Sunday, April 27, 2008

Taking baby the earth-friendly route

A growing number of Canadians are harnessing green philosophies and consumption patterns in their new roles as moms

Corinne Willems is a first-time mom and a self-confessed greenie. While pregnant with her son Nikko, now three-and-a-half months old, Willems learned some disturbing facts about the key ingredient in a popular "no tears" baby shampoo that motivated her to go the earth-friendly route and start making her own baby care products.

The "no tears shampoo was basically a normal shampoo," said Willems, 31. "The reason there's no tears is because a certain chemical numbs the tear-ducts so they don't react. I thought, 'That's it, I'm never going to buy it.' "

Willems took a do-it-yourself baby care course. Local educator Cheryl Thielade showed her how to avoid hard-to-pronounce, questionable chemicals that can be found in a large number of baby products.

"She teaches how to make your own cleaning and baby-care products," said Willems.

"It's fascinating to know the history about what's in a lot of these baby products. It's also frightening -- learning some of the chemicals that are in them."

In the months leading up to Nikko's birth, Willems concocted a variety of oils, soaps and shampoos using household ingredients and essential oils such as olive oil, coconut oil and camomile.

Like a growing number of Canadians, Willems is harnessing her earth-friendly philosophies and consumption patterns in her new role as a mom.

A vegetarian who enjoys walking when possible, and takes transit when it's not, she is also a devoted "locavore." Willems and her husband, Matt Craig, try to buy locally harvested fruit and vegetables from farmers markets.

When the time came to outfit Nikko's nursery, Willems went online, attended baby-product swap meets and hit local garage sales to find items that could be reused or recycled.

"Honestly, we weren't all that prepared. We didn't have a crib or anything," Willems explained. "We've got some pretty crafty dads. We converted some cupboards we got at a garage sale into a change table."

One of Willems' favourite shops for previously loved baby wares is Little Earth, a funky store located on East Hastings that has been offering green alternatives to parents since last July.

"The No. 1 issue for most parents is safety when buying products for their children," said Mariska McLean, who co-owns Little Earth with Flavia Spano. "However, parents are way more aware of the environmental impact their choices are making. I think the two really go hand in hand. Choosing safe and sustainable products leads to a safe world for our children to live in."

A tour of Nikko's nursery is a tribute to Willems' ecological, economical and health savings. On the recycled change table sits a refillable box of 7th Generation-brand unbleached baby wipes. Her diapers are also from 7th Generation.

The decor includes hand-me-downs from mothers, aunts and uncles, including a second-hand crib and a pile of wooden toys.

Willems has a "no plastic or petroleum-based toy" policy. From Nikko's closet, she pulls a bag full of plastic and stuffed toys, gifts from friends and family who didn't heed her request for "slightly used" toys.

"Both Matt and I are conscious of buying things that are used to avoid the whole packaging issue and unnecessary production of products that already exist. Walk into Toys "R" Us or any place like that and you're hard-pressed to find anything that doesn't come from very far away."

Very far away was where Julie Catania had to travel just to buy reusable cloth diapers for eight and half month old son.

"We had to buy cloth diapers in Toronto," says the 26-year-old mother of one. "When I was pregnant it was really important to live a healthier lifestyle. You hear all about toxic paints and plastics these days."

After finding it so difficult to find reusable nappies locally, Catania and her husband decided to start Organic Family in their hometown of Cumberland, on Vancouver Island.

The store, which offers green baby and household products, is growing rapidly in its first month in business.

"We haven't done any advertising yet, so business is coming from a lot of word-of-mouth. I belong to a lot of mom-and-tot groups, so I'm spreading the word that way," says Catania.

Organic Family's baby bestsellers include glass milk bottles and Sage Creek organic-cotton baby clothing.

One local business that is finding a niche catering to eco-friendly parents is Green Bean Baby, which creates products made of organic cotton.

"Like a lot of other moms who start a business, it's about finding things you can't find," said Lynne Stapleford, the owner of Green Bean Baby. "When I was pregnant I read about all the chemicals they use to grow cotton."

A former chemical analyst and an ecologist/biologist by trade, Stapleford decided to use the sewing skills her mom and grandmother taught her to start her own business.

Using organic cotton from India and Texas, Stapleford creates very simple, natural-toned flannel blankets, terry-cloth hooded towels and hats.

All of Stapleford's cotton is grown without the use of herbicides, pesticides, defoliants or other chemicals. The cotton that comes from Texas is USDA organic certified, while the cotton from India is certified organic by the Global Organic Textile Standards (GOTS).

With the average baby going through approximately 6,000 diapers before potty training finally kicks in, according to the environmental website, there is a lot of debate around the pros and cons of reusable diapers and biodegradable disposables. For the consumer, there are increasingly more options.

Capers/Whole Foods sell 7th Generation diapers, which are made from chlorine-free, latex-free materials. Meanwhile, shops in Kitsilano such as Baby's World and Hip Baby sell both cloth and disposable, toxin-free diapers.

Fourth Avenue in Kitsilano is sometimes called "Mommy Row" for its collection of maternity and baby shops. Every shop visited by The Vancouver Sun recently -- including Crocodile Baby, Hip Baby, Craftworks, Brier's Home and Gift, Baby's World and Moule -- offered a wide selection of environmentally friendly baby wares, including locally made green products from Green Bean Baby and Mother Earth.


1. Diapers: Use biodegrable disposables like gDiaper hybrid (reusable shell, flushable, biodegradable liner). Wash cloth diapers at a low temperature.

2. Breastfeed: Use reusable, organic cotton breast pads and locally made nipple creams from natural ingredients.

3. Solid foods: Reuse/recycle baby food jars, puree organic/local, cooked foods and freeze using ice cube trays.

4. Clothing: Babies are constantly getting their clothes wet in one way or another. Ensure that clothes are dyed using natural dyes to prevent hurting sensitive baby skin.

5. Body care/bath time: Olive oil is the best all-round oil to use on everything from diaper rash to cradle cap; also use organic, natural, fragrance free.


Article Courtesy: The Vancouver Sun

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2 Responses to “Taking baby the earth-friendly route”

drtaher said...
April 28, 2008 at 8:45 PM

Dear AN,

Frankly, the fact about there being chemicals in the No-more-tears shampoo surprised me no end! Thanks for enlightening me (and others!)

I think it is a horrible thing for the J and J people to do to make a quick buck. As a pediatrician, I don't know how many hundreds of times I must have recommended that shampoo brand!


Anantha Narayanan said...
April 29, 2008 at 6:31 AM

Well, that is a fact of life. Nobody know to full what contents they are using, or what is good or bad...

In this modern world, it is the advertisements which are good and the products bad...

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