Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without—our grandmothers knew the importance of responsible thrifty choices. Ecothrifty (New Society Publishers, 2012) by Deborah Niemann is a complete guide for this day and age of living a greener lifestyle without breaking the bank. Covering topics such as personal care products, babies and entertainment, this handy book will show you how small changes can have a huge environmental impact and save you thousands of dollars, all while improving your quality of life. Learn how to raise an eco-friendly baby by choosing safer and more economical choices in this excerpt from chapter 3 “Babies.”
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It was not until I became pregnant with my first child that I began to think about what I ate or what personal products I used. Like a lot of pregnant moms, I started reading books on pregnancy. Most of the books talked about the importance of nutrition and exercise. Knowing what a big difference those books made in my life, I often wonder where I would be today if I had never become pregnant. I started reading labels and was shocked to discover that the blueberry muffin mix I had been buying contained no blueberries, but it did contain other ingredients that I could not pronounce. When I found a blueberry muffin recipe in a cookbook, I realized that the mix saved me only a couple of minutes and that if I made my muffins from scratch, I would know what was in them — and one of the ingredients would be blueberries.
The really significant result of all the reading during my first pregnancy was that I no longer believed something was a good idea simply because everyone else was doing it. I started to question why people did the things they did. Towards the end of my first pregnancy, I was getting very frustrated with my doctor’s attitude that I was an accident waiting to happen, and I was even more frustrated by his belief that he was going to take care of me — and that I didn’t need to worry about making any decisions about my pregnancy or my baby. Three months before my due date, I decided to switch to a midwife. It turned out to be an excellent decision for many reasons, and I went on to receive midwifery care for all three of my pregnancies. In fact, I became so excited about natural childbirth that I became a certified childbirth educator and a certified lactation consultant and went on to work with pregnant and breastfeeding moms for nine years. Having midwifery care during pregnancy was responsible for changing a lot of my habits and attitudes because midwives are very concerned about nutrition and other lifestyle choices that affect your health and the health of your unborn baby. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, the natural lifestyle I chose for my children was also ecothrifty.
You don’t have to think very hard to realize that breastfeeding is an ecothrifty choice. It can be almost free and puts nothing in the landfill, whereas the alternative is costly and creates a lot of trash. There are hundreds of studies showing that breastfed babies are healthier than their formula-fed counterparts. The comparison is similar to that of natural foods and processed foods. When we start creating food in a lab, whether it’s a box of cereal or milk for a baby, all of the same questions about nutrition and safety arise. Just as science does not fully understand why a carrot is good for the body, it does not fully understand why human milk is good for babies.
When scientists start breaking down foods and analyzing them trying to create nutritious food, there will be mistakes. For example, vitamins A, C, E, and selenium can either prevent or cause cancer in various parts of the body, depending on the dosage and how it is administered. Because we lack knowledge about how various nutrients interact with each other and within the human body, experts recommend eating lots of fruits and vegetables, rather than taking a certain dosage of various vitamin pills every day. Although there are plenty of studies that link a highly processed diet with a variety of medical problems and a more natural diet with improved health, more research is needed to figure out exactly which nutrients play what roles in preventing or causing diseases. This makes it challenging to figure out how to create any processed food, and a replacement for human milk for babies is no exception. Indeed, every few years formula manufacturers are extolling the virtues of the latest addition to their product saying that it replicates human milk even more closely.
In the mid 1990s when I was working as a certified lactation consultant I would have strongly urged parents to use a commercially prepared formula if the mother was not going to breastfeed. At that time, it seemed like a better choice than using pure cow or goat milk because the formula companies were at least attempting to add or remove various components and nutrients to make the formula more like human milk. Today, however, the basic component of most formulas — cow milk or soy — is not the same as it was fifteen or twenty years ago. The cows are eating genetically modified (GM) grains and being injected with growth hormones, and the soybeans are genetically modified. No one knows the long-term effects of humans consuming GM foods, and there is a theory that growth hormones in milk may be contributing to the childhood obesity epidemic. Another problem with GM foods is that they contain DNA from other foods, which could cause an allergic reaction. For example, some soybeans have been genetically modified with Brazil nuts, and some people will have an allergic reaction to the soybean because they are allergic to the nut, not the soybean.
Although organic baby formulas are on the market now, they are more expensive than non-organic, meaning they are not an option for everyone. And even if you buy organic, buying powdered rather than liquid formula may be advisable as the cans may be lined with Bisphenol A, or BPA. Although BPA has been used for more than fifty years, research within the past decade has shown that it leaches into food and drinks and has linked it to cancer, heart disease, obesity, and diabetes because it is an endocrine disruptor, meaning that it messes with your hormones. In 2008, Canada banned the use of BPA in baby bottles. Babies who consume reconstituted powdered formula will consume eight to twenty times less BPA than those who consume liquid formula from a metal can lined with BPA.
Savings: Formula costs about $1,500 per year, which means breastfeeding can easily save parents $1,000 or more, even when factoring in the cost of a good breast pump, nursing bras, and other supplies for breastfeeding. If you have more than one child, many of those breastfeeding supplies can be used when nursing a second or third child, saving even more.
As hard as some people try to argue against them, cloth diapers are definitely the ecothrifty choice for babies. Disposable diapers will cost $1,500 to $2,000 by the time a child is using the toilet, and if you use disposables that are biodegradable and not bleached with chlorine, you can spend up to $2,500. If you have more than one child, start multiplying. On the other hand, two or three dozen cloth diapers will last through many babies and continue to serve you for dusting furniture or cleaning up spills throughout the years. The cost of washing those diapers is minimal, especially if you use homemade laundry detergent and hang them to dry on a clothesline.
There are so many options available today that you don’t have to worry about how to fold the diapers or accidentally sticking your baby with a pin. Velcro or snap closures make cloth diapers as simple to use as disposables. You can buy traditional white diapers and covers, or you can make your diaper covers part of your baby’s wardrobe because there are so many different colors and patterns available.
Savings: You can get started with two dozen diapers and six covers for as little as $100. By following the ecothrifty suggestions for laundry in this book, a load can cost as little as 30 cents, only adding about $30 to the cost of using cloth diapers for a year, and saving about $2,000.
The obvious ecothrifty choice is to not use disposable baby wipes. If you are already washing cloth diapers, it makes for little extra work to simply toss a washcloth into the diaper pail with the diapers. The added benefit of avoiding disposable wipes is that you are not exposing your baby to all of the chemicals in the wipes. I found that a wet cotton washcloth did a better job of removing poop from a baby’s bottom than the thin, smooth disposable wipes did.
Savings: Disposable baby wipes cost 4 to 10 cents each, depending on the brand. If you use even five per day, that easily add up to several dollars per week, which translates to as much as $182 per year.
Powder and cream
Whether you buy a commercial powder or diaper rash cream, the active ingredient will probably be zinc oxide. Unfortunately, there will also probably be additional chemicals and fragrances to which you may not want your baby exposed. Fortunately, there are simple natural alternatives.
• Lanolin, shea butter, olive oil, or a combination of oils, butters and waxes can help moisturize and protect a baby’s bottom.
• Cornstarch works as a natural powder.
• Pure zinc oxide can be added to cornstarch for a powder, or to an oil, a butter, or a wax for a cream to create a more protective barrier between the diaper and your baby’s skin. Zinc oxide can be purchased online in its pure form. Be sure to get one that is intended for cosmetic use rather than for a nutritional supplement. The particles in the cosmetic use zinc oxide are too large to be absorbed into the skin. You want it to stay on the surface of the skin as a barrier between the skin and the wet diaper.
• Calamine lotion is not terribly different from the zinc oxide creams and powders because calamine is zinc oxide with .05 percent of iron oxide added, giving the lotion its pink tint.
Savings: A four-ounce tube of diaper rash cream costs about $5, whereas four ounces of shea butter cost about $1.60. Zinc oxide costs $7 per pound, an amount that will last longer than your baby is in diapers and can also be used to make sunscreen. Cornstarch costs about $1 per pound.
It is interesting that we live in a society that has this thing we call baby food, which is really just food that has been pureed, processed, put into tiny jars, and marked up several hundred or even a thousand percent in price. The global baby food market was worth $25 billion in 2008 and is expected to be worth $37.6 billion by 2014 with 37 percent of that money spent in North America. When you look at the ingredients of baby food, the cost is truly astronomical. A box of organic baby oatmeal costs 40 cents per ounce, or $6.40 per pound, but organic rolled oats cost about $1.50 per pound, which means you are paying more than four times as much for the baby food label and a little extra grinding. A jar of banana baby food costs 30 cents an ounce, but it is not hard to find bananas that cost only slightly more than that per pound, meaning that banana baby foods cost almost ten times as much as fresh bananas, which have more fiber and nutrition because they have not been processed. Baby food, especially that made for older babies, may also contain added water and fillers, meaning that it has less nutrition than an equal amount of the same food eaten fresh. Baby food is essentially a convenience food, but many parents are led to believe there is something special about it. Although I raised three children from infancy to adulthood, I never bought or made “baby food.”
In the 1950s marketers convinced mothers that they should start giving babies solid foods at a very young age, usually by two weeks of age, but sometimes as young as only a few days old. Newly created baby cereals and baby foods were pureed to avoid a choking hazard. In fact, baby bottles were developed for pureed food so that babies could suck down their carrots or applesauce. Eventually medical science completely turned around the recommendation for starting solids so early, realizing that babies need only breast milk for the first six months of life. By six months of age, babies are physiologically ready for additional food, and they are much more adept at manipulating food that is in the mouth. Babies tend to grab everything and put it in their mouths whether you want them to do so or not.
Around the middle of the first year, when babies are starting to show an interest in solid foods and are able to sit up on their own, you can simply offer them a tiny bit of mashed food, such as part of a banana or sweet potato. The first few times you offer it, you are simply gauging the baby’s interest and ability to actually move food around the mouth and swallow it. Introducing only one food per week is recommended so that if a food causes an allergic reaction, it can be identified. Don’t give the baby too much that first time — a tablespoon is plenty — because too much could cause a digestive upset. You don’t need a fancy baby food puree machine or even a blender or food processor. A fork can be used to mash up many cooked foods, including butternut or acorn squash, carrots, and white potato, as well as the banana and sweet potato already mentioned. Regular applesauce purchased or made for the rest of the family can also be fed to babies, as well as regular cooked oatmeal. However, because grains are more likely to cause an allergic reaction and are harder to digest, it is better to add them to the diet after you have already introduced a few fruits and vegetables.
For most of the baby’s first year, milk provides the majority of the necessary nutrients, and as the baby gets older, solid foods will gradually replace most of the milk. By the time our babies were a year old, they were eating almost everything the rest of the family was eating, except for small, hard foods that could be a choking hazard, such as nuts and raw carrots.
It is easy to incorporate baby’s diet into the family meals. When introducing banana, slice off about an inch of it, mash it with a fork, and offer it to your baby. You can eat the rest of the banana. When you want to introduce sweet potato to your baby, bake sweet potatoes for the family’s dinner one night. Cut off a small piece of sweet potato and mash it with a fork for the baby when you’re eating. Store the rest of the sweet potato in the refrigerator for three or four days in a covered dish. For the baby’s next offering of sweet potato, just cut off a small piece again, mash it and offer it to your baby. You can do the same thing for white baked potatoes, cooked carrots, and winter squash. There is no need for you to mash up several bananas or potatoes or squash and put them in the freezer in individual servings. Simply feed fresh food to your baby just as you feed the rest of your family.
Baby food is not ecofriendly. Because babies can eat foods that have been cooked for the rest of the family, almost every container of baby food represents wasted energy and resources except those used when traveling, which would represent a tiny percentage of current production. Even when traveling it is possible to order foods that could be fed to your baby, such as a baked potato or sweet potato that you mash with your fork before feeding just as you would if you were home. Most baby food today is packaged in non-recyclable containers, rather than the glass jars of yesteryear.
Savings: If you feed your baby two 70-cent containers of baby food every day the first month after starting solids, it will add up to about $40 for the month. As the baby eats more, the cost will continue to go up every month. If the baby is eating seven containers of the baby foods for older babies, with an average cost of 85 cents per container, the monthly cost will be $178.50. This cost can be eliminated almost completely if you simply avoid buying baby food.
A quarter century ago when I was pregnant with my first child, the experts said that parents should not buy a baby walker for their infants. Fast forward twenty-five years, and the research still says the same thing — children who use baby walkers actually will walk later than children who do not use them, and they actually will be at higher risk of injury. Babies in walkers are more likely to drown in a bathtub or swimming pool, get burned when grabbing a pot handle or pulling a tablecloth on top of themselves, or the most common, fall down stairs. Because a baby in a walker can move three feet per second, the vast majority of injuries happen when parents are watching. They simply cannot respond fast enough to prevent an injury. The American Academy of Pediatrics has even called for a ban on baby walkers.
The ecothrifty choice is to not use a baby walker. It is safer and healthier for your baby, keeps one more plastic thing out of the landfill, decreases the demand for more to be produced, and saves you the money you would be spending on the purchase. The same is true of the doorway jumpers, which also do nothing to help a child learn to walk.
Savings: Not buying a baby walker saves $35 or more. And not buying a doorway jumper saves $20 or more.
This excerpt has been reprinted with permission from Ecothrifty: Cheaper, Greener Choices for a Happier, Healthier Life by Deborah Niemann and published by New Society Publishers, 2012. Buy this book from our store: Ecothrifty.