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We Gotta Ditch the Baby Wipes

I know I sound like someone rocking a tinfoil hat sometimes when it comes to environmentally friendly choices in parenting, but the issues around baby wipes are ENORMOUS. Most families I work with go through several giant bulk boxes of wet wipes every month. The actual and environmental costs of using baby wipes for each diaper change (yep, even the “natural” ones) and for our own hygiene add up quickly.

Good thing there are some simple solutions to this growing problem. It’s easy to make the switch to reusable flannel pads for urine — for baby and adult — and the savings are HUGE. Read on to learn more.

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Nanny Contracts Part 1 : For the Nanny

According the the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are over 1.2 million nannies working in the US, with an average growth rate of 7% per year, plus the steady stream of job openings due to care takers leaving for similar or more skilled occupations regularly. 

Unfortunately, the value of childcare in this country is dismal. It’s become a political talking point amongst conservatives and progressives alike, but little has changed in the reality of in-home care being an under regulated, underpaid, undervalued job sector. Though many nannies are working full time and are asked by the families they work with to have some level of education and advanced certification (such as CPR and First Aid, more if working with very young children) like care providers at daycares and preschools, they are rarely paid as well or given considerations like sick days or paid vacation days. They’re often paid under the table, which has some benefits for some, but can cause complications for many career nannies. 

In some areas, nanny agencies, both open hearted and predatory, have emerged to fill in some of the gaps in communication and regulation between family and care provider. The best of them provide certifications, career support, arbitration, and financial protection for the nannies while providing security and ease of service for families. The more unsavory agencies charge exorbitant rates, skim large amounts off the top (usually meaning the nannies get paid pennies on the dollar), provide little more than head hunting services, and have themselves tightly bound legally so that they don’t have to extend their involvement in contractual or legal issues beyond terminating the agreement. 

No matter how the arrangement is first formed between nanny and family, one massively undercooked component of forming a safe, healthy, mutually beneficial, and long-term relationship is in having a solid contract. 

I find that when I am working with doulas on their client contracts, they often are afraid of adding much of anything to their documents out of fear that it will seem aggressive, or like they are accusing their clients of the worst at the onset of the arrangement. I always urge them to consider the opposite — that having the chance to talk about expectations sets the stage for talking about positive aspects of the agreement foremost, while possibly protecting you from potential arguments later down the road. As professionals and parents, no one should fear honest conversations around frameworks of care.

For you as a nanny, you should have already taken the time to consider your needs — financial, physical, in scheduling, with regards to communication style, etc. — before starting to take interviews. Not that these things can’t shift if you find the right match otherwise, but it is an essential practice when applying to a job in any profession to form an opinion on these things beforehand.

Coming into negotiations — and there’s no reason to brush over the fact that even in this caring profession, you are negotiating your needs as a business person in the interviews and hiring process, so don’t shy away from it — with your needs already defined for yourself will help you seem committed to the work, easy to work with, that take your work seriously (which should be a strong selling point for any parent leaving their children in your care), and are open to communicating honestly. These are all assets in care work, even if they aren’t what’s typically highlighted in discussions around nanny requirements. 

In terms of working with a contract, it is still not common practice for families to do so. You may need to take the initial leap of suggesting one be made. You might also want to make the initial step of presenting a family with something you wrote in advance. It can be a strong component of your interviews to bring a sample contract along. There’s no reason to view that as an affront or aggression, so don’t deliver it hesitantly. You can confidently speak to how you came about choosing the terms within it, offer it as another way you are helping take some stress off parents by having these terms worked out in advance, and remind them that this is just the first step in the negotiations and that you may be amenable to components of the contract pre-hire and perhaps even as the relationship develops. 

Again, on the note on feeling hesitant that families might react poorly to such a move, I want to suggest that that situation might signal a red flag anyway. If that family does not see the contract in it’s essence (so that’s not to say that they have particular issues with what’s in the contract, which might be amended after talking it over more) to be a promising sign, it might be that they don’t want to see you as a working professional of value and you may have issues around your needs as things move along. This is particularly true if this work is going to be full-time and / or your sole source of income, but it is true regardless of those things, too. You are going to be expected to give a high level of care to their children, so they should treat your role with a high level of respect. Period. 

Now, having said that, you are unlikely to get a positive response from many families if your contract is a copy and paste document with difficult, technical legal language which neither party fully understands. I say this constantly with my students and mentees — If neither party understands what they’re signing, neither party is truly protected. 

Same for if the bulk of the contract is covering liability alone. Paragraph after paragraph of what you are NOT liable for still, quite honestly, can only protect you so much (no matter how often you say “not liable,” you can still be tried for gross negligence) and can set the stage for a tense relationship. To put it bluntly, no one wants to start a relationship on having to read three pages of legal language around dead babies. You should consider some terms of liability, but you should also purchase (or have the family cover for you) liability insurance, which you can make note of in your contract in simple and effective language. Having a statement of Scope of Practice and approved services rendered goes a long way in covering liability concerns, too, so make sure you consider what that will look like in advance. 

Nor should your contract be exclusively about getting paid. That is an issue I come across with doula contracts constantly — they are often one page documents with a paragraph about liability and six paragraphs about payment and that’s that. Though it is important that both issues are addressed in your contracts, it’s important for the contract to express the nature of this relationship as a two-way street, which means that you need to offer your scope and accountability as well as the ways and amounts you wish to be paid. 

Addressing both those concerns with clear, simple, firm language will hopefully help stave off some of the anxieties around contract negotiating feeling overtly aggressive or lopsided. 

Beyond those elements, some things to consider either putting directly into your sample contract from the outset or at least having a formal offer to present in writing are :

  • Handling Illness — Missed days and otherwise

  • Vacation Days

  • Health Insurance

  • Car Usage

  • Reimbursement Methods for Accrued Expenses / Per Diem

  • Backup Providers

  • Cancellation and Rescheduling Terms

  • Performance Review and Raises / Bonuses

  • Taxes


Returning to the subject of working with an agency, it is important that you consider those terms if you have the umbrella of an organization, too. Some agencies are more hands on in their contracts — setting the terms of expectations — while others do little more than pairing families with nannies and remain hands off regarding how the relationship unfolds. 

If you are working with a more interactive agency, it is totally fine to negotiate your contract to include certain terms that work well for you. Professionals do this all the time when starting new jobs, and if you are a professional nanny, you should have the option to do so, too. If they won’t budge and these terms are important to you, you can figure out having an addenda (aka an added form) to you contract that you sign with the family (there are specifics on how to make that legally binding you’ll have to consider) or it might mean that you are going to have to find work outside of this particular agency. It is important, too, that you read over and discuss the contract that you have with the agency itself to make sure you are getting a good deal and are offered some accommodation in what they’re providing at cost. And I cannot stress this enough, when working with an agency, you should read and be privy to signing EVERY contract between you and the family, not just a contract between you and the agency. You are an independent contractor in this scenario and you are going to be held the most liable in the case of an unfortunate event, so you must be able to see what you are signing onto and be part of that negotiation of accountability and action. If an agency fights you on that front, it is unlikely they understand the best interests of the care provider and it might be a good idea to look for work elsewhere. 

If you are working through an agency that is more on the matchmaking side, you should still be able to have an independent contract with the family. You might have a tremendous amount of flexibility and control in this regard, but it’s a good idea to check back in with the terms of the pairing service. 

Okay, so I hope that helps you feel more confident about your ability to take charge of your career as a nanny and to put it in writing. 

I offer Nanny Contract Writing packages and consultations, so please reach out if you have questions about how I might be able to help you. You could also consider checking out my booklet Contract Writing for Doulas (and Other Birth Workers), which dives deeper into these issues and more, much of which is very applicable for any in-home care provider. My workshops, too, can offer you a chance to sit and edit or draft your contracts in real time and leave you with some hard questions answered, so come on and join us doulas anytime. 

Good luck!

World Ocean Day

In honor of World Oceans Day, I’d like to share some actionable, easy, and budget-friendly ways for new parents to make decisions that are gentle on the oceans.

We don’t have to feel like we need to do everything or give up entirely. Each thing we do makes a difference in the overall health of our families and our planet over time. You have the opportunity to create systems that you instill in your children that will have an enormous lasting impact starting from the time they are infants. How cool is that?!

I’m going to take the Top 3 sources of ocean pollution and give one tip for how you can personally make a difference in your growing family.

Plastics


By every estimate, the amount of plastics in our oceans is by far the biggest risk to long term ocean health. New parents are bombarded with suggestions for what to purchase and many of these baby and parent items are made of soft, non-recyclable, non-biodegradable plastics.

The biggest way you can combat the increase of plastics in our oceans is to BUY LESS overall. Most of the items parents feel are necessary for their children in infancy we can do without. The plastic wipe warmer that you also have to plug in? ...Definitely not necessary. Twenty different “development” toys made of plastic? ...2-3 age-appropriate toys made from organic materials are plenty -- babies need your voice and love to develop, not a lot of plastic toys. If you do want to purchase more than less, you could get items second hand or focus on gathering non-plastic items that grow along with your child instead.

Another big way to limit plastics in infancy is to NOT BUY PLASTIC BOTTLES. I’ve written about how using glass and stainless steel bottles is not only good for the environment, but significantly better for your baby’s health before. Even if it says it’s “BPA free,” the materials used for children’s feeding items (in infancy and beyond) are full of many chemicals known to cause problems for long term health of children AND the ocean. Major bonus - you don’t need to sterilize glass and steel bottles, cutting out extra work and loads of extra plastics and other energy sources. This will save you a ton of time and money, too.

The cumulative amount of plastic produced since the mid-20th century is of the order of 5 billion tons, enough to wrap the Earth in a layer of plastic wrap. The amount projected by 2050, on current trends, is about 40 billion tons, which is enough to wrap 6 layers of plastic wrap around the planet.

source -  Saftey4Sea


Chemicals

Here’s another action I love sharing because it hits on three huge things parents care about - infant health, saving money, and being more ocean-friendly. DON’T BUY TWO SETS OF CLEANING SOLVENTS.

Run-off toxins in waterways is called “non-point source pollution.” Chemicals from land, including toxins from car gas, agricultural runoff, and chemicals from items in our homes enter our waterways and reach the ocean in enormous concentrations. They can cause areas of algae bloom or “dead zones” and wipe out marine life across huge patches of ocean.

Many families are rightly concerned about the chemicals touching their baby’s sensitive bodies. There are loads of companies which make gentle cleaning products for baby items and that area of the beauty and home cleaning industry has exploded in recent years.Where that may address some issues around chemical exposure in babies, in reality, this in isolation isn’t doing much for your infant’s health or the environment.

It’s two-fold : For one thing, it’s not environmentally friendly to purchase two sets of things -- One that’s okay for adults and one that’s okay for babies. That’s usually two sets of plastic containers, two sets of shipping emissions, two sets of production emissions, and so on. Secondly, your baby is exposed to the chemicals present throughout your home and your person. Even if you have separate cleaning materials for baby’s food containers, laundry, and room, if you use harsh chemicals to clean the rest of your home and personal items, your baby is being exposed to those chemicals at the same rate and so are the oceans through runoff.

Purchasing all home cleaning items in bulk, in glass containers, with low or no non-biodegradable chemicals, or making your own cleaning items with natural ingredients will go along way in improving the health of you and your baby.

Other Single Use Disposables

Living in Santa Cruz has given me a deeper appreciation for our seas and the human connection to this water.

Living in Santa Cruz has given me a deeper appreciation for our seas and the human connection to this water.

Our beaches are littered with trash from all over the world. Non-recyclable paper and cotton items are one of the largest contributors to global ocean waste.

Many parents utilize several items of single use paper and cotton items in infant hygiene. Giant boxes of diaper wipes go by in a flash. Cotton swabs and Q-Tips start to be purchased in bulk. Plastic-covered absorbent pads suddenly enter your life as disposable on the go changing stations.

Though you might not think it’s possible to keep your baby clean easily without these things, they are very very recent developments in parenting and you can definitely use less or go without. Plus, going without can save you a ton of money in the long run.


Even supposedly biodegradable wipes that get flushed or taken to industrial landfills are rarely completely broken down, often clog waterways and drainage systems, and very often contain some plastics in the weave of the actual wipe and of course in the packaging.

It might not be realistic for many families to use cloth diapers, it is pretty easy to switch to reusable wipes for pee diapers and other baby hygiene purposes, saving the disposable wipes for poo diapers only. Since baby pee is rarely as smelly or concentrated as adult pee, it’s easy to throw these small washable wipes into a basket by your changing station and be thrown in with any load of laundry. This will save you a TON of money, stress about restocking your wipes, and it’s great for ocean health.

You can easily make your own from cotton flannel, or you can purchase them online. It’s great to have a few different sizes around. Once your baby is out of diapers, these make for great replacements for your cotton face wipes for removing makeup, cleaning small wounds, or cleaning up the constant debris on your growing child’s face.

You can purchase many of these items and more by visiting the Life Without Plastic store.


Hope you consider making one or more of these easy and ocean-friendly switches in your family. I see families implement these things all the time and can tell you they’re just as easy as the heavy polluting options, if not easier.


Buy less. Buy better. Buy better for the Ocean.

 

Plastic Free Breast Feeding

I’m on a plastic-free kick lately. Wanting to share so much more with the folks I work with, both expectant families and folks I see about general health care concerns.

Freezing-Breast-Milk-Mason-Jars.jpg

I was here thinking, probably like many of you, that switching to silicone was a good step. However, I got schooled a bit on silicone today by my work pal, Friday Apaliski, The Sustainability Concierge, and she helped me realize a few key details about certain storage options for breast milk. Turns out, glass and stainless steel are still the way to go, from start to finish if you’re going to be pumping, storing, and feeding through bottles. Silicone is a bit better than the thin plastics used in most baby items, but new research is showing how silicone items might also be leeching chemicals (and most silicone-based storage item and bottle have plastic fillers in them) when heated AND when frozen.

Some elements of switching to glass or steel take some effort, but mostly, you won’t notice a difference. Here are a few easy options :

plastic free ice cube storage
  • Stainless steel ice cube trays are more expensive than plastic or silicone, but are much more durable, just as easy (or easier) to use, don’t have any of the harmful chemicals that can get into your precious milk, and will last a lifetime. An investment in two trays should cover a good supply of milk and will carry over to freezing prepared foods for your baby when they’re eating solids or just as regular old ice cube trays. See the advice below on grease pencils for labeling…You can buy stainless steel ice cube trays for milk storage on Life Without Plastic and the Plastic Free Shop and probably loads of local stores.


  • If you want to store milk in glass jars in the freezer, you have to buy glass jars that run straight up and down. This means 12oz jam jars, pint jars, and 1.5 pint jars only. One case of any of these should suit you. Hopefully, you’ve picked some up for homemade broth and quick pickles to help fight off GBS in pregnancy so you already have some, but if not, you can find them at most hardware and grocery stores and all over the place online (I suggest NOT Amazon, if you can help it). Friday suggested putting the jarred milk in the freezer with the lid off till it’s frozen to ensure it can easily expand without cracking the glass. She used to mark the flat part of the lids with a grease pencil with the date of pumping. You can use any type of glass jar, including this Mason Bottle, if you are leaving the milk in the fridge.


  • You can fit your glass bottles right on to your breast pump! No need to pump into plastic and fiddle with transporting it into something else, unless you are freezing what you are pumping. Easy-peasy. No need to ever purchase ANY plastic bottles for babe. Here’s the rundown of the Best Glass Bottles according to The Bump. Ideally, you can switch away from plastic nipples, too, like these natural rubber nipples from EcoViking.

Image via Friday Apaliski

Image via Friday Apaliski

Well, there they are…just a few easy steps and for the same cost and ease as the plastic alternatives. I’m happy to help you set up this plastic-free system through some postpartum consultations or through a separate consultations focused primarily on how to have a plastic-free, environmentally considerate, and healthier plan for postpartum. I can do these in-person in San Francisco, Oakland, and Berkeley or online anywhere. You can also check in with Friday if you want someone to do your green baby registry for you! How cool is that?

If you want more information on why you should switch away from plastics for your baby’s milk storage, check out these links :

 

Many of the items mentioned above can be found at Life Without Plastic. Follow the link above to shop the plastic free store.

Make a Green Baby Shower Gift Basket for about $100

Okay okay okay, I have to admit it -- I’m the baby shower buzz kill. I’m just frankly no fun when it comes to baby gifts. I have my reasons though, so hear me out.

I’ve been working in childcare for almost 15 years, 10 of which as a birth and postpartum doula and parent educator. I am by nature a fairly minimalist person. Blame it on my Swedish grandmother. The amount of baby stuff has tripled in the past few years, and I have to tell you all, IT’S MOSTLY CRAP. Worthless, plastic, expensive, crap. Sometimes dangerous, worthless, expensive, plastic, crap.

Our planet is on a fast track toward demise. Sorry to be gloomy here, but we all know it. The fires raging here in California, the hurricanes hitting our families and friends back East, conflicts in resource-rich parts of the world. We are literally on fire. Luckily, we can do something about it.

environmental baby

One of the big ways we can make change is in choices in parenting. Starting a new family is an awesome opportunity to make healthful and environmentally conscious changes that will spread through the lifetime of this new person. If you have someone in your life who is starting or expanding their family and want to give your warmth and love for them through gifts, you can help by making smart and “green” choices in your gift giving. We can all chip in bit by bit without having to go crazy on bespoke items or GOOP approved nonsense.

Here is a quick list of environmentally considerate items you can gather for a very sweet baby shower basket for about $100 dollars (please please please try and buy these in store and even second hand versus online if you can for double the green points!) :

Basket #1

Glass baby bottles $12 each or $36 for 4

Silicone breast milk freezer storage $10 for one

Herbal Sitz Baths $14 for a pack of 2

Organic cotton baby swaddles $40 for a set of 3

Basket #2

Full glass bottle set $60

Milky Mama lactation cookies $16 with shipping

Mrs. Patel’s Lactation Chai $16 with shipping

Basket #3

Glass baby bottles $18 for one 8oz bottle

Organic Cotton Moby Wrap $60

Organic herbal perineum balm $13

Basket #4


Glass baby bottle set of 4 $36

Washable wipes ~ $10 for a set of 12 (I recommend buying at least 2 packs of 12)

Scarlet Sage Lactation tea $16

Organic cotton burp cloths $16


Yep, all of them have glass bottles on the list. Plastic bottles are horrible for the environment, horrible for our health, and deprive infants of some of the essential fats and nutrients in exchange for pumping chemicals directly into their bodies (also this). Switching away from plastic toward glass and silicone (without plastic filler) or even better — stainless steel, is one of the biggest steps we can take in lessening the footprint and improving the health of our little ones. Glass bottles are easy to clean, last a lifetime, and can be placed directly on pumping equipment, too!  

More tips on “Green Gifting” and “Green Shopping” for new parents :


First off, you could not purchase anything. Take the money that would be spent on some useless gadget or yet another onesie and stock your cabinet with healthy postpartum snacks or hire a doula or put it toward your home birth kit. Ask your friends and family to chip in to a fund for these items that are proven to be helpful in birth and postpartum instead of wasting their money on Amazon purchases you don’t need. (See...buzz kill, but TRUST ME, this is so helpful.)

Secondly, you can purchase things second hand. There are loads of great local shops that specialize in maternity and infant items that are gently used, or even not used at all and consigned to them. Babies grow fast, someone’s great Aunt Marg insisted on buying them double of something, and lots of times families find that certain things just don’t work for them. That’s where these shops thrive. You can go in and take a peak at various items to pick up for yourselves or for a loved one expecting another little being. The price tag will be greatly changed, you’re supporting local businesses (many of them women-owned), you’re making less of a dent in your baby’s footprint, and you get to actually test drive some things before purchase.

Lastly, as much as it seems like a Herculean feat to leave your house in the first few weeks postpartum, I want to caution you to resist the lure of same-day shipping shopping sprees. (Buzzkill again...I’m not sorry about it.) This is multi-fold, friends. You will be less likely to bunch things into your cart you don’t need, fall privy to advertising of plastic garbage you didn’t know you didn’t even need that was irresistible during an infant tantrum at 3am, short shipping times are an absolute nightmare for the environment, and it’s more money and time spent away from getting hands-on supportive help and more money to the corporations making the biggest disasters in our environment. Your bestie really wants to help you in the first few weeks, so send them out to Natural Resources for those silicone breastmilk storage containers! Your dad doesn’t want to see your boobs, but wants to be helpful, you say? Great, send him over to Scarlet Sage for your herbal sitz bath then to Berkeley Bowl for some broth and mac & cheese.

Again, after more than a decade of observing families in the postpartum period, I can tell you that NO gadget or pile of clothing can replace putting your money and the time and effort of your loved ones like investments in lactations support, grocery store gift certificates, acupuncture appointments, postpartum massages, herbal support from a midwife, and postpartum doula care. Plus, all these things are much much more gentle on the environment.

Want to put together an environmentally friendly baby shower registry but don’t know where to begin, let Friday aka the Sustainability Concierge, do it for you! Or give me a call on all things postpartum and we can chat about it. I do phone consults starting at $45 an hour, or full packages for $380-450. These investments can save you a ton of time, money, increase confidence, and lower your carbon footprint all in one go! Let’s get to it.

If you do shop online for these products, one of the best resources out there is Life Without Plastic, which has pages and pages of baby and kiddo items which are plastic free so check them out!