The arrival of a baby in the home invariably brings with it thoughts of what, exactly, you will need for your new arrival. Walk into any baby store, and one is inundated with all things baby. Even stuff you’ve never heard of before may tempt you into thinking its essential.
But really, take it easy, sit back, and read this blog. Having had one baby (and only one baby), I can share what I’ve learned about what’s really essential, and what isn’t. This can’t be definitive, as every parent is different, and what one parent can’t live without is inconsequential to another. I myself am a minimalist, and I’ve learned a few tricks of the trade that may be helpful.
What Don’t You Need for a Newborn?
1. Crib. You don’t really need a crib when you bring your baby home. Your baby can’t crawl yet, so pretty much any flat, not too soft but comfortable surface will do.
Note: Couches are a bad idea as your child can fill into the crevices and suffocate.
My husband and I bought a co-sleeper to put on our futon in the living room so that I could sleep next to her. (You will need to be able to hear your baby if you want to minimize your baby working himself or herself up screaming loudly to get your attention.) Within two months she outgrew the co-sleeper lengthwise so we put her on the futon itself. I had, by that point, moved back into my own bed. The futon alone worked just as well, if not better, than the co-sleeper.
As long as the baby hasn’t started crawling, any firm surface will do. I know some people may find this crazy, but in a worst-case scenario, you can use a box or a drawer with a towel at the bottom for comfort. Just make sure it’s not too soft or the towel too loose, which may cause a baby to suffocate.
I found that a crocheted blanket works best when covering your baby. If you’re really concerned about this, check with a SIDS website, but a crocheted blanket has holes, thereby allowing a baby to breathe while maintaining warmth. Obviously don’t cover your baby’s head with it, but I’ve never had a problem covering her from the torso down. We also kept the heat on in the winter for her comfort.
2. Diaper Wipes. I have never purchased diaper wipes for my daughter. What works great, and was my husband’s idea, was to run a paper towel under some warm water. If you buy the really cheap paper towels that turn to tissue paper when they’re wet, it’s not going to work as well. But any sturdy sheet of paper towel, folded in quarters, should work just fine.
For more surface area when you’re cleaning baby’s bottom, simply unfold the quarters as you need them, and you’re good to go. This saves on purchasing not only the wipes but a baby wipe warmer as well, and your baby’s skin isn’t exposed to chemicals in commercial diaper wipes.
3. Toys. You don’t really need that many toys the first four months. Our daughter didn’t start picking things up until she was four months old. What I gave her in the meantime was nourishment, love, and experiences in the form of outings in the park, shopping, and get-togethers with friends.
She wasn’t much interested in toys until she started picking things up. And while I have bought her toys, some of her favorite “toys” are things we already had at home. She loves our wireless landline telephone, for example. (I don’t let her play with our cell phone for the simple reason that it emits radiation.) She loves holding the phone with both hands, putting the antenna end in her mouth, and pressing the buttons.
Same for the TV and DVD remote controls- she loves swinging the remote and pressing those buttons. She also loves paper- crimpling it, waving it, and, of course, putting it in her mouth.
Your baby will naturally find simple things around the house that interest her. Encourage her curiosity and watch as she discovers new uses for seemingly mundane things. Also try to find new games with the toys she already has. My husband, for example, taught our daughter to make music by banging two plastic balls, which we got as part of a toy set. She loves picking up these balls, putting them in her mouth, and banging them together.
4. Shoes. Our daughter is almost eight months old and still doesn’t wear any shoes. Even in the winter-time, she wore socks, bundled under blankets, of course. Our daughter is beginning to crawl but she is still only wearing socks. She actually likes pulling her socks off and being barefoot. Why constrain your child’s feet in shoes at this point? Until they can walk, they are just an accessory, in my opinion.
5. Breast pump and bottles. If you’re planning to breastfeed and you are a stay at home mom, you don’t really need a breast pump or bottles. I bought them thinking I would use them when I was out of the house, but really, they were more of a hassle than simply breastfeeding.
Breast milk from your breast is always fresh, warm, and much easier to dispense than using a breast pump. I found myself pumping for 30 minutes or more to get what my baby can nurse in 15 minutes. And then I had to clean and sanitize the bottles.
Personally, I found breastfeeding more convenient than bottle-feeding. At parties, I simply went to a quiet room. In public, I covered my breastfeeding activity with a lightweight blanket. Honestly, if people really want to stare at you, they’re the ones with the problem.
6. Specialty Baby Soaps. We have never had to purchase any specialty baby soaps, which is a good thing because some of them can get pretty pricey. One of the soaps my pediatrician recommended is Dr. Bronner’s Baby Mild soap, which happened to be the brand we already used to wash our hands. I buy an entire gallon (for which I think I paid $30, compared to $20 for a 16 oz of California Baby in a retail store) and diluted it with water in the soap dispenser because the soap is so concentrated.
I use this soap on our baby’s skin and hair and it works fine. It’s way cheaper than California Baby or some of the other specialty baby soaps. I can’t attest whether one works better than the other, as we’ve never tried anything else, but it’s good enough for us. Our pediatrician recommended that we wash our baby once a week or so. I followed that advice and it has worked fine.
Our daughter did have some hair clumping in the back of her head, but after trying two hair detanglers, what worked best was using my organic conditioner and gently brushing her hair after her bath and every morning thereafter. This got most of the tangles out and prevented any clumps from getting bigger.
7. Pacifier. My baby has never used a pacifier. Only occasionally have I had problems with not using a paci, and that is when she was younger, she would fall asleep at my breast and wake up if I pulled it out of her mouth to move her to her crib (which we set up when she was mobile at five months). I gave her the booby back and after a few minutes tried to remove it again.
My doctor suggested a paci to make the transition smoother but I have to admit, I am a snob when it comes to pacifiers. I don’t think they look becoming, and even less becoming in the mouths of toddlers.
My sister-in-law, who did use pacifiers with her three children, warned me about dependency and the tantrums that come with taking it away. In addition to this fear, I see it as an impediment to interaction. Why do anything when you can suck on a paci? A pacifier to me is synonymous with passivity. I’m not saying that’s true of everyone. That’s my bias.
So even when a paci may have been helpful, I resisted it. Now, at almost 8 months, my daughter doesn’t even need my breast to fall asleep. She still makes a sucking motion with her tongue between her lips when she sleeps, though.
What Do You Need Then?
- Diapers. Unless you’re a hard core elimination communication practitioner, you will need some form of diapers. We use a cloth diaper delivery service. It’s pricier than the cheapest disposables, but I feel good about not contributing to a landfill stuff that won’t disintegrate for 500-1000 years.
- Clothes. We use a onesie underneath a shirt and pants. We alternate the shirts to vary the outfits. When our baby was smaller, it was rare that she soaked through her onesie. For the first six months, I used one onesie every 4-5 days, unless it was wet or subjected to a blowout (i.e. poop leak). Now that she is getting bigger, she soaks through her onesie 2-3 times per week, mostly at night. So one onesie lasts 2-3 days instead of 4-5. I had about 10 in the beginning and there were some she only wore once before they became too small. Do yourself a favor- if you do laundry every week, buy yourself 2-3 onesies and see how you do. For a newborn, you don’t need to go overboard.
- Car seat. If you’re planning on driving, you’ll need a car seat and a base to attach it to. It’s not only a safety and convenience issue- it’s the law. Make sure the base is attached securely to the seat and follow the manufacturer’s instructions about the right position for the car seat. My car seat detaches from the base and can sit on top of our stroller. So when the baby is asleep, you don’t have to wake her up to move her from the car to the stroller. There have been plenty of times when she fell asleep in the car and we simply carried the car seat to our home, our baby still sleeping. Check the weight of the car seat. As our baby has gained weight, it has become more cumbersome to carry. I wish it were made of a lighter material but other than that, we are happy with it.
- Stroller or baby carrier. If you’re planning on walking outdoors, you’ll need one of these items. I use a stroller most of the time because I find that is easiest on my back, but I use the carrier when I am going grocery shopping. You won’t be able to put your baby in a shopping cart until they can comfortably sit up by themselves, usually after 6 months. I know some people look down on strollers and only use baby carriers. Whatever suits your fancy. Just make sure to get one because your arms will get tired and it’s safer for the baby.
- Swaddling blanket. A swaddling blanket can not only be used to swaddle your baby for the first 3 months, it can also be used as a burp cloth, an insulator when it’s cold outside, a drape to block out light when you baby is sleeping, and an apron when you’re breastfeeding. Not to mention that your baby may enjoy playing with it. I keep one in the car for any of these events.
So that’s it. This is what worked for me. Your situation may be different. My intent in writing this article is to get people to really think about what they actually need and for people to focus less on the non-essential material things and more on nurturing and bonding with their babies.
Originally written April 10, 2013.