little things, big life

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The Only 3 Things Your Baby Really Needs

The Only 3 Things Your Baby Really Needs | little things, big life

With the myriad of baby registry checklists put out by retailers and floating around the Internet, it’s no easy task to sort through what you’ll actually need and what’s superfluous – and the truth is, it’s pretty much impossible for a new mom to know what will find use and what will find dust until after the baby’s arrived.

Though it’s easy to feel defeated (or excited) when you see the never-ending “must have” lists that rival those of bridal registries, babies don’t have to be expensive – outrageously expensive, anyway. I read a parenting article which stated that parents will spend about $12,000 in their baby’s first year of life.


At the risk of your house turning into a Babies R Us warehouse, let’s get back to basics with a pared-down list of the only 3 things your baby truly needs, and how to save money on them.

  1. Food
  2. Diapers
  3. A safe place to sleep

I could have said a fourth thing: love. It’s definitely something a baby needs, but that better go without saying.


Obviously babies need milk to grow and thrive, whether it be breastmilk or formula. We all know breast is best for health, not to mention free and more convenient (less lugging and cleaning of bottles). I’m not going to get into a debate on breastmilk vs. formula here, and I know there’s many reasons moms end up choosing one or the other – or both. One of my friends had to go on blood pressure medication for a few months as soon as her son was born, which meant she couldn’t breastfeed at all.

Breastfeeding can be challenging and frustrating at first; I was tempted to give up, and I had a medical army to help me. But I couldn’t get over the fact that there’s a reason why breastmilk is the food babies are meant to have, so I persevered. 14 months later, we’re still going strong, though we’ve had our hiccups along the way. You may have issues with milk supply, latching, pain, etc. but it’s worth it to get help and work through it!

Just be glad breastfeeding doesn’t look like this:

Even though I didn’t really start enjoying nursing until it had been a few months and felt like a milking cow in the beginning (or the bunny above), I’m so glad I stuck with it. I encourage moms to do everything they can to breastfeed for as long as possible, even if it means pumping if you go back to work, etc. Here’s why:

  • It’s free – you can save somewhere in the ballpark of $1,500 a year! Think of what you could use that $1,500 for – a vacation, paying off debt, whatever’s important to you.
  • Milk is on tap anywhere you go.
  • Breastmilk has every vitamin, mineral and nutrient your baby needs, and it changes along with your growing baby so it’s always perfectly suited for his nutritional needs.
  • Breastmilk has immune-boosting properties. If your baby picks up germs from say, a grocery cart handle or a toy from that snotty (nosed) kid at playgroup, the next time he nurses, his body will start making antibodies to target those germs specifically. How cool is that?

The Only 3 Things Your Baby Really Needs | little things, big life

  • Breastfeeding isn’t just good for baby – it’s good for you, too. For one thing, each time you breastfeed – especially in the beginning – there’s a rush of hormones that help you recover quicker from the birth, both emotionally and physically.
  • These hormones also help form a connection with your baby. Breastfeeding is more than just a method of feeding – it’s nurturing your baby while nurturing your relationship. I had to get over the fact that babies have a need to suck, even if they’re not hungry, and breastfeeding is a huge comfort to them. It makes them feel safe and secure and loved. There’s nothing else quite like it.

There’s more where that came from, and this is by no means an exhaustive list. But here’s some secondary reasons that aren’t as big of a deal but can be the icing on the cake:

  • No running out of formula at 2 a.m., or on a long plane ride that’s been delayed (I’ve heard of this happening before! And hungry babies = unhappy mamas. I once got stuck in a snowstorm when Elena was 6 months old; after several hours, we had to retreat and spend the night at my parents. If I relied on formula, we would’ve been in trouble).
The Only 3 Things Your Baby Really Needs | little things, big life

That’s a lot of bottles for a baby who didn’t take a bottle

  • No stuffing bottles into an already overstuffed diaper bag. I know a mom who has to carry 2 diaper bags – one for regular stuff, one for bottles. My diaper bag is so stuffed already, I don’t know how other moms manage to fit bottles in there. I salute you. That’s not to say you won’t use bottles if you breastfeed – you could pump and have someone else feed your baby once in awhile, taking some of the pressure off you. But even then you’ll have a lot less washing and sterilizing of bottles to do than if you used them full-time. That’s more time that can be spent resting and recovering!
The Only 3 Things Your Baby Really Needs | little things, big life

One of the few times she took a bottle – and it was not without its challenges

  • Along the same lines, you can get out of the house (a bit) quicker because you have less to get ready, and you don’t have to estimate how much formula you’ll need to bring with you – see the 1st bullet point for how hard that can be!
  • Contrary to what you may initially think, breastfeeding doesn’t tie you down. You’re a bit more free to get up and go because you don’t have formula to heat up or prepare while you’re out. And if you’re nervous about breastfeeding in public, you could always sit in your car or a bathroom stall, or use a blanket or nursing cover.
The Only 3 Things Your Baby Really Needs | little things, big life

Manual breast pump. It kinda resembles a horn of some sort…

This isn’t intended to make formula feeding mothers feel bad, merely to encourage mothers who want to save money and breastfeed to do so. Your baby needs to be fed either way, so why not make it as cheap as possible while being the best they can get as possible. If you were only able to breastfeed for a little bit, let this hearten you.

A few notes on accessories

While breastfeeding itself is free, there’s lots of accessories that can go along with it that cost mon-ay, things like nursing pillows, covers, bras and tops, breast pumps and pads, nipple creams and the like. You may or may not find they aid you. I personally didn’t find my nursing pillow or cover that helpful, or nipple creams.

The Only 3 Things Your Baby Really Needs | little things, big life

The highly anticipated nursing pillow that was rarely used

If you bottle feed, you’ll need bottles (obviously), bottle brushes, a sterilizer, containers to hold formula, and perhaps a bottle warmer, special drying rack, rack or basket for the dishwasher, etc.

A final note on breastfeeding

For help with breastfeeding, check to see if your local hospital or health unit has any lactation consultants on staff – some will even come to your house, saving you a trip! Even paying a couple hundred dollars for professional help is worth it for the money it saves you on formula.

There may even be local organizations that can help – just Google it. My city has a few great resources dedicated to pre and post-natal health and employ post-partum doulas who specialize in helping moms with everything that comes along with having a new baby.

The Only 3 Things Your Baby Really Needs | little things, big life

This book was a lifesaver – it answered every question I’ve ever had (or will ever have – it’s that good) on breastfeeding

In almost every city in dozens of countries, there’s a La Leche League chapter, an organization founded by mothers, dedicated to helping mothers to breastfeed. You can find one near you here. I attended one session when Elena was 5 weeks old and found it incredibly helpful, and it’s free!

And once your baby turns 6 months old and starts eating solids, you can save yourself from spending money on baby food or making homemade purees by going the baby-led weaning (BLW) route, a natural and easy way to introduce babies to food by giving them, well, food. I’ll write a separate post about our awesome experience with BLW.

The Only 3 Things Your Baby Really Needs | little things, big life

Doesn’t this just pique your interest?


Believe it or not, some parents don’t even use diapers! It’s called elimination communication and it starts from infancy. For the rest of us with less patience, diapers can run you between $1,500-$2,300 until your baby’s potty trained. And the really crappy part? You have to spend that all over again for any other kids you have.

But just like with your baby’s food source, meeting this need doesn’t have to be expensive, and it can be more health-conscious. If you go the cloth diaper route, you can reduce that number to less than $1,000 – as in, total – no matter how many kids you have. And if you’re already breastfeeding, think of all the time and hassle you’ll save yourself by never having to run out to the store to pick up formula or diapers. That’s time that could be spent laughing at mom jokes on the Internet because you finally get them.

The Only 3 Things Your Baby Really Needs | little things, big life

Who knew diapering could be so fun?

Some people don’t want to cloth diaper because it’s not as convenient and you have to wash poop off of diapers, and that’s gross. You’d think it’d be gross – and sometimes it is – but I have yet to meet a cloth diapering mom, myself included, who’s that put off by it. Plus, it gets easier once the baby starts eating solids. You can also get diaper sprayers, disposable liners, and other tools to help make the job easier.

The Only 3 Things Your Baby Really Needs | little things, big life

How cute is this minky giraffe print diaper?

I look at it like this: if you use disposable diapers over the course of your baby’s diaper career, you’re paying $1,500-$2,300 on garbage. That stinks.

The Only 3 Things Your Baby Really Needs | little things, big life

I still buy disposables from time to time – I abandoned traveling with cloth once my baby got older and started wetting heavier

Now, the cloth diapering world can be intimidating and confusing – and just like with breastfeeding, I almost gave up, until I found this video that finally made sense of all the jargon and gave me a place to start. I won’t go into detail on cloth diapering here – you can check out these videos for more info – but just know that you can get a good stash going for as little as $50, or you could spend over $500. Add in costs for laundry and detergent, and you’re still coming out on top. You’re going to be doing a lot of laundry already anyway – it’s inevitable with kids, and it’s time to accept it – so what’s a little more.

The Only 3 Things Your Baby Really Needs | little things, big life The Only 3 Things Your Baby Really Needs | little things, big life

I spent about $415 on a stash of 28 pocket diapers, 12 prefolds, 2 covers (I had already received 2 as gifts), fleece liners, cloth wipes, and wet bags – and that was me going overboard. But I think that’s pretty good considering I have all the diapers I’ll ever need for all the kids I’ll ever have. I wasn’t truly potty trained until I was almost 3, so if Elena’s anything like me, I thought I’d be proactive. To make things cheaper, I make my own wipe solution (there’s only 3 ingredients) and use cornstarch rather than the expensive cloth diaper-safe rash creams.

The Only 3 Things Your Baby Really Needs | little things, big life

Monogrammed diaper!

Cloth isn’t for everyone, but if you’re looking to save money, this is a good way to do it.

A safe place to sleep

And it doesn’t have to be a crib! A bassinet, playard, or the family bed works just fine too (of course, you’ll eventually need a crib or Pack n Play, or you might skip over that phase entirely and go straight to a bed). I thought I needed to have a crib and would never, ever, under any circumstance, co-sleep…but never say never until you actually have the baby or you will eat your words. And they don’t taste good.

The first night we got home, I was holding my tiny baby in my arms and staring wide-eyed at the enormous crib in front of me. I turned to my husband. “There’s no way we’re putting her in there. She’s only 8 pounds!” And so beside me in bed she went, and there she stayed for 2 months. Most moms I’ve talked to have co-slept at one time or another, so I feel better. I guess I’m not the only one who can’t predict how things will go!

The Only 3 Things Your Baby Really Needs | little things, big life

Only 1 day old and already her muscles are bigger than my husband’s

We borrowed a bassinet from my aunt that had been used for her kids, and put it beside our bed. But almost every time we put the baby down, she’d wake up and cry, even if she had been sound asleep. She just needed to be close to someone.

The Only 3 Things Your Baby Really Needs | little things, big life

The bassinet, clearly not being used for its original purpose

And it’s a very natural reaction when you think about it – on the part of both mother and baby.

Consider the baby’s point of view. For 9 months, they’re tucked up nice, safe and warm in their mother’s womb, listening to her heartbeat and voice and munching away 24/7. It’s no wonder they want to be close to their mom when they suddenly find themselves out in the big, cold, scary world. Their mom’s warmth, gentle touch, the smell of her milk and skin, the sound of her voice and heartbeat brings them such comfort because it reminds them of the womb – that’s why they love curling up against their mom in a baby carrier like a sling or Moby wrap! (and eating on demand). Come to think of it, it’s probably why they like to be rocked and swayed and bounced too – between their mother’s movements and floating around in amniotic fluid, they’re used to almost constant movement.

The Only 3 Things Your Baby Really Needs | little things, big life

The Moby wrap!

It’s natural for the mother to want to keep her baby close too.  Throughout history mothers often slept next to their children – it was warmer and safer – and in many parts of the world, this is still the norm. It also makes breastfeeding, sleeping and resting easier.

Elena’s not the only baby who has refused her crib or bassinet. When this happens, usually exhausted parents will take the baby into their bed and lo and behold, find that they all actually get some sleep! (for at least a couple hours anyway).

Contrary to what’s widely believed, bedsharing is actually quite safe as long as these 7 rules are followed:

Safe Sleep 7 | little things, big life

When we think of co-sleeping, the horrifying thought of rolling over on the baby often comes to mind; but if that were a concern, no one would recommend co-sleeping. It’s way safer than falling asleep with baby on the couch or in a rocking chair – and this often happens because babies like to be held and parents are tired.

A new mom is already hyper-vigilant and hyper-aware (and other types of hyper) when it comes to her baby. It’s the reason we wake up at the slightest shuffle our babies make two rooms away through the monitor – which is on the lowest setting, by the way – even though our husbands keep snoring away like chainsaws when the baby is screaming right next to him.

If you’re interested but worried, you could always get an infant sleeper like the Snuggle Nest, which is like a mini bassinet that the baby sleeps in right beside you in bed.

The Only 3 Things Your Baby Really Needs | little things, big life

This could be dangerous if dad fell asleep too

What I didn’t expect was how much I loved co-sleeping. I absolutely adored having my sweet little baby next to me where I could just snuggle with her and enjoy her. Plus, I didn’t have to be super obsessive and constantly check to see if she was still breathing because she was right there – which I did the few times she was in the bassinet right next to me. For me, co-sleeping was a lifesaver, especially in those first few weeks of soreness and exhaustion. It meant I could nurse laying down; we could just lay in bed as long as we wanted. And that was a looong time, most some days.

Don’t worry about “forming bad habits.” I’m pretty sure when they go to high school, they won’t still be sleeping in your bed.

If you’re just not comfortable with co-sleeping, don’t do it; it’s just a way to save money while meeting baby’s need to sleep.

Another cost-effective method is to use a playpen (also known as a playard or Pack n Play). It could be a brilliant solution that covers several areas:

  • Replaces a crib, plus it takes up less space, is less expensive and is portable – you could have it in your room at first if need be, and then move it to the nursery
  • Since your baby’s used to sleeping in it, packing it up to travel should ensure he’ll have an easier time falling asleep when he’s not at home, unlike my daughter who abhorred the Pack n Play in her younger days and still has some issues with it
  • Some come with a bassinet and change table feature that you can use until your baby reaches a certain weight, saving you from buying these often unnecessary items separately (though they can be handy)
  • Acts as a play area when you need to keep baby contained

So it’s kind of a 4-in-1 deal; you get your money’s worth since you’ll be using it for a long time.


Final note

Your experience with your baby will be different from my experience, your mom’s experience, your friend’s experience and the moms on baby forums experiences. When it comes down to it, you have to do what’s best for you and your baby.

If you want to, you can always find ways to cut costs. Having kids is expensive, but having a baby doesn’t have to get ridiculous. Notice how the 3 things on this list meet baby’s only 3 needs? Eating, sleeping, and excreting. But don’t forget the fourth thing that goes without saying: love – and that’s always free.

Your baby just needs you. He can survive without a changing table, stroller and diaper bag (perhaps you won’t), but he can’t survive without food, sleep or being changed. Interestingly, if you breastfeed, co-sleep, and practice elimination communication, your grand total for baby is $0, and he still has everything he needs to survive! Cool, eh?

Now, that’s not necessarily realistic, as we all use baby gear to some degree. Babies need to be warm which is where clothes and swaddling blankets come in (and you), but you don’t need a lot. Most of us have cars so we need a car seat – although that wasn’t the case in the olden days!

And this list doesn’t mean that some of the extra things aren’t helpful. If it makes your life easier, by all means, go for it! I’m sure every mom has something she can’t live without – for us, it was the Moby wrap and the swing in the beginning. As she got older, we started using the baby bath tub and love it. Unfortunately, no one can tell you what will work for you – wouldn’t that be nice?

Life just isn’t that simple; you have to figure it out for yourself, and you’re bound to make some spending mistakes along the way. But if you’re conscious and careful, you can save yourself a lot of money on the big things, and on the little things.

1 Comment

  1. When you really stop and think things through this way, it’s way less daunting to become a parent. Being someone in a one bedroom apartment situation it’s really great to hear cribs and big furniture aren’t a necessity (at least right away)…phew!

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