My son was born with a congenital heart defect, which thrust my green living family into the not-so-green world of Western medicine. We were blessed to have a natural home birth assisted by caring midwives before entering the world of surgeons and intensive care. Throughout this process, including our most recent stay in the hospital, I have looked for ways to make the experience greener, and to minimize the toxins my son is exposed to while getting the medical care he needs. Not only will these suggestions green your hospital visit, but they will also provide your child with comfort by providing familiarity to the hospital stay. Please note that this post is not intended to give medical advice, and all changes you make to your child’s care should be discussed with the doctor first.
1. Bring Your Own Organic Food
When my son first had open-heart surgery, breastfeeding supplied his nourishment, although pumping was required. If you are concerned about Bisphenol A (BPA), be sure to remember your own BPA free bottles or sippy cups, as you may have to pump breastmilk initially for a child recovering from surgery. During our last hospital stay, we brought our own organic food to the ICU. In my experience, the first nourishment they give a child after surgery is a popsicle, soda, or juice. After being exposed to so many meds and germs, I want my child’s first drink after a fast to be organic. Organic juice boxes are convenient in such a situation, although they do use excessive packaging. When your child is ready for solid food, their favorite organic foods make a nice replacement for the hospital food, and your child will recover more quickly from eating the foods they like. It is important to check with your child’s doctor about any dietary restrictions and follow this advice.
2. Bring Your Own Beauty Products
Don’t forget your own toothpastes and soaps when planning a hospital stay. When the nurses gave my son a bath with Johnson & Johnson’s Original Baby Shampoo, which scores a 5 out of 10 on Skin Deep, my son broke out in a horrible rash all over his body. The nurses felt terrible, and we learned the hard way to bring our own green beauty products to the hospital. The last thing a child needs in this situation is to have their suffering increased by unnatural beauty products, and you can feel better that you have not abandoned your green living principles during the hospital stay.
3. What Diapers Will You Use?
After surgery, my son was put in Pampers, and an hour later, another rash erupted. We used cloth diapers at home, but I did not bring any to the hospital, as I felt we would have no way to deal with them. Seventh Generation unbleached diapers offered a good solution (this was before gDiapers), and the doctors used to comment on how they looked like the brown napkins from the cafeteria. Consider your child’s diapering needs before being admitted to the hospital, and ask if there are any accommodations for cloth. As it turns out, UCSF Children’s Hospital had a regular supply of cloth diapers that we could have used if we would have brought our own covers.
4. Provide Toys, Books, and Clothes From Home
The more like home you can make your child’s hospital stay, the better it will be for your child. Bringing their favorite organic teddy bear and pajamas will eliminate the need for hospital gowns and provide comfort. Unless these items are already green, this may not green your family’s stay, but your child will benefit. Babytoolkit offers an extensive post "What to Take When Your ER Visit May Become a Hospital Stay."
5. Pack Out the Recycling!
Some hospitals may have recycling bins near the cafeteria, but in my experience, these bins are not sufficient to accommodate all of your recycling needs. During our stay, the NICU did not wash baby bottles, but they continually used new, sterilized bottles. This is also true for pumped breastmilk and its storage. I came home from the hospital with two grocery bags full of plastic bottles, with every intent to reuse them. These bottles ended up in the recycling bin, but this is a much better option than the landfill. Who knows, your efforts to pack it out might inspire other parents and the nurses to change their disposable ways.
If you have a choice, selecting a green hospital will make your family’s hospital stay more eco-friendly; however, the green hospital of your choice may not be an option for your child’s medical needs. What makes a hospital green? The Green Guide used 12 criteria for rating green hospitals: 1) siting, 2) water efficiency, 3) energy and air pollutions, 4) materials and resources, 5) indoor environmental quality, 6) healthy hospital food, 7) green education, 8) procurement, 9) contaminants, 10) green cleaning, 11) waste reduction, and 12) healing gardens. The greenest hospital in the country is Boulder Community Hospital Foothills Campus. "Hospitals are the heart and soul of the community and we need to be open for business no matter what," says Kai Abelkis, environmental coordinator for Boulder Community Hospital in Boulder, Colorado. "If the hospitals in New Orleans had solar panels, at least they could have kept the respirators going. If hospitals upgraded to more efficient lighting, we could save a considerable sum, enhance emergency preparedness and improve air quality."
The more you can make your child’s hospital stay like home, the better your child will adapt and recover. For green families, this means bringing green products to the hospital and carrying out any recycling. Just like when going into the wilderness, the green hospital stay follows the credo "if you pack it in, you pack it out" (with the exception of medical waste!). If you can’t bring these items or know in advance what you might need, find the closest health food store or coop to the hospital, and ask a friend or relative to run an errand for you. By greening your family’s hospital stay, you will alleviate one less stress during these difficult times.