Recently the most amazing thing happened to me: I became a Mom to a baby boy. And besides all the endless messages of joy and congratulations one friend also said something that got me thinking: “Having a child is probably the worst thing you can do for the climate and environment.” And while I still think that having children is probably the best thing that you can do to personally increase your joy and happiness, on a rational perspective he was right. Babies consume a lot of resources and produce a lot of waste. It is estimated that the average baby produces one ton of diaper waste in his lifetime. But this should not make anybody feel bad about having kids when the world is talking about the climate crisis. So here are my top tips on how to raise an eco-friendly baby and live more sustainably as a family.
Use washable cloth diapers
One of the first tips I got when asking for eco-friendly baby advice was to use washable cloth diapers. They have existed for centuries before our modern disposable diapers were invented, and recently they have made a massive comeback. And no, they are not the normal cloth diapers our grandmothers used. They now come in various different versions, with a lot of different designs, but they all have one thing in common: the diapers (or at least most of it) is washable and reusable.
And while this makes them sound very eco-friendly, it does not mean that they are always more eco-friendly than disposable diapers. The short answer is: it depends. A British study argued that there is not a lot of difference in the ecological footprint of disposable diapers versus washable diapers during a baby’s life time. But this calculation depends on a lot of factors: the energy efficiency of the washing machine, how many diapers you wash at once, if you let them dry by air or in a dryer, the type of energy used, how the washable diapers were made, and if they are re-used for maybe a second or third child. And depending on these factors, the washable diapers might (or might not) be a more eco-friendly option.
Factors to consider when switching to washable diapers:
- initial investment can be quite high
- they might be too large for smaller babies
- usability when on the go (what do you do with a wet and poopy diaper?)
- logistics of washing and drying the diapers
- comfort of your child (diaper rash)
- does your childcare or kindergarten accept them?
- does the diaper hold enough urine to get you through a full night of baby’s sleep?
We personally were gifted washable diapers, but we decided to not use them. The main reason was that I am an entrepreneur and take my baby to work with me. I change his diapers on my office desk or on the go, and I don’t want to store that dirty “business” in my professional environment.
Eco-friendly disposable diapers
The next best thing to washable diapers are eco-friendly disposable diapers. Currently I do not know of any disposable diapers that are 100% biodegradable, but there are some that are very close. They are mostly made of cotton or cellulose. The biggest difference to conventional disposable diapers is that they do not contain a superabsorbant core (which is made from crude oil). But this also means that the baby’s skin does not stay as dry like with conventional diapers. If your baby is very sensitive you might have to change them more often.
What I have also found is that more and more brands are making their diapers more eco-friendly and sustainable by using more plant based materials, using recycled plastic or using renewable energy to produce them. But this is also making the diapers more expensive.
We personally opted for conventional semi sustainable diapers. This seemed like a good compromise of usability and sustainability for our eco-friendly baby goals.
Washable wipes or eco-friendly disposable wipes
The same situation for diapers is also valid for baby wipes. There are disposable ones with various grades of eco-friendlyness, and washable soft cloth wipes. And like with diapers, the answer to what is more eco-friendly is: it depends.
I personally am using both. Eco friendly disposable wipes for on the go and I also use washable cloth wipes at home. However I found that some of the disposable wipes that claim to be very eco-friendly and sustainable are actually produced in Turkey and are shipped for thousands of kilometers. So I prefer the ones that are made closer to where I live.
Washable changing mat
When I am at work or on the go I use a sturdy, durable changing mat that I can easily wipe off. This is by far a more eco-friendly solution than using a disposable changing mat every time. I do use the disposable ones however, but only for in between my baby’s mattress and sheets. The reason is that I do not want any leaks and accidents ruin the mattress, and I think a sturdy one is too uncomfortable for the child. But so far the accidents were very rare, and I only needed a few.
Doing laundry for the eco-friendly baby
Once your new eco-friendly baby has arrived you will notice the amount of laundry will increase massively. Yes babies pee and poop and spit A LOT. But there are several tips how to wash all the additional laundry in a more eco-friendly way.
- you don’t need to wash baby clothes daily. Only wash them when they are dirty.
- get your baby clothes in similar colors to yours so you can wash in bulk.
- air-dry them
- to remove stains you can let them dry in the plain sun in summer instead of using bleach
Get pre-loved baby stuff
Let’s be honest: buying super cute tiny baby clothes is fun, but they will only wear them for a few weeks or months. Our son was growing so fast, that I put the first batch of newborn clothes away after just three weeks. I then gave them to a friend who was pregnant and could use them. And instead of buying new clothes got some used or pre-loved clothes from friends and family. And guess what I will do in case we have a second child: using all the baby stuff again.
This is not only limited to clothes, but also to furniture, toys and other things. Getting pre-loved baby stuff will not only help the environment, it will also save you lots of money. And sometimes it will mean that you will get a special heirloom that has been handed down for generations.
Skip the baby cosmetics
When you start shopping for your eco-friendly baby you will notice entire ranges of baby cosmetics. There are lotions, oils, powders, bath foams, shampoos etc. And in the past babies were often bathed daily, and then needed lotion for their dry skin. But recently the trend has been to go more minimalist when it comes to baby cosmetics. Bathing them too often can really lead to dry skin, which then leads to more lotion and oils, and sometimes even skin rashes.
But in reality your baby does not need most of it. It does not need to be bathed daily in the beginning , every few days is enough. And it also does not need tons of lotion, cream or powder. I personally have only two baby cosmetic products that I use: a baby oil for baby massage, and a special cream for diaper rashes (but I only needed it twice so far). When I bath my baby I just use plain water, and I only bath him twice a week. All of this is not only better for my baby’s skin, but is also more eco-friendly and sustainable.
Run errands walking
Before I had children I often used my car to get around when going shopping or running errands. But with a newborn this just seems too complicated: getting him into the car seat, getting the car seat into the car, and then doing everything with him in the car seat. And on the other hand I was still trying to go for walks with either the stroller or the baby carrier to get my steps in and to get the baby to sleep. So I just combined the two. I now go shopping and run my errands WITH the baby the stroller or baby carrier. this is not only better for the environment, it is also better for for my physical fitness. Plus the baby loves it too.
I run my errands all year round while wearing my son. In summer I just use the Baby Bjorn carrier, and in winter I use this jacket insert. Here you can find my blogpost on baby wearing.
Make your own sustainable baby toys
Babies naturally love to explore the world. They don’t need a lot of fancy toys to help them do that. With just a little bit of creativity the most common things make the best toys. And the best: they are cheap and eco-friendly too. Babies will literally love everything that has an interesting sound, color or texture. And you can give them nearly everything to play with as long as it is safe and they can’t choke on it. There are also a lot of great DIY inspirations available on the internet. For example: we made our own DIY dummy chains with this kit.
Go on road-trips, train rides and stay-cations
Out of all modes of transportation flying is by far the worst for our climate. And to be honest: even if it is doable with a baby, it is not the most convenient. If you ever had to urgently change a diaper when the fasten seat belt signs were on you know what I mean. So unless you need to travel across an ocean, going on holiday by car or train is definitely more convenient and eco-friendly, especially for shorter distances. When taking the car you can pack everything you want, and can take breaks whenever you or the baby need it. And when taking the train you can change the diaper or walk around whenever you want to.
But the cheapest and most eco-friendly way of spending your holidays is to just stay at home. This does not have to be boring. It just means you get so spend some quality time with your loved ones but without all the hassle. All you need is already there: the infrastructure, the toys, and most importantly the love. I am sure there are a lot of little adventures to be discovered close to your home.
Cook for your eco-friendly baby
Once your baby is ready for solid foods, you will have to make a decision: buy pureed baby food or make it yourself? Buying baby food is more convenient, gut it also produces a lot of waste. Cooking your own baby food is definitely more eco-friendly, and can be really easy. Just check out these cookbooks. and if you are really bad at cooking you can use this cooker for example.
Is having children really bad for the environment?
I would say it depends. If I look at my own lifestyle before and after having a baby I would definitely say no.
- Less travel for business: I don’t want to be away from my baby
- Less travel for leisure: overseas holidays and short weekend trips are just so much more hassle than before.
- Fewer parties and eating out. We now invite friends over to our place
- Less money to spend because our household income is lower and we want to save more money
Did you like that post on how to raise a sustainable and eco-friendly baby? Do you have more tips on how to live more sustainably as a family? Just leave a comment below!