I wrote this article three years ago, while pregnant with Dori. Published here by popular demand.
Now that I’m expecting a new baby, my mailbox has been stuffed with an onslaught of mommy magazines. Only days after telling our parents I’m pregnant, the marketing gurus somehow found out, too. They promptly put me on their mailing lists — all of them. I flipped through a stack of the typical publications and was appalled by the common theme: “Great Baby Gear for your Lifestyle,” “Just Out: Must-haves for Mom, Dad, and Baby,” “The Baby Product I Couldn’t Live Without” (actual titles).
I admit, when I was pregnant with our daughter, now 3, I fell for too much of it. Congratulations, advertising executives. By the time Addy arrived we had crammed far too many square feet of our modest 900-square-foot house with a crib, cradle, playpen, highchair, bouncy seat, infant swing, doorway jumper, stroller and stationary walker — just to name a few. And let’s not forget the lotions and potions, breast pump and accessories, special laundry detergent, baby monitor, clothes and toys.
Now that I know better, I created a new and improved list of the top 10 more natural items we absolutely must have for our new baby. Maybe these will work for you, too.
10. A pair of breasts. Whether you have one, two or more babies, a pair of breasts is all you need to provide custom-made nutrition that’s perfectly portable, always available, just the right temperature and fresh from the tap. If you have only one breast, even that’s sufficient; the March/April 2005 issue of Mothering magazine featured a mother who successfully nourished her twins on one breast after the other was removed (“One Breast is Enough,” issue 129). Add the comfort that nursing babies receive and the relaxation for mother, and your breasts form a perfect package.
9. A safe place to sleep, preferably next to a warm body. My friend Sarah, already a wise mom to a 4-month-old baby, regrets spending a thousand dollars on a finely crafted crib and all the trimmings. I regret that when my sisters agreed to help me sew during my first pregnancy, we went to work wasting hours of time and yards of fabric making matching crib and cradle bedding (complete with coordinated dust ruffles) when any firm surface next to my warm body was all my daughter needed to sleep. Now that I’m expecting a second child, I asked my sisters to again help me prepare. This time, we’ll spend our time crafting cloth diapers and spare slings. And in contrast to what some do with baby on the way, we’ll be taking down the never-used crib. It was never used unless you count its roles as gigantic laundry basket and home for wayward stuffed animals.
8. Something soft and warm to wear. Clothes don’t even need to be cute (your little one would shine in a flour sack) or abundant — they can be based on your budget. And it doesn’t have to sport a fancy logo across the chest to be effective. While I admit I do love to dress my daughter in cute things, my favorites are those that were lovingly handmade by family members and those that I bought at garage sales for a dime to a dollar.
Warm and soft also work well to cover the baby’s bottom. Add adequate absorbency and you’re good to go.
7. A mom without a wristwatch. At a baby shower friends threw for me, each guest was asked to write a bit of advice for the new mom. I still have the 3- by 5-inch index cards and enjoy rereading them from time to time. The most valuable tip came from my own mother: “Don’t believe everything you’re told or read.” That gave me license to promptly ignore one woman’s advice: “Put the baby on a schedule.” Addy sleeps when she is tired and eats when she is hungry. That kind of day allows me to enjoy my daughter and take advantage of another woman’s tip: “The housework will still be there when she is 18.”
While lack of a watch is helpful, a willingness to accept motherhood mistakes, learn from them and move on is crucial. I can claim expertise in this area; I’ve made my share of mistakes. A dose of common sense doesn’t hurt either.
6. Two loving parents who also love each other. I certainly understand that in some situations this simply isn’t possible. There’s no doubt that it is ideal, and no doubt that kids deserve ideal. When there’s love in the house, my hope is that the family will also provide the positive loving guidance kids need. Addy’s Great Grandma Powell, whose generation was generally more punitive than ours, wrote this straightforward tip on her baby shower index card: “Don’t spank.”
We’re fortunate that our children have a huge extended family, as well as two parents. Lots of grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins mean plenty of love all around. An eager big sister and a full-time mom complete our picture.
5. A carseat. OK, it’s the only piece of plastic I deem essential. While I don’t advocate buying gear for no reason, this one is a must for the child who rides in a vehicle.
4. Books, lots of them. Addy owns more board books than our small-town library — no kidding. Toys come and go, and it’s no myth that children often enjoy the cardboard box and the bubble wrap more than the toy itself. (My husband likes to remind me that the Little House on the Prairie girls were happy with a corncob doll.) Books, however, last a lifetime. Some of Addy’s favorite gifts were my own childhood books, passed on to us by my teenage nieces and nephews after they had outgrown them. If budget is an issue, books don’t even need to be purchased. Borrowing books with a free library card fills the need.
3. A baby carrier. While I’m a big fan of my homemade slings, a pair of arms and maybe a hip or sturdy back work quite well. Even a bedsheet tied across the body works just fine. For primary use, I choose these over a stroller of any kind or any plastic baby bucket.
2. Supportive friends for you. I found many friends through my La Leche League group. I’m also lucky that my best grade-school friend turned out to be my version of supermom, and is still a good friend. If live bodies aren’t readily available, virtual substitutes can be found in Internet groups of like-minded parents. I also like to hear stories from real moms through subscriptions to useful magazines such as Mothering and New Beginnings.
After a hard day, only a mom friend could relate this tip that was recorded on one of my baby shower index cards: “Remember to keep your sense of humor. And know that you’ve done well if the baby is breathing with all the limbs attached at the end of the day.”
1. A committed mother who trusts herself and, even more important, trusts her baby. I’ve listened to countless, well-meaning grandmothers tell me how to take care of my baby, and even more strangers in check-out lines. It seems like I’ve read every book about how to raise children (92, to be exact). Some of those were helpful, others downright sadistic. But from all that I discovered only one truth: All I really need to be a successful mother … comes free with the natural package.