under age 12, but you never really know what you’re getting, as labels (and regulation) are few and far between.

Greener, healthier alternative

Wool “puddle” pads make great moisture barriers. Lanolin, a natural component of wool, is nature’s waterproofer. Pour water on a wool sweater to see for yourself; it beads up. Wool pads are more expensive than plastic but will last longer. Buy the kind you can lay flat instead of one with fitted corners, so it can transition to a big-kid bed.

3. Don’t really need

Things that will only be used for a short period of time or that nobody really needs, like wipe warmers, plastic-covered foam sleep positioners, floating bath thermometers, etc.

Greener, healthier alternative

Avoid these things entirely and save your cash for an organic-cotton baby carrier. You don’t need to clutter your life with extraneous, potentially unsafe kid gear. When you want to test the bath-water temperature, use your hand, and if you squeeze the wipe in your hand for a moment, that will warm it up, too! Less is more.

4. Don’t really need

Foam and plastic mats and pads for the nursery floor. These materials might be off-gassing harmful chemicals and adhesive fumes into your baby’s breathing space.

Greener, healthier alternative

Wood floors are great places to learn to crawl. Cover yours with rugs made of natural fibers, like cotton, which can be thrown in the washing machine. If possible, buy organic cotton.

5. Don’t really need

Lots of clothes, including shoes for a non-walker.

Greener, healthier alternative

Only as much as your baby needs of hand-me-down or second-hand clothes in natural fibers. Kids grow out of things so quickly that it makes financial as well as environmental sense to use second-hand clothes when you can. When and if buying new, choose clothing made from organic cotton. Cotton is one of the world’s most sprayed crops; so organic is worth the extra expenditure.