For some reason, lately expectant parents have been asking me what they need to buy. Here’s my advice: forget Amazon’s endless list-makers. Parents-to-be, let me be the first to give it to you straight — the fact is, you’re going to need very little. And for good reason — like any animal, our species would have flopped promptly into extinction if it actually needed endless mounds of specialized items for each child to reach adulthood. Let’s break it down! You need:
0-24+ months: boobs (possible backup plans include lactation consultant, donor milk, formula. Note: lactation consultant is not a food source. Do not attempt to feed your lactation consultant to your baby.)
6+ months: scraps from your plate by baby request plus a few easy mashers and finger foods lead seamlessly into a child-size helping of whatever you usually eat (assuming you eat healthily — at least when under surveillance). You can get a high chair, but if your kid is like ours they will spend a few minutes in it and the majority of the time in your lap. Don’t force plate-finishing and your kid will hopefully retain the ability to stop when full. No tiny pricey jars needed.
Place to sleep!
Don’t buy it till you need it, and borrow if offered. You do not know what you and your baby are going to prefer ahead of time. Read about safe bed-sharing even if you think you aren’t going to so if you change your mind at 4AM no one gets smothered by big fluffy pillows or comforters. Swaddling worked well for both of our kids; you can learn the ins and outs of proper swaddling technique like we did with Owlet… or you could just get a few Woombies, which we learned about after Platypup began swaddle-breaking. I strongly recommend sharing a room, whether in the same bed or in a bassinet or crib; research indicates sleeping infants rely on the breathing of nearby adults to help regulate their own. Within your budget, do your best to make all sleeping surfaces toxin-free.
Someplace for Excrement!
Register for cloth diapers and try out E.C. Nowhere is your friends and family’s money better spent than on high quality reusable diapers and the vast range of adorable options will help appease everyone who would rather buy cute than useful. If you go for disposable, find the least-toxic kind and don’t buy too many before the birth — remember, your baby’s size is TBD.
Don’t buy any. Ok, get one ceremonial “we’re having a baby!” item and maybe do some thrift shopping. But most people give clothes regardless of registry, and believe it or not you probably know someone who is about to chuck three garbage bags full of outgrown clothes at you and run away cackling.
Owlet lounging on a box of previously loved items from the family I used to babysit for — thanks so much, guys! We have been working our way through the sizes and will soon finally fit into the coveted cowboy boots.
Babies don’t need soap or shampoo. They hardly even need baths until they can crawl! We’ve preferred just hopping in the big bathtub with baby in-arms. Coconut oil and olive oil are great for diaper rash and post-bath massage. For first aid, all you need is a thermometer, band-aids, and breast milk (works as lotion, antiseptic, eye and ear drops, rehydration, etc. This is by no means an exhaustive list of human milk’s magical properties!) Anything else you might need is going to be by doctor recommendation anyway.
This is where our culture goes insane. Trust me when I say you have five years’ supply of toys in one kitchen drawer. Which is not to say don’t buy anything; just be realistic. Blocks, books, a few stuffed animals (don’t buy these; they are present-runner-up only to clothing), percussion instruments, and a ball or two go a long way. If you can, avoid Toys-R-Plasticrap; that place gives me hives. And do us all a favor: just say “no!” to anything that makes electronic noise. That stuff is proven to shorten attention spans, and it personally drives me insane.
Car seat: For safety reasons get your car seat new, if possible, or handed down from close trusted friends/family only if within recommended year range for that seat. If you can only afford one seat for the next few years, skip the bucket/basket infant seat and get a Diano Radian — works rear-facing up to 45 lbs and forward facing to 80 lbs and can be used as a booster seat, too.
Walking transport: if you want a stroller, buy it used! We got one on Craig’s List for $40 and while we used it occasionally during the infant period for both kids, if we had gotten it new it would definitely not have been worth the money. More essential for us was a good carrier: check out slings, Baby K’Tan, and Moby for the infant period and Ergo or Beco for both babies and toddlers. Borrow, buy used, or add to your registry. If you are only going to purchase one, as with the car seat, skip the infant option and get an Ergo or Beco.
All of this is not to say you can’t buy bundles of clothes, a designer stroller, and a zillion toys that go beep. You can use a crib and baby food and wash your little one with baby shampoo every night. If it’s working for you and your baby, great, keep going! But just as a wedding does not require a caterer, florist, and expensive gown to be beautiful and meaningful, a baby does not require much beyond love and milk in order to not just survive but thrive.