On top of preparing yourself for parenthood mentally, spiritually, and physically, there’s the matter of all that baby stuff. Cribs, car seats, strollers, et cetera. There is just so dang much stuff involved in having a baby!
Or is there?
Since Lydia made her appearance in our lives, I’ve come across a number of lists of “essential baby items for the first year” — some useful, some decidedly NOT.
I thought about doing one of my own lists of baby needs (UPDATE: find mine here). But I realized that the one useful thing I haven’t come across is a list of things you don’t need.
So here you go.
The Trouble With Baby Stuff
Just so you understand: I have a guiding question when it comes to buying stuff for Lydia: what can I get away with not owning?
See, you have to understand something about me before I begin: I HATE BABY CRAP. Hate it, hate it, hate it. Strollers, bottles, soothers, Exersaucers, Jumperoos . . . I just hate the very sight of it. I dreaded the thought of filling my house with all that primary-coloured plastic.
Part of my hatred for baby crap stems from my intense aversion to plastic.
Most baby stuff tends to be made of plastic. I could cite all kinds of rational, responsible, ethical reasons to avoid plastic (It’s made from unsustainable resources. It’s toxic. The production of plastic wreaks havoc on our eco-system. It doesn’t last long and fills up our landfills and waterways. Et cetera). But when it comes down to it, my main reason for avoiding it is because I find it friggin’ ugly.
(By contrast, baby items made out of rubber, wood, metal, and fabric tend not to fall victim to my ire).
Aside from that, I hate that baby stuff is useful to you for such a short span of time. Why crowd your house with junk that’s only going to be useful for a matter of months . . . sometimes weeks?
So, knowing that, you might find that my list of non-essential baby items is a little . . . crazy long.
Now, a few important notes before I begin:
1) Just because I’m saying it’s possible to live without these items, it doesn’t mean I think they’re never useful or beneficial. I’m sure many of them are handy and make life easier, depending on your circumstances and personal preferences.
2) I acknowledge that the relative usefulness of these items will vary widely, depending on your lifestyle, your home layout, and your baby’s temperament.
For example, if you’re returning to work at any point in your baby’s first year, you’re probably going to need some bottles. No way around it. I only want to point out that just because you have a baby doesn’t mean you automatically need them.
3) I’m certainly not saying you shouldn’t own any of these things. But if you’re planning for a baby, I would encourage you to reconsider whether you actually need all the things our society assumes you need to care for an infant.
Finally: all of the items I have listed fall under one of the following criteria:
a) I bought one, borrowed one, or was given one, and found it utterly useless.
b) I never owned one, and never missed it.
So without further ado, my list of non-essential baby essentials, and some suggested alternatives (i.e. things you probably already own).
Baby “Essentials” You Can Actually Live Without
Item: Crib (along with crib bedding, bumper pads, etc)
Alternative: family bed, co-sleeper, playpen
Like most North American parents, we bought a (used) crib before Lydia was born. We set it up in our bedroom months before she arrived.
Five months after she was born, we finally took it down and put it away. I was using it as a shelf.
If you don’t feel comfortable with that (or if you bottle-feed — bottle-feeding parents should not sleep with their tiny babies), you could use a co-sleeper or playpen, which would work double-duty.
(UPDATE, June 24, 2012: I’ve been reading about Montessori homes, and they recommend a “child-bed” — i.e. just a low mattress, like a futon, on the floor. Sounds like a decent idea to me).
Alternative: family bed, co-sleeper, playpen, folded blankets
We never owned a bassinet, and never missed it.
How do we manage without? Like I said, at night she shared our bed, right from the start. For naps when she was a newborn, we just put her on some folded blankets on the floor in whatever room we were in.
Of all the things on this list, this is one thing I probably would have liked to have — it would have made it easier to move her from room to room. But we managed.
Item: Baby Monitor
We’ve just never owned one, and so far haven’t needed one.
How do we manage without? We just always have our baby near us. She sleeps in our bed with us and takes naps in whatever room we’re in (usually in her stroller). Easy peasy.
If you’re breastfeeding, it’s totally possible to go without bottles. We did buy two bottles (dummies!) for emergency use, and I borrowed a breast pump from a friend. We’ve used it two or three times. Meh. One would definitely have sufficed.
How do we manage without? We take her pretty much everywhere we go so I can breastfeed.
Item: Baby food/baby cereal
Alternative: regular food
Since babies don’t need (indeed, shouldn’t be given) solids until they’re at least six months old, it’s actually quite easy to just skip purees altogether. At that age, they can start putting food into their mouths by themselves and chewing on it with their gums/teeth.
How we manage without: We practice baby-led weaning, which just means that when Lydia was about 6 months old, we started sharing our food with her. We just put little bits of it (cheese, meat, veggies, whatever) on her high chair table and let her munch on it as she pleased. No special recipes, no jars, no pureeing, no spoon-feeding.
(It goes without saying, then, that you also don’t need special equipment for pureeing or storing baby food).
Item: Baby utensils
Alternative: Baby’s own hands
If you’re foregoing purees, there’s no need for special baby utensils. Baby can feed herself, right off of her high chair tray.
We do own a couple of baby spoons, though, because Lydia ADORES yogurt and we haven’t found an efficient way for her to feed that to herself yet (Although it’s hilarious to watch her try to suck it off her tray).
Item: Sippy Cups
Alternative: regular adult cups, drinking straws
I’m sure sippy cups come in handy, and we’ll probably get one yet, but so far we don’t use one.
How do we manage without? Currently, Lydia drinks water out of an adult glass (with help), or through a straw. And she still gets most of her fluid intake in the form of breast milk.
Blech. I hate the sight of plastic in a baby’s mouth. But maybe that’s just me.
I avoided putting anything in Lydia’s mouth for the first month to ensure she got a proper latch for breastfeeding. After she was a month or two old I bought an all-rubber soother in case, well, I needed it. All babies need soothers, right?
Nope. She never got the hang of it and I never pushed it. I find soothers a pain in the butt because they’re always dropping onto the floor and needing to be cleaned. (Interestingly, boobs don’t have that problem).
(Benefit? Strangers will delight in being able to see your baby’s unconcealed smile.)
How do we manage without? I let Lydia nurse both for comfort and for feeding, night and day. This is especially easy since I have her in bed with me at night. It’s really no big deal.
I will admit that there were a handful of times when she was a newborn that I wished I could plug her mouth with something other than my boob so I could get stuff done. But looking back, I’d say it was a small price to pay for never having to wean her off of it.
Item: Conventional Wipes
Alternative: Cloth wipes and wipe spray
You can’t imagine how many times I opened up a gift from a sweet friend to find a carton of baby wipes inside, accompanied by the words, “You can’t have too many baby wipes!” The truth is, you can. I’ve been giving cartons of those of smelly wet cloths away at baby showers and I still have a few unopened packs sitting in my closet.
They are useful when you’re out and your baby poops, so we did open one carton. We’re still working on it. (Lydia is 9 months old).
How do we manage without? Since her birth, I’ve been able to rely on 20-30 basic baby washcloths that circulate in and out of the wash. I have a spray bottle beside the change table filled with water, a little bit of castile soap, a touch of olive oil, and a few drops of lavender essential oil. I just shake it up, spray it on the cloth, and voila. It works great. The cloth then goes into the pail with the dirty or wet diapers. Nothing ever goes into the garbage.
Item: Big ol’ Baby Swing
Alternative: Your arms, a sling/carrier, a baby bouncer
Again, some people claim baby swings are godsends. We never owned one (I find them a terrible eyesore) and didn’t notice the absence.
How do we manage without? I wear her a lot – in a Moby Wrap when she was a tiny infant, and in a ring sling or Ergo carrier now that she’s older. We also borrowed a very streamlined Baby Bjorn bouncer when she was young, which was nice when I wanted to work in the kitchen unencumbered.
Item: Baby shampoo, lotion, powder, etc.
Alternative: water, castile soap, coconut oil
I honestly just had to google “Why use baby shampoo?” because I had no idea what its value was. We’ve never used it. (I didn’t find a satisfactory answer from my search.)
How do we manage without? Warm water is generally sufficient for washing babies. Every now and then I use a drop of castile soap, which is a gentle, all-purpose soap I use for anything from mopping the floor to bathing the dog. Sometimes I’ll use a drop of adult shampoo on her hair. If her skin gets a little dry or her bum gets a little chafed, I use a dab of coconut oil, which I use for everything from cooking to making my homemade deodorant and toothpaste.
Item: Baby toys
Alternatives: Anything in the house that’s safe for baby to handle
Lydia has been given several baby toys in her 9 months on earth. She has liked all of them . . . for about a week. I find it is just not worth it to spend your hard-earned money on plastic that will just clutter up your house.
Some of Lydia’s enduring favourites include: our fridge magnets, her little hairbrush, a medicine dropper, and a wet cloth to suck on. On special occasions, I put the tub of Tupperware lids on the floor and let her go to town.
A handful of carefully-chosen items that can be used for a long time would be nice. We recently got Lydia a xylophone from a yard sale for her to bang on, and I’m waiting for Ben to make her a set of wooden blocks.
* * *
I could go on and on. I find that babies require very little beyond some clothes, diapers, blankets, and your loving presence. (Oh, and a car seat. *Grumble grumble grumble.*) Everything else has gotten so little use.
Many people go without change tables, baby bath tubs and high chairs, too, though we like ours.
How about you? What would you add to this list? What did you find absolutely essential?
UPDATE: here’s a list of baby items I did find useful.