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Natural Parenting in Costa Rica

While there's no single definition of "natural parenting," my husband and I define this concept as raising our son in a way that comes naturally, regardless of social conventions. The details will be different for everyone, but when I found out we were expecting our first child, visions of cloth diapers, breastfeeding, and outdoor romps danced in our heads.

Costa Rica is very kid-friendly, and babies are almost like public property. Everyone is willing to lend a helping hand, but they also have their own opinions on how to raise your child. If you have Costa Rican family, you'll be bombarded by well-intentioned advice on everything from breastfeeding (you must nurse for six months minimum, or the world will end) to your baby's cries (let him cry it out; it's good for his lungs). Strike a compromise: listen well, but go with your gut.

As my husband and I waded through a sea of advice, we also worked to narrow down the details of our natural parenting style. We planned to breastfeed, cloth diaper, co-sleep (but not bed-share), play outdoors, and follow baby-led weaning. One notable discovery: the vaccination debate is nearly moot in Costa Rica. By law, all children are required to follow the government-mandated vaccination schedule, which is almost identical to the U.S. vaccine regimen. Some private doctors are willing to delay or selectively vaccinate, but this practice skirts the law. To enter public or private school, your children must be up-to-date on their shots.

I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Costa Rica is very pro-breastfeeding. During our parenting class, medical staff emphasized the financial and health benefits of nursing. After my son was born, a lactation consultant visited me several times a day in the hospital to give advice and help troubleshoot breastfeeding issues. The nursing staff supported my efforts, constantly praising my decision to nurse my son. As a new mother, unsure of what I was doing, this positive reinforcement was incredibly encouraging.

Now, almost three months later, I continue to feel supported and buoyed in my efforts. There is no shame in public breastfeeding in Costa Rica. In fact, as soon as my baby fusses, shop owners rush to find me a chair and a comfortable spot to nurse. No one stares while I feed him, and strangers often stop by to coo at my son. Making him wait until I find a corner to hide in is not expected or accepted. 

Another surprise awaited me at the public hospital where my son was born. As soon as I had recovered from the birth, a nurse placed my newborn in my arms, and that is where he stayed for the duration of our two-day stay. There are no bedside cradles or hospital nurseries in public hospitals. To encourage the mother-child relationship, you will bed-share with your child. Yes, this may mean sleepless nights, but our constant togetherness so early in my child's life fostered an incredible bond.

The first stumbling block in our natural parenting plans was with diapering options. There were many reasons that we didn't want to use disposable diapers, and one was cost. A recent news report states that the average Costa Rican spends about $1,600 a year, per child on diapers. If the average child is fully potty trained by around 36 months, disposables represent a $4,000 investment!

And yet, cloth diapers are hard to find in Costa Rica. My husband and I ended up buying diapers in the U.S., and we spent $350 on everything we'll need until our son is potty trained. However, I've since learned that birdseye flat diapers (known locally as ojo de perdiz) and prefolds are readily available, and that a few stores sell modern cloth diapers. There's even a Costa Rican brand called BUBU that recommends 12 small and 12 large diapers for full-time diapering. At about $16 per diaper, you could save $3,500 over the course of one child's diaper life.

To date, most of our natural parenting decisions have been easy. My husband and I eat lots of fruits and vegetables, and so will our son (when he's ready). I find that living here encourages a healthy lifestyle, which extends to my family. Natural parenting in Costa Rica is easy, if you can just hop over a few hurdles.

Natural Parenting in Costa Rica in Pictures