Which baby book covers the gamut of green issues?
Back in the old days, I used to do active product testing for Grist. Things like lotions and paper towels and CFLs — stuff that really got the heart pounding. But that was before a 30-pound orb attached itself to my front, slowing me down significantly.
Yep, you heard it here first: I’m pregnant. Seven and a half months pregnant, as it happens. So I had to reschedule my test of eco-friendly trampolines and substitute this “test” of green pregnancy books instead.
Anyone who has dared venture into the child-rearing aisle at a bookstore lately knows there’s no shortage of specialty titles out there, from And Baby Makes Four: Training a Baby-Friendly Dog to Disease-Proof Your Child. And the eco-sector is no exception. But are these green baby titles worth their weight in Similac? I looked through a few to see what they had to offer to a mom-to-be (not, it should be noted, what they offer a real live parent, whose impressions might be quite different).
All of the books covered the same basic ground — parents are more aware of the environmental and toxic threats to their babies than ever before; you can take steps to green your body and your home; you don’t have to change everything to make a difference — but they did it in different ways. Here’s what I found.
Growing Up Green! Baby and Child Care
Simon & Schuster, 291 pages, $15.95
Tone: Everything you ever wanted to know, or maybe didn’t
Nice touch: Overview of studies on health and toxics lends heft
This slim volume, part of a series of green-living books by the wife of talk-jock Don Imus, is comprehensive in its coverage, if a bit dull. Front-loaded with information on toxics and health concerns, it goes on to suggest that parents clean up their act well before conceiving. Sections on greening the home, diet, and school are straightforward, but Imus walks a fine line between reality (suggesting a gradual switch to organics due to cost constraints) and fantasy (“If you’re not planning to do a home birth, you should choose a green hospital or birthing center”). A thorough resource section at the end includes not only recipes and helpful websites and books, but a rundown of legislation and studies related to toxics and health issues. Overall, it’s informative, but potentially overwhelming.
Organic Baby: Simple Steps for Healthy Living
Chronicle Books, 188 pages, $24.95
Tone: Martha Stewart meets the mommy generation
Nice touch: Tabbed navigation
I expected to be annoyed by this seemingly vapid volume, a glossy product of the Real Simple genre of colorful photos and DIY advice. But it was oddly soothing: The large format, generous white space, and supportive words were easy on the head. Clearly tabbed sections (nursery, gear, close to the skin, food, out in the world, resources) make the book user-friendly. Its basic advice is easy to understand, and there’s an awareness of income limitations throughout. The structure gets a bit repetitive, though (“You know that [insert traditional baby product here] you think is so great? It’s full of nasty stuff!”), and the author avoids recommending any products, although she does include a list of companies at the end. As a crafty complement to a more thorough book, it would work.
The Complete Organic Pregnancy
Deirdre Dolan and Alexandra Zissu
Collins, 276 pages, $14.95
Tone: Two mothers who have been there share anxieties and answers
Nice touch: Essays by everyone from Barbara Kingsolver to Moon Unit Zappa
Unlike the other books in this bunch, which tend to offer a chapter on pregnancy before moving on to baby and child care, The Complete Organic Pregnancy focuses primarily on the prenatal stage of life. In fact, it starts before pregnancy, with a list of areas in which you ought to opt for organic (food, home and work environments, fitness, wellness, beauty); then repeats the same structure for pregnancy and early post-pregnancy. Personal essays, though a bit long, add a nice touch to the text, as do the occasional hints of humor, starting with the book’s dedication “to Swiss chard.” In general, the authors have a comforting, familiar tone, but it disguises a somewhat unforgiving ethic: “living a complete organic life.”
Healthy Child Healthy World: Creating a Cleaner, Greener, Safer Home
Dutton, 321 pages, $25.95
Tone: Knowledgeable source tells it like it is, with glitzy stars for back-up
Nice touch: “Copy and carry” (aka clip ‘n’ save) tips and how-to lists
The premise of this new book is simple: We’re not asking you to make these choices because you’re “green”; we’re asking you to protect your child’s health. And from pregnancy through school-age, author Gavigan (with the help of contributions from celebs and scientists) walks readers through changes to make at home, with DIY instructions, answers to pesky questions (“How do I get rid of bottles of cleaners I no longer use?”), and painful puns that would make any Grist headline-writer proud. The tone is unrelentingly positive throughout, and suggestions have some heft to them: This isn’t just “write a letter to the editor,” but a how-to on writing that letter, covering all the right points, and getting it published. Not a light read by any means, but a useful resource to come back to.
Raising Baby Green: The Earth-Friendly Guide to Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Baby Care
Dr. Alan Greene
Jossey-Bass, 306 pages, $16.95
Tone: Reassuring, open-minded doctor talks to his patient
Nice touch: Some of the wonkiest info is saved for the appendices
Already considered a bible of sorts in the green-parenting world, this thorough guide addresses how parental choices affect both kiddos and the world at large. Its “room-by-room” structure — beginning with the womb and delivery room — is easy to follow, and Greene is a confidence-inspiring guide. The pediatrician even discusses doulas, midwives, and other alternatives that make many a mainstream physician woozy. The book doesn’t spend much time on the economics of going green, other than breezy assurances that it’s worth it, and overlooks one of the biggest areas facing new parents: all the crap — uh, I mean gear — pushed upon you. However, it does one thing that the others tend to skip: put these choices in the broader context of planetary, not just personal, health.
Green Babies, Sage Moms: The Ultimate Guide to Raising Your Organic Baby
NAL Trade, 234 pages, $14.00
Tone: Chatty gal pal comes close to talking your ear off
Nice touch: Each chapter ends with tips divided by commitment level (Evergreen, Pea Green, and Spring Green)
Reading Lynda Fassa’s book is like spending time with your chattiest girlfriend. The former model, now an organic-clothing entrepreneur, is bubbly to an extent that might normally make me cringe. Still, it’s hard to resist her warmth and frankness (“Because I started modeling at 16, by the time I had my first child at 30, I didn’t know too much about much else except, well, clothes.”). The book covers the gamut — with advice on food, clothing, cosmetics, and cleaners — and profiles eco-entrepreneurs including, to my surprise, our own Chip Giller (I swear I didn’t know!). But it suffers a bit from low production values (grainy black-and-white baby photos), as well as the assumption that the only thing that’s keeping any sane woman from making these changes is commitment, not cash flow. A fun read, but probably not tops in its class.
The bottom line: For its ability to pack a ton of information while maintaining a soothing and surprisingly upbeat tone, my vote initially goes to Healthy Child Healthy World. However, the word “World” is misleading in that title; I found Raising Baby Green the only book to consistently back away from personal health and look at planetary health as well — a valuable perspective in this increasingly me-focused movement.