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Staying Home

Getting Ready for Baby: What do I really need?

From NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 25, No. 2, 2008, pp. 38-41

"Staying Home" is a regular feature of the magazine NEW BEGINNINGS, published bimonthly by La Leche League International. In this column, suggestions are offered by readers of NEW BEGINNINGS to help parents who choose to stay at home with their children. Various points of view are presented. Not all of the information may be pertinent to your family's life-style. This information is general in nature, and not intended to be advice, medical or otherwise.

Mother's Situation

I'm pregnant with my first child. Although my husband and I have saved a nice "nest egg" for our baby, we are overwhelmed with all of the baby gear we seem to need! I believe in trying to keep things simple, but all the magazines and all our friends keep telling us we need to have more to be prepared. Will I really need a breast pump since I will be staying at home? What will we need for the nursery and the layette? What can we do without?

Mother's Response

Trust your instincts -- keep it simple. You really don't need all the stuff the lists say you do. Keep in mind that those lists are often just advertising in disguise. My husband and I bought half the stuff that was recommended when we were expecting our first baby, and we ended up not using half of that! When your baby is a newborn, all he or she will need is you, your arms, and your breasts to stay fed and comforted. To keep baby warm and clean, you'll need diapers and clothes, and blankets if it's cold weather. Remember that people will most likely give you more stuff than you expect. I received more clothes than my baby could wear as gifts and hand-me-downs. And babies grow out of newborn things very quickly, so don't get too many items that are sized for newborns.

For going places with baby, some people find the carseats that pop into a base in the car nice to carry baby around in, but I found it much harder to do this than just taking my baby out of it, especially since my baby cried the entire time she was in one. Those seats are really heavy, too! For me, strollers were also more hassle than they were worth; they're heavy, bulky to haul around, and difficult to get in certain places or through crowds. If you do need a stroller, the jogging type strollers seem to be lighter and easier to handle. I found using a sling or wrap to carry baby to be far easier and made for a happier baby, too. Front pack carriers are okay, but hard if not impossible to nurse in and difficult to get the baby in and out of, so they're not very useful in the early weeks. If your baby ends up being a high need baby like mine was, a sling can be a lifesaver and a great way to keep baby happy while allowing you to do things and go places. Carrying a baby gives mom extra exercise, too.

As for nursery items, are you trying to outfit a cute little baby room? That is certainly what our culture seems to expect, but unless you just want to do it as a creative expression for yourself, you shouldn't feel like you have to, because baby won't care at all. By the time a child is old enough to care what her room looks like, she's going to want to change what you've set up. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends parents keep their newborn in the same room for sleeping, as this reduces the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. When it comes to a safe place for baby to sleep, I suggest keeping an open mind. If you're willing to give cosleeping a try, you won't have to worry about buying a crib. Many families love this arrangement and books like James McKenna's Sleeping With Your Baby explain how to do this safely. If you change your mind, you can always buy a crib later. We bought an expensive cosleeper bed that attaches to the side of our bed, but my daughter almost never slept in it, so it was a waste of money for us. The floor works fine as a changing "table" and is actually safer, but if you prefer a higher surface, as I did, a changing pad such as the contoured foam type on a low dresser works great.

To start with, spend as little as possible. Once you have your baby, you will better know what your family needs. What you think you need may not be what you decide you really need after the baby arrives. The same goes for a breast pump -- you can get one later if you decide you need it. Many women never need one. If you decide not to get one, learning how to hand express can be helpful if you need to express a little milk to cope with engorgement. Keep in mind that most of the items that are "necessary" for baby are really just for the parents' "convenience" (even though sometimes they're less convenient than using nothing!) or to fit cultural norms. Babies really need very little. You being with your baby is all he or she really needs.

Katie Brown
New Market VA USA

Mother's Response

When I was pregnant with our first child, my husband and I were a little overwhelmed with all the "necessities" we were supposed to purchase before our little one arrived. According to all the magazine articles and friends' advice, we were to spend a small fortune to care for a person smaller than our cat. Would we need a playpen? A baby bath? A "travel system stroller?" What were really necessities?

Looking back (my girls are now two and five), I realize that there are definite "must haves" when you have a little one. However, there are at least as many "don't needs" (especially for a stay-at-home, breastfeeding mother). I thought a list of what I considered essential might be helpful to you.

First of all, the one piece of baby gear that I would very strongly encourage you to get is a cloth baby sling. Mine was a lifesaver, and the only piece of baby equipment that I used every day. Not only did it make normal, everyday activities much easier (combing my hair, washing dishes, making meals), but I honestly couldn't have lived without it while shopping, going to the zoo, or anywhere else that required a lot of standing and/or walking around. Plus, it made nursing in public a breeze. Snuggle baby in, latch her on, and not only was I able to continue on with whatever I was doing, but baby was blissfully happy and most people didn't even know what I was doing!

A sling takes the place of other, expensive, so-called "necessary items." We never needed a playpen (not only was baby happier being close to me, I never needed to plop her down while I did laundry or made supper), a baby swing (baby was rocked to sleep and/or comforted while I went about my daily routine), or a big "travel system" stroller (it was much easier to carry baby than lug around a stroller and/or a car seat, plus, baby was much, much happier!). People commented all the time how alert, calm, and happy my babies were, and I always credited my sling. They were able to be close to me constantly and nurse easily anywhere, while at the same time being up where all the action was. Both my girls are very verbal and articulate, something that I think was fostered by being around social interactions daily since birth. Slings can be a little pricey, but trust me, they are worth every penny.

Secondly, as a cosleeping family, many of the "typical" baby items were never needed. We never bought (or had need for) a crib, including crib bedding, and the few heavy duty sleepers we got as gifts went unused, as baby stayed nice and warm cuddled next to us. In fact, the only nighttime expense we encountered was when our second was born and we bought a new bed (we were starting to feel crowded in our queen size bed). Instead of upgrading to a larger size, we just bought a twin bed and fit it snugly next to our bed. Now, Daddy sleeps in the twin bed while the girls and I share the larger bed. This way, we are all still close at night, while having room to stretch out. We did buy a railing to put along the outside of the bed to prevent falls, but I know other families who have just taken the mattress off the frame and box spring and set it directly on the floor.

Lastly, since I was a stay-at-home mom, nursed on cue, and stayed in constant contact with my babies while they were small, I never needed a breast pump or bottles. Many people told me that it was essential ("What if you need a break?" "What if you want to go out without your baby?" "What if Dad wants a turn?"), but we found that baby (and mommy!) were happiest when she got her "milkies" directly from the source. I never had any desire to leave her for a long stretch of time, and Daddy found plenty of other ways to get involved (changing diapers, giving baths, and playtime). It was always easier for me to just lift my shirt and nurse then it was to pump.

My husband and I always laughed when we read "layette lists" in magazines. According to many of them, a breastfeeding mom needs just as much, if not more, equipment than a bottle-feeding mom. The reason? They assume that even though you're breastfeeding, you'll still want all the bottle-feeding equipment "just in case." For us, breastfeeding was not only the easiest and most economical, but it made both baby and me the happiest.

Abi Henke
Lincoln NE USA

Mother's Response

We had the same experience when first expecting our child. We suspected that the vast majority of "absolutely necessary" items really weren't, and we were correct. If you own a car, you'll need a carseat. If it's cold where you live, some sort of coat or heavy blanket will be needed. Diapers are good to have ahead of time. Other than that, you can figure out what you really need or want once the baby shows up.

You can use the things you already own. Regular towels actually do work on babies! Laundry baskets make nice bassinets. Baby fingernail clippers are usually too dull, and we ended up using the clippers we already had. There are items you'll learn to love, but they will be unique to your parenting experience. I loved my sling, but not everyone does. I did like my small manual breast pump for those rare times I wanted to pump. If you are nursing your baby, that's really just about all you will need. Trust your own instincts and you won't go wrong.

Donna A. Dietz
Ithaca NY USA

Mother's Response

As a rule of thumb, usually moms staying at home do not need a breast pump. Your baby needs your breasts for food and comfort, and your closeness, kisses, and love the most!

Don't forget to attend La Leche League meetings before the birth. You'll see what moms and babies need first-hand, collect lots of great information, and have a comfortable atmosphere to ask the next questions that come up.

Vera Lynn Richardson
Chillicothe OH USA

Mother's Response

We were already five months pregnant when my boyfriend, Kevin, moved in with me. We moved into my apartment because it was much cheaper than his, but it was very small, so space was at as much of a premium as money was. At one point, Kevin was concerned about all of the things that a baby needs. I reassured him that there is a difference between what we think the baby needs, and what the baby actually needs. If we look at the generations that came before us, many of them were immigrants and pioneers. Their babies did not have countless cute outfits, eight pairs of shoes, and their own videos. Most did not even have a crib, high chair, or rocking chair. Using this as our standard, we focus on providing love, attention, and safety. Here are my ideas:

  • Baby's carseat should not be more than five years old or purchased second-hand. Safety is worth the investment.
  • If you have easy access to a washing machine and dryer, you will need a lot fewer baby clothes and blankets than you might think. Babies grow fast, so plan ahead for what the baby will need at six to18 months of age. A new wardrobe every three months is expensive, so consider shopping at rummage sales, consignment stores, or online.
  • I never would have imagined that cosleeping would be something that I would advocate, but it has worked really well for our family. If having your baby in bed with you is not an option, two of my friends use baby's carseat as a bed. In a pinch, baby can sleep in a rectangular clothes basket.
  • If you'll be pumping your milk, I recommend using an electric breast pump. You may not need it right away, but mine has come in quite handy.

The most important thing a child can have is his or her mother and father. Read, sing, and play with your child. Hold your child as much as possible, for you might never again have only one child, and the time will quickly come that your little one will be too busy to sit on your lap. If the housework suffers, if supper is not on the table promptly, try not to worry about it, and just enjoy this time with your baby.

Laura J. Duck

Mother's Response

You may not really know what you need until baby is here. There are some basics, however, that I could not have lived without. Having something to use as a changing table on the first floor of our house was wonderful. The nursery on the second floor was completely outfitted (due to my stress over everyone asking me what the theme was), but baby has yet to sleep in the crib all night long, or even for naps.

You will need changing pads, burp cloths, onesies, socks and my all time favorite -- the nursing pillow. We didn't stock up on diapers because we tried a couple of different brands at first to determine which we liked best.

Like you, I decided to stay home. I rented a breast pump from my hospital just in case, and it worked out great. I did actually use it on occasion during the first three months, and after doing research, I ended up buying a single pump. That has worked for me due to how little I actually pump.

It's great that you are preparing, but there is only so much preparation you can actually do. All the baby items out there today are luxuries.

Remember to take care of you, too. Buy yourself some comfortable nursing loungewear and set up a special place to nurse your little one that's cozy. After all, you are exactly what baby needs.

AE Kollner
Cincinnati OH USA

Mother's Response

When I was pregnant with our first child, I was determined to be prepared. After reading many books on pregnancy and childbirth, I moved on to baby books and parenting magazines. I collected lists of what we would need for the baby -- pages and pages of "necessities." Friends and relatives who had recently become parents were eager to share their list of "must haves." Once my beautiful daughter was born, I realized that none of the that really matters, and most isn't even needed. What your baby needs most is you!

Of course the only nourishment your child will need is your milk. As for everything else, remember that friends and family will be generous with baby gifts. Most equipment designed for young babies is outgrown quickly, so that means that you may be able to get hand-me-downs or buy second-hand in excellent condition. That can really save your "nest egg." It is best to wait and see what you will really need, and what will be received as gifts.

I personally really liked our vibrating bouncy seat. It's nice to have a place where baby is content when you need to use the bathroom or take a quick shower. As for all the other baby gear, there are some things you and your baby will love and some you will be happy to do without. Once baby arrives, you'll have a better idea of what you will need, so don't feel like you need to stockpile ahead of the delivery date. Providing your love and nurturing, and following your instincts, are the best gifts you can give your child.

Ann Holmstrom
Omaha NE USA

Mother's Response

So many mothers end up with baby in bed, whether they planned it that way or not, that often the nursery is never used. The glider rocker gets moved into the living room or the master bedroom and the room sits empty for a year or two until it's redecorated for a toddler to move into. With my first child, I thankfully had the example of my sister-in-law to follow. She bought a crib that was never used, so we never bothered to buy one. Seven years and two more children later, we remain a "cribless" family..

With my son, I bought some clothes, a set of cloth diapers, receiving blankets, and a car seat. When he was about six weeks old, I bought a bouncy seat because I'd tried one at a friend's and he'd liked it, and a changing table because while most of my friends said they never used theirs, I actually found that I wanted one..

You may find that different things are useful at different ages and stages. One of my babies liked a cradle at around four months, another liked an infant swing, but only for about three months. A lot of times you can borrow from friends who are not using their baby gear but are hanging onto it for another baby in the future. It was great to be able to use one for the short time that it was truly useful, and not have to spend money on something that was only used for such a short period of time..

While I can understand the excitement of preparing for your baby and the desire to be sure that you have all you need to meet his or her needs, really the only thing your baby needs is you. I would just get a few essentials and hang onto some of that nest egg for college or those unforeseen, inevitable costs that life brings..

Margo Trueman
Ridgecrest CA USA

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