What Does a Baby Need?

Snoozing in an Ergo baby carrier.

I have three children. My youngest is 3 months old. The more babies I've had, the less baby stuff I've wanted.  Here is a sampling of baby gear I used to own that I have gotten rid of:
  • Pack 'n' play (barely used it)
  • Exersaucer (took up too much space for the limited amount of time it was actually useful)
  • Swing (my kids never took to it)
  • Infant car seat (now we use a convertible car seat that lasts until the booster seat)
  • Play mat (not safe to use with a toddler around)
  • Changing table (now I use a towel on top of my bed)

Babies do need to sleep, eat, pee and poop, move and play. But after three babies, I know that there is very little stuff that a baby actually needs to do these things. Since babies are extremely vulnerable to endocrine disruptors and other harmful chemicals, this is the time to be super-conscientious about materials and ingredients. Here are five items that have turned out to be essentials for my babies.

Natural Bed (Sleep)
Babies spend a lot of time sleeping. Because of this, one of my top priorities was to green the bed. My third baby sleeps on a mattress made of organic cotton and natural latex without any chemical flame retardant treatment, but it took me until baby #3 to get to this point. We use a wool puddle pad for leaks. Whether your baby sleeps in your bed on a king-size mattress or on a crib mattress, I would strive for natural materials without any toxic chemicals (such as brominated and chlorinated flame retardants, or antibacterial and waterproofing agents) if possible, although it's true that such mattresses tend to be much more expensive than the cheapest conventional ones.

Natural Nursing Pillow (Eat)
It's true a nursing pillow isn't exactly essential. You could just use a regular pillow or your arms, but considering the amount of time I spend breastfeeding my babies, I find nursing pillows to be indispensable. I nursed my first two kids on a My Brest Friend, made with polyurethane foam treated with toxic flame retardants. But now, with my third baby, I'm happy to say that I'm using nursing pillows made of natural materials with no flame retardant treatment.

Cloth Diapers (Pee and Poop)
I switched to cloth diapers when my first child was one and I've never looked back. If you are a bit concerned about all the toxic chemicals in your child's world, then both the known ingredients and the undisclosed ingredients (such as the components of the fragrance) of disposable diapers will give you pause. If you are going to pay attention to the ingredients in any product, it might as well be the product that comes in contact with your baby's private parts all day long. In addition, the first months of your child's life is in many ways the easiest and most economical time to cloth diaper. When I do use disposable diapers, I use a brand (such as Seventh Generation) that discloses all ingredients used and contains no fragrance .

Baby Carrier (Move)
I love baby carriers! With my infant in a baby carrier, I don't need an infant car seat or a travel system to snap my car seat into or a special umbrella stroller for infants. I use my baby carrier when I go for a walk, while playing at the park with my older children, while cooking and shopping. Among the numerous benefits of baby wearing is that it keeps the baby out of reach of the overly curious 2-year-old. I use the baby carrier to put my baby to sleep and to let the baby nap while away from home. I know that people love to carry their sleeping baby from the car to the house in the infant car seat, and use the infant car seat as a place to set the baby while out of the house. Personally, I'd rather my baby spend hours on end in one of my baby carriers (each made almost entirely of cotton) than in an infant car seat (usually made of synthetic fabrics treated with stain resistant chemicals and polyurethane foam treated with toxic flame retardants).

Cloth and Wood Toys (Play)
I used to have lots of plastic baby toys. First I got rid of all the soft plastic toys (in case they were made of vinyl and contained phthalates), then I got rid of all the plastic toys except those that I knew were made of "safe" plastics. But in the end, I decided to banish all the plastic baby toys. Since babies spend so much time with their hands and their toys in their mouths, and since babies are especially vulnerable to synthetic chemicals, why mess around with plastics? These days there are tons of awesome teethers, rattles, stuffed animals, blocks and other toys for babies made of cotton, wool, bamboo, wood and other natural materials. 

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  1. You're right-as new parents we buy so many things for our new little additions. They really need very little-just our love and milk. We are the ones that need "things". I don't think I could have survived without my baby carrier.

    1. I had only a baby bjorn with my first. By 3 months he was WAY too heavy for it. Took me under he was a toddler and I was pregnant again to discover the Ergo and Beco. It was lovely using them with my 2nd baby, instead of carrying her around all the time in my arms as I did with my first. So many great options for carriers these days!

  2. Cloth Diapers are AMAZING!!! I switched to these from regular nappies at n9 months and have never looked back! Katie

    1. I know. I thought I was making a sacrifice when I switched to cloth but ended up liking them so much better than disposables!

  3. this is the sort of thing I wish I'd seen BEFORE I had my first child. I put so many things on the registry that I ended up never needing - some I never even opened. Toys is a big one. We still have this problem where we have so many toys (most from friends and family that have no idea what to get, so they just try their best and it ends up being something to trip over)

  4. Here is an article I wrote on this topic:

    Is All That Baby Gear Really Necessary?

    Best wishes,

    Jan Hunt, M.Sc., Director
    Natural Child Project

    "Children reflect the treatment they receive."

  5. Hi, I like this post. I have a tiny house and don't want to buy a lot of stuff for my first baby. That said, you seem to imply that if you have a baby carrier you don't need a car seat. How does that work? Are you saying that when you drive you just strap the baby onto your body and that's good enough? Could you clarify?

    Thanks, Rachel

    1. I do not have an infant car seat (the kind that snaps in and out of the base) -- they usually have an upper weight limit of around 20 pounds. My first child outgrew that around 7 or 8 months. Now we just have convertible car seats which last all the way from infant up to when they are ready for a booster seat -- my 4yo still uses her convertible car seat. It just saves you buying a special car seat for an infant.


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