Baby registry lists and big box stores offer a wide variety of stuff they make you think you actually need. You can get sucked into all of that (it isn’t hard), or you can simply buy the basics—which comes as a relief to moms-to-be who plan to parent more naturally.
Mothers have been parenting successfully long before we had baby monitors and bouncy seats. So don’t feel like you have to take out a loan to prepare for a baby. You’ll save space, money and the earth by sticking to the basics.
Below, I talk about four baby gear basics: carriers, car seats, breastfeeding supplies and strollers. Part Two of this post goes into bedding, diapers and miscellaneous items.
Baby carriers are one reason I wish I had another baby. While they weren’t so popular or accessible when Sofie was born seven years ago, now there are so many carriers on the market, your choices are overwhelming. The best thing to do is try them out in person. We used a stuffed animal to sample a few carriers when I was pregnant (though it would have been better if we weighted the teddy bear to be about 8-10 pounds). While many carriers are expensive, you can usually find them secondhand at consignment shops or online sites and mommy swaps.
Invest in a couple of carriers you love. Some feel better forward-facing, some are better for carrying on your back, some are just too pretty for your husband to wear. The carriers will get a lot of use, so this is one area natural mamas can feel okay about splurging on.
We used a New Native sling (fairly easy to slip on when Sofie was small, but my husband could not fit into the same size), the Baby Bjorn (my husband’s preferred option), and a mei tai made by a friend. If I could do it again, I’d replace the Bjorn with an Ergo, which I’ve heard so many wonderful things about. I did love the mei tai, and we were able to use it as a back carrier until Sofie was four.
Why Wear your Baby?
We chose to wear our baby because I’d read that constant human contact was one of the best things for a newborn. Once Sofie was born, it just seemed instinctual that I keep her close to me. She was less fussy that way, and I got much more done while she slept or observed my actions from the carrier. Wearing our daughter was an important bonding experience we cherish; we were even part of a local babywearing group, which was my first community of other new moms. You can read about the benefits of babywearing (babies cry less, learn more and grow smarter) from Dr. Sears.
View a detailed comparison of baby carriers (or join the forum to ask loads of questions) at thebabywearer.com. Several online sites, including Heavenly Hold, offer a rental program to try out carriers before buying. Search for a babywearing group in your area, as it will be an excellent source of information.
A Car Seat That Grows with Your Child
Car seats are a necessity, yet they are not easily recycled, so one of the greenest thing you can do is buy as few as possible. You’ll need to use them until your child fits a regular seat belt (usually between ages 8-12).
These days, everyone thinks they need the infant car seat, which is why you see many parents walking lopsided with a baby dangling from their arm. How uncomfortable is that?
To me, infant car seats are a poor purchasing choice because: (1) They literally keep baby at arm’s length rather than offer close human contact, and (2) They are quickly outgrown. Generally, these seats go up to 22 pounds or until baby’s head is taller than the rim of the seat (often by age one); then you have to purchase another expensive car seat and figure out how to dispose of the first one.
Convertible car seats have a higher weight limit (typically up to 40 pounds), and many can be used from birth. They work in both rear-facing and forward-facing positions as your baby grows. Today, there are also 3-in-1 car seats on the market that convert from rear-facing to forward-facing to booster seat. Be sure to research the specific details, weight and height limits and restrictions of a manufacturer’s car seat before buying one.
We used this basic Graco convertible car seat (pictured below) from birth until Sofie was four and a half. (I’m not necessarily promoting Graco; I just wanted to show that car seats can be flexible and affordable.)
This one can be propped into the semi-reclining position for newborns and includes the five-point harness system. We added extra head support and harness strap pads to keep Sofie’s newborn self snug and safe. Those are easy to find and not at all costly. You can even use tightly rolled up towels to fill in extra spaces.
Healthy Children has information on the types of car seats your child will need throughout her life. Here are a few websites with information about car seat safety, models, inspection and installation and recalls: Car-Seat.org and SaferCar.gov.
When your seat has expired or been outgrown, read my post on ways to properly dispose of an old child car seat.
I knew before I was pregnant that I would breastfeed my child. While we struggled early on, nursing was an incredible bonding experience that lasted until Sofie was three. It was my panacea for tantrums, sickness and tough situations (like doctor visits), and I believe it’s what kept her nearly sick-free during those years.
The benefits of breastfeeding are hailed by many including the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO). If you’re on the fence about whether or not to nurse, you can check out any of their sites or visit La Leche League’s archive of breastfeeding articles and links.
A quality breast pump is number one on my list for working moms. If you plan to be a stay-at-home mom, you may not need a breast pump, however you might consider the option if you’d like Dad (or others) to feed the baby with your milk or in case you have issues with engorgement or latching on.
Research the types of breast pumps available, and you can find many online lists rating the best pumps (Medela often tops the lists). Although pricey, it is safest to buy a new breast pump. Pump rentals from your hospital are an alternative — those are designed to have a “closed system” where the breast milk never touches the working parts used by other mothers. Here’s a list of “closed system” pumps safe for multiple users.
Note: Be sure to open the breast pump box and set it up before the baby is born! We did not do this and discovered an essential piece was missing from the pump only once I had a wailing newborn and painful breasts our first few days home from the hospital.
Breast milk can be stored in any food grade container with a tight fitting lid, including glass or plastic baby bottles (choose BPA-free plastic). To save space in your fridge or freezer, you might like to have some breast milk storage bags on hand as well. There is one eco-friendly option: Simple Wishes HoneySuckle whose plastic bags are BPA and phthalate-free and recyclable (but not reusable).
If you want others to share in the feeding, you’ll need bottles, and there are many brands out there. Glass bottles, used when I was a baby, are back in fashion as being one of the safest (no toxins) and sustainable options. A few BPA-free plastic options include: Green to Grow, mimijumi, thinkbaby and Born Free.
Along with breastfeeding comes leaking, so you’ll want to be prepared — particularly if you’re returning to work. Purchase reusable nursing pads that line your bra and prevent milk from leaking through onto your clothing. You (or a crafty friend) can always make your own pads from scrap material. Here’s a tutorial and pattern from DIY Maternity.
Though not necessary, a nursing pillow is especially handy for first-time moms learning the proper techniques. You’re likely already familiar with the Boppy or My Breast Friend, and (if it's still around) there is the eco-friendly San Diego Bebe Nursing Pillow.
This item is optional. You might find that wearing your baby nonstop works for you. We liked having the stroller available for traveling, nighttime walks and grandparents who did not feel comfortable wearing Sofie.
We chose a small, lightweight one that folded easily with one hand, since that’s often the position I found myself in. That one $40 stroller lasted us from birth to age two when we switched to a $2 umbrella stroller bought at a yard sale. Remember, a stroller is simply for mobility; it doesn’t need to be kitted out with tons of toys and contraptions. Since the stroller is not a high-use item for most natural mamas, you can easily save one from heading to the landfill by shopping at consignment shops, yard sales or online.
If you prefer to buy new, these days you can choose from some eco-friendly models that use recycled, non-toxic fabrics or support companies that follow green principles. A few green strollers currently on the market include Stroller G2 from Orbit Baby and Bumbleride.
In Part Two of this post, we’ll talk about diapers, bedding and other baby products.
About the Blog
Donna created her Eco-Mothering blog while working for an environmental non-profit. Her motivation was two-fold: to document her new parenting journey and to share eco-friendly information with a larger community. This blog will highlight a selection of posts from eight years of writing at Eco-Mothering.com