The Eco-Friendly Baby

Charleston, SC


Diapers and Baby Wipes
For all the convenience they provide in this busy world, disposable diapers and baby wipes are examples of wasteful consumption. Only within the past 30-35 years have baby bottoms been clad in plastic diapers stuffed with cellulose absorbent padding; it's been even fewer years than that since "baby wipes" have replaced reusable cotton washcloths and warm soapy water. Some disposable diapers have tear-away absorbent padding that is easily biodegradable, but the leak proof outer coverings are a different matter. Single-serving plastic bottles of formula and juice boxes are even more recent developments that contribute to landfills, so their convenience comes at a very high cost to the environment.

Our stay-at-home generations of mothers and grandmothers used to keep babies dry with soft cotton cloth diapers (double-layered ones at night). Diaper pins held diapers together and every mother had accidentally stuck her little wiggler at least once with the tip of one of those! Elastic-trimmed plastic diaper pants were an innovation in the mid-twentieth century; before then, diaper covers were made from oiled canvas, and prone to leaking around the leg openings.

Messy bottoms had to be washed with gentle soap and water, using clean washcloths. A layer of protective ointment, often petroleum jelly or zinc oxide cream, would be used to protect the buttocks from "diaper rash" developing. Because old-style diapers didn't wick moisture away from the skin, diaper rashes were distressingly common and in severe cases, family doctors often recommended that the affected baby be left completely naked as the rash subsided. It didn't take long before mothers learned to change wet pants as fast as possible, in order to avoid this sequence of events.

Women rinsed soiled diapers, washcloths, baby clothes and bedding by dunking them into the toilet a few times before depositing them into a diaper pail. Then they washed daily loads of the sodden "nappies" in hot water and special baby soaps, before hanging everything to dry on the backyard clothesline. A "diaper service" was a real luxury a laundry truck would pick up the rinsed-out dirties and return them the next day, all clean and fluffy and neatly folded! It should not be a surprise to contemplate that mothers began potty-training when their toddlers were scarcely able to walk!

While few grandmothers would advocate a return to those old days, cloth diapers are almost infinitely "recyclable" around the house. When the family's youngest child had graduated to "big kid" underwear, old diapers were either passed on to new moms or retained for service as dust rags. Early plastic diaper pants rarely lasted long, as they tended to tear or crackle after the rigors of a few hot-water laundry cycles.

Baby Bottles and Formula
We've all heard that its mother's milk is the perfect food for any baby. While this is true in most cases, there are times when a supplement or replacement is required for baby's adequate nutrition. Because "wet nurses" are a thing of the distant past, alternative sources of sustenance may be necessary. For small babies, water is not an appropriate substitute; babies require milk fats for brain and muscle development, and they can be over-hydrated with water to the point of toxicity!

For non-lactating mothers, old-time baby formula preparation was an hours-long event that had to be repeated frequently. Glass bottles were washed and then sterilized in a boiling water bath, then air-dried before being filled with special recipes that frequently called for varying proportions of evaporated milk, vitamin solutions and distilled water. Filled bottles would be capped and put back into the water bath before being stored in the family refrigerator. The advent of prepared powdered formula and bottled water, along with disposable bottle liners, has relegated this inconvenience to distant history.

Glass baby bottles lost popularity when plastic bottles were introduced, reducing the likelihood of broken glass, but recent studies have suggested that some BPA plastics might "leach" component contaminants into the liquids they contain. BPA-type plastic is being removed from the marketplace as consumers have become aware of its potential toxicity. Newer two-piece bottles employ disposable flexible low-density polyethylene bottle liners that collapse as the volume of liquid is drawn through the nipple an extra advantage that prevents excess air being drawn into the baby's belly as he suckles, thus reducing the incidence of reflux "spit up" of milky air bubbles and the attendant discomfort to the baby.

Baby Clothes, Linens and Furnishings
Baby clothes, because styles remain fairly constant and they are so quickly outgrown, are usually passed on to younger children after just a few wearings. Well-made clothing from quality fabrics lasts a long time, even if it fades a little after several washings. Few mothers will turn down an offer of hand-me-down baby clothes, as they only seem to become softer and more comfortable. Check for loose buttons or trim that could come off, and secure them before they find their way into baby's mouth! Heirloom-quality baby clothes become even more precious when they're shared, before being packed away for the next generation.

Nursery linens are also hand-me-downs to be appreciated, but used furnishings should be accepted with caution. Like other mattresses, baby bedding does wear out and develop lumpy places, and their waterproof coverings might not remain intact. Used cribs may not meet modern safety standards for rail separation width, drop-side security or integrity of the paint finish. Before accepting an offer for cribs, changing tables, car seats, high chairs or strollers, check for safety recalls on the Consumer Protection Safety Commission website at

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