Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Bare Necessities

Last Friday, I co-hosted a baby shower. We were a very small group of five former co-workers who keep in touch but don't see each other as often as we'd like. The mum-to-be none of us had seen since she got pregnant, which made for a lovely reunion. My co-host recently found out that she was pregnant as well, so the evening turned out to be a double celebration.

While it's been less than two years since I gave birth, looking though the registry lists and shopping for new baby presents brought back many memories - mostly of the number of things I got and never used.

I was lucky enough not to have to buy anything for my son as my sisters welcomed somewhere to dump their no longer needed baby things. With five nephews and nieces preceding Little A, there was enough nearly new hand-me-down stuff to open a baby store. A crib, Pack 'N Play, car seats, clothes and toys filled our small flat in the months before Little A was born. Twice as many clothes and toys as I accepted were sent to my parents' much larger suburban house for storage. The rest - stroller, steriliser, baby bathtub and convertible high chair - were given as gifts. When friends asked they could give as shower presents, I asked for nappies.

Until you experience it yourself, you don't realize how quickly babies grow and how few things they actually need. In the interests of saving money, the environment and, in the era of small-space living, precious square feet, here is a a list of must-haves for new mothers-to-be:

Borrowables/Secondhand Purchases -
1. Crib / Pack 'N Play - unless you have a large house, you don't need both. One will do, provided all the safety locks are intact and there are no loose pieces that could hurt the baby, cause suffocation or choking. A Pack 'N Play has the advantage of being portable, so you can take it with you when you travel and move it about your house or flat if you need to during the day.

2. Crib sheets - Two or three sets are all you need, and secondhand ones are actually nicer than brand new as they tend to be really soft from having been washed so many times. (Note - The American Academy of Pediatrics does not recommend that babies use pillows until they are 2 years old as these can become suffocating hazards.)

3. Crib mobile - must have, as this is baby's first form of entertainment apart from mum's face.

4. Infant bathtub - most baby tubs nowadays come fitted with hammocks so newborns can be bathed more easily, particularly before the umbilical stump falls off and the area needs to be kept dry. As the baby learns to sit up, the hammock can be removed.

5. Wash basin and washcloths - in the first few months, I've learned it's easier to have a wash basin with a divider on hand. One section of the basin holds warm water, and the other holds warm soapy water. With one washcloth in each section of the basin, it's easy to squeeze the soapy water, then clean water, over baby. My sister taught me this the day Little A came home from the hospital and I realized I had no idea how to bathe him. When baby is bigger, the washcloths can be replaced with a cup to pour water over him/her while bathing, while the cloths can be used to wipe up spills, drool and the like.

6. Car Seat - new babies require a rear-facing car seat that usually doubles as a carrier, while from age 1 up toddlers can use front-facing seats. These are bulky and can be expensive, and parents have no further use for one when a child has outgrown it. The covers can be removed and washed, so this is a perfect item to borrow or inherit instead of buying new.

7. Stroller - when shopping for strollers, I wondered why so many of them were designed for babies aged 3 mos. and up. When Little A was born, I realized that he never rode in his stroller before this age because a) he hardly left the house and b) was small and light enough to be carried when he did. As with car seats, the covers of strollers can be washed.

8. Steriliser - a good quality steriliser should last ages. Breastfeeding mothers will find they use them only once a day, twice at most, so there is no need to buy a brand new one, which can also be rather expensive.

9. Baby bottles - BPA free, glass or plastic, at the end of the day, baby bottles, like all others, will end up in landfills. So why add to the world's waste? Bottles need to be sterilised regularly until a baby is a year old, so it makes sense to hand them down. Nipples are all one needs to buy new.

10. Clothes, including bibs, burp cloths and the like - infant clothes come in sizes for ages 0-3, 3-6, 6-9, 9-12, 12-18 months and then go up by year. From birth until age one, a baby grows extremely rapidly, so many clothes are only worn once or twice before being outgrown. Also, hand-me-down clothes are much softer, having been washed many times. I personally love seeing my son grow up in clothes that his cousin wore 11 years earlier, most of which are good as new. The unisex hand-me-downs are even better for wearing at home as they are comfy and worn, and Little A prefers them to new shirts with scratchy tags.

Buy New-
1. Hooded Towels - your baby can use these well into toddlerhood. Little A is still using his and he is nearly two years old. They come in handy after swimming as well, as the hoods keep little heads warm.

2. Breast Pump - while these are sterilised daily, most mothers maximize their use of one, which can cause wear over long-term use, making them not so suitable as hand-me-downs. I went through two pumps, wearing out a manual after two months of pumping 4-5 times a day and then switching to an electric one. Of course, mothers who opt to give their babies formula will not need a pump at all.

3. Nipples - while bottles can be handed down, nipples should not, as these tend to be chewed on and orally abused by voracious drinkers.

4. Ear thermometer - a must for every home with a child in it. We take ours with us every time we travel as you never know when fever will strike. The only reason this isn't on the hand-me-down list is because no one really lets go of theirs unless it breaks, in which case it will be likely replaced with a new one.

5. Nail clipper/scissors, nasal aspirator and medicine dropper - these will be used again and again, particularly since infant nails need to be trimmed once or twice a week.

6. Shoes - every person's gait is different and as such, we all wear our shoes differently. Children's feet are constantly growing, which makes it more important to get them well-fitted and comfortable shoes that they can wear in (and wear out) the way only their feet can do. That said, given the rate at which their feet grow, hardly-worn shoes and those pre-owned by non-walking infants can be handed down, as can shoes made of rubber-like material, such as Crocs, which don't really change shape with long wear.

Finally, here's a short list of things I found I didn't need at all:
1. Changing table - I was always afraid of these as they are high and a squirmy baby could easily fall off, especially when mum's hands are usually full of dirty nappy, clean nappy, wet wipes etc. It's no trouble at all to do nappy changes in a crib, Pack 'N Play or bed.

2. Mittens - my best friend from school gave the best advice of all: keep your baby's nails short and you won't need mittens. Little A was born with very long fingers, and they just wouldn't fit him. I trimmed his nails the day after he was born and didn't bother with mittens at all. They just end up biting them off or dropping them anyway.

3. Infant shoes - shoes for babies who don't walk yet are just for show. Plus, they constantly fall off, which makes it a hassle to keep picking them up and putting them back on. Socks keep their toes warm enough, and there are plenty now that are designed to look like shoes.

A caveat to the mummies-to-be - don't buy anything until the baby showers are over! Many pregnant women are very excited to shop for adorable little things. But with family and friends equally eager to welcome the new addition, most will be given as gifts anyway.

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