Saturday, 22 September 2012

What will my new baby need?

Something that has come up in discussion a fair bit recently, is shopping for a new baby.

My second baby is 7 weeks old now, he didn't really need anything new, as we kept all of his brother's kit. Moving house in late pregnancy also forced me to think really hard about which items I would need to hand, and which could  be stacked at the bottom of a pile of things that probably won't be sorted out until he goes to school.

I was fairly frugal with my first, being determined not to succumb to the lure of the Mothercare catalogue. Those endless checklists of "must haves" only ever seem to be written by people who make more money the more pointless gadgets you buy, in desperate hope that somehow, a nightlight with built in smoke detectors and bottle warmers will make you am adequate parent.

Despite your fears, your baby won't care whether you have the latest gadget. All a new baby needs is, well... you. Humans practise exogestation. Like kangaroos, our babies are born before they are fully developed, in other apes they would still be a foetus safely tucked away inside mum, but we have big brains, so our babies have to come out while they still fit. This gives rise to what is referred to as "the fourth trimester", a period where your baby's needs are really no more than a foetus, so for at least 3 months, all they need is food, and comfort. You can do this, no big budget required.

Oren's list.

So I was faced with considering what items Oren, my youngest son, deprived as he is, has actually used in his first 7 weeks, the list goes like this:

  • Clothes, rompers and vests only. A hat and a cardi if it's cold out.
  • Nappies and wipes.
  • Muslin squares.
  • A sling (actually, many slings, but that is my addiction, not his need)
  • A place to rest when I can't hold him (like in the shower). We have a crib downstairs and a bouncy chair upstairs.
  • Nursing cushion 
  • Blankets
  • Car seat.
A lot of this is dependent on my lifestyle however, so lets look in more detail at how this works. I am highlighting the items, in case you get bored and just wanted a list....


New babies do a lot of sleeping. They do like to do it near their mum though. Accepted advice is to keep your baby in your room until they are 6 months old, this reduces the SIDS risk and makes tending to them at night easier.

I, like many parents (many of whom don't talk about it) co-sleep with my babies. With my first it was upon the advice of the midwife, as he was feeding a lot at night, I was going to end up falling asleep feeding him, so best to make it safe and official. The UNICEF guide to caring for babies at night summarises the safety points to take into account. This is why poor deprived Oren doesn't have a cot or moses basket. His big brother did, he barely used it, it was a waste of space.

Cribs and moses baskets don't tend to last very long before babies outgrow them. If you buy a cot, they can stay in it for a couple of years. If you buy a cot with an adjustable mattress height (or just one the right height) and a removable side, you can fix it to your bed with bungees and there you have it, a fancy sidecar cot for easy night feeds. Second hand cots are great, but a new mattress is a must.

As for bedding you need a couple of flannel sheets, and some appropriate blankets (sleeping bags are only suitable from around 8lb upwards, they won't start kicking the sheets off for a couple of months), people tend to give blankets to babies, so you will likely end up with loads.


When I think about buying baby clothes, I remember a conversation I overheard between a friend who was mum to a new baby, and another friend who lives a slightly unconventional self-sufficient lifestyle. The new mother complained how expensive baby clothes were, and my other friend replied that her daughter had spent her first couple of months wrapped in a sheepskin. The moral of this story is, the baby doesn't care about fashion.

A baby's requirement for clothes is simply that they need to be warm and comfortable. Sleepsuits and vests are great for this. Fancy outfits can be uncomfortable, difficult to dress them in, and it is proven (by my own research) that the nicer the outfit, the shorter it takes for it to get covered in some sort of vile secretion. A really expensive outfit will have sick applied to it as you pull it over their head. Guaranteed. Some people are a bit funny about babies wearing "pyjamas" all the time, but they sleep most of the time so why not? I certainly wouldn't want to go to bed in jeans.

From your point of view they should wash ad dry well, and do up easily. For night time, "bundlers" (long nighties with elastic or drawstring bottoms) are brilliant, because you don't have to do the popper puzzle in the dark when you are half asleep. Mothercare always stock a 2 pack of them, and they turn up in various other places too. Poppers that go straight up the front are easiest. Babies tend to object to clothes being pulled over their heads, so sleepsuits that only button at the bottom are more tricky, as are the ones that button down one side, as you have to manoeuvre a wriggly leg into the side that doesn't have poppers. 

As for quantity, you need to get enough to deal with the endless sick and nappy leakages (Our record so far is 4 outfits in a day), but remember they grow fast. When I unpacked the hand-me downs for baby number 2, I found many vests that had never been worn, as a certain number got into the wash/wear cycle, and the rest stayed fresh in the drawer. You can get away with about 10 of each (vests and sleepsuits). If you have a really bad run of laundry, you can always put them in the next size up (they really don't mind being in a big babygro) if you have those tucked away ready.

Once I caught on to how fast Nate (my eldest) was growing, I realised other babies would be much the same, many good quality, barely worn baby clothes are available on eBay and the like for very little money.


Maternity units don't let you out with your baby without a car seat. I have yet to find out what happens if you don't have a car. Regardless of this, if you intend to take your baby in a private car, you will need an appropriate seat (you can travel without in a taxi, but if you have a portable seat and somewhere to put it at your destination, all the better). If you are planning a home birth, it is still worth getting a seat in advance, just in case you need to transfer. No one needs to be held hostage for a carseat. Second hand car seats without a known history aren't a good idea, as they lose their structural integrity in a crash. If you don't intend on using your seat in more than one car, consider a combination (stage 0/1) seat rather than a portable newborn seat as it will last longer, and tends to have a healthier seating position.

Travel systems are a cost effective way of getting a seat and an enormous pushchair. If you use buses or have limited space to store it, you may find a travel system too big when folded. If you walk everywhere and need a sturdy pushchair to put your shopping in, they are pretty good. 

Nate travelled everywhere for the first 8 months in a sling. There are a load of different kinds, a whole other post-worth, but even though Nate is a big lad, I was comfortably carrying him for a long while. I barely used my pushchair, and I could certainly have done without until he was big enough for a cheaper umbrella fold stroller. Slings are also invaluable for that fourth trimester stuff I was talking about earlier, be a kangaroo, keep your little one close to your body and your hands free. Their physiology works better, they have less reflux, learn more, become more social and are generally calmer and happier. If you wear your baby in a sling regularly, you will get stronger as they get bigger, and you will be amazed how much you can do. [I was still carrying 15kg Nate on my back, at 38 weeks pregnant]. I should add that when I say "sling" I am referring to a wrap, ring sling, or mei tai. Structured carriers that dangle the baby by their crotch (as opposed to supporting their bottom with their knees bent up) are not good for their spine or pelvis and should be avoided.


A newborn will get through up to 10 nappies a day, so you'll need a few. Again, don't go mad bulk buying small sizes, they may grow out of them pretty fast. If you go for cloth nappies, about 20 is manageable, 40 cloth wipes will complement them. It's actually worth borrowing or buying one off samples of a few types of cloth nappies and trialling them to see which you like best. You can buy cloth nappies second hand, and often local councils have grant schemes to help with the cost. Even if you can't stomach the idea of using someone else's cloth nappies, if you keep an eye on eBay and the like, you will often find full sets going, washed, but never worn, because the parent decided to go with disposables after all. If you are going down the disposable route, you will need cotton wool and eventually disposable wipes.


If you are breastfeeding your shopping list will be short indeed! Some people suggest having some bottles and cartons of formula around "just in case". This is generally accepted by people in the know as being something that undermines breastfeeding, and it is possible to obtain such things in an emergency pretty easily nowadays.

You will need some nursing bras, go for stretchy multi-sized ones for the first couple of weeks, then get measured for something properly supportive once your supply settles down. Cheap nursing bras are a false economy, go for the best you can afford, plus breast pads to protect them. Even nursing bras aren't essential, just a well fitting soft bra will do, but can be a bit trickier to nurse in.

I find muslin squares indispensable in the constant fight to not have vomit down my back, but some mothers don't bother. I don't understand bibs though, so it's each to their own I suppose. Muslins are massively versatile, they catch sick, wipe noses, mop up spills. They can be folded into a light nappy, or a bib, they make a good makeshift changing mat. Nate likes to put them on his head and pretend to be a ghost, or hold one in each hand and pretend to be a butterfly. Endless possibilities. In my house you are never more than a meter from a muslin; unless you have a projectile vomiting baby in your lap, then there will be none.

If you are bottle feeding you will need bottles, and some way of sterilising them, a good microwave steriliser will do bottles, pumps, dummies, anything you like. Not all babies need bottles, even if you are giving expressed or formula feeds, you can feed from a cup, or a spoon. Unless you definitely plan to use bottles, you can wait until after the birth to decide if you need them.

Nursing cushions. I am a huge fan of these, some of them cost a fortune, mine came from a supermarket and was not so bad. I used my horseshoe shaped cushion as a support during prenatal yoga, then to support my baby while he fed (they should be very firm and plump, so you can go hands free). Once they start wanting to sit propped up, it makes a nice safe comfy place for them to sit. Normal pillows or cushions can do the job, but need a big more careful arranging.

Other things that might be useful

Bouncy chairs, a decent one that reclines back and has a head support. Sometimes you need a safe place to put baby down, so you can shower. They do tend to be very expensive though, and you will only use it for a couple of months, so this is another item that is good second hand.

A bath support. My favourite was a kind of frame, with a terry covering, like a deckchair that baby lay on in the bath. You won't need it long, and you can do without, but they are useful, especially if you lack confidence or dexterity, or have a bad back.

A baby monitor. Not at all essential, especially in the early days when you will have your baby close all the time. Very useful for ordering tea when you are in bed with the baby though.

A change bag. Doesn't have to be an expensive one, just a bag that is big enough for your essentials.

Baby toiletries. A good nappy cream (I like Bepanthen, I find the old favourite, Sudocreme, a nightmare to get off skin and cloth nappies, but you get a free tub of that in your Bounty pack, so try it) and a mild baby shampoo/soap. A towel of their own (or 2) is also useful. It's worth having a mild base oil, like sweet almond oil to take care of dry skin and cradle cap.

Things that can wait until after the baby is born.

A breast pump. If you need to pump in hospital, they can lend you one. Some mothers are very happy hand expressing, or you might find you don't need to express at all, but if you do want to leave your exclusively breastfed baby for a couple of hours, or you plan to build up a freezer stash for after your return to work, a good pump is an excellent investment. If you do buy a pump you will need storage bottles or bags for the milk.

Dummies. Neither of my babies would take them. If you breastfeed it can disrupt the latch. However, if you bottle feed you may find they satisfy your baby's need to comfort-suck, and their use is linked to lower incidence of SIDS. A breastfed baby (or any baby) can be settled at the breast, they aren't "using you as a dummy", it's the other way around, the dummy is a breast substitute.

Toys. Your baby won't start interacting with objects for several weeks, they want to see people, you are their favourite plaything. After that, hanging things they can bat at are a good start.

High chair and feeding equipment. Babies don't need to start on solids until they are 6 months old, so plates, beakers, bibs, spoons and high chairs can wait.

Things you really don't need

A teddy that makes womb noises. Babies like the sound and smell of you, because they want to be close to you, with good reason. Cuddling your baby is a good excuse to rest, so why spend money on something to substitute yourself?

A bath. Tiny babies fit in a sink, or washing up bowl. Baby baths are huge to store, awkward to fill/empty and only useful for a short time.

A changing table. Are you really going to go up to the nursery every time your newborn needs a change? Even in the middle of good TV? Even when you are exhausted? In the middle of the night? You need somewhere to store your baby care items, but a basic change mat slid under the sofa, with a box/bag of nappies and wipes to hand is much handier. You can change your baby on any firm, safe surface protected with an old hand towel, muslin, or folding change mat.

Shoes. Babies' feet should not be restricted when growing. Until they are walking outside, there is no need for shoes, they are purely aesthetic, and the damn things fall off everywhere. They are very cute though, if you use them, just make sure they are roomy.

Most of the things the magazines claim are "essential" I could go on for a long while....

As I demonstrated with Oren, it's actually very possible to have a baby with very little "stuff" at all, there really is no need to panic, or feel overwhelmed, just remember that all a newborn needs is to be warm, dry, fed and loved; if you find you need anything else, you can always get it later.

Of course there is no reason not to buy everything you fancy, if you can afford it and are happy to do so; but if your little one starts life with nothing but a bag of second hand babygros to their name, there is no need to worry or feel guilty, the "stuff" is for the parents, not the baby, they will be just fine.

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