First, let me mention again that Portland, OR is an amazing place to be an alternative, eco-minded parent. If you are reading this from elsewhere, you might have different resources available. I'd be interested to learn about your options and choices. Also, if you can help the overwhelmed parents get organized, sometimes it's nice to create a system where people can contribute to a big purchase item.
There are great sites online to make registries where you can just check off the items and buy them wherever is convenient/sustainable/local. Here's a link to another blog who already did the research so I don't have to: http://www.mom365.com/Wisdom/Pregnancy/Second%20Trimester/5%20Best%20Registry%20Sites.aspx
Consider these ideas if you're buying a shower or new baby gift for a family that wants to live as sustainably as reasonable (for them).
Hand-me-downs are amazing. Check with the family to see if they are receiving hand-me-downs before buying a lot of clothes. Find out if they are getting just a certain age range, then get a different one.
If you do choose to buy clothes, second-hand shops are wonderful. The clothes are chosen carefully and a great deal more affordable than getting them new. Babies grow fast; some clothes never even get worn! There are also some eco-friendly shops that sell sustainable or fair trade baby clothes, if you must go new. A good pair of shoes for a 6-12 month-old is wonderful, as well. Try to avoid the cutesy clothes from the big box stores, as new, cheaply made clothes are sweat-shop made and just plain not necessary. Also, please avoid annoying gender-presumptive sayings all over the clothes that do not fit with the family you are buying for. "Daddy's Little Slugger", "Future Quarterback" or "Mommy's Little Princess" will most likely end up in the recycle bin, since second hand shops don't even want to go there.
Find out what the family plans to do about diapers. There are hundreds of options and it's a pretty personal choice. Almost everyone will be doing a little bit of disposables, for example overnight or traveling times. There are chlorine free disposables, as well as more eco-friendly options as well. Many cloth diapers have a size minimum, so most babies will wear the itsy-bitsy newborn diapers for the first few weeks.
Cloth diapers are a big initial investment, but can save a family thousands of dollars over time. Most people choose one system and don't mix and match, because of the washing instructions and fitting combinations. If they are totally overwhelmed, a nice gift might be doing some research for them or buying a few single options for them to try out. There are some shops that sell just diapers, or online shops that will deliver. I asked my co-workers to each give me a diaper, as they were $17 a piece, and I got a perfect set of 20-25. Another helpful option is to contribute to the cost of a diaper service.
We bought all of our baby furniture, from a beautiful co-sleeper, dresser, crib, changing table, on Craigslist. I felt it was worth the effort. I'm not sure how logical it is to get a shower/baby gift this way, but it certainly is a wonderful marketplace of baby items. Always take precautions for safety and always ask about the working order before you set up the purchase.
Big Box Stores
Even the most sustainable parent will venture into a big box store from time to time. It's inevitable. We tried to have a registry at Target, but found that most items were only available online and limited. Babies R Us is made for baby gifts, it's laid out logically and it makes things easy. They do sell some organic products as well. On the other hand, everything is made in China, many of the items are cheaply made, and they are not likely to worry about what something is made of beyond safety recalls. I put Amazon.com in this category, too. There are more items available, but it works in much the same way. Items to get at a big box store:
- car seat (not recommended second hand)
- breast pump and accessories (also not recommended second-hand, but if you get one from a friend, that is ideal)
- furniture when you're over-budget and don't have time to browse craigslist
- baby gates, baby-proofing gadgets