7 Ways to Raise a Natural Child

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Before you say it - yes, we realize all children are natural (since the first all-recyclable plastic human has not yet been invented).

But raising a child in a natural environment, and to make ecologically responsible choices, is another matter.

You can start anytime - even if your "child" is two days shy of 18 - but we recommend the earlier the better, so we're including all age groups in this list.

You'll be amazed at how small changes can add up to a big difference for you, your child and your entire family.

1. Breastfeed, if Possible

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We had difficulty with this when our second was born, and he was largely fed bottled express breastmilk, but if you can, breastfeed. It's easy (if you're producing well and your baby has a good latch), it's right "there," and of course, there are no chemicals added.

If you're having trouble getting your child to latch, or if you don't seem to be producing well, consider seeing a doula. Midwives can also help with advice on latch, feeding times, and on naturally encouraging better production, such as drinking Fenugreek tea, upping your sleep and fluids, and smaller but more frequent feeds.

If you're producing well but have a child who simply can't/won't feed well at the breast no matter what you've tried, or if you know you won't be local to your child at certain feeding times, think about getting a great breast pump and pumping milk to freeze for later.

2. Use Glass or Stainless Steel Bottles and BPA-free Nipples

Even if you're an EBF (exclusive breast-feeding) mom, many parents find they need to supplement with bottles at some point. You may be going back to work, you may share custody with another parent, or you might just want a break once in a while to run out and do...whatever. (If so, three cheers for you!)

If and when any of the above happen, you'll want to have bottles ready for your infant. You may be reaching for You may have considered PBA-free plastic bottles, and these can be a sensible choice over standard plastics, but there are still other chemicals and materials involved in producing these plastics that you may not want.

With that in mind, choose for glass bottles or if you're worried about dropping and shattering them, stainless steel. Glass bottles were the standard until the mid to late 60s in the U.S. and until later in other parts of the world. You'll need to be careful, but you also won't be putting your child into unnecessary danger.

Obviously, you'll need a rubber or silicone nipple. Look for BPA-free. A number of easily accessible, reasonably priced items have them, including some Avent nipples.

3. Go for Cloth Diapers

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These are so CUTE nowadays and you don't have to spend an arm and a leg, either. We used Indian cotton prefolds, which were literally about a dollar each (sometimes a few pennies less), folded easily with less bulk, fit under any diaper cover, and lasted forever.

Remember, if you're using cloth diapers, you'll also need diaper covers. These can be nylon or rubber- if you want one of these, which are still superior for leak protection, choose natural nylon or natural rubber sourced materials - or PUL, which stands for polyurethane laminate. Okay, so that doesn't grow from a tree, but it's a step up in safety as treatments go (PUL isn't the actual material but rather is just what it says: it laminates the fabric for protection). There are also some diaper-makers who claim their all-natural covers are good for leaks; these are another, and probably your most natural, option.

Cloth diapers aren't just more natural against your baby's skin, they're also better for the environment than creating masses of landfill (experts estimate up to 2500 diapers are used in a baby's first year of life).

4. Choose Organic Bedding

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Your baby, toddler and later, your teen spend a HUGE time sleeping, or just on the bed (doing homework, playing on her tablet or listening to music, for example). Children in the midrange of age spend slightly less time in bed, but still can be expected to be there for at least 8-10 hours per day.

Bedding touches a large part of your child's body, too, particularly in summer. And once your child is able to use a pillow (around age 18 months-two years...ask your pediatrician if your child is ready), her face will be in contact with that bedding nightly and for naps.

Using chemically treated or non-breathable pillows, bedding, and pillow covers can produce negative reactions in some children, such as rashes or for some kids, worsening of asthma and even, possibly, behavioral problems (evidence is mounting to hint negative behaviors to chemicals around the child). 

Choose natural bedding instead. Cotton is wonderful, of course. Wool can be found for pillows and bed covers. Organic shredded rubber is another option.

5. Grow Your Own

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Even toddlers can help in the garden (sort of), and you'll be doing something together, which is invaluable all by itself, so if you have any room at all, get into gardening.

Kids love picking and eating what they've grown. Gardening also allows you to control what types of fertilizer are used (so that you're not getting chemical pesticides or other chemicals into your garden). There are so many benefits.

If you don't have much room, consider container gardening. Tomatoes, beans, cucumbers and more can all be grown in pots, with a climber trellis if needed (cucumbers climb, for example; so do many beans and peas). So can a huge variety of herbs. You can grow potatoes in a sack or large canister. Check out what you like, how it's grown and how and where you can plant it to enjoy with your child later.

6. Prevent Illness Naturally

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Vaccinations are controversial and have been for years. We won't make a judgment on this either way, but we will say it's a fact that getting a flu shot has become standard over the years.

And of course, once you get the flu, drugs are usually reached for in order to combat symptoms. After all, you do have to live your life (and if it's your child, dangerous symptoms like a high fever are nothing to mess with).

If you'd rather fight things naturally (where possible), teach your child to wash his hands frequently throughout the day (sing the Alphabet Song out loud; when the song is over, the scrubbing is over and he can rinse). Take antibacterial wipes with you - or just alcohol - and a reusable cloth, and wipe down surfaces you'll be handling in public, such as grocery cart handles.

During cold and flu season, make sure your child gets PLENTY of rest. You may want to start a Vitamin C and/or echinacea regimen at this time too for prevention; ask your child's pediatrician.

7. Recycle and Compost

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Reusing what you've already used is key not only to local but to global resource conservation. You may think you're just one family and can't do much, but other families are doing the same, and yes, it adds up. 

Getting your child involved in recycling, per your county/city's parameters or just by separating the items yourself and delivering them, goes a huge way toward teaching him how to care for the earth and for the future.

Creating your own compost does the same, plus gives you a better garden and/or house plants. Composting is easy; use kitchen scraps, dryer lint, twigs, anything that will break down and isn't bone or other muscle/body materials (from chicken or beef dinners, and so on).

Here's a quick-start guide for composting.

These seven easy changes can become a part of your daily lives together and will become second nature to your child as she grows. Remember, the earlier the better - and it's best if you make the changes, too (such as recycling and using organic bedding, as well as eating what you produce in the garden). This means what's natural will be, well, natural to your child, his entire life long.

From Guest Blogger Melanie Henson