Living green has its ups and downs. You can totally congratulate yourself for supporting your health and the environment in one of the best ways possible - natural products, do-it-yourself solutions, and shopping sustainably. Even if you still can’t break up with plastic straws and have no idea how to recycle tupperware, we won’t judge too hard. Baby steps, right? And speaking of babies, taking the natural route while parenting can be even more difficult than just tackling it alone. No parent’s journey is the same, and what works for one family won’t always work for another. Not every toddler is going to go for a kale salad, and that toy they just have to have is probably not made with sustainability in mind. So where do you even start? Well, we have some suggestions that can make the best of keeping your child’s growth on track the natural way, and some pretty easy alternatives for things we might buy without knowing what goes into them. Staying informed is the best way to care for your little ones, and we’re your eco-friendly fairy godmother.
Say Nay To BPA
You’ve probably already heard about BPA, but if not, here’s the short and sweet version: BPA, or bisphenol-A, is a synthetic compound added to packaging, plastics, and certain hygiene products that have been thought to disrupt your body’s hormonal functions. This ranges through everything from cell repair, fetal growth, reproductive health, to how your thyroid functions. This has been heavily debated between experts, but there is a general consensus that it does affect the human body negatively - we just don’t know how much. With the EU, Canada, and even China restricting its use, especially in children’s products, it’s better to be safe than sorry. The US currently has no restrictions on including BPA in things, so it can be found in baby bottles, pacifiers, sippy cups, and all sorts of products that come into direct contact with your child’s mouth.
So what are the alternatives? Well, seeking out products that are advertised as BPA-free is a good start, but sometimes that information isn’t always included. However, there are certain other telling features that may give you a hint. If the product has a number 7 on it, for example, or advertises itself as being unbreakable or microwave-safe, this is usually a clue that it contains BPA. If you want to avoid plastics entirely (not a bad idea), we also suggest silicone as a safe alternative. Not only is silicone generally free from BPA, but many brands avoid petroleum and phthalates as well in their silicone products, which are also unsafe. There are plenty of brands out there that produce silicone baby bottles, teethers, and cups. You could also try your hand at glass bottles, but those can be a bigger pain to clean than silicone and are not drop-resistant.
Parents are taking notice now, more than ever, of the chemicals that come into contact with their children’s skin - and for good reason. Things like sulfates, phthalates, silicones, and dyes can harm a child more than they harm an adult. This is because a child has a much thinner epidermis, or outer layer of skin, than an adult does. Things are more easily absorbed into their skin, and can result in a whole host of issues from eczema to bacterial infections. Sulfates, for example, can create dry scaly skin - and that is only magnified in sensitive children or ones prone to allergic reactions. Even soaps advertised for children may contain these chemicals, so parents should exercise caution to determine what is right for their child. However, we do have a few personal tips.
Getting your child into the bath can be a hassle, but throw a pile of bubbles in the mix and you’ve got a happy baby. It’s true, we love bubbles too. However, even bubble bath can contain potentially harmful chemicals - and not just harmful to your baby. Bubble baths are made from surfactants. Scientific jargon aside, all you need to know about surfactants is that are responsible for the tension between gas and liquid that forms bubbles. They also aren’t always great on the environment. A bubbly ocean looks pretty, but too many bubbles is a sign of pollution. Surfactants rest on the surface of water and deplete the natural airflow for the organisms beneath it, and harbor a whole host of outside bacteria that would otherwise be washed away. However, there are some more natural alternatives for surfactants that don’t have the same large staying power as chemical surfactants. Bubble baths that have lauryl glucoside in the first three ingredients are typically the way to go. Lauryl glucoside is a sugar-based surfactant, so it doesn’t stay in the environment as long as synthetic surfactants do. For a safe option, Michigan-based Rew’s Bath Time uses natural surfactants in their vegan, gluten-free, dye-free formulas, making bath time fun and responsible for everyone involved.
Also, little-known secret, you don’t always have to use soap. We know, it sounds counterproductive - soap cleans, right? This is true, but very young infants typically do not require it. Too many baths with soap can dry out your child’s skin, and reduce their immunity to natural bacteria in their environment. Many baby soaps are very diluted for this reason, and we don’t recommend using other kinds of soap that are meant to cleanse adult skin. However, once your baby is ready for their first soap-using bath, we highly suggest - you guessed it - our own African Black Soap. Free from drying chemicals or additives that may cause irritation, African Black Soap is safe for even the most sensitive skin. (Phew, product placement over).
You know we’re gonna say it … disposable diapers aren’t great for the environment. Many large diaper companies are guilty of using non-sustainable, non-recyclable materials in their diapers, taking a moderate toll on the environment while doing so. They use a lot of resources to make, like trees and oil, and while they slowly decompose in landfills it releases large amounts of harmful methane into the air. For families looking for more eco-friendly alternatives, we suggest cloth diapers!
We know … that’s kind of icky for some people to think about. However, cleaning cloth diapers can be easier than you think - and making them out of repurposed fabrics is super simple. Using soft, padded materials, like flannel, and using velcro or button snaps to secure the diaper as opposed to tight stitching makes this an easy DIY project. And, if you’re feeling extra savvy, you can even use organic, unbleached cotton or hemp to make your diapers - those are biodegradable, and without bleach or any chemical additives in the fabric it is one of the safest options for even the most sensitive children. There are also plenty of guides out there to find brands that use biodegradable materials in their diapers, like here.
With sensitive baby skin comes sensitive baby skin problems, and these aren’t even related to baths. Things like diaper rash, itchy clothing, humid weather, and even pets (sorry, Fido) can irritate your child’s skin. There are tons of creams, talcs, and ointments on the market for these issues - but which ones are truly safe? Well, there is no easy answer. Every child is different, so things that may irritate one won’t even affect another. Dry, itchy skin isn’t fun, but cycling through product after product finding that “right fit” isn’t fun either. There are a few rules to keep in mind, though.
Ditch the talc. Maybe you’ve heard, but maybe you haven’t: talcum powder is so problematic. Known to sometimes contain trace amounts of asbestos, commercial talcum powder has been linked to ovarian cancer. This isn’t an over-speculation, and while it is not such a frequent occurrence to ban its overall use, as concerned bloggers we feel you have the right to know. Limiting the exposure of talcum powder is a great first step, and if you’re willing to say goodbye to commercial baby powder as you know it - there are plenty of alternative options out there, like arrowroot powder. Keeping your baby’s bum dry wards off the development of diaper rash, as well as ensuring frequent potty breaks and changes. And if the rash lives on? Try a natural, water-resistant oil like shea butter and skip the silicones of the store-bought creams.
Children with persistent rashes or dry skin may not just be suffering from the result of a wet bottom or an itchy shirt. In fact, many parents may note that their children’s sensitive skin developed over time, and wasn’t always so prone to breakouts. For these cases, we always recommend a visit to the doctor, but there may be some easy culprits to spot in your home. Lotions, detergents, air fresheners, sunblock, and even hand soap with fragrances, artificial or natural, can irritate a child’s gentle skin. It’s all about that epidermis we talked about earlier - the thinner it is, the easier it is for even the smallest things to sneak by. We advise using fragrance-free topicals, like sunblock and lotion, and reducing the amount of fragrance-producers chilling out in your home. Instead, try using odor reducers instead of odor producers. An open container of baking soda in a room can neutralize pervasive smells, and a simple houseplant can circulate air and absorb toxins for a fresher room.
Every household is different, and some of our tips might not be your style. That’s okay! Whether you’re crunchy, organic, or only a little green, every bit helps make this planet safe for your future-adults, and every choice enriches their life. For some baby-safe recipes, check out our recipe section, and explore our other nature-savvy blog posts.