The Ultimate Guide to Green Parenting

It can be hard knowing what green lifestyle choices will be the most beneficial to your baby. We've talked to the green parenting guru Alan Greene, M.D. and author of Raising Baby Green and Feeding Baby Green, who shares the most important tips to get started.

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    How to Start a Green Lifestyle

    Being a green parent encompasses a lifestyle of making healthy choices that are often organic, natural, and low in environmental toxins. Although it might feel overwhelming, it can be simple. Instead of focusing on the whole world, Alan Greene, M.D. and author of Raising Baby Green and Feeding Baby Green, says you should focus on three things: what goes in your baby's mouth, what affects his skin, and the air your baby breathes. "When you look at the illnesses that are increasing, we're not just inheriting them. It's the change in our lifestyles, which means there are lifestyle answers that can tilt the odds in our child's favor," Dr. Greene says.

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    First Changes to Make When Going Green

    The best produce grows in healthy soil. Likewise, your baby will be healthiest when growing in the best environment possible -- your body. By minimizing exposure to toxins before you conceive and during pregnancy you help ensure your baby's good health. Donni Alley, mom to an 18-month-old boy, started eating healthy when struggling to get pregnant. Her first major change? Buying a juicer. She drinks a cup of spinach-carrot juice every morning for breakfast. "It's amazing how good it actually tastes," she says. This combination is like uniting the superheroes of the veggie, and is chock-full of vitamins K, A, and C, and folate, iron, fiber, magnesium, potassium, protein, and calcium.

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    Environmental Benefits to Breastfeeding

    Breastfeeding not only helps the environment by reducing packaging, transportation, and manufacturing waste, but it's also healthier for your baby. Breastfeeding lowers the odds your little one will need antibiotics and it reduces both of your risks of cancer, according to Dr. Greene. And if you're planning to breastfeed, your preparation starts before conception. The better you eat and take care of your body, the better you are able to nourish your baby. The sooner you start the better.

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    Eco-Friendly Diaper Decisions

    If you choose not to take today's traditional, disposable diapering route, there are a few green options for your changing table. Look for eco-friendly, disposable diapers at natural food stores or online -- they're made without the use of chlorine bleach, fragrances, or latex. Cloth diapers have come a long way since Grandma used them; they're now washable at home or by using a local diapering service. Then there's the Diaper-Free Movement -- parents learn to recognize when the baby needs to "go," then transfer the child to the appropriate place to take care of business. "You're paying attention to the baby's wants and needs, and this may lead to earlier potty training," Dr. Greene says. Dr. Greene says all three environmentally friendly options end up being similarly eco-conscious. "The overall environmental impact is about the same." So choose the option you're most comfortable with.

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    Time to Play

    It's inevitable: Your child will touch everything and put toys in his mouth. Keep this in mind when selecting your baby's playthings. Two of your safest bets are wooden toys and cloth toys. This is because these toys will be free of Bisphenol-A (BPA), which is an artificial estrogen that can be found in plastic products, including baby bottles. For wooden toys, choose ones with unfinished solid wood or with water-base stains -- just make sure to check that it is smooth and without splinters. Alley has two favorite brands when selecting toys for her 18-month-old son. PlanToys makes great wood products. "He loves them and their manufacturing process is green too," Alley says. Similarly, Under the Nile is a line of cloth products made with Egyptian organic cotton. And Alley says it's becoming more and more common for toy manufacturers to choose safer plastics as consumers drive companies to make environmentally friendly choices.

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    A New Way to Clean

    To cut down on the use of potentially harmful chemicals, there are some alternatives on the market and in your pantry that can help clean up the biggest kid messes. Dr. Greene suggests eliminating cleaning products with fumes or other toxic chemicals by using a green cleaner that lists all ingredients on the label. Or try a homemade safe cleaner with nontoxic products such as vinegar, lemon juice, borax, and baking soda. "I buy vinegar by the gallon," Alley says, who uses the inexpensive homemade cleaner for killing germs, viruses, mold, and mildew. She even uses it to disinfect the baby's high chair.

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    Tips to Clean Your Air

    Keeping certain flowers and plants in your house can improve air quality, according to Dr. Greene. Some great choices are peace lilies, gerbera daisies, and mums. Your baby spends approximately 90 percent of her time inside, so the cleaner the air, the better. "Some house plants reduce chemicals in the air, like formaldehyde, up to 90 percent," Dr. Green says.

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    Environmentally Friendly Baby Food

    Say goodbye to the hundreds of disposable jars of store-bought baby food a typical baby goes through. Making homemade baby food reduces waste, takes less energy, and is less expensive -- not to mention it's nutritional, teaches your baby to eat the way your family eats, and, with a little preparation, can save you money. Convinced yet? "You can just grind up what your family is eating and give it to them," Dr. Greene says.

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    How to Make Baby Food

    Alley, who makes homemade food for her baby, says the most important tip is that some things puree better in a food processor and others in a blender. Once you puree the food you can freeze it in an ice cube tray (make sure the plastic is BPA-free). Each cube is one ounce, making measuring food super easy. "I use a lot of vegetables like peas, green beans, carrots, and squash. Then you can mix in avocado for healthy fat," Alley says. Cooked spinach and wheat germ are also good add-ins to include even more nutrients to your baby's diet.

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    Buying & Eating Organic

    Sometimes buying baby food is just more convenient. Today, there are new organic food brands on the market that can be found in natural food stores or online. But even popular brands, such as Gerber, have created organic baby food lines easily found in most grocery stores. And according to Dr. Greene, eating organic food can slash pesticide exposure by about 97 percent.

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    Living Green

    Dr. Greene suggests gradually making some of these green changes to better protect your baby and the environment he grows up in. Making simple changes such as using BPA-free baby bottles and recycling what you use can make a big difference. Alley says being green is one of her passions: "I want to show other moms living green is easier and beneficial," she says.

    Copyright 2010 Meredith Corporation.

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