A Womb of One's Own

A Womb of One’s Own: Buy, Buy, Baby

I don’t want to think of myself as a consumer whore, but the Baby Industrial Complex is out to convince me I should be. And it’s not just the BIC, it’s also my mother, well-meaning parent friends, and strangers who stop me in Babies “R” Us as I wander by, wide-eyed and clutching the registry gun.

At first, I thought I just needed a crib (but not drop-sided, as they were just banned by the Consumer Product Safety Commission). Then I was told I didn’t just need a crib, but also a separately-purchased crib mattress (which can cost anywhere from $80 up). On that mattress, I don’t need just a crib sheet, I also need a crib sheet protector. I’m pretty sure I’m also “supposed” to have at least one or two more things layered onto the mattress, but at this point of the explanation, I can feel my eyes glaze over in confusion. I was then told that it’s easiest and most encouraged to co-sleep at night, except co-sleeping in a bed runs the risk of a parent accidentally suffocating their child. So to come as close to co-sleeping as possible, you should get a co-sleeper, most preferably the $150 model that stands next to and attaches to your bed.

Then I thought I could just breast-feed, until sanity re-asserted itself and I remembered that I wanted to be away from the kid for more than two hours at a time, so I needed to get a breast pump. But due to safety issues, I can’t get a used one. A new manual breast pump is under $40, but friends and family encouraged the use of a double electric pump for ease and speed. A double electric pump is only almost $300, a steal, I’m told, for how much I’ll love it. But the pump doesn’t just come by itself, you also need to have breast milk storage bags, the model of bottle and nipple your baby prefers, a bottle sterilizer, a bottle drying rack, nursing pads for leaking nipples, lanolin for sore nipples, and nursing bras.

I know I want to do cloth diapers, but it’s not just buying a bunch of cloth diapers. It’s also diaper rash ointment, safety pins, baby wipes, a baby wipe warmer, a changing table, a changing pad, changing pad covers, and the diaper organizer to sit next to the changing table. I can either wash the diapers at home (which involves bleach, a diaper sprayer attachment for the toilet, a diaper soaking bucket, and maybe more), or I can get a diaper service, which runs $85 a month. I could do disposable diapers, but I can’t handle the accompanying environmental guilt. Or there’s gDiapers, which cost more than either cloth or disposable, but have biodegradable disposable inserts and washable exteriors, combining the best features of the other two choices.

Everybody’s parents or friends have stories for me about what they did and didn’t have when raising their children. They went without car seats or they bedded their baby in a dresser drawer or they were never away from their baby for more than an hour for the first two years of its life. But I’m trying to walk a line between safety and frugality, between common sense and purchasing everything I’m told. I want to make this experience as easy and painless as possible for both me and my baby, so maybe I should splurge on the infant car seat that I can carry away from the base instead of just getting a convertible car seat. But is it going to be worth the extra $200 in less than a year when he outgrows the infant seat?

Friends crow about the screaming deals they found on items online through eBay or classified ads, driving me to try to match their victories. I see items on Craigslist for a third of their retail price, but I hesitate. Can I trust someone who says the car seat they’re advertising has never been in an accident? Can I guarantee that the co-sleeper I’m looking at hasn’t also doubled as a cat bed or a meth-making equipment storage bin? Am I willing to take that much of my baby’s safety on faith from a stranger who thinks that all-caps is an appropriate way to write a classified ad?


By Jessica Werner

Free-range librarian in Seattle. A sucker for happy endings, teen angst, and books that make me want to sell my possessions and travel the world. Incurable homebody and type A. Send love letters and readers advisory requests to

7 replies on “A Womb of One’s Own: Buy, Buy, Baby”

I’m right there with you. (I think we may be due about the same time) There’s so many choices and things that people say that you really need. So far the approach we’ve taken has been to buy new anything that could be a safety hazard if you buy it used (like a car seat) and everything else has been similar to MsElij’s advice– we buy the midrange item (and used if possible). Still it’s all just so bewildering.

I’ve found that having a baby does require a lot of gear, but I’ve also been able to be pretty thrifty. Used kids’ stuff stores are great, and you can likely get a lot of stuff from friends and family members who have already had kids. We were given a pack-and-play (great alternative to a co-sleeper in those early months, and there are $40 Cosco ones at most stores), high chair, Bumbo seat (lifesaver), baby swing (could not have lived without one), car seats (both from close friends or family, not strangers), and a ton of clothes.

What I haven’t been able to live without:

-My Lansinoh double electric pump, which I kept at work. Even though my stubborn little girl never took a bottle (she went 8 hours without eating once when a bottle was her only option). The Lansinoh pump was $100, rather than a super expensive one. You CAN buy or borrow a used pump — you just need to purchase all the stuff that actually touches the milk or your breasts, including the air tubes.

-5-6 changing mats. I used them for makeshift changing surfaces all the time, including in the bed during those first weeks.

-Nursing pads. Reusable AND single-use. Lansinoh Extra Soft (which I can only find at Wal-Mart) are so wonderful.

-Nursing tanks and bras. I had to wear a bra pretty much 24 hours a day for the first year because if I didn’t, I got milk everywhere. I had some great tanks from Target (often clearanced to about $11) and some sports bra looking things from Motherhood Maternity (around $10).

But here’s the advice my husband gives to our friends who are having their first babies: For everything that’s out there, there’s going to be the $300, the $100 option, and the $20 option. Don’t go with the $20 option, ’cause it’ll probably fall apart. Don’t go with the $300 option, because it’s frivolous and you don’t really need anything that functional. Go with the $100 option. It’ll do everything you need it to do, but you’re not spending far too much money on it.

I’m going to toss my opinion in here because it’s pretty different from SarahB’s.

I also had two babies and I found the higher quality pump really critical. For my first baby, I didn’t think I would need one and ended up renting a super good one from the hospital after a few days of serious frustration. My baby had a latch problem and, as she got bigger, she figured it out and was fine but, without the pump I don’t know if I could have kept her fed.

I guess my best advice would be to see what happens and keep an open mind. Every single baby and every single mother are different, yours will be, too.

However, on the car seat/carrier issue I agree with Sara 100%. The removable bucket thing is absolutely worth it. And don’t buy a used one.



I too am a super thrifty mom, but the biggest mistake I made was to listen to everyone and buy very little clothing for the first year. Turns out my girls changed sizes every 3 months, and they needed 3-4 outfits a day because their diapers overflowed constantly.
I breastfed my oldest until she was 13 months, my youngest until 10 months and never needed a pump. They started eating solids at 5 months, and then I could leave them for a couple of hours . I could not justify the purchase of the pump for 5 months of use. But that’s between me and my budget !
The most useful gift I received is a little vibrating chair where I could strap in the baby and bring her to the bathroom with me so I could take a shower.

OK, as someone who has had to shop for two babies here’s what I can tell you.
Co-sleepers are nice, but not essential.
Unless you plan to work full time, the $300 breast pump is not necessary. If you expect to pump once or twice a day, the $40 will be fine.
The car seat you can carry away from the base is totally worth it. The seat itself is multi-functional, if you visit a friend, it is like a portable cradle. My daughter hated her crib for the first four months, so she slept next to my bed in her car seat most nights.
NEVER buy a used car seat unless you know and trust the person you are buying it from. The important parts of a co-sleeper are washable, so you would probably be ok with one from Craig’s list. And don’t trust people who use all caps.
The hospital people gave me a small tube of lanolin and it was more than enough, a little goes a long way. And if you can pop your boob out of your regular bra, don’t worry about getting a bunch of nursing bras. When I was nursing every few hours, I almost never even wore a bra.

Hope this all helps.

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