If you are expecting a new addition to your family, it can be easy to get sucked in by the glossy advertising designed to sell you thousands of dollars’ worth of cute stuff for your baby, or find yourself buying every bit of gear a marketer promises will make your life easier or keep your baby safer. Don’t be fooled: Much of the stuff they are trying to sell you is unnecessary and most of it will be used for a few months at most. You can keep your baby safe and happy for a lot less if you take a step back and think before flashing your cash: here are a few generalities to consider:
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Be choosey. Designer gear costs more but rarely works better; invest it in organic and toxin-free options rather than trendy names.
Try big-ticket stuff out first, and try different options if you can before buying.
Buy no more than a few of any model of small-ticket items such as pacifiers before finding out if they suit your baby (a dozen of the wrong pacifiers are no use in the middle of the night if you have a picky baby).
Leave stuff in its packaging and leave the tags on until you need it and keep the receipts until you know it works!
If in doubt about a purchase, wait! Everyone’s situation is unique and every parent and every baby’s preferences are different. What worked perfectly for your best friend may be completely useless to you or your baby may hate it. Wait until a need occurs and then look for a product to solve it, or for a way to deal with it without buying something. Babies’ needs go in stages and most stages are very short. It can be very tempting to fill your nest with everything your baby may conceivably need until she heads off to kindergarten, but get a grip and stash the cash. The stores aren’t going anywhere!
Here are 20 things most parents agree they could easily have done without:
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You can easily drop thousands of dollars on baby furniture, rugs, wallpaper, etc. but your baby couldn't care less. Other than a solid crib and mattress that meet the latest safety standards (and you don’t even need that for the first few months, see bassinette alternatives below) think twice before buying furniture or doing expensive baby-themed decorating.
Changing Table. Rather than buying a single-use item, find a dresser or table the right height to work on instead, or use an existing counter. Use a folded towel for a pad or purchase a changing pad with a washable cover to put on the top.
Bassinette. Cute, but unnecessary, and only usable for a few months, so don’t waste your money. Newborns just need a flat, firm surface to sleep on, with no loose objects or bedding around them. An empty bureau drawer or a sturdy cardboard box with a thin pad on the bottom is just fine (a number of public health organizations and governments in the U.S. (including New Jersey!) and round the world actually hand out cardboard baby boxes designed to keep newborns safe).
Bedding. Bedding other than fitted sheets and waterproof mattress pads is unnecessary and can even be unsafe, especially fluffy quilts and crib bumpers. Dress the baby, not the bed! Sleep sacks that fit the torso snuggly or footie PJs that are appropriate for the season are the ticket. You can sew your own fitted sheets if you are feeling creative or want to save money.
Receiving blankets. Most people find they are too small to be much use.
Video baby monitor. Audio-only monitors work just fine and are a lot cheaper.
Toys. Babies are largely uninterested in toys for the first few months. Buy a few solid, non-toxic, washable ones. Oh, and avoid bringing home more than one or two stuffed animals…they reproduce when you aren’t looking.
Highchair. Newborns don’t need highchairs. When the time comes, consider the range of products available and pick a safe and easy to clean option that matches your needs. I opted for the solid wooden model without a tray often found in restaurants and pushed it up to the table; other parents have found that booster seat setups save space and are more portable.
Privacy drape. If you feel the need, use a shawl or sarong you can wear for decades.
Unless you are committed to elimination training, there will be a lot of diapers in your future. Deciding the disposable/cloth question and, if applicable, which disposable is the best (here are the best eco-friendly disposable diapers, ranked), takes some thought. Here are some things not to worry about:
Fancy Diaper bag. If you plan to ever leave the house you’ll want one, but don’t spend a lot of money on something you can’t use for anything else later. Lots of families shop for a sturdy daypack that will be useful for years to come. Patagonia’s Anacapa backpack weighs a scant 2 pounds, and has plenty of room and pockets for wipes and diapers. (Plus, the company’s lifetime guarantee means if it ever wears out, you can get it repaired, or replaced, for free.)
Diaper Genie. Wrapping disposable diapers in more plastic so you don’t have to take out the garbage as often? Hmmm, not very eco-friendly or cost-effective. And many parents say the system doesn’t really stop odors anyway. Just empty the trash daily, sprinkle a little baking soda in the waste basket, and odor shouldn’t be a problem.
Your mother may swear by a daily bath but the Mayo Clinic says 3 times a week is plenty and warns that more frequent baths will dry out your baby’s tender skin, causing unnecessary problems. And chances are you already have everything you need to give baby safe baths, and there really is no need to buy anything special, such as:
Baby tub. Unless you really like kneeling on the bathroom floor and straining your back, the adult bath tub isn’t a good place for bathing newborn or small baby no matter what baby tub you put in it. The kitchen sink is a much more comfortable height and often comes with a baby-size sprayer for rinsing off: just place a folded towel in the bottom to reduce slippage. If the sink is too big, use a suitably sized mixing bowl set in the sink.
Baby towels, wash cloths, and bath robes. Meh. A towel is a towel and old, soft, adult sized towels are very absorbent. And bath robes? Do you really want to dress the clean baby twice?
Tiny clothing is adorable and buying it can be addictive, plus relatives and friends may deluge you with tons of it. But babies grow fast and few items will fit for more than a few months, so try and stick to what you need, not every cute thing you see. Parents agree that a few items are generally useless for small babies:
Mittens. They get pulled off and lost. Rely on long sleeves that can cover hands instead.
Shoes. They get pulled off and lost and serve no actual purpose. Onesies or PJs with feet are better if warmth is needed.
Hair ornaments. Cute, but they get pulled off and…well, you get it.
Here are some guidelines for keeping baby comfortable without breaking the bank every couple of months:
+ Avoid the trap of buying lots of clothing ahead of time, as guessing what size you will need, and in what season, is often unreliable.
+ Leave the tags on new items and keep the receipts until you are ready to use them. Return/exchange items that are too small or don’t suit you.
+ Few babies ever wear the newborn and 3-month sizes so don’t buy them (the stores will be open if your little one arrives that size).
+ Babies rarely wear out clothing, so friend’s closets and baby consignment stores are full of nearly-new clothing. Take advantage of it (see note in intro about new vs. used).
+ Snow suits/heavy coats are a pain to put on and unsafe in car seats! Stick with sweaters and blankets until baby gets mobile.
+ Look for clothing that is simple to put on and take off and machine washable: onesies and kimonos are perennial favorites. If there are fastenings they should be on the front.
And don’t sweat the small stuff: my first baby came home from the hospital in a diaper and blanket (because she was too big for the cute newborn outfit I’d packed) in a used car seat (money was tight) and slept in a third-hand crib (ditto) and she was a healthy, happy baby.