Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Things babies don't need

I keep being told about how expensive babies are. BabyCenter tells me my baby's first year will cost us around $9,000. Apparently it costs $250,000 to raise a child to adulthood. I'm not sure who comes up with these numbers.

We've spent maybe a couple of hundred dollars directly on the baby since he was born, and much of that wasn't necessary. Of course, we were lucky to have a lot of gifts from friends and family, but hand-me-downs are pretty easy to find. Even if you don't have friends with older babies, there are tons of listings on Craigslist for baby clothes for a couple of dollars a bag -- or cribs and carseats for less than half retail price. Everyone wants new -- so if used is good enough, it's easy to save a ton.

This isn't, however, a post on how to save money with a baby. Even if you're being frugal, babies do have costs -- like the upgrade from insurance for a couple to a family plan, or the out-of-pocket costs at the hospital. Not $9,000, but there are expenses.

I'm talking about stuff babies don't need at all. Stuff that you might want to say no to, even if it's offered for free.

Infant carseat: You know how you always see moms lugging around those gigantic bucket seats with babies in them? It's our culture's image of how you carry a baby. But those aren't necessary. I have never had one, and though getting the baby in and out of his carseat at every stop can be a pain, it's forced me to actually hold my child. This means that when we're out and about, he's able to look around and interact with his environment (something he loves to do), stay warm in someone's arms, and strengthen his body. Plus, no chance of developing positional plagiocephaly, or flat head, like many "carseat babies" do.

Swing: These have always struck me as just one more way to ignore your baby. Yes, babies love movement. But allowing them to zone out in a swaying seat for hours while they stare at the wall -- it just doesn't strike me as necessary. Most babies would far and away prefer a little holding, perhaps in a cloth carrier. And when swings are used for naps, you're left in a bind when they get too big for the swing but can't sleep without motion. For those few very needy babies that you just can't seem to hold as much as they want, you can always buy a swing after the baby's born. Otherwise, it's likely to be just one more place to put a baby that would rather be with you.

A ton of clothes: When Marko was a newborn, I had a hard time making sure he even wore all his clothes at least once! Now that he's growing out of his 6-9 month clothes, he has hardly anything that fits -- perhaps four or five day outfits and three sets of footie pajamas. And yet, with our tiny washer, that actually turns out to be about right. Also, a baby doesn't need to be wrapped in a million blankets either. As a rule of thumb, if you're wearing shorts, the baby can be wearing something equivalent. If you need a sweater, put him in a sweater or long sleeves. If his cheeks are flushed, he's wearing too much; if his hands are blue, purple, or mottled, he needs more. It's okay for babies to be barefoot. I get scolded almost daily about my kid's bare feet, but he doesn't want to wear socks -- they get in the way of his cruising and crawling. Unless we're outside on a cold day, I leave his feet bare (except for footie pajamas at night).

Shoes: I've just been reading up on how much better kids' feet develop without shoes. In fact, we'd all do better to go barefoot a bit more often: fewer corns, hammertoes, and cases of athlete's foot. Unless the ground is very cold or covered with sharp objects, we don't really need to be wearing shoes or put them on our kids. Obviously non-walking babies don't need shoes at all! It might be handy to have one pair for dressy events and cold days, but other than that, you don't need baby shoes.

Changing table: I have always changed Marko on the floor. As he gets older and more squirmy, I sure am glad I do. Because he would have pitched to the floor a half-dozen times if he were on a table. They're just not very safe. I find it quite comfortable to kneel down and change him, but you can also change a baby on the bed if you'd rather (though you need a plastic pad underneath the baby .... believe me).

Plates, bowls, sippy cups, utensils: Personally, I think the existence of special baby dishes must be a marketing ploy. Marko's never had the slightest patience for a sippy cup. And it's just as well, because they're not as good for developing teeth! He drinks out of my cup and eats with his hands off his clean high chair tray. No flinging of bowls or spoons that way. (Spoon-feeding a baby at all isn't necessary -- just wait till the baby's ready to feed himself with his hands, and give him small soft bits!)

Baby bath tub: It's hard to hold a wet, floppy baby at arms length in a tub. Much better to hold him on your lap in the big tub with you. It's what I do. Now that he can sit up, he sometimes gets baths by himself, but I generally get in with him because it's my only chance to get clean on a busy day!

So what do babies need? It depends. We got ours a crib (Craigslist, $40) because he preferred to sleep in his own space, but many babies sleep much better in mom and dad's bed. Expensive cribs can end up being a $300 storage space for stuffed animals. To be legal to go places, we needed a carseat, but we have a convertible one that switches to forward-facing when the baby's old enough. It will last him till he's out of carseats altogether. A high chair was handy ($15 at Goodwill) so he had someplace to eat, as well as get a good view of things while I was cooking. We did end up buying one "baby-minder," a bouncy seat, because Marko loved being upright so much. He had a lot of floor time as a tiny baby, but his favorite thing in the world was to look around. And we got a Moby Wrap ($40 new) to carry him around in. That thing has been worth its weight in gold, and I've made two more carriers too. (He's sleeping right now in the mei tai. Just wouldn't nap no matter what I did, so I popped him in there -- out in five minutes.)

Other than that, a couple dozen cloth diapers, some clothes (mostly gifts and hand-me-downs), bites of whatever food we happen to be eating, and a lot of toys -- most of which were never meant as toys, like my whisk that he seems to have appropriated -- fulfill his needs pretty well. The main thing he needs is two loving parents, which he has. I shy away from anything that tries to replace those.


Sarah Faith said...

I *totally* agree with all of this!
As a mom of 6 young kids (who homescohols) I barely spend any money on the kids other than feeding them and giving them educational opportunities. I hate seeing babies lugged around in car seats, and we don't own a crib. Not only is it cheaper and forces us to be better parents, but it also allows us a lot more room in the house without constantly tripping over paraphernalia!!

Sarah Faith said...

ROTFLOL! Homescohol! I'm a Homescoholic! lolol
Anyway I meant Homeschools...

Enbrethiliel said...


Sheila, I'm intrigued by the idea of babies feeding themselves. (Just one of those obvious things that is totally new to me because my family obviously digs all the marketing. Sigh!) I presume it's just for soft solid food? But what about stuff like mashed bananas?

Sally Thomas said...

Once they're old enough to pick things up in a pincer grasp, they can manage little lumps and dices of soft things like banana. And if you wait long enough, they start eating solids at about that stage, rather than needing all the baby-food jars. Mine never did wait quite that long, but they progressed to table food very quickly.

We never owned a high chair -- someone gave us a couple of those little seats that clamp onto the table, and we used those through our last two babies. The first ones had the kind of booster seats that belt to a regular chair (which becomes unbelievably disgusting over time, but there it is . . . ), and we used them as long as the child needed the extra height to be able to reach his/her food.

We also used a Graco Pack'N'Play for a crib for years. When our oldest was born, someone sold us a crib for $20, then we moved to England while our second was still in a crib and bought this Pack'N'Play. He slept in it until he was big enough to climb out. Then our third and fourth slept in it until they outgrew it (and then slept together on a futon mattress on the floor, which my mother thought was barbaric, but it worked).

Someone gave us a Moses basket, too, which we used when our youngers were very tiny. Very simple and wonderful for a baby who's not yet rolling over, when you need a place other than your bed for them to sleep. My youngest daughter used to nap in her basket on the dining-room table while homeschooling chaos raged around her.

We bought a dresser for our firstborn and put a pad on top for changing -- our fourthborn now has that dresser in her room. That may be the only item of furniture we've ever bought for a child, now that I think about it. No, wait, we bought bunk beds once . . . but all the furniture in our kids' rooms now is stuff our families and friends were passing along, or stuff we found on the curb.

The one thing I'd say is seriously worth spending money on is a stroller. When we lived in England, we didn't have a car, and I had to wag babies and toddlers all over town, with shopping. I used to refer to my bicycle-tire jogging stroller as my SUV.

(and it's a little weird to contemplate that our current house is the first place we've lived in 17 years that has no stroller on the premises.)

You're right, babies need so little, and the consumer culture makes it all so unnecessarily complicated and dauntingly expensive. Now, 13-year-olds with crooked teeth, on the other hand . . . maybe the rule of thumb should be that if your baby paraphernalia is collectively more expensive than braces, you're probably overdoing it.

Katie said...

Okay, this might confirm my stupidity, but it never occurred to me that you don't need an infant carseat until recently. Isaac has outgrown his infant seat and so we've been looking at other models, and I realized that some carseats go from birth to whenever. Hmph. Those infant seats are such a pain to lug around.

Charlemagne said...

So do you just carry Mark in your arms when you go driving?

Sheila said...

Charlemagne -- YIKES, no! We keep him in a convertible seat, which lasts from birth till they outgrow boosters, but lacks the advantage of being able to carry the baby around in it outside the car (you must have seen those portable carseats, haven't you?).

Enbrethiel -- I should do a post on that, shouldn't I? (Or have I already?) I just chop up bananas, avocado, meat, whatever, and he picks it up and crams it in his mouth as fast as I give it to him. It's nice not to have to fight to get a spoon into his mouth. Admittedly it's rather messy. But then, babies are messy no matter what you do.

I forgot to mention that we do have a Moses basket, too. He's long outgrown it, but it will come in handy for the next. It's nice and cozy, and portable too. Not a necessity, but I found it handy.

My kid is currently ignoring all his toys in order to sit on my lap ripping up an avocado peel. Case in point!

Enbrethiliel said...


Got it! Don't mash the bananas; slice them! ;-)

some guy on the street said...

I had the joy of witnessing one baby's first solid food, which was a little lump of watermellon (of which I had some, too, and it was *delicious*). You could tell that he really liked it; and also how surprised he was by his own swallowing reflex. It was simlpy adorable!

Sheila said...

Marko's first solid food was cooked carrot pieces stolen out of my bowl of stew! Unless you count all the non-food items that went in his mouth before that... :P

Anonymous said...

We bought a swing when my firstborn was a baby. My grandmother paid for it, but even still, I lament the total waste of money that it was. Neither of my children liked it AT ALL. As in, they screamed when I put them in it.

I wasn't looking for a place to leave them for long periods. I just wanted a place where a fussy baby might be happy for 10 minutes while I ate breakfast. But no dice. We bought that thing new, and I think about all of the other, better ways we could have used the money.

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