Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Myth Busting - Baby Needs vs. Mommy Wants

Here in the United States we have a whole store - a warehouse-sized store - solely devoted to supplying parents with the things they need when the new baby arrives. The store has everything from clothing to cheap cloth diapers (usually relegated to "burp cloth") to high-end strollers and cribs (with all of the accessories: themed quilts, bumper pads and sheets sets, etc.). If it's made for baby, the store has it.

But that's just that one store. Other stores have whole aisles and/or sections devoted to stuff for babies.

"They" start 'em young, don't they?

When I was a poor college freshman and pregnant with my first child, I recall the lists I was given for my "layette" - those supplies parents will need when the baby is born.

Most layette clothing lists include:

8 Receiving Blankets
6 Onsies
4 Footed Sleepers (Terri cloth)
3 Lightweight Night Gowns
2 Blanket Sleepers
2 Hats
4 Booties or Socks
4 Rompers (Long Sleeved)
1 Sweater
6 Undershirts
4 Bibs
1 Snowsuit or Bunting
1 Dozen Cloth Diapers (Burp cloths)
2 or more newborn size Pacifiers

That list represents over a $100 worth of clothes, some of which may be used only once or twice, or worse, are never used and are just wasted money. Depending on the size of one's newborn and the size of clothing one purchases for one's layette, some things may never be used. Three of my five children were over 9 lbs when they were born and wore newborn sizes for about five minutes.

And the above list is just for the clothes. There are other lists for furniture (which includes a stroller, a baby swing, a changing table and a rocking chair ?!?); feeding (some research suggests is better not to give a breastfed baby a bottle - ever!); diapering; bedding; bathing; and health care.

As I said, when my first child was born, I was a poor college student, and I didn't have the money for all of those things, but I was certain I needed them, because everything I read told me I did. Unfortunately, because I didn't have all of the supplies I needed, I was sure I was a lesser parent. It never occurred to me to wonder, at the time, about the skills of previous generations of parents who never would have had access to all of thos supplies.

During my second pregnancy, I started to ponder those questions, and by baby three, I started to come up with some answers.

Our consumer-driven society does a real disservice to parents, especially first-time parents, and after five children, I have a very different list.

My list of things to purchase would include:

1 copy of The Baby Book by William and Martha Sears
1 baby sling
2 dozen onesies (1/2 dozen newborn size and the rest the next size up)
6 footed sleepers
2 dozen cloth diapers with covers (and at this point, I'd probably make them myself)
4 or 5 half-sized quilts or fleece blankets (like couch throws)
... and a car seat, because we're still a car culture, and transporting a baby in a car is illegal without a car seat.

Most of the other stuff is just unneccessary and, at best, will be used only once or twice as baby grows, and at worst, end up as useless clutter.

If I had it to do over again, I would never buy another receving blanket, but I would take some old tee-shirts or old sheets and sew a couple of layers together in a 24" square to use as burp cloths and changing pads (on the floor or on the bed, because I never had nor ever needed a changing table), which is the only thing my receiving blankets were ever used for. I would also not bother with undershirts, night gowns, socks, rompers, bibs, blanket sleepers (unless the baby was born during the winter), or pacifiers.

If I had it to do over again, I'd never purchase one of those hooded baby bath towels. They're too thin, and they're shaped oddly and difficult to use one-handed, which in my experience is how they must be manipulated, because the other hand is holding the baby. If I were going to purchase new towels for baby, I'd simply purchase regular bath towels, which the baby won't outgrow. I never used those plastic baby tubs, either, although I did like the sponge that was placed in the bath tub. I think a better choice, though, would be to use a small wash tub (or a really large bowl) lined with a towel, or just bathe baby in the sink. Likewise, those expensive baby soaps (which are really detergent) aren't necessary. They're pleasant for Mom, because they smell pretty, but baby doesn't need them. Warm water infused with a drop or two of an essential oil (like lavendar) is adequate.

If I had it to do over again, I wouldn't purchase anything on the "health and baby care" list, except a thermometer. The other things on the list can get a new parent into trouble, like baby Acetominophen. If a newborn has a fever, it's something a lot more serious than Tylenol can fix.

And I would NEVER, not in a million years, use "petroleum jelly" on my newborn baby's skin. It's not that far removed from smearing Valvoline all over the baby's body - same base ingredient. Likewise for those chemical-laden baby lotions. For dry skin (often caused from too many baths with commercial baby soaps - ask me how I know ;), what's in the kitchen cabinet is better than any commercial baby lotion. Unrefined coconut oil or cold pressed virgin olive oil are much healthier choices for baby's tender skin.

Other things would be considered as the baby grew, and we discovered what we needed, but there is no reason, except for pressure from our consumer-driven society, to purchase several hundred dollars worth of stuff for a layette.

I'm sure someone noticed that I didn't have "crib" on the list of "would haves", and no, that was not an oversight. Deus Ex Machina and I co-slept with our three youngest, and if we had another child, we'd co-sleep with that one, too. The crib was occasionally used, as a storage place for extra blankets and pillows, but no one slept there.

We also never used a stroller or a playpen, a swing or a changing table. Bottles wouldn't make my list, because I know I would breastfeed.

Our society does a great disservice to young parents by making them believe that the typical "layette list" represents things that will be needed, when, in fact, most of the items listed are useful, to a degree, but definitely not necessary, especially in the first few weeks of baby's life.

What a newborn actually needs is very simple: food, dry diapers, and a warm body against which to snuggle. None of those things need to be purchased in a store.


  1. I agree with almost the whole list. The only thing that I would purchase (probably used) would be a stroller. That was very important to me as I walked and ran with the baby! And the only thing I would purchase new would be a breast pump (I really needed it, unfortunately).

  2. My youngest child is also my third and I have been tend to space my children out so that I really tend to look at the "big" picture of overall child needs. My husband, unfortuantly LOVES the big baby box store. When we went to register for the babyshower it was a nightmare and I have things that he thought seemed like a good idea but we never used STILL IN THE PACKAGE.

    I will say though, I do like having a seperate place for the baby to sleep when they are old enough and ready. I have co-slept with all of my children but there came a time for each of them when they were ready to sleep alone and so having a crib at some point was nice.

    On the other hand, I STILL have a large bottle of lotion from when my now 6 year old was born. We just aren't really going through it I guess.

    1. I agree that the baby can use a place to sleep alone, eventually. My list is related to things parents are pressured into buying before the baby is even born ;).

  3. Great post. Totally agree with you on everything. The one item I was given when my daughter was born that I loved was a rocking chair. Definitely a "want", not a "need", but it was a nice piece of furniture that's usefulness lived on long after the rocking was done.

  4. I agree. My Sprouts haven't had a lot of the things the "experts" say we need, and Bro and I had even fewer of those things. I remember (before car seats were mandatory) sitting on a duct-taped phone book as a booster seat in the car AND at the dinner table! Those yellow pages sure got a lot of use in my house ;)

  5. Buying stuff you don't need, with money you haven't got, to impress (/placate) people you don't know.

    That's the game wether your coming into this world , leaving it, or passing through.

    Modern life is rubbish

  6. :-D

    I would add swaddling blankets tot he list. My baby liked the swaddle for the first 2 or 3 months and seemed calmer during breastfeeding sessions, burps, family time etc. I don't think they are the same as receiving blankets, more like thin single layer flannel type things. I made mine in like 10 minutes at the sewing machine and they were awesome.

    I argued with hubby about buying newborn clothing, I think my exact words were, "Can't the baby live in a swaddle blanket and diaper for the first 2 months?" Which is pretty close to what really happened. lol

  7. Great lists!
    When my first child was due, I received boxes of secondhand infant and toddler clothing from my husband's sister. She had saved lots of good things from her 3 boys so I was all set with blankets, sleepers, socks, booties, a crib....all the basic, useful stuff!

    Later on, the one item that I found useful was a small, hand-held food mill so that my children could eat whatever I had cooked for supper. It's a great way to introduce them to solid foods and different tastes/textures.

    I think "they" are targeting today's soon-to-be moms with all the marketing skills "they've" got.

  8. I agree with your list but would add an umbrella stroller with sun shade as I walk. I had a shower for my first and almost everything lasted thru the third child. Simple, basic stuff and nothing in newborn size.'

    Now, I'm a grandma and was suitably horrified when my DIL registered at the local upscale, we only sell what you must have, baby store. $15 socks?? Must have 2 dozen onsies because baby will need fresh clothes at each diaper change.
    I think in this economic climate we must rethink the more is better and go for quality especially in time with parents.

  9. I will admit, I love my hooded baby bathtowels. My sister in law made them. Take a regular bath towel and sew a hand towel in a hood-ish form in the center (long side) of the towel. Of course the three I have are nearly 10 years old now. Hee hee!
    I did not co-sleep (and after spending a weekend co-sleeping with Moochie, I stand by that decision! LOL!) but he's going on 2.5 and sleeps in a cheapy portacrib. If he hadn't been a "surprise" it would have been his brother's cheapy portacrib.

  10. I got a good 90% of all of my baby stuff (and still continue to do so as they grow) 2nd hand - either hand-me-downs from friends with older children, or consignment shops, or Goodwill.

    My basics included: Sling, double stroller (2nd hand store), pack-n-play (2nd hand, good for sleeping away from home), handful of onesies (mostly 2nd hand), homemade booties (easy to make, and serve as both socks and shoes in one), hand-knit cold weather had and easy-to-sew sun hat, knit sweater (good for 4 all seasons, winter jacket, a handful of dresses and a handful of pants (colored onesies make perfectly suitable tops!),

    2 dozen cloth diapers and covers (though these days I'm a fan of the g-diaper. I make my own cloth inserts. I use an old slip (remember those? We all used to wear them under skirts!) cut into strips as a layer to catch poo before it hits the insert.

    I agree about the bathing. Babies actually need very few baths unless you're letting them roll around in mud. I have the same bottle of all-purpose shampoo-and-baby-soap-in-one that I got as a shower gift when pregnant with my soon-to-be 4 year old! It's about half full and only used for particularly dirty babies with only a drop at a time needed!