Did you know that if you follow the standard, “What I need for my baby” list for the next 21 years, then your child could cost you over $200,000 (that’s $9,500 per year, or $800 per month), even without being privately educated. The marketing clout of the baby industry has got a lot to answer for.
The reality is that most of the items we are told we should buy for our babies are unnecessary. This timeline will expose the common (and not-so-common) culprits. If you’re new to starting a family, it will hopefully give you the advantage that many second-time parents enjoy.
|Pregnancy||1 Week||Month 1||Month 2||Month 3||Month 4|
|Month 5||Month 6||Month 8||Month 11||12 Months||18 Months|
|2 Years||3 Years|
Infacol, Colief or Gripe Water: There’s no scientific evidence that any of these work (Smith 2009).
Outfits: Expensive flouncy outfits should be left to the relatives and friends to buy: they’re a hassle for babies at this age, who throw up on them anyway. Your baby’s initial couple of months will consist largely of feeding, sleeping, and being held. From a clothing standpoint, this translates to one thing – babygros! Comfort is key. Babygros are also kinder on baby’s round pot belly than trousers and tops, especially in these early days before his tummy button has healed. You can’t use babygros that are too small, because they cramp baby’s toes, but you can use ones that are a little bit big, so go for 0-3 months rather than newborn size. Also don’t stockpile small disposable diapers – you will soon need to go up a size.
T-shirts: Bodysuits are better than tshirts as the latter tend to ride up exposing little tummies to the cold.
Pyjamas: Baby pyjamas comprising of a top and pants are not needed during the first year. Just dress baby in a sleepsuit night and day to save you expense and inconvenience.
Socks: If you buy babygros with feet, you won’t need to worry about socks that are always falling off.
Booties: They may be cute, but booties are generally a nuisance because they tend to fall off and get lost all the time. Also like shoes, they are too firm and restrict movement. A baby needs to wiggle, feel, and even suck her toes.
Scratch Mitts: They fall off (Is there an echo in here?)
Bibs: Two kinds of bibs are to be avoided – those without plastic backs, and those with tie fastenings. The latter are a safety risk.
Burp Cloths: Most are too thin. Use cloth diapers instead.
Snowsuits: These quilted all-in-ones look cosy but are impractical – as soon as you’ve struggled to put them on, sod’s law says that your baby’s diaper will need changing and you’ll have to take the whole thing off again! It’s also easy for babies to overheat in these, especially if you’re going in and out of stores, restaurants, and the car. Since newborns don’t tend to go running around in the snow, blankets are more versatile at keeping them warm, given these can be easily removed when you go indoors.
Bedding: Buy a lightweight sleeping bag instead. They are safe for newborns from 7lbs and they never get kicked off when your baby moves in his sleep. They also allow you to spirit up a bed anywhere.
Change bag: Specially designed change bags are usually very expensive (between £60 and £100 in most baby outlets) and you find that you end up using your handbag for most things anyway, simply because you don’t want to carry such a cumbersome, ugly-looking bag around with you all the time; not to mention the risk of such an expensive item becoming stained with poop. Reasonably spacious pockets (particularly if you are breastfeeding) will suffice for a newborn diaper, a spare sleepsuit, and a few wipes in a plastic bag. Alternatively, use a rucksack or roomy tote.
Change Mat: A lightweight, wipe-clean changing mat is useful but you can get by with nothing more than a towel.
Changing Unit: Another piece of butt-related kit that you don’t need. Instead, buy a chest of drawers. It will cost at least a third less. Simply tack in some wood around the edges so that the mat doesn’t slip. You can remove it when you no longer need the station. You can also use a crib by lowering the wide and spreading a waterproof pad on top of the mattress. If you’re up to it, changing on the floor is ideal – and safer – all you need is a change mat/towel.
Starter Sets: Bundled products typically for bathing or childproofing are poor value because you probably won’t want or need half the stuff.
Diaper Stacker: Diaper stackers are designed to be convenient and stylish holders in which to store your diapers, but in reality they are irritating at worst, and needless at best. The time it takes to load the stacker (which will need to be done regularly) and then retrieve a diaper each time, makes them a big, stylish inconvenience.
Brand Disposable Diapers: If you’re going down the disposables route, try supermarket own-brand diapers which are surprisingly good quality and significantly kinder of your wallet (often 50% cheaper!) Supermarkets are always running special offers, so if you don’t mind switching and changing brands, that’s another way of saving money.
Diaper Disposal System: These glorified garbage cans, sometimes called “Diaper Wrappers”, use so many different plastic bags to try and disguise the smell of dirty diapers that they must be bad for the environment. Just chuck your baby’s dirty disposable diapers in the normal bin.
Baby Wipes: Although disposable wipes can be handy when you’re not at home, they dry out easily and the supposedly stay shut sticky lids don’t tend to. In any event, you don’t need wipes, especially at this young age. “You shouldn’t use wipes until your baby is at least six weeks old as they will remove the natural oils from her skin and leave it dry and uncomfortable” (Stoppard 2008). Despite what Johnson & Johnson tell you, it’s much better to clean the delicate skin of newborn babies with cotton wool and warm water; and it’s environmentally friendly too.
Wipe-Warmers: The reviews on Amazon say it all: “the wipe loses its temperature so quickly and becomes almost cold when it reaches the baby if baby is not just inches away from the wipes warmer.” This is a product devised by a marketing department to solve a problem that doesn’t exist. More worryingly, wipe warmers breed bacteria and can cause infections, particularly for little girls.
Baby Bath: These are bulky and are useful for a couple of months only. Meanwhile, the basin (cover the taps with a towel) or a large washing-up bowl are good alternatives. You can also bath with your baby if you have someone else to help. In the early weeks your baby won’t need a bath at all and you can ‘top and tail’ her.
Bath Stand: Designed to save you from kneeling bath-side but the effort involved in lifting a heavy baby bath full of water on and off is almost as challenging to your back muscles.
Bath Thermometer: Just use your elbow.
Top and Tail Bowl: You don’t need a special bowl for the cotton wool – any clean plastic one will do fine.
Baby Towel: So-called baby towels are made of disappointingly thin terry towelling so lack absorbency and cosiness and tend to be so small that your baby will need a bigger towel within a few months. A soft family towel will do a better job.
Baby Bath Robe: You know those cute little short robes that tie around their waist? You. Will. Never. Use. These.
Baby Nail Scissors: Using baby nail scissors can be a tricky task. Instead, use your fingers or even teeth, after first softening your baby’s nails in the bath.
Baby Toiletries: They may smell nice, but these aren’t necessary for small babies, and certainly aren’t recommended for those with dry or very sensitive skin. Consider that our skin absorbs approximately 60 per cent of everything it comes into contact with and that a baby’s skin is around six times thinner and five times more sensitive than adults (Cattanach 2007). Some baby bath products contain chemicals like Parabens and SLS (Sodium Lauryl Sulfate). Plain water is all you need.
Baby Perfume: *sigh* Yes this really exists.
Baby Shampoo: Unless your baby’s hair is particularly abundant, you can wash it using just warm water for the first few months.
Baby Oil: Giving your newborn a massage provides a wealth of tender moments for both of you. There is no need to buy ‘baby oil’ marketed for this purpose. Olive oil works just as well, and is 100% natural. It’s also a great moisturiser.
Baby Talcum Powder: This should be avoided because it has no benefits for your baby’s skin. In fact, the granules in the powder can irritate a baby’s skin, especially when they work their way into the moist folds. It is also a potent irritant if it gets inside the body (Cooper 2011). It is irritating to the lungs and can cause significant problems if inhaled (Spock 2004). It can also increase your baby’s risk of developing cancer, particularly if your baby is a girl (Wade 2012). Talcum can spread from the genital area right up into the peritoneum via the fallopian tubes. It may also create chronic inflammation around the ovaries and long-term pain and other symptoms.
Toys: The fear that our babies will go ‘unstimulated’ has done wonders for sales of ludicrously expensive ‘toy’ and ‘learning’ products. However despite what most toy companies would have you believe, toys are superfluous in the first few weeks. Your baby will be ‘stimulated’ by life.
Mobile: A crib mobile may look nice and promise to lull your baby to sleep, however nearly all of them are more stimulating than soothing, which means that they may have the adverse effect of keeping your baby awake. Also, mobiles have an average-shelf life of just a few months, as they must be removed for safety reasons as soon as your baby can sit up.
Crib-Side Music Box/Light Show: Like the mobile, these tend to be more stimulating than soothing.
Womb Bear: These expensive ‘gadgets’ are bears that are designed to sound like a mother’s womb and are supposed to help baby settle to sleep. However SIDS guidelines recommend that you do not put soft toys into a young baby’s sleeping space due to the risk of suffocation.
Swaddling Blankets: If you want to try swaddling, any thin blanket, large muslin, or even an adult’s jumper will do.
Moses Basket/Bassinet: Your baby will have outgrown a moses basket by three months. Besides, they are expensive, cumbersome, hard to store and difficult to clean. Instead, use the carrycrib attachment from your pram, or a travel crib, or even a drawer (I’m being serious).
Cradle: Although they look pretty, swinging cradles are expensive and have such limited space, like moses baskets, that you will only use one for a couple of months at most. Also, with cradles, when the startle reflex happens, it then rocks the basket and wakes your baby up. Double fail.
Hammocks: They last a little longer than a moses basket or cradle, but this won’t save you money as you’ll need a crib anyway – just a bit later. Also when your baby moves to a proper crib or crib-bed, you could be in for a rough time if they’re used to the hammocks movement to rock them to sleep. Note also there have been rumours of suffocation hazards associated with the use of hammocks.
Crib Duvet: These are not suitable for babies under 12 months, due to the risk of suffocation. Use a sleeping bag instead.
Crib Bumper: These soft, padded panels that tie onto cribs stop the free flow of fresh air, increase the temperature around your baby, which may lead to him becoming overheated; and also, babies can also get their heads wedged underneath.
Crib: Although most parents buy cribs (cots), they aren’t a necessary purchase. Cosleeping is a valid option. It can save money and space as well as enhance parent-child attachment and a host of other stuff, see here. If however you decide you still want to buy a crib, opt for a crib-bed as it will last longer and ease the transition to a ‘proper’ bed.
Crib divider: Marketed as an aid to keeping your baby in the feet-to-foot position, these are really not necessary. Always tuck your baby up at the foot of his crib as per SIDS guidelines – or use a baby sleeping bag.
Warm Mist Humidifiers: These are a fire hazard. Not to mention the fact that they encourage bacteria and mould to grow in the warm, wet environment they create.
Nursery Decoration: Some parents revel in creating a fully-themed and coordinated nursery. However your baby really doesn’t care whether there’s Winnie the Pooh, Humphrey the Elephant or Pope Benedict adorning the wall. Also, baby girls with blue walls in their nursery aren’t likely to be psychologically damaged by the experience.
Nursery Storage: You will need somewhere to store your baby’s things although it need not be specific nursery furniture – any wardrobe and drawers will do.
Infant Sleep Positioner: These sponge positioners are used to ensure a baby sleeps in one position with limited movement. Ironically, Infant sleep positioners are designed to help babies sleep safer, however in reality, the devices have been associated with suffocation deaths
Crib Canopy: Unnecessary and a potential SIDS risk.
Traditional Pram: These are often much more expensive (at least $300) and only suitable for small babies. Once they reach at least six months old and can support themselves upright, they’ll be happier sitting in a stroller. If you think you could manage solely with a sling for the first few months, you could skip the pram phase altogether, and buy only a cheaper, lightweight stroller later on. If slings don’t appeal, you can purchase a stroller, suitable for a newborn, for around $100 and it will last till preschool! The best places to find a bargain stroller are NCT sales, second-hand children’s stores, charity stores, eBay and Gumtree.
Stroller Parasol: Don’t bother with parasols, it’s impossible to keep your baby in the shade using them. You can either buy a cheap sun shade that looks like a giant mosquito net, or clothes-peg a muslin or similar material to the hood of your stroller to keep baby out of the sun.
Car Seat Footmuff: Unless you’ll be using the car seat on a pram chassis a lot, a blanket will do just fine.
Auto Carrycots: These are bassinets with special attachments that fix onto the back seat of your car. They do pass bare minimum safety standards but fared poorly in recent tests compared to upright infant carriers. Best avoided.
Baby Viewing Mirror: Designed to be positioned on the car’s back seat head rest so you can view your baby. Don’t bother. It’s safer to keep your eyes on the road.
Baby on Board Sign: I still can’t fathom the point of these other than to smugly advertise your fertility. A recent study has shown that these signs actually cause ‘one in 20 road accidents’ (The Telegraph 2012).
Disposable Breast Pads: These can be scratchy and uncomfortable. They’re also a false economy because you’ll get through loads. Instead, buy a pack of re-usable, washable pads. They’re softer against your skin and tend to be more absorbent.
Bottle Brushes: If you’re bottle-feeding, buy normal washing-up brushes or a new toothbrush, rather than expensive bottle brushes.
Bottle Warmer: You don’t need a bottle warmer. If your baby won’t accept room temperature milk just use hot water and a large container to warm the milk. Most cafes are happy to supply these.
Insulated Bottle Holder: As above.
Newborn Size Baby Bottles: Too small within weeks.
Disposable Bottles: Single-use bottles take up a lot of luggage space and aren’t eco-friendly. Also, some babies won’t accept a disposable bottle teat.
Hands-Free-Bottles: These curious contraptions are designed so that the baby feeds himself. He sucks on a teat attached to a flexible straw that leads into a bottle. Hands-free-bottles are completely unnecessary, arguably cruel, and can lead to over-feeding. Also, the long thin straw tubing is very hard to sterilise, posing an infection risk.
Formula Powder Dispenser: There is no need to purchase a specially designed powder dispenser. You can just as easily measure out formula into a sterilised, small, plastic, sealed container.
Dishwasher Basket: These are designed to keep bottles and teats from falling off the shelf of your dishwasher but are completely unnecessary.
Bottle Drying Racks: What’s wrong with a normal dish rack?
Formula: It goes without saying, breast milk is nutritionally tailored to your baby’s exacting needs. And it’s free.
Nursing Bras: If you’re breastfeeding you’ll need nursing bras with the exception of one kind – those with zip-up cups. They may sound like a good idea, but if you try to do one up one-handed, and catch your boob in the zip, you’ll feel quite differently about them.
Nursing Chair: Many first-timers buy a ‘rocking-feeding’ glider chair and footstool, but they are completely unnecessary, extremely expensive, and not very practical. These chairs quickly become redundant when mothers discover that there is not enough room on either side to fit their ever-growing baby comfortably into a good breastfeeding position.
Nursing Pillow: Regular pillows are more than sufficient, they are also more versatile.
Forehead Thermometer Strip: You hold these in place on your baby’s forehead until a reading comes up. They are not terribly accurate and hard to use if a baby is wriggling around. Use a plastic digital thermometer instead (never glass).