Baby care for the budget- and environment-conscious

29 Sep

Babies are expensive little beings and it can be so overwhelming when you’re having your first to anticipate what you need when there is so much on offer.  Plus it’s oh-so-tempting to stock up on cute baby clothes and design the nursery of your dreams.  However, when you really consider what a baby NEEDS and the impact that all this “stuff” can have on the environment and on your wallet as well as how quickly babies grow up, you soon realise that there is very little that is essential and there’s a lot you can do to minimise the foot print your little one has on the world.  Below are some alternatives to consider.

Cloth nappies

When one considers how many nappies a child goes through before becoming toilet trained and that every non-biodegradable nappy ever made still exists today, it becomes clear the huge impact that one little baby can have on the world before being able to utter a word.  Then there’s the cost of all those nappies, which have a usable life of, at most, just a few hours.   Though you can now buy biodegradable nappies made from bamboo or corn, they are quite expensive (especially here in Australia).  The other alternative:  modern cloth nappies.

Cloth nappies have come a long way since the old days of simple folded squares of fabric and there are many options available, almost overwhelmingly so.  But with plenty of resources to help you choose, you have no excuse not to at least try them out:  some companies offer discounted trial packs  and some offer nappy consultancy, advising you what best suits your family’s needs (based on number of children, whether your baby will be in day care, whether you have a dryer, the hardness of your water, etc).  You might choose the more expensive but pretty designs of all-in-one nappies or choose to stay with the cheaper basic pre-fold nappies. You can also consider buying and / or selling second-hand nappies – newborn and sized nappies get less usage than others and therefore stay in better condition, unless used on multiple siblings (and if you plan on having more children, your dollars will go even further).  With the money you save on nappies, you could use that to buy pretty wet bags and diaper bags!  These days you can also get cloth training nappies for toddlers, so you don’t have to resort to disposable training pants for that in-between stage (and an advantage of modern cloth nappies is that they aid with potty training as toddlers can actually feel when they are wet, something that disposables do their best to prevent!).

Cloth wipes

As with nappies, parents churn through dozens of baby wipes every day, and not just for dirty bottoms – sticky faces, sticky hands (yours included!), spills, etc.  If you are going to use cloth nappies, it is almost no more effort to use cloth wipes, though I’ve found that many seasoned cloth nappy users haven’t discovered this yet.  An advantage of cloth wipes is that they are thicker, larger, and more absorbent than the disposables.  Also, you can add just a touch of natural oils for a fresh scent and antibacterial properties without exposing your baby to potentially harmful chemicals.  You can make your own cloth wipes by tearing up squares of terry or flannel cloth or you can buy them.  When we were in Holland we ordered kits from UK company Cheeky Wipes and love them.  Luckily they have just landed in Australia so check them out!

Washable breast pads

Whether or not you plan to breast feed, you will need breast pads after your baby is born and you can buy both washable and reusable breast pads.  However, I found that in the early days, the washable ones just didn’t cut it so I did use disposables until my milk supply regulated.   This time I am armed with a set of  Lilypadz so I am going to try them out.

Don’t bathe your baby too regularly

Until your baby starts eating solids and becomes more mobile, he or she won’t need a lot of bathing (except for perhaps after a particularly impressive nappy explosion).  Bathing dries out young, fragile skin, removing protective oils, which can lead to dryness and irritation, which then requires additional products to balance it out.  If you bathe your baby once or twice a week in mild product (or just plain water) then you shouldn’t need expensive moisturisers and diaper creams.

Breast milk is nature’s wonder remedy

Before you run out and buy special creams for cracked nipples or your baby’s acne, have a read of this article for all the wonderful uses for your breast milk!

Make your own baby shampoo / body wash

Babies don’t need special shampoos or body wash but if you are going to use them they need to be mild and gentle.  Unfortunately, if you browse the supermarket for such products you’ll find that they are expensive and / or they still contain irritating or potentially harmful chemicals.  Instead, visit your local health shop and buy a big bottle of unscented organic liquid castille soap – it is gentler and cheaper than supermarket or special baby products.  If you want to add a fragrance you can add one or two drops of lavender and / or chamomile (note that even lavender can be irritating to some babies).  You can also use this soap on yourself – for your hands, body, face, etc. If you are interested in which oils are safe for babies (or yourself), find a good book on aromatherapy.  You may be tempted to go further and make other personal care products and household products such as room sprays.  I love the base products and essential oils available from Perfect Potion.

Avoid unnecessary creams, lotions and talc

As mentioned above, with limited bathing and breast milk, you shouldn’t need to put any other products on your baby’s skin, such as baby powder and diaper cream.  My son has never had diaper rash thanks to cloth nappies, but if he gets a teething rash on his bottom, I just dab on a little bit of Lucas Papaw Ointment and it’s gone again in a day or so (is there a household in Australia that doesn’t have at least one tube of that amazing stuff?).  Talc (and substitutes such as corn starch) is not only unnecessary but also may be harmful as your baby breathes the tiny particles in.

Avoid buying full-priced clothes

It’s lovely for each baby to have a selection of beautiful, brand new clothes of their own but since babies grow out of their clothes so quickly it’s not worth buying everything full priced  or designer brands.  Here are a few ideas for accumulating a wardrobe for your newborn without spending a fortune:

  • Accept hand downs from relatives
  • Take a look at second hand stores (and buy/swap/sell sites and Facebook groups)
  • Shop at factory outlets – many brands offer last year’s stock, left over sale stock, samples and seconds at a fraction of the new price
  • Make them yourself, using old clothes and sheets you already have (baby pants are surprisingly easy to make, even for beginners – take a look at this tutorial at Made By Rae)
  • Shop in the sales a few sizes ahead but bear in mind the season in which your baby will be wearing these clothes
  • Don’t buy shoes, babies don’t need shoes (which can be very expensive) until they start to walk outside.  Let their feet have freedom to grow and feel the world around them.

I have used all of these methods for acquiring clothes for both of my babies and they have both had/got some beautiful items, though now master E tends to get cheaper/less beautiful clothes because he is a toddler and a boy and loves dirt/sand/puddles/food…  I like to buy organic but I know that after a few washes in mild detergent the manufacturing chemicals are mostly stripped away so I don’t get too hung up on that.

Buy only what you need

There are countless gadgets out there that you can buy for babies, most of which have a useful life of a couple of months (or are totally unnecessary) yet still come with rather large price tags.  Many are touted to help a baby’s development when in fact they might hinder it; walkers, jumpers and special seats can force babies into positions they are developmentally unready for and take time away from the baby being in a position in which they can work on their development so do some research before buying such products.  Then there are other things like bottle warmers, sterilisers, baby food cookers, etc. that may seem handy but are either unnecessary or you can easily do the same job with equipment you already have.  For example, for breastfed babies, sterilisation is now seen as unecessary – simply give bottles and dummies a good wash in hot, soapy water or put them in the top drawer of the dishwasher.

Buy quality, resell later

When it comes to larger items such as a pram or a cot, buy the best quality that you can afford – you will either use it for future children or you can resell it.  When it comes to toys, think quality, not quantity;  simple, well-made (non-plastic) toys will last for years (and apart from metal toys will eventually degrade quicker than plastic) and are not only better for your baby’s development than most plastic toys that leave little to the imagination, but are also healthier and can be sold later.  Too many toys can be overwhelming, cost more for storage containers, and take more time to clean up.  Browse vintage and second hand stores and websites and you may come across pre-loved wooden toys that won’t cost the earth.

Make your own baby food

An obvious point, but worth mentioning.  Jarred baby food (especially organic) is expensive and it’s not hard to steam a few vegetables and use a stick blender to puree them, or to mash a banana, or cut an avocado.  Make food in batches and freeze to save on work.  You could also consider Baby Led Weaning which essentially teaches your child to eat real food from the start instead of mush.

Reconsider a nursery

Imagine going to a lot of trouble to design and outfit a bedroom, only to have to change it a year later because your taste and needs have changed – that’s what happens with baby nurseries.  You can save a lot of money and trouble if you think a bit longer term – if you want brand new furniture (that can be used for multiple children), consider one of the higher quality brands of baby bed that can go from bassinet to junior bed.  When it comes to decorating it may seem cute to design a neutral nursery covered with Whinny the Pooh motifs but will that still be appropriate a year later when your rough and tumble boy is mad about trucks and cars?  And, if you plan to co-sleep (have the baby sleep in your room), don’t even bother with a nursery as your baby will probably no longer be a baby by the time you finish co-sleeping and will have different needs.  Have a few lovely items, some functional shelving and an attractive mobile as well as somewhere comfortable to feed and an appropriate area for nappy changes, that will be enough.  You might want to consider a Montessori approach to your baby/toddler’s room which recommends designing a child’s room to be functional and attractive for them, rather than yourself.

Borrow / rent

Borrowing items from family and friends, renting items (such as breast pumps) and borrowing toys and books from libraries are other ways you can save money.

Shop online

You can now buy almost anything online and quite often cheaper than in stores, plus you can find a bigger range without using a drop of petrol – just be sure you are buying from a safe site, check the shipping cost (ranging from free to quite expensive), shipping time and taxes.

Become a loyal customer

There are so many brands available, all vying for our custom so it makes sense for them to offer incentives for customer loyalty.  Many companies offer website discount codes for subscribing to their newsletters or “Liking” their Facebook page, some send out gift vouchers and others offer free shipping for certain customers.  You can also find discount codes in baby/parenting magazines.

I hope this sparks a few ideas and encourages you to think a little bit differently when it comes to preparing for your new arrival.  If I’ve missed anything, I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

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