The big biased blog post on buying for babies

This year, more than any other, I have contemplated at length the idea of gifts, especially as regards giving gifts to children.  These meditations weren't merely prompted by entering motherhood, but also were prompted as I considered waste management, the size of our home, the sourcing of our possessions, and so forth.  On's "First-Year Baby Costs Calculator" they estimate (by default) an expenditure of $10,158 (253,929 CZK) for the baby's first year.  Really!??! Ten thousand American dollars!  I used their calculator.  My result: $1,171.  Granted, I have not gone with a fine-tooth comb through my finances to see if this is accurate, but I did check my records to put exact numbers for the most significant purchases (changing table, carseat, etc.).

Why do I mention the cost of a baby in a blog post about gifts?
  1. there are obviously many extra and unnecessary things being bought if someone is spending $10,000 on a tiny human's first year of life (someone who can barely independently move for most of the year and who mainly needs cuddles and breastmilk) and 
  2. if there really are so many cost-inducing things necessary for a baby, perhaps a gift can be more strategically used to help relieve some of that cost.
What lies before you are my highly biased opinions on gift-giving based on our own baby-rearing experience.  To get some of our biases out in the open:
  • we don't like clutter (less is more), 
  • we prefer "more natural" things (less plastic and polyester, more wood, wool, and cotton), 
  • we are very welcoming of second-hand items.  
I mention my biases out front, and the first place to start when you're buying for a mama and her baby are to think about them specifically: their values, needs, and preferences.

On Clothes: easy, snuggly, practical
Clothes are tricky, because babies are born different sizes and are growing at the fastest rate (outside the womb) than they will their whole life.  So, firstly, it doesn't hurt to ask the mom what she does or doesn't have. Or, if that's too wide open, it doesn't hurt to say something like, "I'd love to get your baby some pajamas, what sizes are you missing?  Somehow we ended up with much more 0-6 month clothes than 6-12 month clothes. (Pro tip: Don't buy newborn clothes, you never know when the baby is going to be born 9+ pounds. Our baby was too big to wear any newborn clothes.)  Also we had plenty of onesies, but not many suitable leggings/tights.  It doesn't hurt to check in with the mama:

  • Does she have approximately 100 short-sleeved onesies and no long-sleeved?  
  • Does she have enough baby jammies? 
  • Would she be ok with receiving items secondhand?
You can even wait until after the baby is born and then buy some things the mum is missing.

If you don't want to ask, this is what we found: tights were a Godsend - easy on and not so easy off for baby.  Socks are way too easy off for baby, plus they add the headache of trying to chase down the match.  Anything that was too complicated to put on or not snuggly enough wasn't worn, no matter how cute it was.  (Tip: zippered jammies are cute, practical, and easy--triple win.) With wearing our baby girl in a wrap and carrier, we needed clothes that would complement this way of parenting.  So no dresses and skirts (while she was itty bitty), and pants needed to be longer than usual. Practical considerations should also be made if you know your friend will cloth diaper--buy big booty pants for her kid!  Leggings are cute, but they're difficult to stretch over a cloth diaper.

Hats: We received approximately 75 hats secondhand and we used less than 5 of them.  Hats were one of the few clothing items we actually bought ourselves.  When I say "hat," I mean kukla, in "English"  balaclava. If you're still confused, picture a ski mask.  Ears, neck, and scalp are covered.  It's difficult for the baby to shrug off.  Just slip it on and Ba-da-bing ba-da-boom.  Done.  We bought one thin cotton-merino version for summer and in winter we used it as a base layer for a hat on top.  For full on winter, we bought a thicker merino version. This latest thick merino balaclava is from Many Months, a brand which is clever enough to design clothes that grow with the child.  From them we also bought a onesie extender (brilliant) and 2 growing merino onesies.  Cotton is wonderful, and merino is magical (and expensive).  If you want to give a high-quality clothing gift, give wool (and washing instructions).

I was very thankful for the sun hats we received, especially those with a tie or strap to keep them on her little head.  When she was really small (first 6 months), I didn't want to add extra tshirts because she was so tricky to dress, so I appreciated long-sleeved onesies, warm tights, and other clothing that was easy to put on and take off.
As a practical female, I'd advise to think more about the use of the clothing than the ooh-ahh factor at the baby shower.  I know there are moms who will appreciate the just-for-cute's-sake items, and that's great.  If that's what she wants, go for it.  But in my opinion, baby clothes should be cosy, easy to put on/take off, and healthy for the baby.  Just know the mom/baby you're buying for and choose accordingly.

Diapers & Practical Items: Know how the mother will feed and diaper

Cloth diapering mamas need supplies too, like diaper covers,
disposable liners, Snappis, and wipes (disposable or cloth).
Parental values go beyond cotton vs. polyester vs. wool.  A more important question is what some of their parenting choices will be.  We do things like babywear, breastfeed, and cloth diaper.  Generally, in the long run, these aren't costly to maintain, however, in the short-term, there is an investment in buying a quality woven wrap, an ergonomic baby carrier, perhaps buying some more breast-accessible clothes, and buying cloth diapers and diaper covers.  If you know a person is going to parent this way, you could ask them what things they might need (or see if they have a registry).  One of the gifts I most appreciated was a set of high quality baby "cosmetics" from calendula (an edible flower) by Weleda (I also loved their almond oil for stretch mark prevention).  The oil and bath wash were gentle and natural and, yes, a bit costly.  I appreciated the thoughtfulness of the giver.

It all goes back to paying attention to the mother's values. So, as I pound this point out again, some questions to consider about the mother:
  • Will she breastfeed?  Don't give bottles or pacifiers, but breastfeeding pads might be appreciated.  Try absorbant thin cotton or textile washable ones.
  • Will she bottlefeed? Give her a bottle cleaning kit and some glass or BPA-free bottles. 
  • Will she use disposable diapers?  Buy a pack (or more) and some wipes.  
  • Will she cloth diaper? Ask which type she's using and help build up her stock, or  buy some diaper covers. I loved the playful designs of my Thirsties growing diaper covers and would have squealed over receiving some as a gift.  
  • Will she babywear? Buy or knit some leggings or  pick up some warm baby booties for those little legs that stick out.
I don't know a single mom that would reject being given a practical gift, when it lined up with their parenting choices.

Other practical ideas:
  • baby nail clippers or scissors
  • one of those snot-extracting things
  • a simple water thermometer for the bathtub
  • gentle bath wash
  • hooded 100% cotton towels
  • organic fruit puree baby food (pouch/jar)
  • changing mat (home or travel version)
  • natural teething gel
  • a onesie extender
Toys babies (or our baby) love(s):
If you want to go with toys, you never know whether your toy will be a winner or will be glanced at and ignored. Every baby is different and some toys are popular at a different age than you'd expect.  What our baby girl has enjoyed are mirrors, linking rings, balls, instruments (rattles, shakers, drums),  things with wheels, her hanging mobile (a life-saver during diaper changes,  small versions of real things (mini skillet), or the real things themselves (wooden spoon, sponges, spatula, dustpan, silicon ice cube tray, etc.).  Regarding trendy toys, she loved her Sofie (for a while at least) as well as her ball that's plastic and has all the holes in it to make it easily grasped.

On Toys:
Toys parents (or we) love:
I'm always thrilled when Ella gets a book--plastic, textile, board book, you name it.  If it's a book, I'm happy.  Her only permitted battery-operated toy is a plastic book that reads to her.  She got it from her great aunt and it's her "car toy" (you know, the toy that saves the day when Baby's unhappy in her carseat). When she got to around a year old, she became deeply fascinated with books, and I especially appreciated the board books around. Similarly, balls, blocks, wooden puzzles, and cups seem to be the toys that are adaptable to different kinds of play as she gets older.  Currently she's pretty thrilled about anything that rolls and she's very excited about the kitchen sponge we gave her (a fresh one, of course).

What I bought: 
Toothbrushes.  So many versions of toothbrushes.  Toothbrushes on the fingertip, toothbrush teethers, a young child toothbrush, an adult toothbrush so she'd stop stealing mine.  She laughed so much when she saw our toothbrushes and when she saw us brush that I just couldn't help myself.  It's not an expensive buying habit, and it supports her dental hygiene.

In Summary:
  1. Evaluate what you know about the mom and don't be shy to check in directly or indirectly to make your gift a cherished one
  2. Clothing should be comfortable and fuss-free
  3. Don't overlook the blessing of a practical gift
  4. Consider how the recipient will parent
  5. Toys can be hit or miss, but there's a reason that balls, blocks, & books are classic gifts
The First Birthday:
Though the bulk of this post was written when Baby Girl was just under a year, I've since updated some parts.  We've also celebrated her 1st birthday.  So I will also add my suggestions of first birthday gifts:
  • a learning tower: we received one that was made by my husband's cousin, and my daughter goes to it each day.  Standing in it she can pretend washing dishes or was the counter while I cook
  • stuffed animal: (just don't go overboard) our daughter suddenly started cuddling animals/dolls at age 1 and loves her monkey from uncle Petr and her koala from Grandma Dawn
  • things with wheels: she loves her cars and she'll also soon be receiving a pedal-less balance bike
  • board books: our girl is suddenly a huge reader and board books make it easy for our hands-on girl to turn the pages
  • an archive letter for the child to open at 18 (or other designated age)


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