Open any pregnancy or baby book, and you’ll find that list: the baby essentials, the things you absolutely cannot live without. While many accessories are easily recognized as frivolous, certain items are truly indispensable: the basic necessities for life with a baby.
Or are they?
In this weekly series, we’ll be looking at several baby essentials that really aren’t. They may be useful in certain situations, but if money or space is tight, or if you’re just looking to simplify and reduce consumerism and waste, here’s how to get along just fine without these so-called “essentials.“
In Part 1, we questioned the crib. Part 2 bemoaned the bucket. This week, let’s scrutinize the stroller.
Non-Essential #3: The Stroller
Like our other non-essentials so far, strollers certainly have their place and usefulness. Even some of the most ardent (dare I say militant) babywearers will admit to using a stroller once in awhile. But it’s certainly possible to get by without one, and in most cases even preferable.
The obvious alternative is a sling or other babywearing carrier. I personally do not recommend Baby Bjorn-style carriers, due to the issues with spinal stress and compression and hip dysplasia. Basically, babies are carried dangling by their crotch — which can hardly be comfortable (imagine it for yourself!), even if the actual occurrence of spondylolisthesis is fairly rare. There are many carriers available (such as the Ergo or mei tais) that have the same advantages of a Bjorn-style carrier, but keep the baby in a more comfortable and healthy “frog-legged” or sitting position — the position older babies will naturally take when being carried on their mother’s hip — and many consider these to be more comfortable for both baby and mom. According to some, babies with hip dysplasia should never use a Bjorn-style carrier, as it can aggravate the condition, and in fact the “frog-legged” position supported by other carriers is used for treatment of dysplasia.
All that being said, being worn in a Bjorn is still better than not being worn at all. But if you or your baby find your Bjorn uncomfortable, do look into the alternatives!
So, why should we question pushing baby in a stroller? Perhaps Frank Njenga, a child psychologist in Nairobi, Kenya (where mothers have been very slow to adopt the “modern” convenience of the stroller), said it best, when he said “The pram is the ultimate in pushing the baby away from you.”
Want some more reasons? Here are just a few. Okay, more than just a few.
- Strollers are large, heavy, and bulky. Newborn babies are none of those things. A baby in a sling weighs no more than the baby.
- Strollers are often hard to fit into your car, and need storage space at home as well. Many slings will fold up into your purse.
- If you frequently use public transportation such as transit buses, you will find the sling much easier to take on board, and much more secure on a bumpy ride!
- How often have you seen parents struggling to push an empty stroller while carrying a fussy infant, or with their too-active-to-sit toddler walking alongside it instead? An empty sling is no additional encumbrance.
- Obviously, your hands are free! You might not even realize the difference this makes until you experience it. This is especially handy when you have older children to deal with as well. Additionally, you never have to worry about the safety issue of a stroller rolling away from you when you forgot to set the brakes.
- Slings are easier to lift over curbs, go through turnstiles, maneuver through heavy entrance doors, climb up hills, and carry up stairs. You can even ride the escalator — which is very dangerous with a stroller!
- Strollers are very difficult to push through snow or grass or along hiking trails. Even “all-terrain” strollers have their limits. Slings are only limited by where your own feet can take you.
- Have you ever tried to navigate in narrow store aisles with a stroller? How about crowded places like shopping malls? Not only are you more maneuverable with a sling, but you don’t have to worry about running over anyone’s feet. You will also feel more secure in a heavy crowd with your baby safely snuggled next to you, rather than at arm’s length at risk of being bumped and jostled.
- There are many places where you simply cannot take a stroller, such as theme park shows (which often feature complimentary “stroller parking” outside). Since you have to carry your baby into those areas anyway, why not do so more comfortably, and not worry about having to park your stroller in the first place?
- Strollers are heavily manufactured items, usually made in China, with toxic plastics and who-knows-with-what-chemical-treated fabrics. Slings are more commonly locally-made, or European, and organic choices are numerous.
- Newborn infants have a very short range of vision. When they are pushed in a stroller, they are too far away and cannot see you. As far as they know, you no longer exist.
- If your baby starts fussing in the stroller, you have to stop, bend down, possibly turn around, figure out what the problem is, and fix it, before you’re able to continue on. If your baby is in a sling — well, first of all, he’s less likely to fuss in the first place — but you can soothe him much more easily, often without even stopping.
- When wearing your baby, you are more in tune with her moods and her needs, and you will naturally interact with her more often and more easily than if she were in a stroller.
- You can nurse discreetly while baby is in the sling. Just try doing that in a stroller!
- If your baby falls asleep while out for a walk, it is much easier when he is in a sling. You can either just keep him in the sling when you get home, or (depending on the type of sling) lay him down while slipping yourself out of the sling.
- Babies who spend too much time on their backs in cribs, strollers, and car seat carriers are at risk of “flat head” syndrome.
- Excessive use of strollers, especially as babies become toddlers and even older, may be partly involved in the growing childhood obesity epidemic.
- Let’s not neglect the effect strollers have on other people, outside of mom and baby. Strollers greatly increase congestion in already-crowded areas, taking up more than twice the ‘floor space’ of a parent with their babe in a sling; empty strollers outside shops block pedestrian traffic; and when numerous, are commonly regarded as a nuisance.
- Babies who are worn cry less. This reduces stress hormones, and increases learning capacity: less time and energy spent crying = more time in the “quiet alert” state, where they are primed to absorb information.
- Worn babies experience life at “eye level”, and are more actively engaged in their surroundings, observing you and others. Babies in strollers, particularly young infants, are frequently completely covered up, totally deprived of any sensory stimulation and interaction with the world.
In other words, babywearing grants you much greater freedom than being shackled to a “travel system.” And I have not even addressed the benefits of babywearing around the house, or how it enhances vestibular development, reduces the chances of SIDS, and even enhances digestion.
Finding the Right Sling
One final note about slings. There are many different styles of baby carriers with literally hundreds of variations. If you have found that a particular type did not work out for you, look into some others. Whether your baby prefers to be upright, lying down, on your back, facing forward, or whether you are a petite or a plus-sized momma, there is a sling that’s right for you. Unfortunately, it can be very difficult to find the help you need, since babywearing is still a bit of a “fringe” activity. I know of many moms who excitedly tried a particular sling, found it uncomfortable, or insecure, or too difficult, or their baby hated it — and so they gave up on the whole idea completely. I think this is comparable to breastfeeding support in our society. Many moms try breastfeeding with the best of intentions, but do not have the necessary support to get them through problems that arise, or even had bad advice to begin with. So it is with slings.
For more information and reviews on different types of slings, how to decide what’s best for you and your baby, and help with particular issues you might have, visit The Baby Wearer; and keep an eye out for a future post from me describing and comparing the types of slings commonly available today.
Be sure to check out Part 4: Diapers, Part 5: Baby Bathtubs, Part 6: Baby Brain Boosters and Part 7: Baby Food.
[This post was written by Heather Dunham]
Photo: Joe Shlabotnik under Creative Commons
I am in total agreement with this whole article. We actually do have a stroller, but very rarely do we use it. I prefer to sling/carry my baby in 99.9% of situations. This includes, any trips to the mall/shopping, a day in the city, going anywhere where large groups are gathered. We really only use it when walking our dogs around our neighborhood. I think we have thrown it in the car twice since he’s been born (he is a year) and didn’t even use it those times. I think now that we could have done without it totally.
I do have one counterpoint to the stroller argument – we used ours with ds more as a portable shopping cart than for him, and for that, it was very useful. In the example you mention of being at a theme park or shopping etc, it was fabulous for toting around everyone’s stuff for the day – (purses, food, jackets, water bottles, anything we happened to purchase etc.). This has been important for dh and I as we both have back issues and it’s too much for one or the other of us to carry baby AND all the stuff at all times for extended outings like that (or the county fair, or festival, or playdates where there’s a long distance to walk from the car to the playground etc etc).
It was also handy as a portable high chair when ds was old enough to be sitting up on his own, but we were in those kinds of places described above where it’s either very crowded and/or safe/comfy seating for older babies/toddlers isn’t available.
Lastly, I’ve also used the larger stroller as a portable bassinet/nap space for certain events when ds was an older baby/toddler where having him take his extended nap in a baby carrier was not as practical (at a wedding or funeral, for example).
The upshot is that I think that it is true that there are a lot of baby essentials that aren’t, but also true that things that we think of as being of the realm of non-attachment parenting *can* be successfully used in attached parenting ways, and that what this looks like can vary for each family.
Heather Dunham says
At no point in this series have I said “these non-essential items should NEVER be used”. In fact, in this article I do explicitly say “strollers certainly have their place and usefulness.” Of course there are times when they are convenient. I might disagree with some of your choices, (for instance, I’ve often wondered why families with kids who have outgrown strollers do not still use strollers, or other pushcarts, to carry around their stuff like you mention… if it’s THAT great then why don’t we continue doing it?), but they are *your* choices, and everyone has the right to make their own choices.
I’m not saying that any of these non-essentials should 100% always be avoided and discarded. What I *am* saying is that we should question the pros and cons and all sides of the issues, and make decisions on baby-gear with informed intelligence, not merely assuming that we really do need what the stores tell us we need! They are legitimate options to consider, but we shouldn’t just blindly accept them as the default. They certainly can be used within attachment parenting contexts, but there are some ‘slippery slope’ risks and we need to be aware of them in order to not fall into those traps.
If you make an informed decision to use a stroller, or a crib, or an infant car seat, or any of the other items still to be covered, because it suits your needs best, that’s great! However, many parents just take it for granted that they SHOULD need these things simply because they’re told they should. It’s not an informed choice, it’s not even a choice. Our babies deserve for us to have the choice. 🙂
I first want to say that I enjoy reading this blog and all of its points of view. Heather, I’m absolutely with you that we should not blindly buy baby “essentials” because it’s on a list that you get from your baby store. Instead, it should be about making informed decisions about what’s best for your family and parenting style.
However, contrary to your comment above, the TONE of this whole series does seem to be arguing against the use of these items. Otherwise, why would you call a crib an “elevated cage” and refer to Part 2 as “bemoaning the bucket”? There are definitely ways to express the pros of co-sleeping and slings without using such negative terminology for the other side. I’m a staunch babywearer myself (as is my husband), but I almost feel a bit defensive for choosing to use some of the other items that you “bemoan,” whether it’s the crib, infant carseat or stroller.
If your intent is truly to help us make informed decisions, then please don’t take the same tone as the negative propaganda that you criticize. Other than that, though, I think you make compelling arguments for alternative solutions. Thanks for taking the time to write this series.
Crimson Wife says
“However, contrary to your comment above, the TONE of this whole series does seem to be arguing against the use of these items.”
EXACTLY! This is the same issue I have with “Attachment Parenting” Moms. While I make many of the same choices as AP Moms for many of the same reasons, I cannot STAND the super-judgmental “holier-than-thou” attitude that most AP Moms of my acquaintance have.
Why can’t we moms just take a “live and let live” attitude towards each other? If co-sleeping and slings work for you, fabulous! If cribs, strollers, and infant carriers work better for my family’s needs, that should be my prerogative.
Jamie Ervin says
We had strollers… because when pregnant with a first baby you feel like you need everything that the books say or others tell you about. That said, as I had more children, my stroller became less and less used (sometimes used for the toddler while the baby was in the sling since I can’t carry both). That said, we did use them for outings to the fair, expos, or long shopping trips so I’d have a place to stash everything! Now, I have a little giggle when I listen to new parents (or go to a first timers shower) because I know the reality of what we really need and will use!
My favorite sling was the over the shoulder baby holder. I went to a baby expo where I was allowed to try on/be fitted and it worked wonders (after many failed attempts with other products). Now, I’m making slings at home on my sewing machine.
Right now I am caring for a 6 month old who has an infant seat… darn that thing is HEAVY. I’ve installed my five point seat rear facing for use at my house because I can’t lug the carrier around!!!!
I’m an attached mom and used–and continue to use–a sling, mei tai, and ergo extensively with my now 2-year-old, but I also LOVE my stroller (a tough 3-wheeler). I’m surprised that neither the post nor any of the comments mentioned the CAR as something that might not be necessary. If you can do it, a stroller is a much greener and healthier alternative to a motor vehicle.
(Last winter I got by with just an umbrella stroller, by always carrying my boy on my back and pushing everything else (which was lighter) through the snow — the stroller also served as place for him to nap while we were out!)
Heather Dunham says
Katie, you’re completely right that the CAR is not an essential — however, it’s not, strictly speaking, considered a BABY essential, which is why I won’t be including it in this particular series. I don’t think you’ll see a car on any baby registry lists. 😉
And I’ll reiterate what I’ve stated in the article, that strollers (and the other items I’m featuring) certainly can be useful! My point is just that you CAN get by without them. In some cases, you (and your baby) are truly better off without these items, but generally it’s a choice between the pros and the cons of each item vs the alternatives. (I’m mostly pointing out the CONS, of course, since the pros are so universally assumed.)
Personally, I’d rather wear my baby on my front and carry stuff in a backpack than try to push a stroller through the snow (whether the stroller is full of baby or full of stuff heehee), but I don’t know what your geographic location is… our snow here right now is insane, the sidewalks are not always promptly cleared, it just would not be easy or even SAFE to use a stroller IMO. Maybe it’s different where you are.
However, if using a stroller helps you to not use a car, then that’s fantastic!! It’s definitely the “lesser of two evils” in that case. I think the point remains, though, that if you’re using public transit to help with not having a car, that any non-stroller option is much easier on the bus.
Kudos to you for getting by without a car, that’s great dedication. 🙂
I always said if I was giving birth in the winter I wouldn’t get a stroller for my newborn because I wouldn’t be going anywhere with it anyways. But I don’t drive and I don’t have access to public transit, so I think my stroller will be a necessity for getting out of the house to do shopping or go for a jog. While it makes more sense for baby to be worn during our evening walks, I’m not sure she will enjoy being tossed about on my jogs. And while I am relatively strong from years of carrying home groceries, I think adding a baby to the mix might be a little much. It is rather a long walk to get groceries. Fortunately I found a jogging stroller that works for newborns and has a rear facing seat for a decent price. But certainly it’s not an item I plan on using in excess, and I see how many people could get away without a stroller entirely.
Susie Kim says
I am an avid baby wearer, but I also love my stroller. Sometimes I baby wear more; sometimes I use my stroller more. I just love having that option. Especially when Layla refuses to be worn. 🙂
Just came across this. . .
I remember the days when I thought the same exact thing. My husband and I wore our son everywhere from the time he was born until he was walking and running well. We bought a mac volo after he turned 1 to take with us on a summer vacation, which we didn’t use (of course). And then we moved out of the burbs and into the city. And for the first year, we just continued to wear him on treks. And then we went into our second year in the city. . .and there’s nothing like trying to get to and fro with a 33 lb almost 3 year old in east coast city heat and humidity to create a new-found appreciation for a stroller.
We walk or take the subway everywhere. The little guy (now 3) walks (and on occasion is worn) to the playground or around the neighborhood, but if he had to walk everywhere else we go, we’d never get to where we need to be. Who knew my 3 year old would turn out to be such an incredibly slow and easily distracted walker? Or that he would *love* being in a stroller? Oh, the heartache that one caused.
My husband and I often sit and laugh at how naive and sanctimonious we were back in the day, when we scoffed at stroller users trying to maneuver their cumbersome contraptions everywhere. Ah, the ways our growing children humble us.
Just wondering, how does sling wearing work in the winter? We have 6 months of it here – and due any day now and I want to use a sling to carry babe around, but can’t imagine not using a stroller for outside, as a sling just wouldn’t be warm enough? It’s minus 25 degrees celcius out there right now… do you put the sling under your coat? Do I need to buy a giant coat?
Strollers have their uses. I’ve found that, for babies younger than about 6 months, they’re not worth the trouble. When I had a little baby & a toddler, I would sling the baby & stroller the toddler, anywhere that it wasn’t an option to use a shopping cart. Once the baby got old enough for a stroller, it was time for a good double stroller! Yes, it’s the “Escalade”–a big jogging stroller. Great for farmer’s markets, flea markets, beaches, etc. Lots of storage, and carries everything for an outing with a 20 month-old and a 3 year-old, & I’ve used the heck out of it in the past year or so. That said, the 3 year-old is just about old enough to walk everywhere, so I’ll probably switch back to my single stroller soon. Oh–even when using the double stroller, I generally would take a sling, because sometimes someone needs to nurse or just to be carried for awhile.
Did you actually just call the car a non-necesity in your replies? I guess you’ve never lived where there is NO public transportation and all major stores are 35 miles away have you? Heck, even the small ones are 7 miles away!
And I love my stroller because I can put my 3 month old in it, my 3 year old stands on the foot rest (it is designed for this) and it can carry all of their stuff! Not fun to carry at 3 year old and all of the stuff with my daughter in her wrap!
Obviously in that area a car would be necessary, unless you want to cab. But in many areas, especially metropolitan ones, it IS a non-necessity.
It is a great point, but it is good to have the option, especially if you have a back problem as I do. So I am looking for a stroller with as little as possible plastics and with natural materials lining. I.e. as non toxic stroller as possible. Any suggestions for a brand? Non toxic strollers seem non existent ….
baby slings says
I had a Bjorn with my daughter but only used it a couple of times because it was so darn uncomfortable, and she didn’t like it much either. I wish I had researched babywearing more because it has been amazing with our second. He is as happy as can be and so am I. I can tend to my oldest and have baby right there with us at all times. It’s great.
mei tai says
I enjoyed reading this article. Mei tai baby carriers give baby’s body the right alignment according to the Babywearing Institute Germany – the legs should never dangle as mentioned in this article but should be froggy or drawn up by a right angle. Another disadvantage of the stroller is that it eventually adds to the land fill.
In 1990 parents were warned (in Paris – where I was at the time) not to put their babies in strollers as this was exactly where there was the most pollution! Car exhausts mainly. Given the time that has past there must be more and more cities in the world where this is true and I imagine this number is also rising!
Hmm I understand that carrying baby in a sling is a really lovely experience for me and baby and thankfully I realised while reading this that the bjorns are no good (I thought I just had a weak back!). This has inspired me to get a new one however my 5 month old is about 20 pounds now he’s such a fatty haha. I do have an issue with some of the points it seems whoever wrote this hasn’t actually seen any new models. I’ll give some examples also some are bordering on fear mongering!
* Strollers are large, heavy, and bulky.
The one I got barely weighs a thing I can quite easily turn it and push it with one hand.
* Strollers are often hard to fit into your car, and need storage space at home as well.
Before you buy a pram check it fits first! I cleared a place in the hall so its assembled and ready to use if baby isn’t going to sleep and I just rock him in the pram
“.you never have to worry about the safety issue of a stroller rolling away from you when you forgot to set the brakes.”
Setting the brakes becomes second nature when you use the pram often I don’t even realise I do it half the time now.
* Newborn infants have a very short range of vision. When they are pushed in a stroller, they are too far away and cannot see you. As far as they know, you no longer exist.
What!? My one faces me and can be changed the other way baby is quite aware I exist lol.
* If your baby falls asleep it is much easier when he is in a sling.
I would say that’s harder than not moving him or touching him at all while sleeping in the pram.
* Babies who spend too much time on their backs in strollers are at risk of “flat head” syndrome.
Take them out then! It’s not like people who have prams and any sense just leave them there for hours.
* Excessive use of strollers, especially as babies become toddlers and even older, may be partly involved in the growing childhood obesity epidemic.
… seriously wtf that’s just condescending.
* Let’s not neglect the effect strollers have on other people. Strollers greatly increase congestion in already-crowded areas, taking up more than twice the ‘floor space’ of a parent with their babe in a sling; empty strollers outside shops block pedestrian traffic; and when numerous, are commonly regarded as a nuisance.
You may be regarded as a nuisance we cant have that now. Lets blame the parents for having babies instead of city councils not spending money on making public places more family friendly.
* Babies who are worn cry less. This reduces stress hormones, and increases learning capacity.
Possibly but I have a very content baby and I use a push chair. As far as I am concerned it is not reducing his learning capacity.
* Worn babies experience life at “eye level”, and are more actively engaged in their surroundings, observing you and others. Babies in strollers, particularly young infants, are frequently completely covered up, totally deprived of any sensory stimulation and interaction with the world.
Baby could quite easily see me, people, trees, birds, the sky while the hood was down on the pram when the hood was up his range was limited to just me this would be up in severe weather or while falling asleep so hes not missing out on much then. Now he is in the push chair he can see everything from an upright position quite well. This is suggesting if you use a pram/push chair you don’t take baby out of it. I would always take baby out while at the park, beach, whatever and sit for a while and show him things. This really is a ridiculous point as if as soon as baby is in the pram he is forgotten and neglected, come on!
I really don’t like the wording and aggressive style. A little common sense, research and a big love for your baby means that pretty much all these points can be overcome. For me the pram/push chair is a necessity especially when my 5 month old has never slept for more than 4 hours in a row maybe that’s why I’m so cranky just now haha. Much love and peace to everyone and make your own decisions and choices. When you have a baby everyone tells you what you should and shouldn’t do but that is FOR YOU to decide.
A care isn’t an essential..IF you don’t live in almost every single place in the in US, and if you have complete faith in the government to take care of you in a situation like Katrina.
If you really want to walk the fifteen miles home from hospital (okay there is a bus that runs twice a day), or walk the two miles home from the closest bus stop to the house with a child and a load of groceries keep knock yourself out.
I did spend a year or so commuting 30+ miles on a bike but I did nothing but work, sleep and ride five days a week.
Yes a car SHOULD be non-essential, but too much of the country is to spread out for mass transit to be convenient or cost effective.
I started out with my first planning to go stroller-less, and it was impractical for me. I really have needed that extra safe place for my kid, especially at doctor’s appointments. It also is very helpful when we have to go a ways in the city, because it’s safer and faster than letting my toddler walk.
And if you don’t buy a infant bucket to lug your kid around in, you may really find the extra seat space worth it.
Big Momma says
As a mother of multiples, I had to laugh at the stupid products for wearing twins. As if a multiples pregnancy isn’t sufficiently hard on a body, they made products so I could wear 15 lbs. of newborns while recovering from a c-section, rapidly rocketing up to 40-50 lbs. worth of toddlers.
And then I’m supposed to carry my diaper bag, and change one while the other one is between me and his sibling? All while carrying the bottles and changes of clothes, bibs, & wipes? Bwahahahah!
No, I used my twin stroller as long as I could. At least when they were strapped in, I could have at least one free hand.