The baby industrial complex and the pink bathtub

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Pink baby bathtubSince we live in a very small urban home, we’ve had to be super selective with baby crap. Most of our baby supplies have been hand-me-downs, but I’m even picky about those: if it can’t collapse and slide under a couch, tuck into the closet, or fit on a shelf in Tavi’s mini-nursery, we probably don’t need it. Vibrating baby recliner? Don’t need it! Motorized swing? Don’t need it! Baby stimulation station with dangling toys, which we call The Neglector 1000? Ok, but only because it folds up for easy storage.

Other than one horrific trip to Babies R Us to get a breast pump and a couple sleep sacks, our very few baby supplies have all been hand-me-downs, gifts, or Craigslisted. As we ran screaming from Babies R Us, filled with pink and blue plastic crap we didn’t need, Dre said to me, “I never want to go there ever again.”

I nodded. All that molded plastic made me feel panicky, and most of it you don’t even need! The baby industrial complex tries to convince you to buy everything, but really all you need is blankets and burp rags.

One of the things I decided early on that we absolutely did NOT need was a baby bathtub. When Dre brought up the idea before Tavi was born, I poo-pooed him…

“We have sinks!” I said. “We don’t need some special molded plastic baby bucket to wash him in. If the sinks don’t work, we’ll just use that old dishtub with a towel on the side. We totally do NOT need a baby bathtub.”

We gave Tavi little washcloth baths for the first week of his life, since we’d been advised not to give him full baths until after his umbilical stump fell off.

His first real bath came at about 10 days old. Deciding the bathroom sink would feel too crowded, we opted for the kitchen sink with its spray faucet. It’s a deep stainless steel thing surrounded by granite counter tops, and it was immediately clear that the situation sucked.

Tavi screamed and screamed as we shuffled him around, Dre supporting his slippery body in the suddenly ENORMOUS sink while I juggled the faucet and the soap and the little tiny hand-me-down baby washcloth. Dre fretted about how insecure his grasp was on the baby (“He’s all soapy! I’m worried he’s going to slip out of my hands!”) as I tried to navigate Tavi’s flailing arms and beet-red screaming bobble-head.

“Next time we use the bathroom sink,” I said, as we dried Tavi off with a hand-me-down hooded baby towel.

Two days later, we repeated the trauma in the bathroom. Tavi fit a bit better in the sink, but the faucet didn’t detach and Tavi screamed and screamed as we used a little cup to pour warm water over his tiny angry fists and tried to clean out his milk-soaked double chin creases.

“Someday this will be really fun,” I tried to reassure the baby, chatting amiably with him as he screamed until he ran out of breath. “Bath time is going to be fun with rubber duckies and bubbles and toys!”

The baby was unconvinced. Dre looked like he needed PTSD therapy afterwards, moaning, “I’m sorry, Mr. Beebs” over and over again as he toweled off a still-miserable Tavi.

We spend Christmas in Portland with Dre’s family, including his brother and his wife who had a baby girl six weeks before Tavi was born. (Yes, there are going to be some crazy cousin times in the future!) My sister-in-law Sacha casually mentioned how much her daughter loves bath time, and I asked her about how they did it.

“Oh, we got this baby bathtub,” she said, taking me into the bathroom and showing me a molded plastic baby tub, complete with a little suspended baby hammock.

“Daniella loooves it,” she told me. “She dangles her little feet over the edge of the sling into the water and just smiles and smiles. Seriously, I think it’s the best part of her day.”

I thought of Tavi and his screaming and Dre’s white-knuckled hands trying to support him as he slipped around in the sink. Bathing was not the best part of Tavi’s day. Or our day. It was awful, and the plastic baby bathtub would make it not awful.

And so when we got home, I got on Craigslist and looked up baby bathtubs. There were a million of them, because of course the upside of the baby industrial complex is that everyone’s constantly shedding their crap. The most recent listing was a $10 tub just like the one my sister-in-law had. I sent and email and made arrangements to go pick it up.

The seller, a young Russian mom with a toddler, came to the door of her home with the tub.

“How old is your baby?” she asked me, making small talk as I dug into my wallet for cash.

“Oh, he’s just about a month old,” I said.

She looked at me with horror, and held up the tub. “But this tub — IT IS PINK!”

I waved my hand in the air. “Oh, HE doesn’t care,” I said. She still looked aghast, holding the pink tub limply like she expected me not to take it.

“Plus,” I reassured her, “pink matches my hair.”

She seemed unconvinced, but sold me the tub for 10 bucks.

The first bath with the ridiculously pink molded plastic bathtub was that night. We filled it up with water, stripped Tavi down, and prepared for the worst.

Reclined on the baby hammock dangling in the warm water, he looked up at us with a surprised face … and then kicked his legs and made his happy snuffle. As we cleaned out the crease under his third chin, he waved his Michelin Man arms at us and cooed.

In other words, Tavi loves his bright pink bathtub.

And I had to admit that sometimes, JUST SOMETIMES, every once in a great while … certain molded plastic baby industrial complex supplies are actually useful. I reassure myself that I bought it used and that it thankfully hangs out of the way in a hidden corner of the bathroom.

So now I must know: what ONE stupid piece of kid crap has actually turned out to be mission critical for you?

Comments on The baby industrial complex and the pink bathtub

  1. Well, Lyra also loathed the bath in the sink so I bathed with her in the tub ( you may have seen pictures) until she was old enough for this and I bought a blue one, and she freaking loves it. One of the only pieces of baby gear we actually bought brand spankin new, it has been well worth it.

  2. The motorized baby swing was my savior. I could take a shower, do makeup, cook etc while my girls swang away happily next to me. I opted for the smallest foldable one so that I could move it from room to room with me and pack it for vacatiods etc

  3. LOL, sounds like my baby's first baths too. I'm glad to hear the molded tub w/hammock worked for you – for our little guy it was a torture device. We ended up switching to showers after just a few times, which he still hated but at least were short. He eventually got used to them, and we got rid of the "Fun Time Froggy" bathtub on craigslist.

    The vibrating baby hammock was a real good thing for us, but nothing beat the big yoga ball. I must have spent about three months holding him and bouncing on that, non-stop.

  4. The bumbo was really useful for us, although now I'm hearing rumors that its bad for baby's back? Anyway, it was a play station and feeding seat for us, it could be taken outside, it could be puked on etc and always wiped clean after.

    We went OVERBOARD registering for our first, mostly at the prodding of my 4 sisters, all moms who had their lists of things we "needed". I was a really nervous first-time mom so I felt like I needed every possible piece of gear that would supposedly make my life easier and my baby happier. I wish someone had told me that babies need: food, clothes and blankets, somewhere to sleep and somewhere to poop.

  5. Baby tubs never made sense to me (of course, this is coming from a not-yet-mom, so we'll see!) – I come from a big extended family and watched literally thousands of baths take place in the kitchen sink. However, until the baby was big enough to hold its head up, the bath-giver would put this huge-ass sponge thing in the bottom of the sink, it's a good 4-5 inches thick, with a baby-size depression in it. No slipping onto hard metal/granite/floor since the baby's laying on a nice, soft surface. I don't recall if they normally filled the sink up with water to body-level, or just let it drain during the bath. I also don't know if bacteria get trapped and it gets stinky. And maybe it was just a 90's fad and you can't find them nowadays. But, it might be an option for some people if their kid hates bares sinks and baby bathtubs.

    • As a 90's baby, I had one of those! It was my "bear bath." My family has a lot of pictures of me and my baby sister taking bear baths, and they seemed to work just fine…. although I think they ripped rather easily.

      • These sponge things totally still exist, you can get them at Target. They also have this little blue tab on them that turns white if the water’s too hot for babies. They’re not quite as thick as you describe, but they are soft and baby-shaped.

    • I remember the sponge from when my little brother was a baby in the early 80s. I sure hope they weren't a fad – that's what we've been planning to use for our baby (due in May). i better get looking!

  6. I was totally against pack n plays. I thought what happened to mats and baby gates, this is just another dumb thing to take up space in my small home. Well I finally gave in and put it together before for the gift giver of the p-n-p came over. Boy was I wrong. It had a high bed that hooked on. It was this giant space at waist level where I could change and care for her. It was very helpful and it’s where she liked sleeping the most. Since we didn’t have a crib until she over one it became her crib and a really good gift.

  7. Fun post! We have a baby bathtub ready to go (given to us from a family who had outgrown theirs). Our little one isn't here yet, so I don't know what will be mission critical yet, but I do applaud your willingness to revise your stance on the baby industrial complex.

    Every once in a great while, someone comes up with a good idea and then companies make money off it.

  8. All I have to say is…. I love this post! I know you're very selective about what personal experiences you share here, but whenever we get one, it's SO GOOD.

  9. My son has ALWAYS hated baths, then one day he liked them, then hated them again, currently he likes them, He is also 18 months old. When he was a newborn, the best thing that i got was my swing and a radio, he like to sit in the swing when it was in motion and listen to music wiht me, there are other things that helped make things easier with him but at this time i cant remeber . .

  10. The more I read about people practicing minimal-stuff baby-raising, the more I realize that almost everyone – even those who are very successful at keeping the OMGStuff problem at bay! – has one or two things that are Just Worth It. Those things vary from person to person as near as I can tell, but everyone's got something that makes their lives so much easier. As someone who really really really wants to avoid the consumerist orgy that often comes with new parenthood (impending for us in June), I'm growing to accept that there will certainly be a few items that we can feel okay about buying and using without guilt!

  11. The $7 baby hammock from Babies R Us that fits in the sink has been a pretty good buy. Ben loves baths and the hammock makes him stay put while I bathe him. Bath time from the start has been great. It's the getting dressed part afterwards that makes him cry like crazy!

    I bought a lot of 0-6 month toys and so far Ben has enjoyed looking at the stuff on the walls more than paying attention to the toys.

    I think my favorite piece of baby gear has been my Diaper Dude diaper bag. It holds everything I need and I no longer bother with a purse, so my wallet fits perfectly.

    I have some hand me down things as well and a few of Ben's towels are flowery and pink, but he doesn't care either.

  12. The swing saved us. We got the bare minimum of baby stuff before he was born; clothes, someone gave us a bumbo, and diapers. The rest of it I thought, "We don't need." Or if it turns out we do need it, we'll get it once he comes.

    And when he got here, we needed to put him down. Somewhere where the 65# canine family member wouldn't step on him. So off to Babies R Us we went. After being overwhelmed by the sheer volume of the "baby industrial complex" we settled on a swing that might not take up too much room in our tiny house, and ran for our lives. The swing takes up too much room, but he likes it so, eh.

  13. I loved this post (although why your 1 month old son having a pink bath hammock that he will never remember concerned that lady is beyond me lol)! It is amazing how before you have kids you look at stuff and think, "Never!", for me it was the vibrating baby recliner. It was the only time the one would be quiet during her colicky times.

  14. My in-laws bought us a stroller/carrier/carseat. While I really liked the stroller, I wasn't sold on the carrier carseat because I was adamant to get a fully convertible carseat that would last until Roland was old enough to not need a car seat.
    Turns out, that carrier was awesome. Once you strapped him in, which he didn't like, he was ready for the car, the stroller, it fit nicely in most shopping carts, you could rock it and put him to sleep while out and about, you could sit it on a chair at restaurants, etc. It was great for the first few months! (he's grown out of it now, but he also doesn't need it anymore)

  15. I used a sponge mat in the tub for my daughter when she was too young to sit up, but once she could, she had free range of the tub. The best baby product we had though was her mobile. My mother-in-law bought it for us, even though I told her we did not need one. Cate would stare at it for hours on end if we let her, singing to it the whole time. It gave me time to shower and do dishes and everything else new mother's complain that they don't have the time to do.

  16. With my six month old daughter, the fisher price "newborn to toddler rocker" vibrating seat was a life saver. Somehow she inherited the "I like my own space" jean from her father and I and actually doesn't like to be held too much. With this chair, she had somewhere to sit while I ate etc when she was really little. Now that she is eating solids, she sits in the chair for that, when she had a cold, we reclined it so she could sleep with her head elevated slightly. I was given a bumbo seat as well, and found it to be totally useless. Although I agree with trying to keep things to a minimum, and do so with everything in my life, with baby stuff, sometimes these great sanity savers are exactly that, allow yourself a little guilt free splurge – you can always use it next time around, or donate it after.

  17. A bassinet stroller. I said "I want a frog" my husband said "me two! That empty tank upstairs is the perfect size for poison dart frogs." I spent three months trolling ebay for a used bugabo that didn't get insanely expensive at the last minute…I had to go to work 30 minutes before it ended and so my beautiful husband worked his ebay magic and won it for me. For less than 20% of what it costs new.
    The low profile bassinet stroller has been the perfect thing in our small one level house. The wild man cosleeps at night and spends most of his day in the sling but some tasks aren't slingable. Shower? wheel him into the bathroom and point him at a bright towel. Sauteing, washing dishes? Wheel him into the kitchen. Digging clothes out of the washer? Wheel him into the laundry room. He can watch me and chatter away without lugging some large piece of pre-molded plastic around the house. Anyway it works for me 🙂
    And for bath time, Tummy Tub all the way! He love love loves it 🙂

  18. After our baby's horrible first bath experience–in a hand-me-down plastic baby tub set up on the dining room table–I just started taking baths with her, with my husband on-hand to help out until she started sitting on her own. The Bumbo was fantastic for us, the motorized gigantor swing has been hit-or-miss, but it was the big stroller that went with our infant car seat that's been the biggest waste of money. I wear or carry her in my arms almost everywhere we go, and she's almost walking. I wish I'd just waited and bought an umbrella stroller!

  19. I always thought the grocery cart covers were hideous and overkill. Until my son was old enough to sit up in the grocery cart and we discovered his favorite pastime was gnawing on the cart handle. Gross. So, we borrowed a cover from a neighbor, test-drove it, and fell in love. It was soft, my son couldn't gnaw on the handle anymore, and it turned out you can find some non-hideous versions out there. I was especially thankful for it just last week when my exhausted son laid his head down on the soft cushion and fell asleep WHILE I was shopping. There's a first!

  20. the Bumbo seat. It was all the rage when my daughter was born and I just didn't see a need for another place to put her, since she hardly used the swing or the bouncer we bought her. I had all the time in the world when she was born, but with Lyrik, I was in school again…I had FOUR kids now… and I barely had any time at all! So I broke down and bought a Bumbo off Craigslist and tried it immediately! He was only 3 1/2 weeks old and there he sat, like a little man, while I did my English and Algebra homework. I <3 it and buy it for all my new moms now!!!

  21. oh and I totally STILL use a ton of pink stuff for Lyrik that we have left over from Leya. I had Leya 5 years after Ry, so I thought we were done and when Lyrik surprised us, I just wasn't going to go buy the same crap we already had, just cuz he was a boy! LOL! Mark thinks we're going to confuse him, I think he'll be just fine!

  22. With my son it was the motorized swing, I picked it up at a yard sale for $3 when he was a month old and oh the naps he took in it! It only lasted a few months but he loved it!

  23. I guess my savior could be considered "baby crap" but "mommy crap" might be a better term. To help us both out with breastfeeding we used a nipple shield. It's plastic and around ten bucks. It helped us have a happy time when breastfeeding. I have to admit that we got ours new… not sure if this would be a great used item on craigslist!

    • I just gave mine to a bloggy friend. I had 5 since I HATED washing them over and over and over again. they're expensive when you add it up. I felt bad tossing them out, then when one of my friends posted about buying a few because she wanted to be prepared (she had nursing issues with her first, and is almost ready to pop with her second). I offered, and she accepted 🙂 They're nonporous silicon and easy to sterilize…so while I can see being weirded out about buying them from a total stranger…it seemed ok to send them to a friend 🙂

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