When you hear the words "energy" and "parenting" in the same sentence, the first thing you may think of is parents' own energy—or lack thereof—after many sleepless nights with a baby. But energy also comes into play when you're thinking about the many…MANY…baby products you could potentially use. (Seriously, have you been to the baby section of any store lately? Overwhelming.)
While some would argue that you really only need a few items for your baby, inevitably the nice to have stuff also seems to pile up. My husband and I welcomed our first baby eight months ago and we learned this firsthand. And a surprising amount of that "stuff" uses extra energy at home.
While saving energy may not be your first worry when you have a new baby (if you're like me, it's how to get any extra sleep you possibly can), it's not difficult to take advantage of your nice new baby items while also saving as much energy as possible. Here are a few ideas for saving energy and money when you bring home a new baby:
- If you use a swing for naps, turn if off once baby goes to sleep. Many parents find the swing to be indispensable, and we were among them. Our daughter took many naps in her swing. We have one that plugs into an outlet so we don't have to change batteries frequently, but it of course still uses electricity. We often found that once the swing lulled her to sleep, we could turn it off and our daughter would sleep better and longer.
- Buy LED night lights. Especially in those first few months, new parents are up a lot at night. We strategically placed night lights around the house so we didn’t have to flip on the overhead lights and wake everyone up more than necessary. We made sure to purchase LED night lights. There were many options available, and they were inexpensive to buy and to operate.
- Use products with timers. We have several products that play music, nature sounds, or white noise to help soothe baby. Many of these have timers so they aren't running indefinitely. As with the swing, sometimes baby will be fast asleep and won't even notice if the sounds turn off.
- Unplug products when they aren't being used. We've discussed vampire power on this blog before, and the idea also applies to your baby products. If you're not using it, unplug it!
- Go old fashioned with your baby's toys. There are tons of products on the market today that will entertain your child with loud noises, songs, and bright lights. Almost all of them require batteries or an electrical outlet. Many are fun and babies love them, but my baby also loves spatulas. Most babies are willing to play with and explore just about, so try out something simple before going to toys that use lots of energy.
Try cloth diapers and wipes. Lots to say about this one! You may be wondering how we save on energy costs when using cloth diapers, since using them requires extra loads of laundry. This is true, but we haven't actually seen much of an increase in our water or electricity bills since we started using them; our high-efficiency ENERGY STAR clothes washer certainly helps. We generally do 2-3 extra loads of diaper laundry per week, but we never have to run to the store for diapers or wipes, which saves on fuel and time. We actually seem to do less laundry with cloth than with disposable. Your mileage may vary, but the few times we temporarily switched to disposable diapers, we had lots of messy leaks and much more dirty laundry!
There seems to be a lot of disagreement about whether using cloth is actually an energy saver, both in terms of production and at home (though it seems to be for us), but consider the amount of waste produced—the EPA says that disposable diapers last centuries in landfills and the average baby will use thousands of them. That's a lot of diapers, and they aren't cheap. For a few hundred dollars, we purchased 28 diapers, which are adjustable to fit almost from birth through 30+ pounds, may last for more than one child, and which (you may be surprised to learn) actually have resale value.
Also, these aren't your grandmother's cloth diapers. There are tons of options, and many of today's cloth diapers are modern, cute and colorful, and as easy to put on as disposables—our daycare loves them. As for the wipes? We simply bought some cheap baby washcloths. We just run a stack under the faucet each day and store the damp cloths in a plastic container; we might use a spray bottle of water with baby wash mixed in if we're feeling fancy.
While they work great for us, cloth diapers definitely aren't for everyone; there is a ton of information online if you think they might work for you, and many vendors even have rental programs that allow you to try them out.
These are just a few ideas for how you can save energy with a new baby. Obviously everyone's parenting choices are different, and you may not agree with mine, but let's not debate that. Instead, please share your own ideas for how parents can save energy with a baby in the house!
Allison Casey is a senior communicator at DOE's National Renewable Energy Laboratory, which assists EERE in providing technical content for many of its websites.