Hoping to have an eco-friendly pregnancy, but not sure if it’s possible? Some changes are easier than you’d imagine, so it’s always worth a try…
For many, impending parenthood will, at some point, involve a home pregnancy test: generally, a strip encased in plastic, often with a tiny screen, a battery and a microchip. Within a few minutes, this pen-sized technology, engineered to detect blue lines for us, is sent sailing to the bathroom bin in agony or ecstasy (or somewhere wide-eyed in between).
And so onwards to pregnancy and parenthood, with its deafening and continuous cascade of single-use products landing in our bins and clattering to the bottom of our guilty consciences.
Whether it’s something you act on, think about or completely ignore, the ‘eco’ issue is present in early parenting, thanks in no small part to the numerous disposable and plastic goods that seem to bloom around children before the test strip is even dry.
Of course, having kids at all carries an environmental impact – a 2017 study concluded having fewer children is the biggest thing an individual can do to reduce emissions – but presuming we’re not in the business of dictating who gets to procreate and who doesn’t, the babies keep coming, and many will keep trying to figure out a way to do it sustainably.
I am not the most eco parent by any means. I’m not serenely batch-baking breakfast bars or cracking out a palm-sized tin of organic sun cream at the playground. My partner and I have made many parenting choices with the environment in mind, but I’d struggle to claim we do absolutely everything we could.
And so there is a guilt that sits, tutting, as I find myself shaking out a confetti of empty toddler snack wrappers from the change bag – are we doing enough, doing the right things?
There’s long been societal pressure surrounding conception, pregnancy and birth, and whatever your route to parenthood, the early baby experience is similarly littered with judgement, unsolicited opinions and vastly differing approaches. With more information on climate change – and evidence of the havoc it wreaks – available to us than previous generations, it’s unsurprising we might add ‘being perfectly environmentally friendly’ to those existing pressures. And it can feel overwhelming.
It’s particularly confusing given what we’re told is ‘essential’ newborn gear varies wildly even among friends, never mind influencers with plastic-free nurseries and baby brands insisting disposable finger wipes are vital for “cleansing delicate gums”.
To buy or not to buy – as with all things parent, you get on with it, but it’s easy to feel judged and to compare yourself. Many parents I chat to feel the same: that sometimes ‘being eco’ can feel like just another thing to fail at.
“Eco-friendly parenting for me has been really, really hard,” Ella, a mum-of-two, says. “It’s time-consuming and expensive. I feel guilty and avoid people who seem to be nailing it.
Meanwhile, the pandemic derailed many: my second child was born the day before the first lockdown – I had nothing left in the tank for homemade hand sanitizer or avoiding takeaway coffee from non-compostable cups.
Another mum, Annie, felt she didn’t have the headspace when her son arrived: “I struggled enough with the pressures of first-time parenting, and all I felt I needed to know and learn and do. It’s easier now he’s four to have time and space to prioritise it.”
There is no doubt that eco-parenting is, on the whole, harder – it often takes energy and time, and much of it requires the privilege of money. It’s expensive to buy organic. Reusable nappies require an initial outlay and the means to put a wash on every other day. It’s cheaper to grab a plastic-wrapped snack than buy ingredients, equipment and storage. It takes ready money to buy in bulk to reduce packaging. Transport is required to find recycling points or pick up something secondhand.
Then there are health issues or children with different needs. Mia suffered from hyperemesis gravidarum during pregnancy and was so unwell that trawling for second-hand was scrapped, and then her son was born prematurely. “Tiny baby clothes were difficult to find quickly so we ended up having to buy new so that he had something to wear.”
She and her husband cut back in other ways, but Mia says her priorities have changed: “Previously I would have felt torn between buying new versus being environmentally minded but having a premature child with all the complications it throws up changes your perspective.”
While I do feel guilty, I know deep down that sometimes, when choosing convenience over the eco option, I think, well, we use washable nappies and wipes, at least there’s that.
Other parents I spoke to described similar ‘offsetting’, such as using disposable nappies but swapping to reusable wipes, using toy libraries or being hot on recycling. It’s not perfect, but aren’t some changes better than zero?
One dad described it as “a balance between convenience, sanity and conscience” and I think that’s my approach too. Yes, it’s frightening to look at the world and think we’re not doing enough for the next generation, but I also don’t know if I should shoulder quite as much as my guilt asks. While I’m looking for bamboo toothbrushes for under-threes and considering the carbon footprint of my 10,000 unread emails, what are the big guns doing, the corporations, governments, people who make the decisions that matter? Do we berate the time-poor person who grabs the cheapest plastic on the shelf, but not the manufacturers’ choices or the councils who won’t take glass kerbside? Should they make doing the right thing easier, cheaper?
I can only say that with eco-parenting, we do what we can – and that may be different to what someone else can do. Some changes are easier than you’d imagine, so it’s always worth a try. ‘I don’t do enough’ is a refrain parents – mainly mothers, of course – will repeat softly over many things. But I’m nearly sure something is always better than nothing.
10 easy ways to have a more eco-friendly pregnancy
1) Consider reusable nappies
This can be daunting, so it really helps to talk to someone with experience. Check if your council runs vouchers, cashback or try-before-you-buy schemes. We started with disposables in the hospital and transitioned at home – nobody will call the eco police if you mix the two, either.
2) Or biodegradable disposable nappies
These do exist, but some say there’s little point given they can’t decompose in landfill. However, biodegradable nappies tend to have other benefits, such as eco-friendly packaging, sustainable materials or healthier manufacturing processes.
3) Or even reusable wipes
This is an easier swap if washable nappies feel too big a leap, and to be honest, I much prefer using mini flannels to thin disposable wipes anyway. We have used the same set of Cheeky Wipes for nearly four years and they’re only just showing wear and tear.
4) Secondhand ‘big stuff’ is great
This is often in fantastic condition but parents need space so you can pick it up for peanuts. Look for prams, cots, changing tables, drawers and the like on eBay, local Facebook groups and pre-loved apps.
5) Use your local Facebook groups
These are useful in general – I find eco ones can feel shaming at times but they do have some good tips on recycling points and the like, while community groups are great for free/cheap gear or shout-outs for specifics.
6) Embrace pass-it-on culture
This is beloved by parents, so don’t be afraid to hit up any you know, but frankly you probably won’t have to because they’ll all rush you once you announce the pregnancy anyway. Say yes to nearly everything and you can pass on what you don’t want.
7) Rent your maternity clothes
Maternity clothing rental is something I haven’t tried, but it makes sense – especially if you need a one-off for something like a wedding. For instance, well-known mat brand Isabella Oliver offers a rental service, and new platform For The Creators promises high-end fashion and a tree planted with every order.
8) When buying new, think about durability
If you can afford to, investing in durable kidswear by environmentally aware brands is key – they’ll last your kids and hopefully a good few others too. Some brands have launched supporting initiatives too, such as Polarn O. Pyret, which now offers a free outerwear repairs service.
9) Go for washable breast pads
These are great if you’re breastfeeding – I’ve personally found Close Pop-In Breast Pads easy to wash, long-lasting and more comfortable than disposable.
10) And never buy toys new
Work those charity shops, Facebook groups, local toy libraries, soft play/stay-and-play sessions, toy swaps with friends and good old hand-me-downs.
Amy Swales is a freelance writer who likes to eat, drink and talk about her dog. She will continue to plunder her own life and the lives of her loved ones for material in the name of comedy, catharsis and getting pictures of her dog on the internet.
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