Are we gifting new parents the items they really need?

Are we gifting new parents the items they really need?

The following is a student blog post by Kayla Balholm

Right now, I’m a first time mama in my second trimester of pregnancy. My husband and I have been so enjoying sharing our news with our loved ones, family and friends alike. Seeing our joy multiplied is infectious. We are so excited to welcome this little one into our loving arms and the supportive circle that is our tribe.
In sharing our news though, what inevitably follows the exclamations of joy, are the questions, “What do you need? How can we help?” They’re questions I don’t yet have ready answers for. I’m still thinking about what I need and the items I might want to help me care for my child.
It has been my experience with friends and family who have had children that the moment you announce you are pregnant there is a very strong belief that you will need a rather frighteningly huge amount of things in order to take care of a new baby with ease. There’s the expectation of putting together a gorgeous nursery filled with just the right things, and it’s no secret that to do so, costs something of a small fortune. In fact, according to a Market Watch article, “10 Things the Baby Product Industry Won’t Tell You”, “… Some 4 million babies [are] born in the U.S. every year… Reports from retail industry monitors IBISWorld and Euromonitor show that total U.S. spending on baby products, including toys, grooming, formula, and durable goods like cribs, was at least $23 billion in 2013” (Obrien, 2014, p. 1). That averages out to just under $6000 per baby!
How does this happen? One visit to a Babies R Us near you can be an eye opener to the sheer number of baby products available, and has a way of sucking you in to the societal pressure that the more stuff you have, the better prepared you will be. The natural next step for parents in this paradigm is to fill a baby registry will all the items they think they’ll need.
Now, I’m a first time mama and my knowledge of necessary baby items may be limited, but, even so, I’m not so sure I buy into these common expectations. In fact, I’d say they tend to make me want to run in the opposite direction, overwhelmed. My lifestyle errs on the side of minimalist and my heart knows I want to spend my time and money making memories, rather than accumulating things. I want to bring this value into my choices as a new parent, but it feels like something of a feat, with friends and family at every turn wanting to buy me things.
My priority of less things and more heart experiences keeps bringing me back to their questions. What do I need? How can they help?
Do I really need that fancy crib, 8 million tiny clothes, the bouncer, the swing, and a changing table? What about baby monitors, a baby bathtub, a high chair, and a bunch of colorful toys? When I get all of these things, will I really feel more prepared to take care of the new life I’ll be entrusted with? Knowing myself, and taking into account stories from other women in my life, I can confidently say, “No”.
So, if all that stuff won’t help me feel ready, what should I ask that people gift me instead, if they feel so inclined?

Birth Matters
My answer is inspired by a passage in a book I just finished reading. Sally Placksin, author of Mothering the New Mother, states the following about the needs of women postpartum.
“Basically, your needs as a new mother would seem simple to define: rest so you can heal; gentle education and reassurance as you gain confidence in your mothering skills; nourishing food and drink for yourself; a relinquishing of practical chores to someone else so you can withdraw into yourself and your baby; knowledge about what is going on with your body and spirit; some realistic images and guideposts about the range of feelings other women have experienced postpartum; a place to “debrief” and talk about the birth itself and your emotions; and most especially, some mothering for yourself, so you can feel protected and honored and continually replenished at a time when many women say they feel as if they are forgotten, peripheral, or “running on empty”. (It is, by the way, all right to feel the need for this and absolutely alright to plan or ask for it. It does not make you a weak woman, but rather a wise one)” (Placksin, 2000, pp. 2-3).
This in mind, my answer reflects what might actually make me feel good, loved, or nurtured. I’m thinking things like…
·         home-cooked, nutritious meals
·         a gift card to a shop with great coffee
·         money to cover a few hours of baby-sitting
·         a stash of the good chocolate
·         a gift card for a massage or two
·         a certificate for a cleaning service
·         a gift card to a clothing shop so I can get something new that actually fits
·         offering childcare for a date night or a certificate for a fun date idea
·         money to pay for a few hours or more with a postpartum doula
This isn’t to say that I won’t also ask for some material baby items. For example, I’d really love a good baby carrier and a rocking chair, and no child can really do without a car seat or diapers.
Baby registries should be focused more on what babies actually need- to be dry, fed, warm, and loved- and what parents need to make that happen- a combination of all the uplifting heart stuff above and a few of the essential material items. Our gifts to new parents should reflect a value of supporting the new family as a whole and healthy unit, not just buying a mountain of things for baby that may or may not ever even get used.
What do you think? Are these suggestions ones you’ll add to your registry? What did you receive from others or purchase yourself that you found to be essential in your experience as a new parent?

O’Brien, E. (2014, April 15). 10 things the baby-product industry won’t tell you. Retrieved May 17, 2017, from
Placksin, S. (2000). Mothering the New Mother: Women’s Feelings & Needs After Childbirth, A Support & Resource Guide (2nd ed.). New York: New Market Press.

About the Author:
Kayla Balholm is currently pursuing her birth and postpartum doula certifications via the organization Birth Arts International. She is committed to being a force of grounding encouragement for new parents and is passionate about nurturing them as they navigate every step of their parenthood journey. She is the owner of the doula business, Journey Birth Support. For more information, please visit her website at


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