Reducing Your Family’s Carbon Footprint

Lately, rather than working on my blog, I have spent many nights reading news articles about politics and becoming increasingly frustrated by our new president’s executive orders, which are quickly changing our world, and not for the better.

As a concerned parent, I am taking action in what small ways I am able to.

An issue that has been on my mind for a while now and is becoming more and more imperative to address is the issue of climate change and protecting our environment.

There is a large body of research showing that climate change is REAL. Records prove thatthe Earth’s average temperatures are rising steadily every year and most scientists agree that increased carbon emissions are the main contributor to this rise in global temperatures. There are too many references to list here but if you would like to learn more about all of the research that has been done and published after peer review please go to http://www.pubmed.com and search for key terms “climate change,” “environmental change,” or “global warming.”

If you would like to see what it looks like to live in a country with little pollution control try googling “China pollution.” The images that come up are horrific.

Also check out this recent article in the Huffington Post which contains a powerful set of images of what our very own country looked like before the Environmental Protection Agency was formed.

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Total Emissions in 2014= 6,870 Million Metric Tons of CO2 equivalent. Statistic and graphic courtesy of the EPA.

Unfortunately, rather than making the reduction of greenhouse gases a priority, our current administration appears to be taking our nation back to these times.

While our leaders may not think global warming is important, as individuals we can make small modifications to our lives that will reduce our carbon footprint and help in the long run. Some of these changes are harder than others, but if you think of it as an investment toward your children’s (and grandchildren’s) future, it is all worth it.

Here are 5 ways that you can reduce your family’s carbon footprint and help protect our environment:

  1. Vehicle based changes.

Unless you drive an electric vehicle that has been charged by clean energy, your vehicle is a primary source of carbon emissions. It is unrealistic, and also may not be the greenest option for everyone to trade in

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Courtesy of Nissan

their vehicle for an electric one. The manufacturing process of a new
vehicle alone produces a significant amount of waste and greenhouse gases. If you are in the position to purchase a new vehicle however, consider a fuel efficient, low greenhouse gas model (i.e. flex-fuel, hybrid or electric).

Don’t worry if you are not able to purchase a new vehicle at the moment (myself included). By properly maintaining your current vehicle, getting scheduled oil changes, tune-ups and checking tire pressure, you are not only creating a safer ride for you and your family, but you are ensuring that your vehicle is at its most fuel efficient.

Another car related modification you can make to reduce carbon emissions is to drive SLOWER and more thoughtfully. Rapid accelerations use significantly more gas, so does unnecessary idling. Try consolidating trips so you are driving less and always carpool when possible.

  1. Home based changes.

Heating, cooling, and lighting your home are the main sources of carbon emissions. If you have small children, keeping a moderate ambient home temperature is essential to their health and well being so rather than cutting the use of these things, consider making energy efficient improvements to your current systems. Newer and more efficient gas and electric water heaters and boilers are good investments because they will cut your energy bills and reduce carbon emissions. Insulation of walls, weather stripping doors and windows, and replacing or shielding drafty windows will also significantly reduce heating and cooling energy and make your home more enjoyable. Lastly, replacing halogen and fluorescent light bulbs with ultra efficient LED lights is a sound investment. LED lights cost more initially, but they last for many years and use a fraction of the energy that other light bulbs use.

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Image from blog.drummondhouseplans.com

Here is a helpful calculator to determine your savings from LED bulbs:

http://www.waclighting.com/calculator

If your budget permits, install a home solar energy system. Solar energy produces 91% less CO2 than natural gas powered energy and 96% less CO2 than coal. This requires a significant investment upfront, but companies are offering great financing deals and most energy companies charge less for solar energy and some even allow you to sell extra energy generated by your home back to the grid.

  1. Lifestyle changes.

Walk, bike, or use public transit more! Kids love getting out and getting some fresh air. Busses and trains are often a big hit with toddlers and young children as well. Not all American cities are easily commutable img_6962without a vehicle, but foregoing your car, even for small trips will make a huge difference. Plus, if enough people begin walking, biking or using public transit, cities begin adapting their focus to supporting these needs of their residents. Additionally, the extra exercise is good for your health!

Recycle, reduce, reuse, and consume less. One easy change here is to use reusable grocery bags. Many people already do this and some cities now charge you for grocery bags if you do not bring your own. This significantly reduces waste and also saves energy required to produce grocery bags.

For kids lunches, invest in reusable storage containers and lunch bags rather than packing food in disposable plastic or paper bags.

Be mindful about your consumption. This is a hard one with kids because they are constantly outgrowing clothes, getting new toys, and just require a lot of stuff in general. Consider buying used goods or using hand me downs from family and friends. When your children outgrow clothes and toys, find organizations or families to donate items to so they can be reused rather than end up in a landfill.

  1. Dietary changes.

Food production, packaging, and shipment are huge contributors to greenhouse gas production. Supporting local organic farming is one way to reduce your carbon footprint here. Hit the farmers markets, consider joining a CSA, and/or support smaller independent grocers who carry locally grow
n produce and other food products. Remember, organic options are not only healthier for you, but they are also greener options since a significant amount of energy is required to produce the pesticides, hormones, img_2141and antibiotics used in conventional farming.

If you are able to, start a garden! Kids love gardening and it can be so rewarding and educational for the whole family.

Lastly, eat less meat. Beef and lamb farming specifically are big producers of methane gas. Eating smaller portions and reducing your frequency of consumption will be better for your health and better for our environment.

  1. Take action!

Become active in your community by seeking out and supporting green businesses or those with plans in place for reducing greenhouse gases. For example, instead of going out to dinner at Outback Steakhouse or The Cheesecake Factory on your next date night, consider trying the new independent restaurant with the chef that is committed to using local and sustainable ingredients.

Start a conversation with your children about climate change and the importance of conserving our environment. I take the opportunity to discuss climate and natural habitats for animals with my daughter every time we visit our local zoo. For example, when it is hot out the polar bears are not very happy in their exhibit. On colder days, the polar bears are active and happy. Using this real life example, she now understands that polar bears thrive in colder climates and she understands the img_0057importance of reducing global warming.

Work with your local school, church, or other community organization to create a plan for reducing carbon footprint. Set goals and create a detailed plan to get there!

Lastly, make your voice heard. Call your senators and representatives and let them know that you are concerned about your environment. Urge them to pass measures that reduce carbon emissions.

Calculate your current carbon footprint here:

https://www3.epa.gov/carbon-footprint-calculator/

What are some ways that you are reducing your carbon footprint? Please share.

Here is a helpful link shared with me by a middle school environmental activist: https://www.homeadvisor.com/r/reduce-reuse-recycle-for-kids/

 

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Our growing family

img_3416I had been feeling like I should start looking for a real job again. You know, one where I might be able to actually use my degree. A job with benefits, a retirement fund, and other perks. But no. Life said no, not yet.

We were not trying to conceive, in fact, if anything we were actively trying not to conceive, though obviously not hard enough. Suddenly I found myself having to wrap my head around going through it all once more, the aches and pains of pregnancy, the labor and delivery of the baby, breastfeeding another child, and just dealing with chaos for at least another two years or so.

A third child at this point would not change too much. We are lucky to have the space in our home to house another child. We already own a minivan, ha! Sure there are added expenses associated with another child, but the tax benefits should help offset those costs. We can do this!

These are the thoughts that have been bombarding my brain for the past two months. I realize that it will be a huge change in our lives and a new trajectory for our family will have to be established.

My experience with my last two kids has given me the confidence to know that I can do this, but I’m not going to lie… it is still scary!

Rather than focus on all of the things that we no longer will be able to do, I’ve been focusing on my goals for this pregnancy and my plan for tackling life with 3 kids.

One thing that I would like to be better about this time around is exercise!

I was in great shape prior to getting pregnant with my first, but then never really got back into a regular exercise routine after that. In the months leading up to this pregnancy, I had started to workout more and I was hiking and walking and getting out for more physical activities. I could see the changes in my body and my wellbeing. It felt good. Plus, exercise has been proven to be good for fetal development!

This first trimester has been rough and has really wiped me off my feet, but I am slowly getting out of this energy rut and eager to resume a more active lifestyle.

After giving birth to two children, I am not so worried about the labor and delivery of this baby. It’s not going to be fun, but I’ll get through it. If anything, I’m more worried about how my youngest will take it. He is my baby now and he gets very jealous and possessive of me. My daughter on the other hand has baby fever so she will be a great help and will enjoy showering the baby with love.

Babywearing! There will be a lot of babywearing when the new baby arrives. Babywearing so I can still play with Shea and take him to classes and playdates while Penny is at school. Babywearing so I can do chores and take care of other household duties. I don’t think I could manage a third child without babywearing, so I am thankful to have that skill set.

One last thought… A big difference with this pregnancy compared to my others, is that I am not working! Having worked through my last two pregnancies, pretty much up until the day that I gave birth, this is a very different experience. If I am tired, I can rest. If I am hungry, I can make myself a snack. My stress level is nowhere near what it used to be (despite my kids driving me mad sometimes). It is really an ideal situation for me that hopefully translates to a healthier pregnancy.

Wish me luck and please share your stories!

I’d love to hear from parents with multiple children.

How do you do it?? What is your advice?

 

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The Neuroscience of Babywearing

There are many reasons to wear your baby and if you were to ask parents or caregivers that practice babywearing why they do it, you would get a variety of answers.

In the scientific community babywearing has been studied in the form of kangaroo care, primarily for premature or low birth weight babies. In some studies, kangaroo care was found to be as effective or even more effective than neonatal intensive care, and for the most part, positive outcomes have been associated with kangaroo care (for more on this see Conde-Agudelo and Díaz-Rossello, 2016).

This is very impressive and important information, but the majority of babywearers are wearing full term infants into toddlerhood. So what does this mean for the average babywearer?

To my knowledge there have not been any hard scientific studies on the effects of babywearing on child development. Most of the current research and information out there is funded and supplied by baby carrier companies.

As the culture of babywearing becomes more mainstream, I imagine that scientists will begin to perform studies on the benefits of wearing infants and toddlers, but in the meantime I’d like to share my own personal observations on the effects of babywearing that are mostly rooted in the principles of neuroscience and human physiology.

Less stress for babies and caregivers

If you were to look inside the brains of the baby being worn and of it’s wearer, my guess would be that the important neural circuit at play would be the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal axis or HPA axis. This is commonly known as the stress response circuit and over activation of the HPA axis early in life can contribute to lifelong issues with vulnerability and stress. HPA axis dysregulation has also been associated with mood disorders, digestion issues, altered immune responses, and addiction.

hpa

By wearing your baby, you mimic the comforting position of being held in arms, while still maintaining some of your freedom, being hands free to do things. Another benefit of having them attached to you is that you can better pick up on their cues to meet their needs quicker and more effectively. A happy, less stressed baby will not experience HPA axis over activation, and could potentially have a reduced risk for related disorders as an adult. Additionally, the happy baby can then in turn lower the caregiver’s HPA axis activation, improving mood and overall level of stress in the caregiver as well. (For more on the HPA axis and it’s role in development see Flinn, et al., 2011)

May help with PPD

Some degree of postpartum depression (PPD) is commonly experienced after birth. This is a condition that is complicated and is thought to involve the stark drop off in hormones antepartum, fatigue and feeling overwhelmed (as easily experienced in the early days of caring for an infant), as well as struggles with the transition into motherhood.img_1893-1

There is significant anecdotal evidence from the babywearing community (based on chatter in Facebook babywearing groups) that babywearing may help lessen the degree of PPD or help treat it altogether. This is likely due to the fact that using a baby carrier can make many facets of early parenting so much easier. For example, babywearing can help with breastfeeding since nursing in a carrier allows for nursing on the go. One doesn’t have to feel like they’re putting their life on hold just because they had a child. You can nurse in a carrier while shopping, even walking full stride down a busy NYC street, and your baby will be happy (and so will you).

Wearing your baby promotes bonding with your little one and timg_3731hat love and sense of accomplishment can be very positive and mood lifting. This is due in part to the reduced cortisol levels that the wearer experiences, as well as the release of oxytocin and dopamine from the constant baby hugs. Also, I’m pretty sure that baby carrier naps cause the release of endorphins in parents because there is nothing like the feeling of a sweet little baby sleeping all cozy and cuddled up against you. Of course, you do not need to use a carrier to experience your baby nap close to you, but it sure makes life easier and more enjoyable when you don’t feel confined or trapped in one spot. You can still go on with your life, taking a moment every now and then to look down, breathe in some magical sleeping baby dust, and then continue with whatever you were doing.

Lastly, by joining babywearing groups online, parents build new friendships and find a network of support. Maybe your friends aren’t having kids yet, or maybe your friends do have kids and are super busy with their own lives so you are feeling alone in your journey. The babywearing Facebook groups always have active members to chat with because babies have crazy sleeping schedules and people from all over the world participate in these groups so when you’re up nursing your baby at 3 am, you might find yourself chatting with a mum in England! Talk about 24 hour support!

Neuroplasticity

As we learn new things our neurons are forming new connections, strengthening some connections and pruning others. This is a phenomenon known as neuroplasticity. It simply means that that our brains are constantly rewiring based on our experiences. You may have heard that playing chess, doing Sudoku puzzles, or learning a new language can enhance your brain function or neuroplasticity, and indeed they can, but so can learning any other new thing!

For the developing infant, babywearing is a great wimg_6668ay to enhance your baby’s neuroplasticity because they are constantly being stimulated by you when they are held close to face level. Even if your baby is just a newborn and not very interactive yet, hearing your voice helps them learn language, watching your facial expressions helps them learn emotions,and your movements are always challenging their vestibular system!

For the wearer, babywearing is also a great way to challenge your brain as you learn how to use a baby carrier. Using a soft structured carrier is probably the easiest carrier to learn for a babywearer, but even then, there are still many opportunities to engage your mind as you work to find the correct fit, adjusting straps and buckles, positioning your baby, and also learning to navigate in your new physical space once your barnacle is attached to you.

Learning to wrap, however, I would consider an advanced skill of the mind and body. It requires you to memorize sequences of movements (aka passes) that ultimately result in your baby wrapped up tight into a nice little package, sometimes on your front, other times on your hip or your back. It requires balance and physical strengthimg_8197-1, especially in your core muscles. It also requires good spatial reasoning, being able to predict where along the wrap to start, how much fabric you will need to finish the carry and the ability to improvise when your spatial planning is off 😉 With research, practice, and determination, wrapping parents often learn 10-20 different ways to wrap their babies. That equals a whole lot of new synaptic connections!

In summary, there are many ways to meet your baby’s basic needs, but babywearing allows the parent or caregiver to be hands free, giving them a sense of freedom or ease while actively tending to their baby. Babywearing can promote good emotional health in babies and parents as well as provide ample stimulating learning scenarios for healthy brains.

Go babywearing!

References:

Conde-Agudelo A and Díaz-Rossello JL. (Aug 2016). Kangaroo mother care to reduce morbidity and mortality in low birthweight infants. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. (8)  http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/14651858.CD002771.pub4/epdf

Flinn MV, Nepomnaschy PA, Muehlenbein MP, Ponzi D (June 2011). Evolutionary functions of early social modulation of hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis development in humans. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews. 35 (7): 1611–29. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21251923

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Vitamins

a.k.a. Vitadims, Viamins, Vy

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Do you give your kids vitamins?

I can be a bit vitamin obsessed with my own health so as soon as my kids were old enough to start taking vitamins, I enthusiastically started supplementing. At first it was just vitamin drops that our pediatrician prescribed. Vitamins A, C, and D.

At my daughter’s 12 month check-up they checked her hemoglobin levels and she was low. Following an excruciating blood draw (my first of many kid’s blood draws to come), our doctor diagnosed her with iron-deficiency anemia and prescribed iron drops. Oh, and because our water does not contain fluoride, my daughter started fluoride drops as well. So just like that, I had an infant taking 3 different supplements, two of which had to be given at different times of the day because they interfere with absorption if taken together (fluoride and iron).

Taking vitamins became routine for us and Penny thrived on the iron drops. I noticed immediate changes in her mood, appetite and sleep. Without the iron drops, she would become a cranky melting-down child that refused to eat much and was obviously over-tired but could not ever sleep!

Well, iron worked really well for us but it did not come without side effects, namely constipation. Despite a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, I decided to try fiber gummies for kids once Penny was a toddler and could chew well. They worked well and helped keep her regular so fiber gummies joined the daily regimen.

When Penny was around 2 years of age, I realized that I had options with our multivitamin. I could give more than just the limited A, C, and D that the drops had to offer. I was excited to shop for the best kids vitamin out there and start my daughter on a more complete supplement, preferably all natural.

When I scoured the vitamin section of our health food store, I found that most of the formulations had little to no iron. With Penny’s history of anemia, these were just not an option for us. Out of at least 10 different brands (yes, I sat in the isle and read every bottle) there was only one that had 50% of daily iron, which was way better than the usual 0-10%. So that was the one that I bought and we loved it at first (it’s called Rainbow Light Kid’s One, contains 5mg iron).

After being on iron drops for over a year at that point, I figured that I could safely take Penny off of them and give her the multivitamin containing half of her needed iron, with her diet making up for the other half. Well, I was wrong. Within 6 months of no iron drops, Penny’s anemia came back. To this day it is a mystery as to why she is so susceptible to anemia!

Some background factors may be at play.

  1. I was vegetarian through my pregnancy and anemia was detected in the third trimester, after which I started iron supplements. So she was probably born with low iron stores to begin with.
  2. I was vegetarian through the first year of nursing Penny so my milk may have been lower in iron than meat eating breastfeeding moms.
  3. Anemia runs in my family so there may be a genetic component
  4. Penny is a picky eater, especially when it comes to meat.
  5. We live in an industrial neighborhood so environmental exposure to heavy metals that can interfere with iron storage and blood cell health may be at play.

We will probably never know the answer as to why, we just know that Penny is prone to anemia so a more complete multivitamin was in need in order to avoid the iron drops.

I finally just asked our pediatrician for a recommendation and he suggested Flintstone’s Complete with Iron. There are several formulations of Flintstone’s vitamins. The Complete with Iron formulation (it comes in a red box) has the highest iron content of any kids multivitamin that I’ve found to date (18 mg ~100% for a 4 year old). This is what I’ve been giving for the past couple of years despite my preference for all natural brands. We still reach times when iron drops are needed and I will give a small amount, usually about 25% of what was originally prescribed, just to quickly bump back up to normal.

You may be wondering how I know when iron is low… The truth is, I don’t know most of the time. The only way to know for sure is to have blood drawn and a full panel run and that is hard on the child and not always fully covered by insurance. Signs that I look for in my child include irritability, trouble sleeping, pale skin, and the most obvious sign that our doctor mentioned to me was pale gums. They should be nice and pink! Keeping track of how much iron rich food my daughter is eating is also very helpful in predicting whether or not she needs additional iron.

Once little brother was born, we pretty much followed the same pattern of vitamins because he too was slightly anemic at 10 months of age! I had him checked early since I noticed behavioral signs and knew what to look for after dealing with it for so long with Penny. I was much more careful about iron during my pregnancy with him and accordingly, his anemia was not as severe. In fact, he quickly bounces back to normal by just giving his Flintstone on a regular basis. He loves to eat meat too, unlike his sister.

One new variable that my son introduced to our vitamin regimen was the fact that he is dairy and soy intolerant. This means that a major source of calcium is missing from his diet. He does still get calcium from breastfeeding. However, I have chosen to give a calcium supplement as well, just in case. Penny caught wind of his extra gummy and now she demands a calcium vitamin too, of course. With calcium, it can also interfere with iron absorption so I give it at a separate time from both iron and fluoride. This means that I often forget to give calcium and that’s ok because my kids do eat other non-dairy forms of calcium, and too much calcium can throw off your calcium/magnesium balance.

A few other supplements that I feel are important are are Omega-3/DHA and probiotics, as well as Vitamin C, and Echinacea during cold season. I give Omega-3/DHA when our diet is lacking in the fish department and probiotics mostly to Shea to help him with intestinal health, especially after eating a bit of dairy or soy.

I realize that all of this may be unnecessary. Our diet is pretty well rounded and all of our nutritional needs should be covered. But, we are talking about kid’s diets here and even though I serve them well balanced, healthful meals, they often pick and choose and don’t get everything they need. So for now, I’ll continue to be the crazy vitamin lady, potentially wasting my money. My kids see them as a special treat anyway.

Do you give your children any supplements? If so, which ones and why?

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