I know I said that this isn't a baby blog. It still isn't. But gee, right now it seems like everyone in the world is pregnant, no? And I'm dying to talk about it! There are at least four women in my life who are expecting. (Congratulations, ladies!) Which means lots of baby showers, baby talk, baby advice, and baby baby babies to come.
In fact, I went to a baby shower a few days ago. I made a note of it in my calendar quite some time ago, but man, do these things creep up on you. I could have sworn that I still had many, many weeks to pick out a thoughtful gift and write out some heartfelt sentiments. At least I was able to make a sweet little card just in time, with scraps of card stock I had lying around. If you scroll way down to the bottom of this lengthy post, you will find instructions on how to make the card yourself if you so please.
Thinking back to my own pregnant days makes me sentimental and weepy. All of the uncertainty and excitement; so much to think about, so much to do. It's overwhelming and emotional, and you wonder how you're going to get it all together in time, and know what to do when it's time.
But then it happens, and then you do. You know exactly what to do. Or you figure it out. And you keep on figuring it out, as your baby learns and figures stuff out too and starts onto new and surprising things. And you try to enjoy every moment and not worry too much.
To try to keep things as uncomplicated as possible, I tried very hard not to collect too many baby things. At the same time, to keep things uncomplicated, you do need a few key items to make life easier. Striking that balance can be tricky. So before my due date, I did some online research and consulted lists of essential baby items to organize ourselves before gathering up what we needed. None of those lists were very useful to me, as they seemed to be geared to new parents with lots of storage space and/or cash. We ended up accepting lots of hand-me-downs (thanks, you guys!), though we did buy a few things before our baby was due. Looking back, I'm pretty happy with what we bought and didn't buy, though there are a few things I really wish I knew about. So one late night about two weeks ago, I wrote up my own list of essential baby items for people like us.
What exactly is "people like us"? My partner and I live in a one-bedroom apartment in the city. Up until 3 months ago, we were living off of one moderate income for over a year. Our sweet baby girl was born in December, at the start of winter. She slept in our bed for 3-1/2 months, and was exclusively breastfed for just over 5 months. She loves eating and doesn't care if her diaper is wet. When she is awake, her limbs appear as a blur of motion, which may explain why she needs to eat so much. We don't own a car, and get around primarily by walking and public transit.
If you're on a tight budget, I would strongly recommend checking Craigslist, Kijiji, second-hand shops, yard sales, and clothing swaps first for any baby gear you need. Preloved baby stuff is often well-priced and still in great condition. I know this because we bought almost everything second-hand. Even second-hand CLOTH DIAPERS. That's right: my baby's bare bum touches the old whispers of poo from other babies. Because of it, we've saved hundreds of dollars and dozens of trips to the store. A tip if you're buying baby gear from Craigslist and Kijiji: do it before your baby arrives, as most sellers tend to have babies and/or kids already and can't really go out too far to meet you. Usually it's pick-up only, which is easier to do without a newborn in tow.
If you live in Toronto, Baby On The Hip has a clothing swap every few months, where you can take away as many items as you want, for the cost of admission ($5-10). Bumbleberry Kids is my favourite second-hand kids shop in the city; they have a great selection of lightly used clothes, toys, and baby items for cheap. If you prefer online shopping, browse Merrily Merrily's website, pay using PayPal and pick-up in person.
And now, here is my list of essential baby items for the first 4 months:
Onesies (x4-6). Until your baby starts eating solid food, you may find that he/she doesn't need to change clothes for a few days, unless you get a diaper blow-out or a really bad spit-up (both pretty rare). A small handful of onesies will do just fine, especially if you're planning on doing a lot of skin-on-skin bonding in which case your baby will usually be almost naked. For newborns, the best onesies wrap around and snap/tie in front, to avoid pulling the shirt over their head (which makes them cry). For all babies, the best onesies have longer legs that look like little shorts, so you can take your baby outside wearing only a onesie and he/she won't look like he/she is only wearing underwear.
Footed sleepers (x2-3). Try to get the ones that open up all the way, and not just at the bottom. The zip-up kind will save you from the challenge of matching a long line of snap buttons on a wiggly baby during a bleary-eyed night.
Hat (x2). If the inside of your home is cold, it might be nice for your baby to wear a light hat indoors. If it's winter time, you'll want a warmer hat for outdoors, preferably with ear covers. If it's summer, choose a hat with a wide brim. Hats worn for warmth should be nice and stretchy, to make it easier to pull over that delicate and squishy baby head.
Socks (x2). Baby socks have a tendency to twist and fall off. If you can find the ones that pull up mid-calf or higher, you can tuck them into pant legs to secure them better.
Shirts and pants (x1-2). Baby shirts are the worst. They always ride up, either through normal baby shifting or because the baby is eating their shirt. Though you may want a shirt or two to dress the baby up to go see people.
Pants (x2-3). Pants are good for pairing with onesies. The best pants by far are leggings, because they pull on very easily. Footed pants are also great to cover up little baby feet.
Jacket / Snow suit (x1). If you have a stroller/car seat bunting bag, you could get away with a light jacket, or even none at all.
Nice to have: sleepsack (which acts like a wearable blanket), swim wear (if you're planning on going swimming), hair accessory (if you get offended when people mistake your girl for a boy).
Don't bother with: long sleeping gowns (like shirts, these tend to shift and ride up), booties (cute but unneccessary and often fall off).
Crib and crib mattress.
Crib sheets (x2). A young baby isn't likely to dirty their sheets often. Crib mattress protector optional.
Swaddle blankets (x3-4). The debate is out on whether or not swaddling is good or bad for newborns. Even if you think swaddling is a bad idea, having swaddling blankets on-hand is still a good idea. The best, by far, are the large cotton mueslin ones. Light, breathable and soft, these blankets are ultra functional: as a stroller sun cover, burp cloth, change mat, regular blanket, or nursing cover. Though expensive, the Aden + Anais blankets are well worth the price.
Nice to have: bassinet, crib mobile (get crafty and make yer own!), swing (not all babies like swings, so try to score a hand-me-down).
Stroller. This was the most expensive baby item we bought, as we needed something that would be suitable from birth, could push through snow and light terrain, lightweight (for carrying onto public transit), narrow (for navigating through shops and streets), and with a large accessible basket (for loading up with groceries). We bought an Uppababy Cruz on Craigslist and overall are quite happy with it.
Stroller bunting bag. We don't have one of these, and I wished that we did. Consider this: for those winter months, you have to bundle-up your baby to go out. But when you arrive at your destination, it's in a heated building and you KNOW your baby is overheating inside her hat-snowsuit-sweater-onsie combo. So you carefully unzip the snowsuit and try to remove layers gently, but all the poking and picking wakes her up and she is super pissed. A bunting bag would have make this so much easier, as the unzipping is less likely to cause a stir. A second-hand JJ Cole Bundle Me sells for about $25.
Car seat. Required by law when you take your newborn baby home from the hospital. Ours is a hand-me-down, and it does the job on the rare occassion when we need to use it.
Car seat adaptor for stroller. We don't have one of these, but I could see how it would be very useful if you own a car. One of our friends used the car seat as the ONLY seat for the stroller, which I thought was quite brilliant if you don't intend on taking long stroller walks.
Baby carrier. An absolute essential. All babies love to be carried, and with a carrier you'll be able to hold your baby close without straining your back/neck/arms/wrists. I loved the idea of a baby wrap or sling, but in reality I rarely used ours, as I found it very awkward. Instead, I would recommend a backpack-style carrier, such as BabyBjorn or Snugli. If you invest a carrier that has a good waist strap, such as the Ergobaby, you'll be able to carry your baby from infancy well into his/her later years.
Breastfeeding pillow. Not an absolute must, but it will be extremely helpful, especially in the early days/weeks when breastfeeding is new and challenging. I hear good things about My Brest Friend.
Bottles and nipples. I hear that babies can be quite particular with which type of nipples they prefer. We bought one Nuk brand wide-mouth bottle with a slow-flow orthodontic nipple that our baby seems to like just fine. She is bottle fed only a couple times a month, only if I'm away from her or if we are eating at a restaurant. If I could go back in time, I might try cup feeding before bottle feeding, which would eliminate the need for bottles entirely.
Milk storage bottles (x4-6). You could probably get away with using Mason jars to store milk in the fridge or freezer, but you will need the special bottles if you have a pump.
Tablet computer, books, and movies. Yes, I know they say that you're not supposed to multi-task while nursing, but COME ON. My newborn nursed for up to 90 minutes each session, 8 times a day.
My picks: Bringing Up Bebe and Baby Meets World were my favourite light-hearted baby-related books. They both helped me take a step back and realize that there are many ways to raise a healthy and happy baby. Babies is an adorable documentary about four babies from different parts of the world. This movie has little in the way of dialog, so you can watch it any time of day. Oh Joy, Orangette, and Cup Of Jo are seasoned bloggers that are generous with their baby stories, photos, and ideas.
Nursing wear (x2-3). I tried not to buy any nursing wear in the beginning, as I felt like I could just use a cover and be done with it. The first time I nursed in public it was on a packed shuttle bus to the farmer's market in March. I was wearing about 3 layers and a scarf, and my baby was wearing about the same. It was a real struggle, pulling all those layers up/down while holding a crying baby. I now use nursing tanks and bras and forgo the cover, and both me and my baby are much happier. The Bravado Silk Seamless nursing bra is my favourite; I scored a free one through their test wearer program.
Nice to have: breast pump, breastfeeding cover.
Don't bother with: buying formula prior to your due date if you're planning on breastfeeding, as it will be too tempting to make the switch in the first week or two when breastfeeding is most challenging. Also, sterlizers, bottle warmers, bottle brushes and drying racks are not necessary unless you're planning on bottle feeding every day.
Washing and Changing:
Change mat/blanket (x3). One for your home, one for the diaper bag, and one clean back-up.
Diapers. We bought a second-hand Bummis infant cloth diaper kit, and used it for baby's first 5 months. Washing cloth diapers is a lot of work; expect to do a load of diapers every second day. But it saved us from making trips to the store to buy disposable diapers. The disposable liners are useful for the first week for those sticky newborn poos.
Diaper wipes. We cut up about three dozen 6" flannel squares, and use them with a squeeze bottle of water in place of using prepackaged diaper wipes at home. It was easy enough to add these wipes to the wash on top of the cloth diapers.
Bum ointment. We used olive oil every few diaper changes in the first few weeks only. I made a lavender-calendula salve using infused olive oil and beeswax, but our baby hardly needs it.
Diaper bag. Any large bag will do, but a padded strap, and a couple of compartments and pockets will make a huge difference. Ours is a vintage carry-on luggage bag with a shoulder strap that fits nicely around the stroller handlebar.
Diaper pail. I've heard some new moms complain about their babies having very smelly poo, but I can't relate. Our diaper pail is a plastic bucket from Ikea. It sits next to our bed, with the lid off to the side. Maybe our whole apartment smells like baby poo and we've grown accustomed to it, and everyone who comes over to visit is being very polite.
Washcloth (x2-3). For use in the bath. Later when your baby starts eating solid foods, you may need more washcloths for wiping his/her face, hands, chair, legs, wall, your hands, and more.
Towel (x1-2). Hooded towels are cute and provide extra head warmth in the colder months.
Nice to have: change table or change table top, change pad, change pad covers, baby bathtub (in place of taking baby into tub with you).
Don't bother with: baby wash (just use water).
Activity gym. Our baby started to use this when she was about 3 months old, and I loved having those 15 minutes to wash dishes, fold laundry, stretch, relax, eat, or whatever. These gyms are also good for tummy time, and for developing hand-eye coordination as they bat at the dangling objects.
Small stuffed toys/rattles (x3). These toys are a dime a dozen. Some rattle, some squeak, some crinkle, and some will do all three. Toys that have a little loop for great for hanging from activity gyms, strollers, high chairs and car seats. Stash one or two toys in your diaper bag for those moments when you're in public and your baby starts to get fussy.
Board books (x2-3). To keep your baby engaged, be sure to choose age appropriate books. For very young babies, pick high contrast colours with simple rhyming verses. You don't really need to buy books if you have a good library nearby.
Dresser, baskets, shelves, and/or trunk to store clothes, linens and toys. A little bit of organization will help you keep your sanity.
Large flannel squares (x4-6). Great for burping, wiping drool or spit-up, or in-a-pinch blanket.
Thermometer. Digital read thermometers make temperature-taking easier.
Music. When feeding, rocking, changing and burping didn't settle our crying baby, singing along to music always did. She seemed to have a preference for The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Bill Withers, and Tom Waits.
Home cooked frozen meals. We spent one weekend making 6 large trays of vegetarian moussaka and ziti, which we kept in the freezer for those days when we needed to eat but were too tired to cook or go out.
Help from loved ones. This might sound obvious, but it's not. The first and second postpartum months will feel very isolating. Remember that you are not alone; many before you have felt the same way. Your family and friends want very much to help you. Sometimes you just need to ask.
Daycare waiting list spots. If you live in Toronto, you will need to get on these before your baby is due. Don't forget to get in-line for the Child Care Fee Subsidy too.
Nice to have: nail clipper (you can bite the nails shorter, but clippers are easier).
Elephant Baby Shower Card
What you'll need:
- 1 blank card and envelope (4" x 6")
- 2 scraps of paper (at least 2.5" x 2.5" each): 1 for the elephant (grey), 1 for the toy train (light green)
- 1 piece of paper, preferably card stock, to print out the template
- fine-tipped black marker
- craft glue
Print out this elephant template onto a piece of paper. Cut out the elephant, and use this as a stencil to trace out the elephant shape with your pencil onto your grey scrap paper. Cut out this elephant, and use the marker to draw its eye. Carefully remove any pencil markings with the eraser.
Roughly position the elephant on your card. Pencil in the word 'baby' next to the elephant, in spaced out block letters. Once you're happy with the placement and look of your letters, go over it with a black marker. If hand lettering isn't your thing, you could type 'baby' on your computer, print, cut out, and paste it to the card.
Measure and cut out a thin strip of your other scrap paper. It should be the same length as the word 'baby'. Cut the strip into 4 equal pieces, to form 4 train cars. Before gluing the cars to the card, draw the wheels and pull string with the marker. Glue the cars and elephant in place.