Eco-Parenting: How it Works

Keen to take your first steps down the eco-parenting path? Here’s how, says Zion Lights

Many people assume that when you become a parent you become more likely to invest time and effort in being environmentally friendly in order to protect the planet for the sake of your children. In fact, what happens – and I speak from personal experience as well as from a basis of scientific research – is that being green sort of drops off the map, as you attempt to navigate caring for a new person as well as maintaining some of your own personal care. I went from being an environmentalist of many years with a very low carbon footprint, to an overwhelmed new mother, juggling nappies and night feeds and struggling to remember to put out the recycling bins. Add to this the fact that every piece of advice I was given told me something contradictory about raising a child in an eco-friendly way, and for a brief spell I was lost. Is it more eco-friendly to use cloth nappies or not? How can I clothe small people and still be green? Where do I start?

It took small steps for me to get back to living in an eco-conscious way, but ultimately I found that science had the answers. I can’t tell you how many studies I read at 3am while breastfeeding my first daughter, but I can tell you that over two more years and another daughter later it became thousands. I found that there are many simple things that an expectant or a sleep-deprived parent can do to maintain a low carbon footprint, which is why I ended up writing a book about it. Here are some tips to help you out now.


Let’s start with your home. Hazardous cleaning products can be removed and replaced entirely by those with eco-friendly credentials, which work just as well as the mainstream brands. The easiest way to find out which brands to buy is to check the most recent Ethical Consumer listings, but I tend to swear by Bio D and Ecover products. Or, go the old-school route and use bicarb and vinegar to clean everything from kitchen counters to windows, which works well providing you have the elbow grease.


Something else you can do before baby arrives is to look at the essentials you’re stocking up on. Choose non-toxic paints for nurseries and products that are plastic-free wherever possible. Baby clothes that are preloved are generally easy to get in great condition, as they only get worn a few times before they’re outgrown. Many new clothes have harsh chemicals in them that can be removed with a few washes, so buying preloved babygrows actually removes this problem. When it comes to toys, if you start out plastic-free it will become easier to stick with. Wooden toys are all the rage at the moment and glass baby bottles for formula feeding are also an option.

Zion and her family try to be eco-conscious. Photograph by Andrew Crowley


Once baby is here, remember you have a marathon ahead of you which you needn’t take at a sprint. Babies need masses of love and physical contact, but they don’t need much more care than that. For example, daily bathing and skincare routines are unnecessary – in fact, their skin is quite delicate for the first few months at least and the NHS recommends only using the ‘top and tail’ method for cleaning. If you breastfeed, ignore the manuals and do it on demand. And make friends with other breastfeeding mums – science says that having a strong support network behind her is the largest factor in whether or not a mother is able to, or can continue to, breastfeed.


One item I recommend to every new parent is a sling. Babywearing frees up your hands when you’re out and about, and gives baby close contact to your body which carries various proven health benefits. Walking is also a gentle post-childbirth activity to take up. If you find that you drive a lot then replacing some of these journeys with walks can be really eye-opening for environmental impact and bonding with your baby. Babywearing also allows you to enjoy the benefits of public transport without the hassle of a buggy. Did
I mention how green that is?


When you start thinking about weaning, ignore all the conflicting advice – your baby will tell you when he or she is ready. This tends to be around six months but, rather than going by age, it’s best to use developmental milestones such as sitting upright and being able to reach out, grab and gum food without aid. Baby-led weaning (BLW), which has been found to help babies regulate their own intake of food and therefore not overeat later in life, is also a green way of getting the good stuff into your little one through exploring tastes and textures at their own pace. It’s simple, too – just give baby some of what you’re eating before adding salt to your own portions, and choose organic ingredients. Buying local will also decrease your family’s carbon footprint.


Reusable nappies are almost certainly the greenest option, so long as they aren’t being regularly tumble-dried or collected by a laundry service. I’ve met people who are really into cloth nappies and others who reject them altogether, so what I like to suggest is that you take a middle ground if you can’t go full cloth. Even if you only use reusable nappies in the daytime (and use disposables at night), you’ll be doing the environment, your bank balance and your baby’s bottom a favour.

As with all the suggestions here, take one area and tackle it in your own time. The parenting marathon lasts a long while, and we’re all in it for the long haul. Good luck!

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