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The Minimalist Nursery – What Does Baby Really Need?

So many moms ask me this question – What do I really need to be ready for my baby? This topic may seem slightly off or less “scientific” than my typical posts about integrative medicine, yoga, and holistic well-being. But actually, The Minimalist Nursery is quite grounded in the science of environmental safety, responsibility, and minimizing pollutants.

The Minimalist Nursery - Dr. Ginger Garner
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Holding my favorite part of all my babies – their sweet feet!

Caretaking our babies and our planet go hand-in-hand, and our not mutually exclusive of one another.  Terms like ‘organic’ and ‘green parenting’ are everywhere, yet what do they mean?

Simply put, giving your baby the healthiest, most organic start possible is practicing, or living, yoga.  But it is also down-to-earth and practical scientific information.

But then the question arises, what do you really need in your nursery?  In this post, I draw from the science of clean living and green parenting, which enables mothers (and everyone for that matter ) to make the best choices for their children and loved ones.

What do you really need to raise a baby?

Expectant parents are inundated with baby gear options these days.  I remember when I found out I was pregnant with my first son. My partner and I were over the moon excited, and could not wait to become parents.  

So what did we do? After dinner that evening, we went out to the local “baby superstore.”  We were giddy with excitement when we walked in, but as soon as we got in the door, we were floored by what we saw.

Wall-to-wall stacks of baby stuff – lots of disposable baby gear that wasn’t sustainably made or even baby-friendly in the least.  Plastic everywhere – full of BPA (back before folks knew what BPA was) and in every toy and piece of baby equipment I saw.  And tons of things that were excessive and unnecessary. I was totally disheartened and frankly, disgusted.

The Minimalist Nursery - Dr. Ginger Garner
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What I didn’t see was planet and baby friendly products.

Times have changed since I had my first baby over 16 years ago. I had to shop at obscure websites to find glass bottles, cloth diapers that didn’t use old-fashioned (and dangerous) pins, and stainless steel storage solutions for food.  I discovered the Kleen Kanteen line, that bumper pads were high on the list of dangerous products in Canada way back in 2005 (which gave me a d*** good reason not waste my money on them), Fuzzi Bunz, glass bottles (for when I needed to pump breast milk; and no, none of my three rowdy boys ever broke one of them. They are very sturdy), and BPA-free toys (although the pickins’ were indeed VERY slim back then).

Now I find myself on the other side of the “baby years,” with my youngest about to turn 11. My oldest is 16, and my middle son will be 15 in a few short months!  

I enjoy helping other mothers find green products for their baby, and stock their nurseries with only what they need (and nothing more), so when a longtime yogi friend emailed me to ask what she should buy for her nursery, I was surprised to realize I had not yet blogged on The Minimalist Nursery.  

So to all the expectant moms who have asked me, “What do we REALLY need to raise baby?”, here is the answer to your question:

Here is my short list of what it took for to raise three sons:

Feeding

Nursing & Mama Care


Mama needs attention too!  I recommend:

  • Lanolin (nipple cream)
  • Soothies (for sore, cracked, or bleeding nipples) – They are like little gel ice packs that fit in your bra.
  • Nursing bras – Don’t skimp. Buy good ones.
  • Nursing pillow – A Boppy pillow really helps, especially if you are a first time nurser. I used the same Boppy pillow to nurse all three of my sons. The cover is removable and washable, and I also used the pillow to prop them up on the floor and to assist in physical development (i.e. Tummy Time).
  • Sitz bath and New Mama bottom spray – You’ll know what I mean when you cross that bridge. In fact, pack the bottom spray in your birthing center suitcase.
  • Abdominal binder – I sometimes recommend these for patients to help with postpartum recovery in pelvic physical therapy.
  • Find a pelvic floor physical therapist and visit book visits BEFORE you give birth. A well versed one can offer birth coaching, prenatal pelvic floor and abdominal care, and can provide full care for postpartum recovery.

Clothing

Okay, this one is highly dependent on personal opinion. I will share that with my first child, I had WAY too many sleepers and onesies.

Friends and family tend to go way overboard with buying clothes, especially cute little sleepers and onesies. With each baby I literally gave away dozens of them, often new and never used. The good news is – they ended up with impoverished mothers (in places like Haiti) who really needed them.  

I would suggest the following to get you started:

  • 6-8 organic sleepers; I loved kimonos or sleep sacks when my babies were newborns.  They are FAR easier to fiddle with when you are changing diapers in the middle of the night.
  • 6-8 organic onesies (Don’t buy too many of these before baby is born. Gap onesies are VERY short-waisted while Carters are long-waisted.  You want to know baby’s torso length before you invest in a stack of onesies.
  • 2-3 pairs of socks – My babies never really kept these on, except when elastic shoes held them on (for my winter born babies).
  • Hats – They are too cute to pass up, and babies lose lots of heat through their heads. So cover that cute little noggin up!
  • Newborn mittens – I don’t recommend these, although I did have a couple of pairs to keep them from badly scratching their little face, they never stayed on quite right.

The Minimalist Nursery – In the House

  • 3-4 receiving or swaddling blankets – Nervous system integration is very important for the newborn, and swaddling can help reorganize their immature systems when they are a newborn, especially when they are upset.  Babies like to be swaddled, and it can really cut down on the colic (fussy baby) situation.  I bought organic ones.
  • A few dozen organic cloth diapers (for spit-up cloths) – Our oldest was the spit-up king, but our youngest never spit up at all. But it’s better to be prepared than covered in projectile spit-up!
  • Moses Basket or Bassinet – When baby is brand new, he or she will sleep lots. And if you are like me, you will want to be near them, cutting down on the risk of SIDS.  I used my basket with organic cotton sheets, wool cover, and mattress for all three of my boys.  In fact, other than the crib, stroller, baby chair, and car seat, it was most used piece of baby gear.
  • Alternate Sleeping Option: For our third baby, after learning the hard way with the first two who had spit-up issues, I opted for what we call “The Magic Yellow Chair” in order to place baby at an incline. The chair also self-rocks when baby gets upset, thereby rocking him back to sleep! It is genius and inexpensive. Just make sure to wash the cover when it gets wet or soiled or it will mildew beneath the fabric.  We never had this problem, but apparently some parents did.
  • Baby Monitor – I didn’t really use our baby monitor a lot, because I co-slept.  I kept all three of my sons in my room with me, and sometimes nap nursing, during the highest risk for SIDS.  When they transitioned to their own crib, around 6-10 months typically, and only because they were literally too big to co-sleep, I used the monitor. But honestly, I could still hear them without the monitor. The biggest use I got for the monitor was to take it with me when I worked in the yard, so I could hear them wake up from their nap.

The Minimalist Nursery – Out of the House

  • Baby sling – I would not recommend wasting your dollars on “formed” baby carriers. They have a short life span and are very expensive. By contrast, simple swaths of linen or heavy cotton can be tied in dozens of different ways and can be used from newborn to preschooler age. The Maya wraps are freeform (allow you to tie them or use them with rings) and worked excellent for us. A friend made us one, and we were gifted another one in black (so my husband could sport baby too).  Always take special care to watch the position of a newborn baby’s head, and never cover their face when in the sling – allow for breathing space.
  • Diaper Bag – Don’t worry about buying some fancy “diaper bag” proper – I used a messenger bag, which was urban and sleek (and cool for dad to carry too) and not covered in Disney or floral print themes. You can also just pull out a hiking or day backpack out of your closet and use that.
  • Changing mat – They are inexpensive, easy to wipe down, and portable. Expect to spend about $10, versus paying $75 dollars for a fancy diaper bag that has one with it.
  • Car seat – Don’t skimp on this one, and while you are at it, consider buying a stroller that is compatible with your car seat. We did, and it allowed us to only ever have to buy one stroller. I would highly recommend considering the Italian company, Peg Perego, the Primo Viaggio line.
  • Stroller – Don’t skimp on this one either, but save money by purchasing a two-in-one stroller (a stroller that pulls double duty as a both an off-road or jogging stoller and an urban stroller. I would highly recommend the New Zealand company, Mountain Buggy.  I have researched strollers repeatedly since 2005, and other than The Bob, which runs second still for me, I cannot find anything comparable to the value and function.  Their strollers have real wheels (not those horrible plastic things), shocks, and negotiate with a single finger. No kidding. They drive like a dream.

Bathing

  • Bather – We went through three different bathers before we finally got it right. The hardshell ones are ridiculously bulky and nonsupportive, but this baby bather pad by Leacho we found to be just right. It is portable, drys quickly, and is very supportive from neonates all the way up to 6 month sitters and beyond.
  • Spout Cover – I love Skip Hop’s Moby Whale.
  • Bath Kneeler – Unless you have knees of steel, you are going to want to invest in a kneeler. I’ve learned the hard way that a towel slides out from underneath you AND isn’t enough padding. Bath mats also leave your knees in a fix. Here is Skip Hop’s neoprene whale. Loved it and still have it for kneeling around the house doing chores now!
  • Grooming kit – with tiny baby clippers, suction, etc.

Minimalist Baby Bedding, Diapering, & Laundry

  • Fuzzi Bunz cloth diapers in small, and medium/large (about 12 each) – Don’t forget to order diaper bags to contain the mess at home and on the road. They are washable as well. Alternately, you may have access to a cloth diaper service.
  • Crib and mattress (we borrowed a setup, to eliminate the off-gas problem of new furniture and to save money too!) Find one second hand or better yet, borrow one from a family member.
  • Baby bedding – We bought organic crib mattress cover and sheets whenever we could find them. 4-5 crib sheets is enough to get started. We had to replace those regularly from all the frequent washings they get. Under the Nile has lots of options for safe bedding.
  • Charlie’s Soap – We did not fall for the “baby detergent” marketing ploy, with all its harmful chemicals and fragrance additives.
  • Burt’s Bees, California Baby, and Jason natural baby bath products
  • Pack n-play (I bought one at a second-hand store that was lightweight and could fit through a door frame – with none of that extra baby gear hanging off of it).  Later, when the second hand one had run its course, we had to buy a new one. Anything over $100 in my opinion, is a waste of cash.  I bought this Graco pack-n-play for my last baby – it rolls through a regular door span, is lightweight, and doesn’t have a ton of baby gear (crap) hanging off of it. It also takes just a few minutes to set up.
  • Boudreaux’s Butt Paste – the natural one in the green tube without mineral oil in it. I have tried ALL natural and organic diaper ointments on the market, and this one has worked best. It isn’t too thick or too watery like others are, it is just right!

Baby Care Extras

  • Homepathic baby kit, including gripe water, arnica montana, belladonna, and more…
  • Books – Check out my post on parenting and breastfeeding resources.

Baby Entertainment

  • Baby swing – We purchased a tiny swing second-hand. I encourage you to shop for a gently used swing. And avoid those huge, hulking swings that take up your entire living room floor, like the plague. Ours sat near the floor, was portable, and lightweight. It allowed me to move baby anywhere I was in the house with two simple clicks of a button. 
  • Organic Goodies – All three of my boys delighted in playing with and teething through Under the Nile’s Veggie Collection. In fact, I had to replace the carrot more than once!

A Few Extra Minimalist Nursery Tips:

  • Here is a succinct list from a beautiful organic baby retail site in New Zealand.  They have a good handle on The Minimalist Nursery needs.
  • Read labels.  We never bought any Pedialyte or any of those “hydrating” beverages when the kids were sick, even when the pediatrician recommended it. Why? They are full of unnecessary dyes and sugars. Be careful and read all labels.  See my post on how to buy safe children’s vitamins.
  • Order from an online retailer like Grove – They are environmentally friendly, committed to eliminating all plastics by 2025, ship in bulk using minimal packaging, have inexpensive and typically free shipping, and give you a discount when buying in bulk through their subscription program.

Congratulations and good luck! This era of my life holds some of the greatest memories of my life by far, and I hope it does for you too!

Dr. Ginger Garner and family
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All my babies now!
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dr. Garner is a passionate, unapologetic advocate of improving access to pelvic physical therapy, a mother to 3 sons, & a 25+ year veteran in using Integrative Therapies (chiefly Yoga, Functional, and Lifestyle Medicine) to deliver orthopaedic and pelvic physical therapy & athletic training. She is the author of Medical Therapeutic Yoga, founder & CEO of Living Well Institute, owner of EudeMOMia®, and loves making music and adventure seeking outdoors as often as possible. She lives in Greensboro, NC with her partner, 3 children, and her rescue Lab, Scout Finch.

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