What pregnant women want

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Illustrations by Ayumi Takahashi

I came across this fascinating NYTimes article today on what pregnant women want. The author crunched some numbers on Google searches in 20 different countries and came up with all sorts of insights. In the UK top 5 queries about foods pregnant women want to know if they can eat prawns, smoked salmon, cheesecake, mozzarella and mayonnaise. Compare that to Singapore where top 5 food concerns are about green tea, ice cream, durian, coffee and pineapple. I ate all this (except for durian) without even thinking of checking! But then, I ate a plate of oysters in front of my US colleagues accompanied by their worried looks and questions “Are you sure you can have this?”. As it turns out I am pretty relaxed about these things, so do your own research.

Among other concerns “preventing stretch marks” seems to be in the lead for US, Australia, Canada, the UK. But others, like Ghana, India, Nigeria, either don’t have them or are not concerned as much. I suspect it is the former because stretch marks seems to be determined by genetics – I googled that one too.

It is a fun article, go read it now.

Things you will need for a newborn

Each day I learn about another friend of mine expecting a baby this year. Congratulations! It is exciting and overwhelming. I remember myself this time last year starting to think what I will need and wondering what is the difference between a sleepsuit and a vest and whether I would need a breastpump or a feeding chair.

Typically for a London working couple, we live in a small place which got smaller with the baby’s arrival. I like space and I don’t like to acquire a lot of things. I moved to London seven years ago with just two bags. In this spirit I tried to get as little as possible. Still, for the first three months after our son’s birth our flat was a mess. Baby clothes, baby bottles, baby toys, baby mats, baby nappies… Every single surface was consumed by some baby thing. Some were great (like a mobile) some were a waste of space (like a Bumbo seat). So I thought, I would write a guide to help the first-time mums save time, money and space.

A necessary disclaimer: all babies are different and parents are different too. So things that worked for me may not work for you. But here is a list to get you started.

 

Baby Clothes

First, say “yes” to all the secondhand clothes from friends. Newborns grow so quickly that they don’t get a lot of wear out of nice pieces. It is a good way to recycle and save some money.

If you are buying go to Gap, John Lewis and Mothercare – good quality essentials and fair value.

Must haves

  • Cotton sleepsuits with legs like this one. This is a staple item of every baby wardrobe in a cold climate, so get 8-10 of them (Mothercare will have 5 white ones in a pack for about £15). I recommend the ones with buttons all the way from neck to legs, so that you don’t have to pull anything over baby’s head. Front buttons are better (small babies are lying on their back most of the time). Zipped sleepsuits are also OK, especially if you don’t like doing and undoing buttons. It is great to have sleeves with folded cuffs – they fold over the fingers to prevent babies from scratching themselves.
  • Cotton sleepsuit without legs with long or short sleeves. In hot weather the baby can wear just the vest (in lieu of sleepsuits with legs), in cold weather they can go under a sleepsuit as an extra layer.
  • Two warm overalls to take the baby out in. Two because one will be in the wash from time to time.
  • A couple of cotton hats if it is cool inside or outside. In autumn/winter you will need a warmer hat too (fleece or wool).
  • A cotton blanket
  • 2-3 swaddling blankets. I have tried many and the best one was the Miracle blanket.
  • 10 muslin cloths
  • 2 soft baby towels

Nice to have

  • A couple of cute outfits to take pictures in
  • A couple of pairs of hoodie + leggings + socks
  • Lambskin liner for the pram and for the crib (if you’re getting a crib)

Waste of money

  • Anything that goes over newborn head. The head is so wobbly that you will rarely ever put it on in the first two months – realistically until the baby can sit unsupported while you’re dressing them (around 6-7 months)
  • Sleepsuits that button at the back. If you are within the majority of parents that put their babies on the back, then whenever your newborn cries you will think “Are they uncomfortable because of the buttons?” Why does anyone create sleepsuits with buttons on the back? Well, there are babies who hate lying on their back, so if you get one of those you will appreciate non-conventional sleepsuits.
  • Anti-scratch gloves. Trim baby’s fingernails and get the sleepsuits with folded cuffs. Gloves fall off and get lost in the wash
  • Something that is not 100% cotton. Again, every time the baby cry you will think “Is it because they are uncomfortable in this polyester suit?”

Baby furniture

Donations and lendings from friends are great. Also, if you’re considering buying something expensive (like a Stokke cot) check out gumtree and ebay – you may save some considerable amount of money (£200+) getting a second-hand one.

Must have

  • Something for the baby to sleep in. I wish I could say “a cot”, but I have to warn prospective parents that cots don’t often work for newborns. Why? I guess they have too much space for a little person who just came out of the womb. My friends’ newborn babies usually end up sleeping in parents bed, or pram (Bugaboo Donkey type), or small crib. We got a hammock that worked very well for the first four months. We also tried the Moses basket, but our son was waking up in it. Co-sleepers can be a good option. They seem expensive before you have a baby: “Really? £200 and I can only use it for 6 months?” But once you have a crying baby, an extra hour of sleep is gold, and £200 seems like a bargain. Check out ebay and gumtree if you considering getting one.
  • Changing table. Some people will argue that this is a nice to have rather than a must, but if you care about your back, get one. You will be changing 8 nappies a day and you want a comfortable plhace to do this with nappy, wipes and cream supplies all handy.
  • Swing. Get a battery operated one that swings back to front and side to side like this one. If you cannot find the versatile one, get one that swings back to front. Yes, they take up quite a bit of space, but it is a perfect device to put a newborn to sleep. Almost all second-time mums have one.
  • Baby bath (if you only have a shower in the house like we do) or bath support for an adult bath (like this one).

Nice to have

  • Glider chair with a footstool. If you are breastfeeding, the first few weeks you will spend more time sitting and feeding than doing anything else. Hence it is very important to have a super comfortable seat for this. They are about £200 new or half for a second-hand one.
  • Nappy disposal system like this one.

Waste of money

  • Various sleeping cocoons. They don’t work for most babies.

Baby devices

Must have

  • Pram. People value different things in prams and they tend to be a heated topic of discussion in any antenatal class. We went for the light practical option of Bugaboo bee. They are expensive, so we got a second hand one for a third of the price of new. Having used it for the last 7 months I must say that even the full price is a good value for money.
  • Sling or baby carrier. In early days a great device for putting baby to sleep or doing something when you need to carry your baby around and you want to use your hands. There are some babies that don’t like slings so don’t buy too many of them beforehand. To my surprise the one we use most is the Baby Bjorn carrier. I thought that it will be an option for dad only and I will use a sling. However, Baby Bjorn is so quick to put on (massive plus when the baby is crying) and our boy didn’t like any other sling in the first three months. The other one a lot of people use here are stretchy Moby wraps. And then there are Ergo for older babies – that allows you to carry the baby on your back. I also have a Didymos sling. I was planning to use it mostly because it is better for the baby and for my back that Baby Bjorn. However, it is too fiddly to put on, so Bjorn wins on most days.
  • Breastpump (if planning to breastfeed – read my post on breastfeeding preparation). All lactation consultants I spoke to recommended Medela, so I got a double Medela pump. I used it a lot in the first two weeks (before the baby figured out how to suck on the breast) and now I use it occasionally when I want to go out and need to have some milk supply in the fridge. I will use it a bit more when I go back to work.
  • Bottles for milk. For compatibility get the same brand as your breastpump.
  • Steriliser. We have a microwave one.
  • Baby scissors for nails. Some may argue that you can just bite babies nails off, but I prefer cutting.
  • Dummy. If you are super against dummies, don’t get it. If you are on the fence, just buy one or two and see if it helps. Our baby doesn’t want to take the dummy, he chews it and spits it out. You can always read up on it and “lose” it later.
  • Chair for newborn. A friend of mine had one and I wish we bought one too. It is a high chair where the baby can lie flat and you can roll it around the house with you (to the shower, to the dinner table, to the kitchen, etc). Something like this. We had a Moses basket that we carried around, but it was less convenient.

Nice to have

  • Car seat. Great if it attaches to your pram base (for example, Bugaboo bee goes well with Maxi Cosi). We don’t have a car but we used ours a number of times in rental cars, friends cars, taxis, etc.
  • Scales. In the first couple of months you will weigh your baby a lot (more out of worry “are they eating enough?” than real necessity). It means going to some baby clinic somewhere. Having baby scales at home saves the hassle.
  • Baby bag for the pram. If you plan to be out and about then this bag is a must. You think through all the things you need (change mat, nappies, bottles, snack for yourself, change of baby clothes), and you pack it the night before so that when you want to go out it is all ready.

Waste of money

  • Bumbo seat. They seem really uncomfortable, babies don’t last long in them, you can only put it on the floor anyway so the baby cannot see what you’re doing.
  • Breastfeeding pillow. I found regular pillows much more useful when learning how to breastfeed. And in most cases you don’t have enough hands to stick a pillow where you want it anyway, so you have to learn to breastfeed without it.
  • Travel bag to cover the pram. We bought a bag that we can pack our pram into when you’re flying somewhere. However, our pram is small so they allow us to take it to the gate and we don’t carry the bag for it with us. You only need one if you are checking the pram in together with the bags, but most people have a small light pram for travel to use in the airports.

Toys

I suspect you will get a lot of presents in this category. But babies don’t need that much in the first three months.

Must have

  • A mobile. Get a battery operated one with a remote control. A mobile can buy you a 15 minutes of no-cry time in the early days (and that’s a lot).
  • A rattle. All babies love something noisy and when they learn to hold things in their hands and shake them, a good rattle will entertain them for a while.
  • An activity mat that works both for lying on the back and lying on the tummy.

Misc

Must have

  • Nappies. I like Pampers newborn ones because they have a wee indicator on them – it goes green when the baby wees (the main question of the first day is “Has he weed and pood?” and then “How many wet nappies a day does he have?”)
  • Nipple cream like Lansinoh
  • Zinc cream for baby bum like sudocrem
  • E45 or Epiderm ointment to massage them after a bath. Everyone recommends oil, but apparently it is very drying for the skin, so a lots of babies start having eczema after a couple of months because of it.
  • Wipes for the bottom. Dry cotton wipes to start with and then regular wet wipes.
  • Maternity pads. It doesn’t matter what delivery you had, you are going to bleed a lot in the first few days, so you need some good absorbent pads designed for this situation – and then you can switch to regular ones.
  • Breast pads for milk leaks
  • Breastfeeding bras (at least 2). I went to John Lewis and used their free bra fitting service to get a couple of pairs. And then I bought the same brand on Amazon.
  • A couple of good quality pijamas with easy feeding access (this is going to be your main clothes for the next 3 months)
  • Baby thermometer. We use in the ear one, it also works for adults.

Nice to have

  • Shampoo for the cradle cap. Get it once your baby has it.
  • Warming pads for the breasts like this one they help to extract more milk.

Waste of money

  • Baby shower gel or shampoo. Newborns don’t need them, they just dry the skin. Just water is absolutely fine for them.

And I would say this is it. You can get away with less. In fact, the only thing your baby really needs is you. The rest is designed to make your life easier.

You will need more things as the baby grows (bibs to catch the dribble when they start teething, weaning equipment, toys, books, etc), but you can get it all afterwards.