A friend recently became an aunt again and we were talking about how it’s nice to now be in the position of being the “wise aunt”. My friend and I both have elementary-aged kids now. We’re moms who have survived the infant, toddler, and preschool years but we’re also still close enough to those years that we remember vividly what’s it’s like.
We’re no longer clueless new moms and we’re not yet grandmas with irrelevant decades-old parenting advice (sorry, grandmas!). We’re in that perfect middle ground of “wise aunt” or “wise mom friend” and we think there should be an award for making it to this stage. When a mom’s youngest is age 6 and in full-time school, she should line up to get her medal. Maybe just a silver medal, as the gold ones should be reserved for the new empty nesters who have made it to the finish line.
The point is that I’ve learned a lot in the eight years I’ve been a mom. One of the most important things is that marketers do a great job of selling people all kinds of things for babies and kids that are completely unnecessary. They’re not just unnecessary, but wasteful and take up precious living space that can feel very cramped when you have little kids. They also take up money that could be used for much better purposes like paying for a babysitter so mom and dad can get a break and help preserve their relationship (because, in case you haven’t heard, babies are VERY HARD on relationships).
If you’re preparing for your first baby, here are the things that you NEED:
- Diapers, either cloth or disposable
- If you’re unable or choose not to breastfeed, you’ll need a bottle (or a few bottles) and formula (but not 16 bottles like I had… that just creates more dishes to wash!)
- A car seat if the baby will be going in a car
- A crib or other safe place for the baby to sleep (a pack and play is totally fine for this purpose)
- Some clothes for the baby (but this should not cost you anything because people WILL buy clothes for the baby and it’s highly likely that someone will give you a ridiculous amount of like-new hand-me-downs)
That’s it! That’s a pretty short and inexpensive list!
As a “wise aunt” I would say that if friends and family want to shower you with gifts (like the often do) and you want to register for some more things, here are some very nice things to have:
- A stroller: Notice that this was not on my list of needs. If you live in a suburban area and you drive everywhere, really think about how many places you’re going to take the baby and need a stroller. I was shocked at how little I used my stroller. If I went to the grocery store, I put the baby in the cart. If I went to someone’s house, I carried the baby. Where else do I really go? I used a stroller for trips to the zoo and the science museum but those are things I only did when the baby was a bit older, which is why I would recommend a lightweight umbrella style stroller instead of those giant “travel system” monstrosities. I liked my basic Maclaren stroller a lot. If you go most places with a car, the MOST IMPORTANT feature of the stroller is how easy it is to fold and get in and out of the car. If you are living in a walking urban area and don’t own a car, I would definitely invest in a high-quality stroller, but I’ll let the city moms give advice on that one.
- A baby carrier: If you don’t get a stroller or if you want another way to get around more easily with the baby, a baby carrier is nice. I had an Ergo carrier and while I really enjoyed it, I’m not sure I got my money’s worth out of it.
- A high chair or booster seat: If I had it to do over again, I’d probably go with just a very simple booster seat that straps to a dining chair. I bought the Fisher Price one when my kids were older to use at the table, but I’ve also used it when babysitting babies under age 1 and I see no reason it can’t be used from ages 6 months until they’re ready to sit in a regular chair. It’s simple, easy to use, easy to clean, travels well, and doesn’t take up much space. Since the medical recommendations are that babies don’t eat any solid food until 6 months, there’s no reason to have a highchair that accommodates younger babies anyway.
- A baby monitor: If you have a house with multiple floors, you may want a baby monitor so you can hear when the baby wakes up from a nap upstairs. If you live in an apartment or small house, this is an unnecessary purchase. I don’t have any specific recommendations on monitors because they’ve changed a lot since I’ve bought one. I know that video monitors are a lot more popular these days, but I think they can make parents more neurotic about the baby so consider your own personality on that one.
- A bouncy chair or rock-n-play: It can be nice to have a safe place to put the baby down while you do something else (like, uhm, go to the bathroom!) so a bouncy chair or rock-n-play is definitely a nice to have item. The crib or pack-n-play can also be used as the safe place, as can the floor of a baby-proofed room, so this is not completely essential.
- Swaddle blankets. These are very handy to help in getting babies to sleep, although not all babies like them.
- Toys and books: I hesitate to even include this because the toys and books will probably just appear in your life whether you want them to or not. People will buy them for you, there will be hand-me-downs, and you will probably want to buy some as gifts for holidays and birthdays. You certainly don’t NEED any toys when the baby arrives and there’s plenty of time for that. If a baby gets bored, the best toys are usually big spoons and big bowls or plastic containers anyway.
Now let’s talk about the things REALLY DON’T NEED:
- Fancy nursery furniture. If you’re going to buy furniture for your child’s room, buy something that you’d choose for an older child because the baby period is a VERY SHORT period of their lives. An elementary-aged kid doesn’t want a dresser with a built-in changing table. Also keep in mind that some young children destroy their furniture so it may not make it to those older years, so keeping it simple and inexpensive is probably best.
- A crib that converts to a full size bed frame. I’m sure a lot of folks will argue with me on this one, but I think these are silly for several reasons. First, many kids chew on cribs or otherwise destroy them and no big kid wants a bed with baby chew marks. Secondly, they all convert to full-size beds, not twin beds. Why does a 3 year old need a full size bed? Space in the room is more valuable than a bigger bed and twin mattresses (and sheets and blankets) are cheaper! Third, many times, the cost of the conversion rails is rather expensive and often costs more than just buying a twin headboard and frame. Also, if you’re done with the crib, you can then sell it or pass it along to someone. Also keep in mind that if you’re having multiple children, they can use the same crib if the first child is done with it when the first moves into a twin bed (of course, that doesn’t work if your kids are only a year apart like ours!).
- Rocking chairs meant only for babies. I love rocking babies as much as the next person, but why does it have to be in a baby-specific rocking chair? I’m amazed that people spend hundreds of dollars on pink or blue rockers meant for nurseries when they could get a nice living room rocking recliner for the same price. If you prefer the glider rocker style, there are plenty that don’t look babyish and could remain in the home long after the short baby-rocking time is over.
- Fancy pack-n-plays. A pack-n-play is a travel crib and playpen. That’s it. Why does it need to have more parts than a space shuttle? We had a very basic playard that cost less than $50 and I never felt like I was missing something. I’m amazed and confused by the $300 models.
- Baby bedding other than a couple fitted sheets. Really. You don’t need ANY OF IT. It’s a waste of money, a waste of space, and DANGEROUS. Young babies should not sleep with anything in their cribs at all, so why in the world do baby bedding sets even exist?! Pillows, blankets, and crib bumpers have been strongly discouraged by health professionals for many years. Even crib skirts are silly because they only work when the crib is in its highest position, which is only about 4 months maximum. Believe me, in those 4 months, you will be so tired, you won’t care one single bit if your crib has a skirt on it or not. And don’t get me started on diaper stackers!
- Various feeding accessories. Whether you’re breastfeeding or bottle-feeding, the list of items that marketers tell you that’s necessary is never-ending. I’ve fed babies both ways and never needed (or even desired) most of it. In case you were considering any kind of sterilizing equipment, babies don’t live in a sterile world so they certainly don’t need their bottles or anything else to be sterile. They also don’t need formula or breastmilk to be warm! Cold or room temperature is completely fine.
- A diaper bag. I did carry a diaper bag for the first couple years after I had kids, but I always kind of wondered why. If you’re going out of the house for a few hours or less, you just need a few diapers, a small pack of wipes, and maybe a pacifier or a bottle (breastfeeding travels even easier). Why do you need a giant bag with a million pockets for that? If you’re taking the baby somewhere for a full day or overnight, a backpack, totebag, or suitcase would probably work better (and you probably already have something like that). After I ditched my diaper bag, I got a larger purse and inside I kept a ziplock with one diaper and a travel pack of wipes in it. I did keep an “emergency” box in my car with extra clothes, a blanket, diapers, plastic bags (for wet or dirty things), and so on. Our diaper bag did come in handy for my husband to take the kids out since he obviously didn’t carry a purse. If you do decide to buy a diaper bag, definitely keep it gender-neutral so Dad doesn’t feel ridiculous out alone with a pink bag. He could also just use a general-purpose tote or backpack because there’s nothing magical about baby gear that requires it’s own special type of bag.
- Anything gender-specific that doesn’t need to be. It’s fun to dress up little girls in pink bows and little boys in blue clothes, but why does EVERYTHING for kids now have to be gender-specific? It’s that way so that companies can sell more! If your infant car seat is pink for your first child and your second is a boy, you’re going to want to buy a new car seat, right? Same goes for your pack-n-play, bouncer seat, highchair, sippy cups, and so on. So many baby products that used to come in one primary-colored version now come only in a pink version and a blue version. Generally, if there’s a “girl” version and a “boy” version of something, I just always get the boy version, regardless of whether its for a boy or girl. The “boy” version is usually just primary colors so it’s pretty gender-neutral anyway. If you have a pink baby item, you’ve also greatly reduced its resale value because less than half of people will consider buying it for their child (only people who have only girls in their family).
The cost of having children is extraordinarily high, even if you just stick to the essentials of food, clothing, housing, childcare, and education. There is no reason to inflate that cost even more by spending more than necessary on baby items. If you’d like to read more on the topic of saving on baby gear, I’d highly recommend the book Baby Bargains by Denise and Alan Fields or the blog Baby Cheapskate. Both were invaluable to me as I navigated the world of baby gear as a new mom.