Blueland's Co-founder Sarah Paiji Yoo, On pregnancy + the planet.

By Colleen Crivello

Calm and elegant, with her second on the way, sustainability champion Sarah is on a mission to save the planet one cleaning tablet at a time. 

Here, this thought-leader shares how new motherhood led her to launch Blueland, an environmentally conscious cleaning brand, after researching types of water for her son’s formula (hint: no matter bottled or tap, the average adult consumes up to a credit card size worth of plastic a week! Say what?). Plus, milk, maternity leave, and making babies. 

Path to pregnancy?

My first was a complete accident; we were married, but certainly had no intention of having a child that early. In retrospect, like many things, it happened the way that it was meant to happen because otherwise I would never have been “ready.”

This go-around, while not an accident, it also wasn’t a big decision. My son was three and a half; one day, I woke up and thought, “it’s now or never!” I checked my app, saw that I was ovulating, and we did it. Fast forward to the next morning, and I totally freaked out, but there were no take-backs. One and done.

Pregnant during Covid?

In February, we found out that we were pregnant, and life seemed great, manageable even. But when Covid hit NYC hard, and we went into lockdown, those early days of quarantine, especially when caretakers couldn’t come in, were really hard. With a company to run, my husband working full-time, a toddler at home, and newly pregnant, it was a lot, to say the least.

Initially, being in lockdown for the first trimester was almost unbearable, and it felt like a terrible time to be pregnant. When I was expecting my son, I worked at another start-up, Rockets of Awesome. During my first trimester we were launch mode, so I was super busy and loved that. Getting ready in the morning, putting on makeup, and heading out the door meant there was no time to wallow in my symptoms. In contrast, being holed up together at home in my pajamas with no makeup and not leaving exaggerated my symptoms. Plus, I wasn’t going to the gym, much less walking, which made me very sluggish. Of course looking back, it was an ideal time to be pregnant in many ways: I had zero FOMO, nowhere to be, nowhere to fly, no manufactures to meet, or panels to speak on, all things that I love to do but are challenging when pregnant and nauseous. Even better, it’s been a fantastic opportunity to prepare for maternity leave seeing as everyone has learned to work remotely. 

Cute and casual in The Penelope Knit Dress

Pregnancy feels?

I definitely felt worse the second time. Again, I think with the first, getting up and out the door every day helped, whereas with this one, being stagnant amplified my symptoms.

Cravings?

Dairy. All of it. In my non-pregnant life, I drink plant-based milk, so the fact that I want cheese, yogurt, and sometimes even straight-up cow milk is strange and a little gross. That’s been the main one for me, oh, and sushi, and coffee. I don’t know what it is, but I think it’s all the things that I know I’m not “supposed to have,” but I indulge. I have coffee every day and sushi once a week. I avoid tuna or high mercury fish, and I’m selective about where it’s from…basically no deli sushi.

Birth plan?

I had reasonably easy labor with my first, so I’m trying not to overthink it this time. Right now, my only plan is to get an epidural. I know it’s controversial in some circles, but last time I had an epidural, was able to take a nap, wake up rested, and push the baby out. Although, from what I understand, there’s more urgency with the second. Some of my mom-friends joke that you basically sneeze the baby out and can actually miss the epidural window, which is terrifying.

With my son, when I began to feel contractions, I knew I had about 24 hours, so I took a shower, freshened up, and relaxed as best I could. With this one, I won’t be so lax and head to the hospital quickly.

Considering the times we’re living, I’m grateful this is my second as I was much more overwhelmed with the first and incessantly googling. After having gone through it once, I realize there’s less urgency around pretty much everything. Fortunately, things seem to be normalizing at the hospitals: my husband can be with me now, and some visitors are allowed one by one after birth. A mask is still required, but I think with the epidural, it shouldn’t be too bad.

Maternity leave as a co-founder?

It’s a good question and will likely unfold in real-time. I can’t predict what the labor experience will be or my recovery for that matter. It may be quick and easy with a fast recovery, or I might have a C-section and a longer recovery or a colicky baby; who knows, there are so many variables.

Interestingly, I’m the only one on my team with children, therefore, I told my team I intend to go on maternity leave but will take it day by day and likely won’t be extended. I also feel it’s important to emphasize the value of maternity leave and set a good example for when they become parents.

This experience has been a dry-run for maternity leave as everyone has learned to work remotely. Without this time I would have had mixed emotions about being out of the office (perhaps even a little FOMO), but with things as they are, it is a blessing from a maternity leave perspective.

Couch surfing in Sarah in
The Cord Overall

The ah-ha moment for launching Blueland?

The story of Blueland is as much the story of a startup as it is a new mom’s journey. I breastfed for 11 months, and while fortunate my body could support that when I finally decided to switch him to formula (because of an extended work trip), I dove deep into investigating which formula. Typical first time mom, I did all the research, from which formula to what kind of water I should mix his formula with and whether NYC water is clean enough to use. In hindsight, it seems crazy but it led me to learn how our drinking water, bottled or tap, has thousands of pieces of micro-plastics in it. I started to connect the dots that all the plastic bottles we use end up in our drinking water, oceans, rivers, even the fish we eat, and now I’m using it to make my son’s formula. It started with me deciding to cut back on my own single use plastic, of which I learned it’s almost impossible to avoid plastic altogether. I realized from that experience that I wanted to make a more significant impact beyond my own consumption and find a way to give people more plastic-free household cleaning options. And that’s how the idea for Blueland came about.

Most surprising about pregnancy and motherhood?

I’m constantly surprised by how much we can take on as women; sometimes I even surprise myself! Between the business, the pandemic, moving houses mid-Covid, renovating, and going through terrible twos, I didn’t think I could handle it all. But often, when things are at their craziest, we find a way and figure it out. It’s a powerful reminder of how resilient and capable we are.

Any advice?

My advice, especially for first-time moms, is to breathe; most things are not as big of a deal as you think they are. I remember everything seemed like such an important decision with my first, and at the time, I let that crush me in terms of the amount of research I was doing to make the “absolute perfect choice” for every minor detail. With perspective, it all feels so insignificant. Now with this pregnancy, having gone through that experience, I don’t feel that same pressure. Therefore my advice would be to take the pressure off yourself and enjoy the ride. It will all be okay.

Sarah in The Shana Dress