Baby Shopping, or Shit They Try To Sell You

My boyfriend and I are computer addicts. And I mean hardcore – we can spend weeks of our waking life mostly just playing games (for him) and surfing the net (for me). We’re also both aware that this is a problem, and that most of our health problems would probably be ameliorated with some light physical torture exercise.

So on Friday we took the day off, and decided that one of the things we would use this screen-free day to do would be to go to the brand-spanking new baby warehouse thing that recently sprang up next to our local supermarket, and make a list of all the things we’d need, taking care not to attract the attention of any salespeople desperate to take the money we don’t have.

Upon entering, we noticed two things: 1) Nobody was at the cash register, and apart from a few fellow customers we saw no actual employees, and 2) childrens’ clothes, everywhere. In fact, at first we thought it sold only childrens’ clothes. Luckily I insisted on investigating the bibs towards the middle, revealing that the back of the shop did indeed display all the things you could possibly conceive of needing in order to care for a baby, and a lot of things you don’t.

I lost count of the number of times I thanked my lucky stars that day, that the only thing I’m good enough at for it to pay my rent is childcare. Over six years’ experience working with over thirty children, mostly under six, in a private setting (their homes), has given me a certain level of expertise in the domain of what works and what doesn’t, which I thought I’d share with you.

So without further ado, here is the minimum list of Things You’re Definitely Going To Need To Care For Your Newborn:

– A cot. Co-sleeping sounds easier, but not being able to sleep for fear of rolling over and suffocating your baby actually increases your chances of falling alseep from exhaustion and therefore not noticing when you roll over and suffocate your baby. In my case, I also have a history of nocturnal violence (I once shot putted a 6kg cat across the room. It was fine, but it never slept with me again).
The cot can, however, go next to your bed with one barrier down, so that you can easily pick the baby up for night feedings.

– Sleep sacks. These are what babies use instead of blankets nowadays. They’re less dangerous re: SIDS and also a lot more practical, since the baby can’t kick the sleep sack off and then wake up cold and cry. From experience I recommend the ones that open at the side with popper buttons for the shoulders, they’re a lot easier to get off. When shopping for these, bear in mind the season your baby will be born in – some are thicker than others – and get two or three (you might think two would be enough but never underestimate the destructive powers of a baby).

– Clothes, obviously. The best bet for this is to get a friend or family member with kids to give or sell you all their old baby clothes, if they still have them. If not, I’m afraid you’re pretty fucked financially because baby clothes cost an arm and a leg and only last three months at most.
Tip for clothes: if you do shop for them, take into account how quick and easy they would be to put on a wriggling, possibly screaming baby. Hint: It’s easier when the buttons are at the front, and the fewer buttons there are, the better. Popper buttons are easier than normal buttons to put on. Zip clothes other than coats and sleep sacks, I have found, are such rare items that owning one should earn you a level up.

– A stock of nappies. We’re considering reusable nappies, but I have no experience with them, so I’m not sure.

– A nappy bin. There are fancy bins that you stuff disposable nappies into and the bin twists and it goes into its own special bag, neutralising the smell; these are good, but I don’t know how to change them, and they require their own nappy bags, making them horrendously expensive (like nappies themselves aren’t costly enough). Whether you’re using disposable or reusable nappies, at the very least, the bin has to have a good lid.

– Baby bottles, teats etc. If this is your first baby, don’t assume you and they will both take to breastfeeding like ducks to water. Problems can arise, and it’s best to be prepared while you’re sorting them out, if they can be sorted out. Also, being the sole person responsible for feeding your baby can be pretty troublesome, and right in the beginning, feeding time is bonding time. If you don’t want your baby to be bonded just to you, best get a breastpump or keep a tin of formula handy so the other parent / family members can participate, while you use that precious time to, I dunno, sleep.

– Some kind of baby bath. Ypu can technically bathe your child in the bath, but it’s horribly painful on your knees and arms and quite dangerous unless you have one of those plastic support things, but babies can still roll off of those. Bathing baby in the sink is only recommended if you don’t mind bathing yourself and the rest of the bathroom / kitchen at the same time.
The baby bath (called “baby bad” because it’s Dutch and the Dutch are badass) I have my eye on is shaped a bit like a rounded bucket. It’s cheaper than all the others and uses way less water, and having used it before, I can tell you it’s the most practical baby bath I’ve ever tried. NB – the baby in question was 6 months old and held his head up already. It says 0 – 12 months, but I’m not sure how practical this will be with a newborn. I’ll test it and let you know – just give me another six months.

– A pram. Yes, baby wearing is great, but then you have to carry the nappy bag and your handbag as well. Prams are better for longer distances and supermarket runs, believe me. Especially if there’s space enough in it to carry the shopping as well.

– A high chair. The easier to put up, the better. I’d say the lighter the better too, but be sure it’s very stable, so if your future 1-yr-old hears his jam coming on and starts dancing wildly in his seat, the seat itself won’t topple over (you can tell this is from work experience can’t you). Get a plastic one, and I mean entirely plastic, including the seat. Cloth seats or cushions will last one meal before you have to wash them.
I’ve seen and worked with those wooden things they sell where the baby can sit at the table. I hate them. You’re at a weird angle to the baby if it’s at the table, making you twist around, and getting kids in and out of those things is a matter of infinite delicacy. Wood is hard, and once baby is bigger and has, y’know, knees and shins to bruise, it only takes a second of carelessness to hurt them.

– A bib. Preferably plastic, large, with that upturned bit at the bottom to catch crumbs. In fact, once they get old enough to want to eat by themselves (as young as 9 months), just get them a plastic apron with a big front pocket.

– A play mat. Or at least a duvet that can go between them and the dusty floor. You probably won’t have time to hoover once the baby’s there.

– A nasal aspirator. Before these were invented, my uncle once relieved his very sick daughter of the contents of her nose by sucking them out. Luckily nowadays we can be good parents without having to go through this trauma. I’ve never used (and instinctively wouldn’t trust) the electronic devices, but don’t worry, the manual ones work well enough and no, there’s no risk of you sucking the snot into your mouth.

– Miscellaneous products to buy just before birth because some of them have sell by dates: you only really need some kind of baby soap-&-shampoo, sudocreme for nappy rash, and baby oil / lotion if your baby has dry skin (in which case you can bathe it less often, it won’t die). Nappy wipes can be useful for outings, but otherwise using a flannel is cheaper and actually a lot easier, if you have close access to a sink.

– Toys. They don’t have to be fancy, just not dangerous. There doesn’t have to be a bajillion of them either, and you don’t have to keep them forever. It might be interesting to look into toy loan or exchange systems between parents. Kids like new stuff.

– A car seat. Only if you have a car, obviously.

Things You Won’t Need But They Will Try To Sell You:

– A play pen. This is basically like putting babies into a cage. Their room should be completely childproof – put a stair barrier on the door instead, they’ll have far more space to explore. (Note that if you have twins or more than one young child you might need a play pen anyway, just try not to put your baby in there all the time.)

– A baby trotter. Those things are not just unnecessary, they’re downright dangerous. As a baby I had an accident and had to go to the burns ward (I still have the scars on my hands) and one of the babies in the ward had been in one of those and fallen against a hot glass oven door, and her skin stuck to it. And if you’re thinking “yes but our oven is high up and anyway they help babies learn to walk” – they don’t. Babies who are put in trotters take longer to learn to walk than those who are left on the floor because they don’t have to exercise their leg muscles and they don’t learn to balance themselves on their own feet. Don’t get a damn trotter, and if someone gives you one, burn it rather than give it to another baby.

– Pacifiers (what my family call “dodies”) that take your baby’s temperature. Might sound like a good idea, until baby spits it out, or vomits on it, or chews the teat to nothing. An ear or forehead themometer is just as good. I’ve used rectal thermometers for years: bear in mind that they need like 30 seconds minimum to take the baby’s temperature, during which time you’d better pray he or she doesn’t pee on you.

– A changing table. Babies can technically be changed on any flat surface as long as you have a blanket (preferably plastic) to catch any fallout. Changing tables *are* practical, but if your living space and/or budget are small, just keep all your changing gear in a bag and change the baby on the sofa, bed or rug.

– That really cool electrical toy that lights up and plays ten different nursery rhymes. You don’t need it, and you will realise just how much you don’t need it when your baby works out how to activate all ten songs on repeat all day long, just as the batteries are starting to die, rendering the music slow and creepily out of tune. You will probably be given some of these, and if you are then by no means should you not use them, but bear in mind that babies may be equally as fascinated by the shiny wrapping paper your luxury bath salts with relaxing essential oils came in. Also bear in mind that while it is important to stimulate your baby, it is just as important not to over-stimulate him or her. That is how they end up with ADHD.

– Baby music CDs. YouTube and iTunes have all the baby music you could ever want, and besides, whoever said babies should listen exclusively to nursery rhymes? Babies like all sorts of music, and if you like a certain type of music, no age is too young to introduce them to it. Just be aware that babies have sensitive ears and that you may not hear them cry if you pump up the volume.
NB – my exeption to this rule would be Putumayo CDs, which you can almost certainly find in your local library.

– Babyphone with a camera on it. Lemme tell you something about babies: they sleep at night (if you’re lucky anyway). At night, it’s dark. You can’t see anything in the dark. Duh.

Things You Don’t Absolutely Need But That Are Useful

– A baby sling or carrier. Slings and scarves are much, much better for your back than other baby carriers, and more comfortable for parent and child. They can also be adjusted so you can wear your baby in different positions, according to what you’re doing, what your baby wants (to sleep against you or to look around), and how old / heavy they are. I thought of making one of these myself, but Bf would prefer to buy one to be safe. I guess I don’t blame him. There are loads of articles about baby wearing, just google it if you want to learn more.

– A changing table. I said you didn’t need it, not that it wasn’t convenient to have one.

– A baby steam cooker. This sounds superficial, but it’s not. The ones I’ve used have two settings: steam cook and blend. If you want to make your own baby food (and seriously, have you tried ready-made baby food? It’s gross), this item is a good investment. You just steam cook whatever vegetable or fruit you’re making, take out the basket and dump the food in the blender, blend, and store in the fridge or the freezer.

– Similarly, little tupperware pots with quantities marked on them. Or at least some very small tupperware boxes that can go in the microwave.

– I hesitated on putting the microwave in the Need section. Technically you don’t need one, but it is insanely more convenient if you do have one.

– Mobiles. Babies spend the first few months of their lives mostly staring at the ceiling. It’s cool if there’s something closer that they can practise grabbing.

– A baby recliner. I’m a big fan of leaving kids on a (clean) floor to explore, but newborns might find recliners more comforting, and they can be useful if you want to start feeding your baby solids before it can sit up with aid. Otherwise there’s those long sausage-like pillow things you fold and put the baby into, but they don’t offer as much support. NB – check the reviews before buying a recliner to make sure they’re not dangerous or unergonomical.

– A babyphone. You know, those walky-talkie things you use to hear your baby cry when it’s asleep. Very useful if you’re at the other end of the house. Just don’t get one with a camera on it – there is literally no point.

This article is now over 2000 words long, so I’m going to stop here, but I’d love to know if you think I’ve missed anything in any of the lists, or if you’ve come across some ridiculous baby product that someone was trying sell off as “vital”.

Now I’m going to get some off-screen time.

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