By BRIGITTE ROZARIO
Websites, books, the media and baby shops are constantly shouting at new parents about all the absolutely essential baby items you need for your newborn.
As most experienced parents know, you can do without quite a number of these “essentials.”
In fact, a lot of parents find that as they gain more experience, the list of “essentials” gets shorter and shorter. Many learn to make do with things they already have at home.
Aspiring children’s cookbook writer Sheila Jaya Poomy, on the brink of 40, is one of those who learnt the hard way what the real essential items are.
She confides that she bought them because friends and acquaintances told her she needed them and also based on what she had read in books. Then, there was the “just in case” excuse we all have for the endless supply of items in our store rooms!
Sheila, who has three daughters aged one, three and six, used the items for a short time and then ended up passing them on to others who might find better use for them.
“Perhaps some other parents would find use for them where I wasn’t too smart about using them …,” she says humbly.
|Sheila with her family. She recommends borrowing certain items from friends rather than buying.
Stay-at-home mum Maizura Abas, in her late 30s, admits to being a shopoholic. Shopping for her first baby gave her romantic and unrealistic notions about what things were going to be like when she had her baby.
“Reading too many baby magazines and browsing baby shops too often were also things I shouldn't have done. I bought an expensive baby cot bumper and bedding but my baby slept in our bed and hardly slept in his cot (it's a good thing the cot was a hand-me-down!).
“I also bought lots of educational toys and materials (which turned out to be unsuitable and besides, I didn't have the time to use them). Then there was the very expensive breast pump - in the end my baby refused breast milk in a bottle!” she explains.
Maizura, whose children are now aged five and 11, ended up giving away these “essential” items.
For marketing executive Shirley Ng, 31, mother of 29-month-old Emily, it was a case of wanting to be prepared as some of the essential items might come in handy.
“First time parents are always excited to buy everything new (I was, too!) but it can also burn a hole in your pocket. Go for hand-me-downs wherever possible, for example for the cot bed and clothes because babies outgrow them faster than you can blink your eyes. Or adopt the wait-and-see method, and buy only when needed. Instead, go for quality baby bottles and disposable diapers, and life/medical insurance. I think, a RM2,000 cot bed is better invested in an insurance plan,” says Ng, who is now expecting her second child.
|Ng with husband Chew Phye Boon and daughter Emily. She recommends going for hand-me-downs.
The three mothers comment on their favourite non-essential items:
Ng: I’d go for a stroller that is sturdy but lightweight and easy to open and collapse after usage. Imagine having to lift a heavy/cumbersome stroller with one hand out of the car boot! And when the baby is able to sit up on their own, they mostly fidget a lot and would rather be carried for a better view.
Maizura: You need a stroller, that's for sure but you don't need a fancy one although “fancy” is open to interpretation. What you do need is a stroller that is lightweight yet lasting and easy to assemble and fold away. Do invest in a good stroller but don't spend too much money on it. Remember that you need at least two or three different strollers to accommodate your child's size and ability to sit (newborn babies and infants only need to be in a prone position but as your baby grows, he/she can and will prefer to sit upright) before your child outgrows the stroller stage.
Diaper changing table
Ng: Honestly, any flat surface works for me when diaper-changing e.g. bed, sofa, even floor. As long as the surface is clean, so a changing table isn’t necessary but a changing mat is to prevent any “messy accidents!”
Maizura: Unless you have a proper nursery and have space for this changing table (they do take up space), you can always change your baby on the bed (the Malaysian way) with the changing mat underneath him/her, of course. You might end up having to change your sheets often because of “accidents” and spills, however. I don't really have a problem with the idea of a changing table but they require so much space.
Ng: An absorbent towel can be easily made into a snug wrap so a hooded towel is really unnecessary. Sometimes when I couldn’t get my hands on a towel fast, I’d just use a clean cotton napkin cloth as a towel.
Fancy designer baby clothes
Maizura: Unless you have money to throw around, your baby does not need fancy designer baby clothes. However, you could buy one or two irresistible pieces for special occasions if you plan to have a brood. Then your other children can wear their older siblings' hand-me-downs. Sometimes designer clothes are so fancy that you find it difficult to dress your baby in them. For example, clothes with buttons at the back are a bad idea. Have you tried to button a baby who can't sit or even lie facing forward up? Also, as babies are always lying on their backs, the buttons will dig into their flesh. Lace, ruffles and the like will only irritate your baby's skin. Remember, you baby looks great in anything. In the months following your child's birth or even longer, you might need all the help in the world - to look and feel good. Spend that money on clothes or pampering treatments for yourself, instead!
Maizura: Isn't that what your hand or elbow, pre-cleansed of course, is for?
Sheila: I do not consider this essential. With the first child, we used the steriliser (baby shower gift) for the first six months. When the second and third ones came along, we didn’t use it at all. When baby No 2 was born in a private hospital in Australia, we were told that it is sufficient, based on the latest research, for the bottles to be washed with warm soapy water, then dipped (not boiled) in hot water and left to air dry. I know parents who sterilise bottles for their kids even up to two years old. We’ve come a long way with our sanitation system, hygiene awareness and clean water (compared to 30 years ago), so I have a bit more faith in these standards.
Sheila: Not essential until they start walking, unless for decorative purposes, or if you want to keep baby’s feet warm.
Sheila: Not essential unless you really want to hear the baby’s every whimper and be ready to respond to it. More often than not, the moment you hear some rustling, the blood pressure starts creeping up.
Baby bath tub
Sheila: For baby No 1, we used a bathtub all the way – which I found quite a chore. When we were abroad and renting an apartment, we actually bathed the baby in the laundry thorough (large sink) as the bathtub model just didn’t work for various reasons (note: Not recommended here as wash sinks in Malaysian homes are just too small). For baby No 3, I ditched the bathtub after one month and instead bathed baby on the lap / foot – the way my Indian grandmother bathed me.
Sheila: Many books espouse the goodness of swaddling a newborn to sleep. Magic blankets or not, babies do find their way out of these – so instead of looking like a neat sausage they almost always end up getting their arms out, and protesting loudly at that. Just use a large cotton towel or extra large napkin (depending on baby’s size).
Sheila: This was given to us. No substitute to mum and dad holding baby’s hands to guide them to walk. Bumps are part of growing pains (but not too often, mind you). In some countries, there’s a Jolly Jumper which is affixed to the ceiling or a high bar, which helps keep baby in sight and still gets the motor skills going. Not so popular here. I haven't tried it, but I've seen some kids use it to both the parents' and child’s enjoyment.
Branded breast milk bags or storage containers
Sheila: I breastfed my kids past one year. BPA concerns aside, we used the small round 100ml plastic containers (usually used to pack gravy / sauces) which were compact in the freezer, easy to stack and cost a few bucks for a few dozen. Easy to defrost in a bowl of water or in the fridge.
Sheila: This is useful but there are heaps of DIY ideas on the Internet (easy to do and cheap too!) to keep baby occupied.
A diaper stacker
Maizura: Waste of money and you end up having to transfer the diapers into them which is a waste of time. You can just leave the (disposable) diapers as you bought them in their packaging.
Ng: My daughter Emily never liked chewing on any type of teethers we got for her, she preferred chewing on her fingers!
Ng: My daughter hated being restricted in her bumbo seat; she’d rather be propped up with pillows on her sides leaning on the chair as she was free to move her legs around even though she couldn’t sit up much.
Baby food blender
Ng: I used to mash up bananas, carrots, etc with a trusty fork. I don’t like pureed food, so I cannot imagine putting the gooey stuff into my daughter’s mouth.
Ng: What can I say about toys? She was just not into them at all. She was more excited when her parents were playing and talking to her.
Maizura advises parents to speak to family and friends with babies to find out what you and your baby would really need in the first couple of months after the baby's birth.
“Buy only those things. You can always shop for the other things that you need after your confinement period. Even then, your husband, the baby's grandparents and your sisters (sisters are the best) can always help you buy the essentials for you and your baby if you can't go out during confinement. Buy what your baby needs as he / she grows. Never go all gung-ho and hoard things,” says Maizura.
Sheila agrees, adding that you can try borrowing some items from friends and then buy it off them if you find you really do need them.
“I started out by borrowing a friend’s breast pump, and eventually bought it off her when I made it past the three-month mark in breastfeeding. I traded it in for a newer model when the second baby came along, and I've been lending it out a few times since to new mums because I got quite efficient at expressing by hand by the time the third baby turned up (and dreaded washing the many components of the gadget called “God’s gift to nursing mums”).
“At the end of the day, if you can afford some of these luxury things, why not. But, if you’re like most new parents trying to balance the household budget, then learn to adapt, go with parental instincts and try not to get sucked (or duped!) into urban materialism. If you’re not sure that you need something, ask around and get both sides of the story – people who used them, and those who didn’t (and how it worked). Welcoming your firstborn is a precious experience and understandably, you would want to give your best – just apply good doses of practicality with that,” says Sheila.
She tells us of a friend with eight kids, all aged 12 years and below, who manages the entire household with her husband. Her baby bag (when she had twin boys) was no larger than a regular tote bag.
“That’s working smart with the real essentials!” says Sheila.