Now Entering the World of Sweater Vests

Since we learned we’re having a boy this time around, I’ve started taking a closer look at baby boy clothes. I found myself wanting to look into and test some of these silly boundaries that are restricting choices for boys. Maybe start a clothing revolution!! … but let’s start small.

According to clothing manufacturers (based on what is for sale in any department store or children’s clothing boutique), the items listed below are what seem to be the general consensus for acceptable imagery references sorted by gender (NOT my personal preferences btw and not a complete list, feel free to add).

  • For Girls – butterflies, flowers, ballerina, cats and kittens, horses and ponies, hearts, moon, cupcakes, ladybugs, zebras, pink, rainbows, strawberries, watermelon, popsicles, “princess”
  • For Boys – robots, dogs, camouflage, dinosaurs, monsters, cars and trucks, pizza, sharks, alligators, baseball, football, lions, firetrucks, “hero”, worms, motorcycles, rocket ships, surfers  (*and for some reason WAY more shirt/pants separates for infant boys v.s. more onesies for girls – can anyone explain that to me??!)
  • Gender Neutral (mostly on infant clothing) – frogs, monkeys, ducks, turtles, birds, stars, soccer, bears, elephants, bananas, giraffes, guitars, green, yellow (However, do note that all the animals will have a bow or a flower if it’s a “girls” outfit).

At J. Crew Kids

At The Children’s Place

Carter’s at Macy’s

So what if your little boy that really likes cats? Sorry, you’ll have a hard time finding them on a boys t-shirt unless they’re much larger felines like a lion or tiger. Or what if your daughter likes big trucks? (mine is a huge fan of buses and garbage trucks). Well, it’ll be near impossible to find a shirt with a big truck in the girls section unless, if you’re lucky, there’s maybe a pink one.

I think few people would say it’s wrong for boys to appreciate the beauty of nature, so why isn’t it “masculine” to have a bunch of flowers on your little guy’s onesie? And every kid I know, boy or girl, will go insane for a rainbow sprinkled cupcake, but only girls get those pictured on their outfits (girls actually seem to have a lot more food images, interestingly). And zebras are only for girls but elephants are fine for either gender, apparently. Who decided this stuff?!

Clearly, graphics on baby clothes aren’t really about what the child likes – or even necessarily what the parents like. Instead it seems baby clothes are designed just to present an image, as early as possible, to announce to the world in no uncertain terms that your child is definitely a boy or a girl (although as my mom likes to tell me, she had me dressed completely in pink and people would still come up to her and comment on what a cute little boy I was – apparently the curse of a totally bald baby). But the more brands stick to the same colors and graphic formula, the easier it is for most people to know what gender baby you’ve got without having to ask and the easier it is for parents to “safely” pick out clothing. But why is this so important? So you brought home a zebra print outfit for your little boy with red hearts on it – are the other 6 month olds going to burst into tears if you dare place his confusing ensemble on the same tummy time mat as theirs? Will he or any of his drooling friends even remember what anyone wore back then?

I remember hearing about a couple in the UK who decided not to tell anyone the gender of their child to prevent outside bias and to let him/her make their own discoveries regarding personal interests and preferences (gender neutral toys, no TV, etc) – people went insane about it! Psychology lecturer, Dr. Daragh McDermott, said in the linked article above, “It’s hard to say whether being raised gender-neutral will have any immediate or long-term psychological consequences for a child, purely because to date there is little empirical research examining this topic.” But the public had certainly already decided it definitely would harm the child – why are we so sure? Why is it so important to make sure your child knows that they are definitely a boy or definitely a girl before they can even speak? Especially when it’ll probably become pretty obvious to your observant toddler that they have parts that look more like either mommy or daddy, and when sexual identity during puberty, or sometimes even before that, can throw a loop in even “simple” gender identification.

Dr McDermott added, “That being said, the family setting is only one source of gender-specific information and as children grow, their self-identity as male, female or gender-neutral will be influenced by school, socialization with other children and adults, as well as mass media.” So it sounds like no matter what parents do, kids are going to eventually be exposed to this super gender emphasizing culture we live in anyway – and yet the majority still felt that withholding the child’s gender was tantamount to child abuse. Very interesting.

In theory I don’t think there was anything wrong with what that UK couple did (I don’t know all the details of what their everyday life was like, etc. so I might be opposed to some of the specifics, but let’s not go that deep into it). If you want your child to feel free to explore and like the things he/she likes without someone saying they can’t, just because of their gender, that’s great! And I do believe it’s extremely hard to avoid unintentional bias from other people (I can’t even count how many times has my daughter been called a princess by strangers).

Green Toys Tool Set in Pink

Manhattan Toy Baby Stella Doll – Boy

Fisher-Price Classic Doodler

Actually I think lots of people try to be a little gender neutral; there are always neutral clothing and bedding sections in baby stores filled with green and yellow – and nobody complains about that. But unfortunately, after baby is born and as they start getting older, parental attempts at gender neutrality are usually directed more towards girls than boys. People now have no problems saying, “oh, I don’t buy pink stuff for my daughter” or “We only give our little girl Legos and tool kits to play with”, but you hear very few people say, “Of course my son can wear a tutu if he wants to.” And you can see this in society too – it has been socially acceptable for women to wear pants and to show more than an ankle for years, but men still cannot wear skirts or even show their legs off in shorts if they’re in a professional business setting!

Don’t worry, I’m not going to hid my son’s gender from him. I am hoping, though, that having an older sister will expose him to things he might not have been exposed to if he were an only child. For example, I might not have just gone out and randomly bought him baby dolls, but if his sister happens to have one and it becomes his favorite toy, fine. Likewise, if he never wants to go near any typically girl things, at least I’ll know he had the chance to do so – and I’m equally not going to suggest he drop the toy cars and cardboard swords and play with something else just because they’re too typically boy-ish.

I just hope that I can at least instill in my son the confidence that he can like and play with whatever he wants, no matter what anyone says (which I think boys have a much harder time with than girls). I want my kids to be happy. And I want them both to know that while there are a few things that are only for girls or only for boys: (childbirth, unfortunately, still only for girls) a pink backpack or a scary dinosaur lunchbox, ballet lessons or a pet tarantula, these can be for anyone.

Visit my Pinterest boards too for my ongoing exploration of these ideas.


The Baby “Essentials” You DON’T Need

As a first time mom, I did nothing but research for about 7 months. I was obsessed. I didn’t want to waste money on things that weren’t necessary, but I definitely wanted to be prepared for any and all circumstance that might arise. What I learned by the time my child was 1 though, is that the climate where you live, the time of year your baby is born, the size of your house, the temperament of your child – these are all things that effect what baby products you need.

For example, a winter baby in the Northeast needs some big, warm footed onesie suits (zip-up not buttons!!) to go over their clothes and thicker woolen hats. A summer baby in California needs a wide brimmed hat preferably with UV protection and sunshades for the back windows in your car, maybe even some baby sunglasses. Likewise, someone in a small apartment with paper walls may not need a baby monitor, but someone in a large, 2 floor house might find it a necessity.

As for temperament, my firstborn was what our pediatrician called “a happy spitter.” She wasn’t bothered by it at all, but she spit up so much that we couldn’t have enough burp cloths (I think our final count was around 20). Other families might just need 2 or 3. Last, you can’t know in advance how fast your child will grow. They all grow out of clothes quickly, but my daughter was wearing 9 month clothes on her first birthday and my sister’s son was in 9 month outfits by the time he was 4 months old! That can make a lot of seasonably appropriate clothing unusable.

So, remember that there is no one size fits all checklist. And it’s impossible to be completely prepared in advance (sorry). But you can start with the absolute basics and add from there as needed. Here are some reputable sites with basic baby essential lists:

The Bump ***** ***** Parents ***** WebMD

However, what I would have found most helpful as a new mom and couldn’t find anywhere, was a list of the things you DON’T need along with the reasons WHY so I could judge for myself. I remember reading so many debates about wipe warmers but I couldn’t figure out exactly why people felt so strongly one way or the other. So here’s my list of the baby essentials I think you can do without, and the reasons to help you decide, if you or your circumstances disagree with me. Good luck!

  1. Blankets – I can almost guarantee someone is going to give you a blanket, it’s like the favorite baby gift. But I’m surprised to see them on baby essential checklists since you can’t use blankets in the crib until your child can at least sit up easily on their own (some say not until age one or older). A single blanket may be useful to tuck around your child in a stroller or to throw over their car seat as you transport them into your house – but you probably already have a small blanket for that, if needed. Swaddling blankets, btw, are a different story – they usually have a different shape, a slightly stretchy, breathable material, and I do think those are necessary to have on hand. I love Aden + Anais swaddles. Possible Exception: You plan on making your blankets do double duty as burp cloths, portable crib sheets, stroller and car seat liners, tummy time blankets, change table covers, etc., in which case the hand knit blanket from grandma might not work so well. I personally bought those things separately though.
  2. Infant Gowns – the kind with elastic bottoms. I might have been was paranoid, but I felt a lot better having 3 little snaps make sure my baby wasn’t going to wiggle out of those 2 paltry velcro straps holding her diaper on and get poo everywhere. Also, you can only use infant gowns for sleeping – they impede movement when baby is awake – so why not just get onesies that you can use anytime? If you’re looking for warmth, most infant gowns are just light cotton and don’t do much, but Halo makes some great sleepsacks in both lightweight fabrics and warmer fleece to zip around any nighttime outfit (some have built in swaddles too!)
  3. Jumpsuits – (and convertible infant gowns) Adorable, but at least 9 snaps, sometimes more, in the middle of the night. Not enough to convince you? Just wait until your baby wants to start flipping around or kicking on the changing table while you’re sleep-deprived and trying to snap those snaps. Considering that a separate pair of pants with an elastic waist could be slipped on in less than 5 seconds, jumpsuits are just not worth it in my opinion. I also ruled out zippered jumpsuits myself: the zipper only goes down one leg so it always seemed like it was uncomfortable to get the opposite leg in.
  4. Undershirts – Babies do a lot of wiggling around on the floor until they learn to crawl (tummy time is important!). So my experience with undershirts is that they just ride up and have to be constantly pulled down. Save the shirts for when your child is walking and for special occasions (can’t resist a baby in a button down and bow tie). Also, a onesie can be a complete outfit.  An undershirt needs a bottom. Why get 2 things when you only need one? Possible Exception – we used the long sleeve undershirts we were given as light jackets, and for about 4 days before baby’s umbilical cord fell off.
  5. Booties/Crib Shoes – The best thing for babies is bare feet. But tiny toes can need protection, so I’ve found that socks with non-slip grippies on the bottom (most infant socks have it) are the only thing you need for non-walkers. Most crib shoes and booties don’t stay on very well and are really just for decoration. But if you absolutely must have some stylish baby shoes, look for elastic around the opening (easy to get on and more likely to stay on) and fabric-like, soft soles. Even for winter babies in a cold climate, I’d prefer to not let the wind have a chance to sneak up between the shoes and pants and would go for a footed one-piece suit (over socks) instead.
  6. Crib Bumpers – Bumpers should NOT used at all due to the risk of suffocation, strangulation, or entrapment according to guidelines released by the American Academy of Pediatrics (read more here). Unfortunately, most crib bedding sets at big name stores still come with bumpers, like the one pictured here from Walmart (they also come with a pretty useless quilt, see blankets under #1). I really wonder why no one has protested against Babies R Us, Target and the like for selling these yet? Luckily, some companies are stepping up and offering bumper-free crib bedding sets like these adorable ones from Skip Hop.
  7. Baby Bathtub – Holding a slippery, soapy baby while bending over a bathtub is not my idea of a good time. And although there are lots of cool positioners that fit into your sink (like the Blooming Bath), because of the way the faucet sticks out awkwardly right in the center and since it requires extra cups/bowls to collect and pour the water onto the right places – it just seemed like too much work when I was overtired myself. The best solution I found? Take baby in the shower or bath with you (make sure the water isn’t too hot for baby), then dry them off, throw on a diaper, and stick them in a lounger or hand baby to your partner, and finish bathing yourself. Two clean people in the time for one! It worked for this tired mommy. Possible Exception: Baby bathtubs for the sink would probably work great in the kitchen where you possibly have a detachable spray nozzle – but then the sink size might be too big for it to hold baby properly – be sure to check the instructions/warnings.
  8. Bath Towels/Washcloths – Yes, they’re cute, but I know you already have some towels (unless you’re currently of the drip dry persuasion …). And guess what? Your towels work the same, plus they’re very likely bigger which means it’s easier to wrap/dry baby. But what about the attached hoods on baby bath towels? Cute but not necessary in any way, shape or form. Since your towels are so large compared to that tiny baby body, you’ll have more than enough towel to make a faux hood and cover the rest of them at the same time. Possible Exception: These definitely could be a useful persuasion tool for a toddler who is not a fan of bath time (or ending bath time) but that’s about 2 years off.
  9. Bottle Warmer – This one is debated pretty frequently, but I encourage you to do your own test. Heat a bowl of water in the microwave or run hot water to fill your sink a few inches (if it’s a small sink) and stick a bottle of about 4-6 oz of liquid in it (room temp or refrigerated depending on if you’re making formula or warming breast milk). Time how long it takes from the moment you start until the liquid is warm on the back of your hand. Now – look at how long the electronic bottle warmers take from start to finish – it’ll be on the box. From my experience, bottle warmers do not actually save much time, if any. And, once you know how long it takes for your bottle to be the perfect temp, it won’t change until you go up a bottle size. Possible Exception: portable bottle warmers like this one can be a lifesaver when you’re in your car or on the go (trying to beg hot water from a restaurant and then somehow getting a container big enough for your bottle is a nightmare).
  10. Wipe Warmer – Here it is, the big one. I’m putting this on my list of things you don’t need but with a Possible Exception: if you don’t have good temperature control in your house (drafty old building, heat controlled apartment, etc). You can bundle up baby to sleep snugly in a cold room but I definitely felt bad putting icy wipes on her behind on top of forcing her to be half naked for a few minutes while we were in our apartment the week or so before they turned on the heat. Other than that, if your baby’s room is a comfy 68-72 degrees, the wipes will be too, and there’s no need for any type of warmer. (Gross but true – it’s no more shocking to their bottom than the room temp. the pee is at by the time you get to changing them).
  11. Baby Specific Laundry Detergent – Don’t do it! Buy as pure a laundry detergent as you can (dye free and perfume/fragrance free) and use it for everyone’s laundry all the time. If you want to go the extra mile, look for plant and mineral-derived, non-petroleum ingredients – see this link on the Whole Food’s website for a good rating guide. Buying a “baby specific” detergent is a gimmick to exploit your mommy fears and they’re often not as all natural as they claim. Definitely wash clothes before baby wears them though. The chemical finish on new clothes could irritate a baby’s sensitive new skin and (if you want to be extra paranoid) the clothes could have come in contact with dirt and bugs while in shipping and/or germy hands in a retail store.
  12. Bassinet or Cradle – Bassinets need completely separate bedding from your crib, maybe a separate mattress if it doesn’t come with one or you don’t like the existing one, and have a very low weight limit (you’ll probably get 3-4 months use). Now, you may need a safe place just to put the baby during those random I-just-fell-asleep-cause-I’m-a-newborn moments, when you want to slide out from under them as slowly as possible so they stay asleep while you run to get something done for yourself. My daughter would fall asleep in my lap while I was working on my computer or sitting on the couch, and since I could not leave her unattended on either of those surfaces, I needed another solution. But instead of a bassinet, I suggest a bouncer or something else you will probably buy anyway (lots of bouncers recline to a laying position as well as a more upright one for when they’re older, and they all have buckles to make sure baby is secure). Possible Exception: If you have extra money and have a separate room for the crib but want to keep baby in your room for late night feedings for the first few months (which is recommended).
  13. Travel crib/Play yard/Pack N Play – Not necessary with the Possible Exceptions that you are either traveling somewhere, or you need to keep baby from being attacked (with affection) by pets or other kids in the house, and/or if you are using the Play yard (which features a detachable bassinet top) for the reasons above.
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