"Living green" is a rubric for a life style centered on addressing global climate change and preserving earth's natural resources. The concept has infiltrated nearly every aspect of American popular culture; ideas and philosophies once considered extreme are now regarded as mainstream. "Green parenting" focuses on how our parenting choices impact our children's health and development, and how those same decisions can affect the kind of planet they will inherit. Green parenting does not need to be complicated or expensive. In many ways, it can be viewed as getting back to basics. By parenting in ways that would be more familiar to generations past, we can help the environment heal and our children thrive.
How we feed our babies is one of our earliest parenting decisions. Breastfeeding is the "greenest" choice we can make. It requires no new technology or retrofitting, we are already designed for it. It creates no waste, requires no additional farming of animals or land for production, uses no packaging, and does not need to be processed or transported. Breastfeeding is also free, while standard infant formula feeding costs can range from $1000–$1500 a year.
The World Health Organization recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of life and continued nursing through age 2 or beyond. Worldwide, many children nurse throughout their first 5 years. The benefits of breastfeeding for infants and children have been widely published, but are worth repeating: breastfed children have lower incidents of ear and respiratory infections, constipation, and diarrhea. Children who are breastfed may also receive protection against SIDS, obesity, diabetes, asthma, and allergies.
While breastfeeding may be natural and ideal for our children, it isn't always easy. There is a steep learning curve for all infants and new nursing mothers, but most women are able to breastfeed successfully if given the proper support and instruction.
If you choose to formula-feed your child, there are ways to "green" the process. Organic formula ensures that your baby's food is free of pesticides, growth hormones, antibiotics, and steroids. Any food with an organic label must be certified as such by the USDA. Several manufacturers now produce organic infant formula, including Earth's Best, Similac, and Parent's Choice, and they are available in many stores, including Babies R' Us, Walmart, and major grocery chains. Organic formula is more expensive (by about 15 percent) than standard formulas.
The disposable plastic water bottle could be the icon for our throw-away society. Bottled water is no better than tap water, it is just more expensive. Additionally, the transportation of the water and the energy used in production of the plastic container place a huge strain on the environment; and the bottles have to be recycled. Avoid using bottled water for yourself and your baby. If you are concerned about your tap water you can simply filter and boil it before making formula bottles. There is no evidence that this will do anything at all to protect your health or help your baby but at least the process is much more economical and less damaging to the environment than using bottled water. Bottled water is only recommended if you live in an area where wells or municipal water supplies are known to be contaminated.
Do not heat plastic containers in a microwave oven, as chemicals from the containers can leach into their contents. Containers made out of glass, corn derivatives, or bamboo are safe, environment-friendly alternatives to plastic.
Here are a few helpful resources:
- Kellymom: Provides comprehensive evidence-based information on breastfeeding, sleep, and parenting.
- International Lactation Consultant Association: Find a board-certified lactation consultant in your area.
- Organic Baby Resource: Information on green parenting, feeding, and diapering.
- Motherlove: Herbal supplements for pregnancy through lactation.
- La Leche League International: Breastfeeding support groups and resources.
- The Daily Green: Organic infant formula guide.
Erin Schmitt is currently completing her Masters of Acupuncture and her doula certification. Reprinted with permission from Plaza Family Care, PC; Hackettstown and Chester, New Jersey.