Saturday, December 15, 2007

Sustainable babies

Photo from

There are times in our lives when everyone wants to give a present to celebrate a special event. Times such as birthday's, Christmas, engagement, wedding and a baby's birth. We search around for an appropriate something to send to the important person. How many of these gifts then end up gathering dust in cupboards, advertised on "Trade Me" or "E-bay" or dumped in the rubbish? How many of these gifts are useful or good for any purpose?

I want to talk a little about gifts which are given for babies, but first I would like to share an old tradition that used to occur in Scotland when I was growing up in the 1950s.

I grew up in Scotland and life was full of superstitions and old traditions, for example when a bride left for the church she threw pennies out of the window of her vehicle for the local children. Everyone gathered around in anticipation and scurried to get their share. I think this was something to do with guaranteeing fertility in the marriage.

On first seeing a newborn baby it was necessary to cross the baby's palm with silver. When a new mother took her baby out in the pram for the first time people would come up and greet her and slip a coin or two into the pram. Those old Silver Cross Prams had a deep well which soon started to rattle with the money gathering in the bottom of the pram. This was often use to start a savings account for the new baby. When a new baby was expected family and friends started knitting or sewing however these arts are less common now.

Nowadays people often buy new babies a basket of goodies, full of lotions and powders and creams and shampoos. The manufacturers of these products outline how they benefit the babies skin and produce research to support their claims. We need to remember that they are trying to sell their product and the research has been conducted with this goal in mind. New born babies do not get dirty. They do not need all these lotions and potions. In my experience babies need, and love, to have a bath. All they need is warm water. After the bath a gentle massage with some pure almond oil, without any additives is relaxing and calming for the baby and is a nice way to care for the babies skin. Other oils such as olive oil can also be used but almond oil is less greasy. It is best to avoid using peanut oil because of the potential for allergy to this product.

Nappy wipes are a relatively recent addition to list of must haves for a new baby. Originally introduced as a handy way to clean the babies skin when out and about they now seem to be used universally at every nappy change. This is neither good nor necessary. A damp cloth with plain water will clean the babies nappy area just as effectively, reduces the babies exposure to chemicals and reduces waste in the environment. Women used to cut up old soft nappies or use muslin squares for this purpose.

The debate about cloth versus disposable nappies still seems to rage on. I think this is something that future generations will find very hard to understand. How could we possibly think it is OK to create this mountain of garbage so unnecessarily. What do you think about this? Why do so many parents feel that they have to use disposable nappies? Why not give a gift of cloth nappies, or maybe give a gift of an offer of help with washing these? If you are thinking about cloth nappies this is a lovely very simple little pattern for woolen overnaps. They need to be made out of pure wool but can be machine washed. The more felted the wool becomes the more waterproof the overnap is so old woolen overnaps are really desirable. Using these allows the babies skin to breath while still providing some protection from dampness. Babies nappies should be changed regularly as contact with ammonia from stale urine and bacteria from babies stools is a cause of nappy rash.

Baby Pilchers knitting pattern

Size 10 or 12 needles depending on your knitting
One ball double knitting wool does one pair, (large ball does two pairs)
Hank of natural does 3 pairs
Cast on 80 stitches
10 rows ribbing (holes half way)
(for larger size cast on 85-90 stitches).
Continue in plain knitting.
Knit two together on each plain row until one remains
Fold over band at top leaving space for cord
Sew up point in the middle leaving space for baby’s legs depending on the size of baby.

And then there is the gift of babies bottles, and sterilizers and formula. For a very few parents these might well be necessary. For most, help and support and positive encouragement to breast feed are better and healthier for the baby, and definitely better for the environment. Providing a meal or two for the new family, offers of help with shopping or housework might be much more useful gifts.


Leigh Blackall said...

ah, I see more now :) thanks. So you think the midwive's role could be one that informs new parents of sustainable products and practices in child raring... I like your link to the past too. It amazes me how much we think today that the things we rely on we couldn't do without. All I need to do is sit down with my parents and their parents to be reminded about how far removed from reality we have become.

Carolyn McIntosh said...

Thanks for your comment Leigh. You will see my next posting on caesarean section also alludes to the issue of sustainability. Can we as a society afford the level of intervention which currently takes place in what is essentially a normal and natural process. Given the long waiting lists for other medical procedures it is surprising that District Health Boards and the Ministry of Health do not question the amount of money which is spent unnecessarily on medical intervention in childbirth.

If this money was being spent for the good of society and making a positive difference I would be the first to applaud. In actual fact it is the exact opposite. More medical intervention actually increases risks for both the mother and her child.

Michel Odent, in the videos I have posted, looks back to his early medical experience and working with midwives who sat in the background knitting. He explains that this reduced stress for both the midwife and the mother. In modern medical facilities it is increasingly difficult for midwives to be quietly watchful. Surrounded by machines and equipment it is somewhat incongruous to sit in the corner knitting.

I do believe midwives have a role in informing women that life can be simpler. That there are no particular benefits to be gained form all the commercial products which are available for babies. Research has not proven benefits to the majority of women, who are at low risk of complications, from any of the technologies which are used in childbirth.

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