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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Have you tested your water for lead?

Recent news of the Flint water crisis has brought to light many issues with our water works programs throughout the US. That combined with the fact that many American cities have outdated plumbing means that our drinking water may contain elements that can be harmful for human health.

Lead in water is currently the main concern because it is known to cause brain damage and other serious adverse health effects. Lead is especially dangerous for young children and the developing baby in pregnant mothers. Most notably, lead exposure in young children can cause learning and attention deficits, increased risk of ADHD, anemia, and in extreme cases, even death. For more info see the EPA’s guidelines for lead contamination of drinking water.

People who are most at risk for exposure to lead from water are those who live in homes built before 1986. Drinking from public fountains that were placed before 1986 or that are not properly maintained could also potentially be a source of lead and other water contaminants.

What many people do not realize is that even if a water source is pure and clean, lead and other heavy metals can leach out of pipes, plumbing fixtures, and solder if the water does not contain anti-corrosive chemicals. For more on this, the CDC has a helpful fact sheet.

The situation in Flint is extreme and very sad, but it has led to more awareness of the matter and now lead in water has been discovered in many other cities across the US, including our very own city of Portland. To read about the widespread nature of lead contamination of water, USA Today had a great article.

Portland is known to have a pristine water source, the Bull Run Watershed, and residents have fought hard to keep the water free of as many additives as possible, such as fluoride.

bull-run-system-romantic-graphic

Copyright: portlandoregon.gov

Well, it turns out that our ultra soft water is highly reactive with metal pipes and fixtures that are commonly found in older buildings, homes and even our schools. As a result, we are experiencing our own water crisis of sorts, that seems to be isolated to a subset of homes and public buildings, likely due to outdated plumbing .

We live in an older home that was built in the early 1900’s. When we moved in, I had the water tested for lead immediately. The home’s plumbing had been recently updated so that was reassuring, but it’s impossible to see every pipe and fitting as well as those feeding into your house. We utilized the free water test offered through Multnomah County and it came back negative. It was a big relief!

That was several years ago. Since then our city has experienced issues with e coli contamination of the water and as a result, they have increased the chlorine in the water. It was enough to cause a noticeable change in the taste and the smell so we have been using water filters for our drinking water. Interestingly, when not counteracted, the increased chlorine makes water even more corrosive to pipes putting you more at risk for lead contamination. It’s important to know that water filters can reduce chlorine and other heavy metals, but they can vary in their efficacy and lifespan so it’s important to check the specifications. The particular filters that we have been using do NOT filter out lead very well, unfor01_edit-180x180tunately.

The best thing that you can do for your family and for piece of mind is to have your water tested and to use filters as much as possible. I was fortunate to be able to try a home water testing kit by Test Assured.

IMG_9513.jpgIt was very easy to perform (in fact, I let my assistant Penny help me with one of the tests) and I was able to get an immediate answer. This particular testing kit also measured lead, the presence of bacteria, pesticide, iron, copper, nirtrates & nirtrites, chlorine Level, pH level, alkalinity and hardness. All of our measured valued matched what has been published by our water bureau from their own water analysis, which was reassuring. In addition, our water was still lead free! The pesticide test was a bit more ambiguous in the reading and it is unclear which pesticides it measures, but hopefully out water filters minimize any potential exposure there.

If you are interested in having your water tested for lead, I would first check with your water bureau to see if they offer a free lead test. If you live in the Portland Metro area, here is the link to request a free test. Another great resource for lead testing, advice, and support can be found at http://leadsafeamerica.org.

I will also be giving away a 10 in 1 at home testing kit which detects lead and other contaminants that was donated by TestAssured. Visit our Facebook page to enter to win!

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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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Why I Started Babywearing

 

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Day 1 with this little girl. Even then she was happiest in my arms, held tight.

As a first time mom with a fussy child, I was seriously struggling to adjust to new motherhood and I was having a hard time figuring out how to keep my baby happy. I had always considered myself to be good with kids but I had little experience with babies. In addition, I initially felt like I was on my own for a good part of this journey. My husband returned to work after taking just one week off and our parents, who visited and were extremely helpful while they were with us, lived about 1,000 miles away. I cried when my mom had to return home even though I knew that I’d be ok. What was I supposed to do with this baby that seemed to cry all the time? We tried going for walks in our stroller. She hated it. We tried getting in the car and going for a drive. She screamed the whole way. She was only happy when swaddled and carried close, and she would only sleep if she was laying on top of me or by my side. I really loved holding her all the time and was willing to do anything I could to make her happy, so I just carried her in my arms most of the day. It was exhausting (and I developed deQuervain’s Tendonitis)! But still, much better than dealing with a screaming baby.

 

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The only was that I could get my baby to sleep for more than a few minutes, before I tried wrapping.

When my daughter was about 7 weeks old, a couple of my best friends, who also live very far away, visited. One brought along her son who was almost a year older than my daughter. When my more experienced mama friend saw what I was up against, she said “have you tried a baby carrier yet?” I had not and I was sure that she was too small for one, but she wasn’t. So the next day we tried our Moby wrap and a few days after that we tried our Beco Gemini (two carriers that I had received as baby shower gifts, thank you, thank you). You can probably guess what happened… She loved it! She was no longer a fussy baby when in the wrap (if all other needs were met). I could suddenly leave my house without fearing that my daughter would have a meltdown in public and I wouldn’t be able to regain control of her. And, though somewhat limited, I suddenly had the use of my arms again! It was liberating really.THIS was why I started babywearing. Initially it was just a tool– another  necessary baby device that she’d outgrow at some point. But, it turns out that there is so much more to babywearing than I could have ever imagined!

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Moby Wrap success!

A couple of months went by of happily wearing my daughter in our Moby and Gemini and then I saw that a friend’s facebook profile picture was of her wearing her son in a woven wrap ON HER BACK! How did she do that? And what was that beautiful fabric that was holding him? I sent her a message asking these questions and she suggested that I join the local babywearing group on facebook. That was the first time that I had ever heard of a “group” on facebook. I joined and immediately met several like minded local mothers who were very understanding of my position. They became my postpartum support group of sorts—something that I had not even realized that I needed. Through this group I learned how to properly use a variety of baby carriers, but more importantly, I made new mama friends, went on play dates, learned about family friendly events in town, found other parenting groups online, and learned of other tips and tricks for just about every type of baby related issue from breastfeeding, to diapers, to baby shoes! You see, I think I was having a really hard time transitioning into motherhood. Feeling completely on my own, I was not performing at my best as a mom until I found this group. It may have been postpartum depression or maybe just a slow transition into motherhood. But things started looking up once I found the support that I so desperately needed and everyone was happier.
THIS was why I got hooked on baby wearing. As a friend once said, and is now common language in the babywearing community, “I found my tribe.”

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