Wednesday, 21 September 2011

There's no such thing as a "baby essential"

When B and I got married we (I say "we", but what I really mean is "my mother") had arranged for a bus to take guests back from the reception to the various hotels they were staying at.  One couple had come with their then five-week-old daughter.  They had planned not to drink and to drive back to the hotel, but one glass of champagne led to another and 1 o'clock in the morning found them (with the baby, an achievement in itself) on the bus back to the hotel.  Unfortunately the carry cot, the spare nappies, the nappy bag, and all the rest of the paraphernalia were still in the car at the reception.

They are resourceful though, my friends, and so, finding themselves, a little tiddly, in a strange hotel with a new baby, they ransacked the cupboards for spare blankets, padded out the bath, settled her in and had as restful a night's sleep as you can have with a new born and the beginnings of a hangover.

I find myself repeating that story a lot whenever I read another press release about "Baby Must-Haves", normally shortly followed by "Top Unnecessary Buys for your Baby".   Because maybe it's just me but it seemed to me, particularly when shopping for baby things the first time round, that the entire baby stuff industry had, subliminally, one slogan:

If you don't buy this, it means you don't love your baby.

Made me cross then.  Still makes me cross now. Because, in fact, as it turns out, there is only one baby essential you can buy.

A car seat.  Because if you've had your baby in hospital they won't let you go home without one.  The midwives wanted to escort us to our car when we left with M because B hadn't brought the car seat in with him.  They did eventually concede that with three other children to control, it was understandable that he hadn't chosen to lug in a piece of reinforced plastic and it was raining so they decided to trust us, but apparently they shouldn't have. Hospital policy: no car seat; no baby.

But that aside, there is nothing a baby needs that can't be fabricated in extremis.

Cot? Bath, drawer, pushchair, blanket on the floor.  With a big blanket you can make a double bed for two babies and wedge them in on either side with pillows.  I know, I've tried it.

Nappies?  Muslin and a nappy bag with two holes in it for legs (not pretty but it will get you down the hill and into the nearest corner shop, where you can rip open an unpaid for pack of Pampers and stick your baby in one of them in the bread aisle.  It's not the best look for turning up at your husband's godmother's but needs must.)

Clothes?  Amazing how good a look the toga is on a three month old.

You get my drift. 

But I've also found, over the last four years, that while there is nothing you need there is plenty that you might want...

So here it is, my top wish list of lovely baby things.  None of them essential, all of them delicious.  Apart from the breast pads which are most definitely not lovely or delicious, but I wish I'd known about four years ago:

Posh nappy bag.  I just bought myself, on child number four, a swanky leather nappy bag.  It makes me feel feminine and glamorous, no small feat when your nipples are at your knees and you have sick on your shoulder.

Baby Bjorn bouncy chair.  Stupidly, stupidly expensive and I absolutely refused to buy one.  Then we were lent two for S and A and they loved them and used to wail when I used the cheapy one that we had had for L.  When my sister-in-law asked me for baby recommendations I said one of these.  She bought one and about six months later I'm borrowing it from her for M. Feel a bit guilty about that...

Sling.  Doesn't matter what sort, but hands free mobility is a life saver.

Merino stuff.  I'm a complete convert to merino.  It's one of those things, along with Napisan, that Antipodean friends raved about and I thought "yadda yadda yadda, yes it's wool, so what", but then we bought merino grow bags for L and they have lasted her, S and A and are now onto M.  You don't have to worry about tog weights and they last and last and wash in the machine and I could rave about them all day.  And then the lovely people at Nature Shop  (who, as it so happens, also sell the sleeping bags) sent M a blanket (although they call it a wrap) (as modelled above) and me a dress and I love them too.  The blanket is so fine you think it won't do anything but he's slept wrapped up in it every night since he got it, and it makes a splendid toga too (see above).  As for the dress*, well, it's not designed for breastfeeding, but it works (wraparound), and, even better, it makes me look and feel good, and warm, and it goes in the machine.  Genius.

Huge muslins.  Another kiwi thing (top tip, next time you're having a baby, have it in New Zealand, they appear to have all the best stuff).  I have no idea where these came from as a Kiwi friend gave them to me but they're brilliant: muslin, blanket, wrap, tent, breast-hider and picnic rug in one.

Carry cot.  Pushchairs are controversial items. They're so eye-wateringly expensive that everyone you ask has to try and convince you that theirs is the absolutely best one, last word, bees knees thing in baby transport solutions.  Clearly, the right pushchair for me is not going to be the right pushchair for someone else who has different numbers and ages of children living a different sort of life. (Prime example: the pushchair I have now, which  I love, wouldn't have fitted through my front door in London, despite the manufacturers' claims.  Top tip: if buying a side-by-side double pushchair, please measure your door first).  The one thing I would recommend though is that your pushchair has a carrycot.  I love being able to lift M in and out, and in fact he likes his carrycot so much he sleeps in it day and night.  I also love the fact that I can get four children into a pushchair made for two, but that's a different story.

Lansinoh breast pads.  It has taken a great deal of messy market research by me but these are absolutely the best.

And on the same front, lovely dress above notwithstanding, I am a big advocate of breast feeding clothes.  There's something very liberating about being able to feed your baby in public without exposing your post-natal stomach or anything else.  There are all sorts of small companies out there making really nice clothes that don't look "specialist" and are definitely worth supporting (pun intended).

Oh, and Anita make underwired nursing bras.  Genius.
Reading through this list, it occurs to me, not only that this post has got too long as usual, but also how many of these things are for me, and not for my baby.  Now I could, in a spirit of maternal guilt, take that to mean I care more about myself than my baby, but I don't think it's that. Or at least I hope it's not.

In fact, I think I've hit on something more important here than just "lovely new stuff".  I think if there's one thing that really is essential for a baby, it's that its mother is, as far as she is able, happy and comfortable in her new life.  I think even for those of us who are lucky enough to escape any form of post-natal depression, and even fourth time round, it's a huge adjustment and one in which our own identity can easily get lost.  Now I realise that my identity shouldn't be tied up in my physical appearance, but I also know that if I look together, I find it much easier to feel together, and at a time when my identity feels fragmented into disparate parts of 95% harrassed mother and the rest varying proportions of daughter, wife, employee, friend, sister, neighbour, self; nurturing the "self" bit feels like less of an indulgence and more of a necessity.

So perhaps it's not If you don't buy this, it means you don't love your baby, perhaps it should be more If you want to be able really to love your baby, it helps if you love yourself.  Sounds like the sort of thing that you'd buy, laminated, to stick on your fridge.  Doesn't make it not true though.

* This is not a link to the website of the people who kindly sent it to me, as they seem to have taken it off there, but it is the same dress.  Ask them if they can get you one! It's brilliant.

And in the interests of disclosure, Nature Shop sent me the wrap and the dress. They also sent me a really lovely organic cotton baby grow for M.  Everything else I mention in here was either bought with my own money or a present/loan from a friend or family.


  1. Yes to all this. But I have a new baby essential - Sock Ons. Just discovered them, they are GENIUS!

  2. Wipes! I don't know what I did before wipes came into my life. (Oh, that's right.... I tended not to have other people vomiting down my clothes)

  3. A great list and you know what the good stuff for us is important - I'd add a smartphone into the list, it means you can do an awful lot whilst wrestling a baby

    We were totally unprepared when Bigger arrived - didn't do her any harm and we avoided a lot of the commercial stuff. Also the benefit of a homebirth is not needing everything on day 1 and being able to improvise!

  4. Pants - do they work??? I've seen them but I have to admit I've thought they looked like a load of nonsense... Prepared to be wrong though!

  5. Fiona - WIPES!!!!!! You're right. How did I exist before baby wipes? *scuttles off to amend list*

  6. Muddling - Oh yes! The Smartphone was clearly invented for the new mother. Except mine won't let me post comments. Grrr...

  7. well written, I was 2/3s into it before I started to realise I was reading something that is not at all relevant to me and I was heartily ejoying it :)

  8. I wonder if ejoy is like enjoy but in cyberspace?!

  9. Kelloggsville - I read all sorts of totally irrelevant things! Isn't that part of the (e)joy of the internet?

  10. I had two boxes of Lansinoh breast pads, which I got from Austria and they were just heavenly! It's just a shame I discovered them just before quitting breastfeeding my last child.

  11. All of what you have said here is true. Companies uses babies as a niche marketplace where they can make the most profits. The way they try to convince the parents that they need to buy this and that is ludicrous. The only baby essential is the car seat. I love it. This is the simplicity we require to be successful in the twenty first century. We are surrounded by brands all around us and everyone is trying to see to us but it is eventually up to us to say No.


I know. I'm sorry. I hate these word recognition, are you a robot, guff things too, but having just got rid of a large number of ungrammatical and poorly spelt adverts for all sorts of things I don't want, and especially don't want on my blog, I'm hoping that this will mean that only lovely people, of the actually a person variety, will comment.

So please do. Comments are great...