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Shopping for your baby: What’s essential and what’s not?


Babies are expensive but when you become a parent, you'll put your money where your values are.

If you're currently pregnant and worried about the financial cost of growing your family, you may be comforted to know that your experience is common.

Every pregnant person, it seems, is worried about money.

As you start to prepare for your baby's arrival, it's good to remember that there are baby products on the market to suit any budget.

Plus, once you look past the "must-have" marketing pitch, you'll quickly learn that babies don't need much at all.

Financial stress in pregnancy

Regardless of tax brackets, most pregnant women (and their partners, if they have one) are stressed about money, because the cost of having a baby and raising a child feels like a looming unknown.

What we do know is that the cost of raising a child grows year by year and it comes with inevitable changes to your income and your superannuation, especially for women.

Some independent modelling has shown that Australian mothers miss out on $2.8 billion in superannuation at retirement age. This is partly due to the fact that there's no requirement for paid parental leave to come with superannuation entitlements.

As for child care costs, they're prohibitive, although there is currently a lot of advocacy for greater subsidies moving forward.

In my book, The Complete Australian Guide to Pregnancy and Birth, I've included a chapter on pregnancy and finances because it's a common concern that is not openly discussed.

The midwives I speak with agree: financial pressure is increasingly becoming a pertinent source of anxiety for pregnant mothers.

One study that supports this also suggests that anxiety isn't linked to how much money a pregnant person and their partner make. Pregnant and birthing people across all income levels are stressed about money and the perception of stress is the significant factor.

Budgeting for baby essentials

Financial planning for postpartum and parenthood is a really practical first step and includes creating a budget that reflects changes to your income.

When it comes to the baby essentials you undoubtedly need, the list is relatively small.

But it varies quite significantly in price depending on what brand you buy.

For example, you could spend anywhere between $139 and $2,000 buying a cot – it comes down to choice (and financial priorities). So here's what you need:

  • A safe place for your baby to sleep (cot and bassinet, although some people forgo the bassinet)
  • A baby capsule / car seat
  • A baby carrier so you can have your hands free
  • A pram (some baby capsules will attach to the pram)
  • Bottles and sterilisers if you're planning on formula feeding
  • Breastfeeding bras and a breast pump
  • Nappies, wipes, baby clothes and swaddles

What can you borrow, hire or buy preloved? Most things!

Babies grow quickly, hence they don't use bassinets, bouncers, playmats or size 000 clothes for very long.

If you do buy second-hand, be wary of safety, especially for items like car seats.

Safety can't be assured if the car seat is showing signs of wear and tear, has frayed straps, has been in a car accident or is between 7-10 years old.

Essential postpartum care and support

There's lots of touted must-have baby items on the market that feed off the excitement of parents-to-be who want what's best.

But what you really need in early postpartum – the weeks and months after birth – are simple things to nourish and support you.

This could include ready-made meals, help with household chores and guidance in the form of a postpartum doula or lactation consultant.

Compare the costs of public and private health insurance for pregnancy, including postpartum care.

I feel it's my responsibility to point out that any major life transition is hard and postpartum is no exception. It feels hard because it is hard.

The challenge of birth recovery and healing is coupled with possibly learning to breastfeed, sleep deprivation, emotional highs and lows and significant hormonal fluctuations.

It's also important to note that within the challenge and exhaustion is a very precious joy that is both incomparable and unforgettable.

Sometimes what you value as a new parent isn't obvious till your baby is in your arms. And that's okay.

But if you want to feel prepared for postpartum, start planning for it in pregnancy (I've outlined practical steps to do this in my book).

You may also want to set aside money for professional support that will make your transition that much smoother and really benefit your mental health in the fourth trimester (the 12 weeks after birth). This could include:

Postpartum doula

You'll meet with them in pregnancy and they will plan one 3-hour visit per week for the first 6 weeks after birth (although this is definitely negotiable).

These visits will typically include pre-made meals and snacks, breastfeeding support, emotional support, house cleaning and care of your baby while you shower and nap.

Generally you can expect to pay anywhere between $2,500 and $4,000 for this kind of care.

Lactation Consultant

An International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) is a professional that can offer you assistance, support and guidance with breastfeeding.

For an initial consultant with a private lactation consultant you can expect to pay between $140-$180. Your local Community Health Centre will likely have lactation consultants on staff once or twice a week (less often if you live regionally or rurally).

IBCLC rebates are only available if your lactation consultant is also an eligible registered midwife with a Medicare provider number.

Free support helplines

I always recommend having support helplines on hand for the early days of postpartum. Write these down and stick them on the fridge so you don't forget about them in the newborn haze:

  • PANDA's National Perinatal Mental Health Helpline: 13 11 14
  • Australian Breastfeeding Association (ABA): 1800 626 268

Looking for a bargain? Check out the latest shopping deals on parenting and baby essentials including car seats, carriers and nappies.

Sophie Walker is the founder and host of Australian Birth Stories podcast which features over 370 women's birth stories, is endorsed by the Australian College of Midwives and has 12 million downloads. She has a Masters in Public Health, has created a series of online birth education resources and is the co-author of the #1 Australian pregnancy book, The Complete Australian Guide to Pregnancy and Birth. She lives in Melbourne with her husband and their three rambunctious boys.

Image: Pexels, supplied

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