I’m 11 weeks into motherhood and trying my best, along with everything else, to make choices that are friendly to the planet.
As any new parent will know, there’s no shortage of advice out there. People passionately debate topics like safe sleeping, the use of dummies and baby-led weaning. In all that noise, I’ve heard barely any talk on the climate crisis and what bearing this has on modern parenting. And, for me at least, it’s quite a big deal.
I’ve had to draw on what I already knew and apply it to the child-rearing situation. For my day job, I run sustainability workshops, so I have an idea of which lifestyle choices are the most impactful. I also try to take a holistic view of wellbeing and value staying present and grounded.
From what I’ve learned so far, here are my top 10 eco-parenting tips:
1. Take a lot of walks!
As cheesy as it sounds, I’ve found nature to be very nurturing in these early weeks. When I’m giving so much to my new baby, it’s nice to visit the trees and remember I’m part of a much bigger network that can support me. While I’m agonising about weight gain and formula top-ups, the forest is constant and ancient. If your area is short on trees, seek out your local park, pond, playing fields, or community garden. Any green will do!
This habit will serve your kids well, too, as you incorporate time outdoors into your daily routine. Research is mounting in support of children spending more time in nature (duh): it helps them build confidence and resilience, develop creativity and agency, regulate their emotions, improve their focus, as well as having loads of benefits to their physical health. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it’s also a key factor in raising a child who cares about protecting the environment.
2. Don’t buy half the things you’re told you ‘need’.
New parents are easy targets for marketers, especially new mums. I mean we’re basically sitting ducks: at home, mostly on our own, googling every tiny concern or question about the baby. The perfect combo of tired and bored. So, faced with a barrage of targeted ads, we have to be extra careful to avoid buying things we don’t need.
Watch out for the guilt-trip phrasing that implies you’re a bad parent or you’re not doing ‘the best’ for your kid if you don’t buy their product! I’ve learned there’s a difference between the official ‘guidelines’ and real life with a baby. Trust yourself.
3. Give reusable nappies a go.
Maybe not at first, if it feels like too much. We used Kit and Kin biodegradable disposables for the first 2 weeks, then switched to reusables and never looked back.
If the whole of the UK switched to reusables, it would save the equivalent of 700 million car miles of CO2 – that’s 3000 times the distance to the moon! Switching to reusable nappies can reduce household waste by 40%, meaning it’s one of the biggest eco actions a family can take. Unlike a lot of eco choices, reusable nappies work out cheaper than single-use. The planet-friendly choice will save you £700 (more if you buy nappies on sale, like I did) and way more if you use them for subsequent children or pass them onto a friend. Spread the joy.
Stats aside, I think reusable nappies are amazing and I love using them. They come in all sorts of styles and patterns (many brands do trial kits where you can test out different types), and look so cute. There’s a certain satisfaction to be had in hanging the nappies on the line to dry in the sun. And it’s not just the eco-smugness, I promise. I like taking care of them and they take care of my baby.
The Nappy Lady is a great place to start, if you’d like to investigate this option. We ordered their trial kit which had about 60 different nappies to try, all the types and brands. They even have a special quiz you can fill out and an advisor will recommend which type of nappy might suit you best, depending on your preferences for factors like ease of use, drying time, cost, fit.
I will shut up about nappies now, but may have to continue on a separate post because I’ve learned so much on the subject! Also, when you become a parent, poo becomes a very big deal in your life.
4. Ditch the screens.
This power-saving tip protects more than your energy bills. As my midwife said when urging me to rest, ‘This is not the time to do, it’s the time to memorise every detail of your baby’s face.’ Screens do a brilliant job of absorbing our attention, so it can take some effort to put down your phone or resist autoplaying episodes of a favourite Netflix series.
Instead, discover a world of offline activities with your baby during the ‘fourth trimester’. Singing, dancing, silly faces, massage, and chatting are all better for your newborn’s development than Peppa Pig. Bathtime is a great time for fun and games – consider getting a baby bath to save on filling up a whole bathtub for the tiniest human.
5. Buy maternity clothes that you can breastfeed in.
(Obviously only relevant if you’re planning to breastfeed.)
This one caught me off-guard. Breastfeeding wasn’t on my mind when I was 5 months pregnant and finally getting around to buying some clothes that could actually contain my expanding belly. It seemed way too far away. But after I gave birth, I quickly realised I owned so few things I could breastfeed in!
Of course, you can breastfeed in most T-shirts or button-ups, so those special tops with the boob holes or the zips aren’t compulsory postpartum wear. But, depending on the season, you might want some dresses or dungarees that you can unbutton or feed easily in. Charity shops are great, as ever, if you want to avoid buying new.
6. Get baby clothes second hand.
Accustomed to living in cities with not much ‘communal spirit’, I found the parenting network a welcome change. While you can rent bundles of baby clothes, we found ourselves inundated in hand-me-down outfits. Anyone we met with a baby/toddler was almost begging us to take their too-small or unused clothes, as well as other gear like bottles, breast pumps, nipple balm, and postpartum hygiene products.
Happily, we are yet to buy a single item of baby clothing. And we have a bag of clothes and gear in the cupboard to pass on that is rapidly snowballing as our baby grows!
7. Freeze and plan your meals.
Pre-birth, definitely batch cook a few big meals and put them in the freezer. Post-birth, it may not be high on your priority list to keep track of everything that’s in the fridge. We found it worked well to buy ingredients for a massive batch of bean chilli or risotto or soup, then to eat some and freeze some.
People tend to bring you meals when you have a baby, but the flow can be unpredictable. Trying to store food in the form of meals in the freezer, rather than fresh food in the fridge, can help reduce food waste, save you money and give you one less thing to track.
8. Be mindful with photos.
As a modern parent with a phone, you’ll likely take a lot of photos of your baby. My advice is to stay on top of your camera roll. This means regularly culling your masses of photos, and perhaps curating your favourites into digital albums. It will save you trawling through thousands of photos when you eventually want to print some for a photo album, and it will save the energy it takes to store the images if they’re backed up to any kind of ‘cloud’.
While ‘the cloud’ sounds fluffy and immaterial, all online storage is powered by hard drives in giant data centres that run constantly and get very hot. Deleting large files, especially videos, can help reduce the energy expended by these machines.
9. Advocate for eco-parenting!
At first, you might not be able to do much beyond feeding the baby, feeding yourself, and sleeping. But, as you get into the swing of things, you can be an advert for low-consumption parenting. As with all eco influencing, this requires tact. The last thing a struggling new mum needs is to be shamed for her eco sins by her haughty, zero-waste, low-GI, no-GMO, no-MSG, no-fun ‘friend’.
Instead, lead by example. Show off your gorgeous reusable nappies and let friends know you’re there if they want to learn more or if they want some sustainable parenting ideas. Offer to lend things out. Feed the glorious chain of giving with your pre-loved gear. Spread low-consumption hacks. You get the idea.
10. Make the world better for your baby.
Once you’ve implemented reasonable eco measures in your life, you and any co-parents might feel you want to take your eco-parenting even further.
Creating the next generation can lead to changes in your perspective. You might well start thinking about what the world will look like when your little one grows up. When they go off to uni, turn 30, have their own kids, grow older, maybe even become grandparents eventually. There are many possible ways this climate crisis could go that would lead to very different futures.
What can you do to make a better future for your child? This is the central question at the heart of eco-parenting. Making planet-friendly choices in what we buy and how we use resources is just the beginning. Once you have a real stake in the next generation, you might find yourself asking: What would it look like to do everything in my power to leave my baby a safer planet?
Warning: this kind of questioning may lead to major life changes, new career paths, new living situations, new relationship dynamics, new connections, new conversations, a new you. And it’s just about the most important thing you could ever do for your child.