What do you get when you cross new parents with commercial manufacturing? You get a 23 billion dollar industry whose sole purpose is to make and sell an entire tier of products to the world’s most susceptible consumers.
It’s a match made in heaven – if you have endless resources or own stock in a baby gear company – but if you’re like the rest of us, it’s a racket of epic proportions.
Baby product companies understand that while you might be an easy target, you’re also a moving one, and your time in the crosshairs is fleeting. They have approximately 20 months before you, or more precisely your baby, outgrows their industry.
So they strike with the utmost precision, aiming directly at your weakest points: inexperience, insecurity, and your instinct to provide. What they don’t want you to know is that many of their products are completely unnecessary and some are even dangerous.
In a 2004 comprehensive study about the impact of commercialism on parents ("The Commodification of Childhood: The Children’s Clothing Industry and the Rise of the Child Consumer," by Daniel Thomas Cook), a panel of NICU nurses, doctors, midwives, and child development experts weighed in on what they consider to be the most overhyped, superfluous, or harmful baby products on the market today. The results ranged from state-of-the-art gadgetry to traditional nursery staples.
Seven things you don’t need:
Powder is comprised of tiny, lightweight particles that easily float and can adversely affect a baby’s airway, causing breathing problems, lung damage, and dry mucous membranes. Touted as a drying agent, powder indeed absorbs and holds moisture – along with bacteria and fungus.
Aside from it being absurd to consider room-temperature baby wipes a hardship, introducing heat to a moist, stagnant environment creates the perfect medium for bacteria, mold, and yeast. Granted, there are EPA-approved antimicrobial agents available for baby wipe warmers, but, really?
Calming, soothing, relaxing… and how about potential endocrine disrupters. There is a growing trend to slather your baby with a variety of naturally-sourced oils and body washes that contain estrogen components similar to the ones found in BPA. Lavender and tea tree oil, in particular, have been linked to precocious puberty and other hormonal imbalances. While the jury is still out on the definitive, long-term effects of these ingredients being absorbed directly through the skin, why take the chance? Unscented or No Scent Added products are the safest choice.
Baby bottles, lids, nipples, and pacifiers need to be clean since they're going directly into your child’s mouth, but unless you are performing surgery, sterilization is unnecessary. Any germs found on the nipple after the dishwasher or a thorough hand-washing probably came from your hands when you screwed the thing on. Boiling water or using specially labelled “nursery water” to mix formula (unless instructed by your doctor or have other extenuating circumstances) is also overkill.
Nothing is more adorable than a pair of micro-Nikes or itty moccasins, but shoes are actually a hindrance on little feet. Wearing shoes can hamper a child’s walking and cerebral development by preventing the foot from feeling the floor, making it necessary to continually look down, thus shifting the body’s balance. Going barefoot develops muscles and ligaments in the foot, increases the arch strength, and improves proprioception (our awareness of where we are in space).
Whoever came up with the promotional concept that kids need to drink juice was a marketing genius, because nothing could be further from the truth. Even 100% fruit juice lacks the fiber and many of the nutrients found in fresh fruit and is extremely high in sugar. Drinking juice before or with a meal interferes with a baby’s natural appetite for solid food by replacing or supplementing calories, and increases cravings for sweets. If that wasn’t bad enough, the acids in fruit juice promote tooth decay by lingering on the teeth and gums for 30 minutes after consuming.
This may be the hardest sell, but sippy cups should be reserved for extenuating circumstances like travel or grandma’s white couch. Drinking from a sippy cup delays a principled understanding of gravity by obscuring the liquid from view and, in much the same way as wearing shoes, distorts proprioception.
Sippy cups give children a false sense of a liquid’s containment, delivering a small flow even when tipped upside down, and regular use makes switching to a big-kid cup all the more difficult. To skip the sippy phase, serve small amounts of water in Dixie cups or stainless condiment cups and restrict drinking to certain areas. Most kids can master the skill of a lidless cup after just a couple tries.
Above all else, you are the expert on your baby’s needs and you have to decide what works best for your family. Childrearing will always be challenging, exhausting, and expensive; regardless of whatever product they invent to convince us otherwise.