Where does one even start with eco-friendly parenting? We reached out to our friends, Birgitta, Jenni, and Ma’ayan, to share their unique slow parenting stories and advice from different corners around the world.
Words: Meri Frig
What are the three best baby or toddler essentials for an eco-friendly parent?
Birgitta: We have always been very minimal in the way we live. We try not to buy too many products and gadgets, so it is hard for me to think of ‘essentials’ as such. When Astrid was really small, I would always carry around wet wipes (non-toxic and biodegradable preferred) and an organic cotton muslin wrap to shield her from the sun. Another thing I use all the time now is beeswax coated fabric squares to cover food and wrap lunches.
We have always been about trying to make do with what we have, and our ethos as a family is to re-use and re-cycle as much as we can. I feel it is important to be conscious of the impact we have on the environment and take responsibility for that. But I am also aware of the fact that being in a position to buy everything eco and organic comes from an immense place of privilege when comparing to the rest of the world. We need to find ways to make a difference within our means.
Jenni: A great number of different baby items are being offered to new parents. Expecting a child and becoming a parent can be a confusing time for many, and the marketers of baby products know this. It is therefore advisable to be careful in this new life situation. A small baby does not really need almost any products, therefore buy only the essentials. Avoid anything useless! Talk with other parents and ask for tips about must-haves. The same goes for toddlers, of course.
Use reusable diapers. The amount of diaper waste produced by one child is enormous. We bought some reusable diapers, but most of the ones we use had already been in use by three children. Ten diapers, more or less, are enough. High quality diapers are long-lasting and several children can use them. You also save money!
I aim to get all children’s clothes and items second-hand. Newborn clothes do not get worn out in use and many babies can wear them. If you cannot find a good second-hand store close to you, you can also exchange items with friends, acquaintances, or family members. You can even set up a group, where you can exchange items, in your own neighbourhood.
"I am also aware of the fact that being in a position to buy everything eco and organic comes from an immense place of privilege when comparing to the rest of the world. We need to find ways to make a difference within our means."
Ma’ayan: I carried my baby in a woven cotton sling until he was four months, since then I have carried him in the Ergobaby carrier. I definitely recommend babywearing, for bonding with the baby, as well as for practical reasons. It is also easy to breastfeed when the baby is on you.
I make sure all laundry detergents and cleaning products are ecological and safe for the baby. I also want to start using cloth diapers, I actually need to improve there myself. Disposable diapers produce so much waste. I avoid baby wipes.
We did not buy almost any clothes, since we got so much from friends, family, even acquaintances! Babies grow out of their clothes so fast – it is great to have a community where you can get help and advice when needed and to recycle items.
What are your favourite foods to give or prepare for your little one?
Birgitta: I am very lucky that my partner is a chef, and he does a lot of the cooking. Sam will cook mostly vegan at home, and our favourite meal at the moment is a Japanese inspired rice and green veggie salad. I have my go-to snack items that I know Astrid likes, that are healthy and easy to prepare. These foods are constantly evolving, as her tastes change, but my favourite thing to do is make a big platter that she can snack on during the day. At the moment this would consist of cherry tomatoes, Lebanese cucumbers, carrots and hummus, avocado, pickles, rice crackers and olives.
Jenni: Food is one of the biggest factors determining how ecological your everyday practices are. We eat versatile vegetarian food and drink little, if any, cow milk. Some of the milk we replace with oat milk. We eat fish sometimes, but aim to make responsible decisions about which fish we consume. For the baby, I often made the purees myself, not only because I wanted to know exactly what the food includes, but also to produce less packaging waste.
Ma’ayan: We have been practicing with solids for a couple of months now, mostly with steamed organic vegetables. I also love to make porridge from quinoa, oatmeal and whole rice, for my baby. Everything I prepare is from organic ingredients. Breastfeeding is best for the baby and also very ecological, since it does not produce any waste, but is, of course, a privilege.
"Do not get too uptight about things or feel anxious, if it is difficult to be eco-conscious in the new everyday life."
What is your favourite thing to do as a family?
Birgitta: My favourite thing to do as a family is just to hang out on Sundays. We have a pretty busy schedule and always seem to be running around getting things done. Between work, seeing friends and family, and just general life stuff, it can feel pretty crazy sometimes. Sundays are the one day we all stop and just hang out together as a family, cook some food, and relax at home.
Jenni: We go for walks together in the neighbourhood parks and on the beach. Our toddler can run and jump in muddy puddles, this is the best thing in the world if you ask him! We also like to eat out together as a family and go swimming. We do not own a car, we use public transportation a lot. Our toddler loves it, he thinks the metro is the best. We also take bike rides together, which he also finds super fun.
Ma’ayan: Gabriel comes with me nearly everywhere – he comes with me to work, even to conferences. In Tel Aviv, we like to go for walks in the city, in the parks, and on the beach. We also attend child development groups, where we sing and ‘dance’ and meet other parents.
Do you have some tips for new parents and parents-to-be?
Birgitta: My tip would be to try and not feel the pressure to have to do things a certain way. There is so much parenting information coming at us from every angle, what people consider right and wrong seems to be constantly changing. As long as you are providing a safe, loving and supportive environment for your child, that is the most important thing. When it comes to how to get your kid to sleep, what sort of routine they should have, or what sort of products you should be using, just follow your intuition and try not to be too hard on yourself. Everyone has their own experience, and every child and family has different needs.
"When it comes to how to get your kid to sleep, what sort of routine they should have, or what sort of products you should be using, just follow your intuition and try not to be too hard on yourself."
Jenni: Buy as much as you can second-hand. Think about ways to be an eco-friendly parent. The biggest ecological choices of private people concern food, living, and transportation. Most importantly, however, remember to enjoy the new life and parenting. Do not get too uptight about things or feel anxious, if it is difficult to be eco-conscious in the new everyday life. You can also start later.
Ma’ayan: I think the best advice is to be part of a community, so you can get help and support. When my baby was born, and I was breastfeeding, I had very little time and I was so hungry all the time – I was very grateful for having my mother-in-law to help and to bring me healthy food home. In Israel, there is even an organisation that helps new mothers with food.
For the childbirth, I definitely recommend having a doula. I wanted a natural birth and having a doula helped in the whole process.
Birgitta Helmersson is the mother of Astrid, 5. Birgitta has a clothing studio/shop in Melbourne Australia, and will be re-locating to Sweden in January 2018 with her family to open a shop in Malmö. With a background as a pattern-maker and seamstress, her ethos is choosing quality over quantity and wasting less. This is followed in the studio by developing patterns that utilise zero waste cutting or minimise waste, saving scraps and remnants to be re-purposed into other items, and encouraging mending and caring for your clothes to make them last.
Jenni Villa is the mother of Nooa, 2. Jenni is a biologist, soon graduating as a teacher. The family lives in Helsinki, Finland.
Ma’ayan Weisberg is the mother of Gabriel, 9 months. Ma’ayan is the head of international relations for Tikum Olam, the first medical cannabis company in Israel. The family lives in Tel Aviv, Israel.