One year ago today, I was sitting in a German hospital, feeling exhausted but well taken care of and ready for our new adventures as a family of four. My baby was one-day-old and his sister had just turned 4. Having had two children in two different countries (my oldest was born in the U.K.) and being a great believer in all things natural, I am (mostly) loving the way Germans go about raising babies and children in an eco-friendly and green manner.
Let me start at the beginning. Germany is a country that offers the standard pain killers when it comes to childbirth. But German hospitals also offer a wide range of non-medicated solutions for the birth. Homeopathy, pools, birthing balls, swings, etc were all pretty much standard fare in the room I was giving birth in at a mainstream hospital. These were not treated as extras one can have if they are available or if you are lucky, they were an integral part of the birth experience and rightly so. There are also many clinics where natural birth is emphasised and drugs only used as last resorts.
Breastfeeding is the norm in Germany. We all know that even just a few days of breastfeeding gives the baby the best start in life. According to La Leche League, Germany’s 86% of babies who were breastfed (even for only a few days) beats France’s (shocking) 50%, the UK’s 69%, the USA’s 70%, or even the Netherlands’ 75%, for example. When I gave birth to my son, nobody asked me if I wanted to breastfeed while at the hospital. It was automatically assumed that this was the best thing to do and he was put to the breast straight away. Support is also excellent and all midwives at the hospital and the one who came (for free) to my house for 8 weeks after his birth were full of tips and gentle positive support. Such a nice change from the bad experience I had first time round (in the U.K.).
Wear your baby
Wearing your baby is also extremely popular in Germany (as in many other European countries): slings, carriers and other carrying options are everywhere and a must-have accessory for mums. A lot of the German mums I have seen like to use a soft wrap for when baby is small and then a more structured carrier. Toddlers get carried by their mothers long after they can walk. Mums, dads, everyone carries their baby that way. Of course, there are plenty of pushchairs and strollers around too, but baby wearing is a lot more mainstream than in other countries I have been to.
There is no such thing as bad weather
This is a German saying. Only bad clothing exists. So no matter what the weather is babies, children and adults alike are out and about. It is raining? No worries, dress your kids head to toe in rain-proof gear and send them to one of the great playgrounds around town. Babies are left to nap outdoors (as in many Nordic countries) in their strollers too.
On your bike
German babies (probably like Dutch babies) are not only are outdoors a lot, but they also get to ride bikes really early on in their life. Babies as young as 1, get a small push bike for their birthday and are let loose in the street while their parents walk or bike by their side. There is a really big bike culture here and when those toddlers are not on their own bikes, they are being pulled along behind their parents’ one.
Buy at the children’s flea markets
I love the German culture of one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. Weekends are full of second-hand markets everywhere in town. And some of those markets are specifically for baby and children items. Most kindergartens organise their annual flea market. So if you are looking to save money or be eco-friendly by re-using clothes and toys, Germany is a paradise. People take good care of their belongings, so it is really easy to get great bargains.
Wooden toys are also really common in Germany. Some great wooden toy manufacturers are actually Germans (like Haba or Selecta). Usually these simple baby or children’s toys are great quality and last a lifetime. They are made from sustainable wood resources and with non-toxic paints. And contrary to some old-fashioned belief, these are not dangerous and children will not get splinters in their hands or mouth!! We are really fond of those as a family and love to minimise plastic wherever we can.
Eat local and fresh
Just like everywhere else in the world, the big organic food movement is huge in Germany. Large supermarkets are not where middle-class Germans shop. They love to go to different little outlets and to the market every week. It allows a lot of people to eat local and very fresh food. Babies get fed veggies from about 6 months old. Junk food and ready meals for babies/children are non-existent. At my daughter’s kindergarten a snack is a piece of pepper or cucumber.
I am not sure this falls into the green baby kind of category as this is more of a general comment about parenting in Germany. Yet, it goes along with most of the other points above. There is no such thing as helicopter parenting in Germany. Children (from a really young age) are encouraged to fend for themselves and be independent. Kids are let loose on the playground, for example, mostly unsupervised. People trust their kids (as far as letting them walk home alone). It is kind of refreshing in today’s society.