A well-known personality in Hong Kong said sometime ago that it  costs HK$4 million to raise a child till they are 13 here. I’m only at the very beginning of the child-raising journey but already I can see many things that people seem to count as expenses for children are not really necessary at all.

[I will be updating this list as comments come in and stuff strikes me. Feel free to ignore it on your Reader if you aren’t interested in the updates. Will keep the each update in italics till the next update.]

 Antenatal Care: In my case, free. I alternated between the public system and a private doctor but did all the tests I could free in the public system. I had HK$10,000 covered under insurance.

Maternity clothes: I invested in exactly two “maternity” clothes. Both trousers with the flexible waist. For the rest, I shopped in regular shops, only bought more free-flowing empire-cut stuff. I am actually still using much of it – with a belt.

Delivery: Delivered in the public hospital. Cost of each delivery HK$400 (as opposed to hk$60,000-$100,000+ in a private hospital), one natural, one emergency c-section, both roughly 3-4 nights in hospital. Parking your car in HK would cost more. I don’t have a car though. I took a train and minibus to the hospital for both babies. (Could have taken a taxi but didn’t want to get stuck in traffic).

Phototheray treatment and ultrasounds for Mimi: Free. Mimi had jaundice and was in hospital for one night and monitored closely for another five days. Entire thing provided free. She has slightly dilated kidneys – diagnosed in an ultrasound when I was pregnant – and needs ultrasounds to check on them every now and then. Organised free at the public hospital. The public system also provides free developmental check-ups and vaccinations. I do the vaccinations privately because my kids are covered under insurance.

Contraception post-pregnancy (if needed): HK$1. For a box of pills, or a stash of condoms.

Counselling for post-partum depression (if needed): Free.

Dear people of Hong Kong, do you realise what a great public healthcare system you have got? Well, at least for maternity.

Feeding the child

Breastfeeding: Free. You also save on associated paraphernalia like bottles, sterilizer, pumps etc.

Formula: If breastfeeding doesn’t work out. This is probably been my biggest expense so far. I breastfed both babies exclusively for 3 ½ months, supplemented up to 5 months and then switched completely to formula around 6 months. After 6 months, babies start solids and so milk feed gradually lessen and at 1 year we switched to regular cow’s milk. So the big formula expense was essentially for 4 months.

Baby stuff

There are long lists these days on things one MUST have for baby. Many of these lists originate in the West and even more from companies that sell baby stuff. Here’s my list:

For newborn:

  1. Bassinet (something that can be moved around, NOT cot which just took up space for 4 months)
  2. Thing to hold baby snuggly in bassinet (with Velcro to adjust for size): Not sure what it’s called. Both my babies hated being put down. This kind of helped me con them into feeling snug.
  3. Diapers and wipes
  4. Onesies and clothes that button down the front (not too many, hard to estimate babies size and what will suit baby… my first could only wear things that buttoned down the front and turned out way smaller than we’d thought.) I highly recommend second hand clothes so you don’t end up spending a pile of money on clothes that you end up never using.
  5. Soap and lotion
  6. Cotton wool, earbuds and alcohol to clean umbilical chord
  7. If you plan to breastfeed at least three sets of pajama tops that open down the front. Clothes that open down the front in general. Nursing bras in particular. And pads to soak up all that leakage.
  8. If delivering in winter, swaddlemes. You can also use a cloth to swaddle but I was inept and these were sooo used.
  9. Rubber sheet to change baby on. Never used any special baby changing station. This way I could change baby on the couch if American Idol was going on.
  10. A cloth to use as a sling: We had a Bjorn which both babies hated. For Mimi, I invested HK$50 in a cloth from an Indonesian shop since I noticed Indonesian amahs carrying babies around in those. Both of us loved it. Any cloth would probably do but since this one had been a tested one, I figured it was strong enough to hold a baby.

Things used a bit down the line (so could be bought after a month to save on space which is a constraint in Hong Kong and many Mumbai homes)

11. Bath tub: In India, many people bathe the baby on their legs. I never quite got the hang of this but it’s worth a go before buying a bathtub. In the first month for both babies, I largely sponged them down – they were born in winter when it was really cold – so didn’t start actually using the bathtub till then. A bathtub is definitely avoidable but between two babies I’ve used it quite a bit. 
12. Bottles, sterilizer (I used microwave one to save space). I am reusing Benji’s bottles for Mimi but bought new teats because she didn’t take to the ones Benji used. I did end up buying relatively expensive Dr. Brown’s bottles as I found they helped with colic. But I wouldn’t buy them at the outset.

13. Cot

14. Stroller (used MUCH later for both babies who turned out to be to cannot-be-put-down-or-we-will-wail sort)

15. Baby rocker: We got a Fisherprice chair and it proved to be a lifesaver with Benji during his will-not-be-put-down-for-nap phase. There is one episode of Sex and the City which deals with this and when you are a mother, you realise what a big deal The Chair is. Mimi is currently enthroned in The Chair a lot of the time. And recently when Benji was sick, he went and curled up in it too. (We had to remove Mimi for His Original Highness).

Never used/did
Baby monitor (houses in HK are too small, baby snorts and you hear it in the next room)

Baby Bjorn (both babies didn’t take to it. Luckily mine was secondhand. Baby 2 took to being slung in cloth like Indonesians use. Cost $50).

Special baby nail clippers. The one someone gifted me ended up being harder to use than a regular one.

Special baby thermometer: Frankly, the baby one seemed to be the same as ours, only smaller. Later, V bought a laser thermometer which is very useful for a wriggling baby but supposed to be not that accurate. We find it more or less accurate though. When in doubt we recheck with a normal thermometer.

Teethers: Benji is a very mouthy and drooly baby. We did try buying teething rings etc, but he never liked them. Instead he would find random things to put in his mouth. We kind of gave in as long as they didn’t appear to have parts he could choke on. We also used a pacifier.

Decorating baby room: Frankly, we don’t have space to dedicate one room to the baby. Especially now that there are two. Plus, we’re renting. And frankly, I don’t miss having a picture perfect nursery. Especially when baby is young there is too much to do to notice pretty bed covers or whatever (though I did have one set of pretty bed covers). Practicality reigns supreme. Also, our babies end up being wherever we are which is mostly in the living room.

High chair: We bought one that can be attached to a regular chair because space is at a premium in our house. Benji hated it. He does sit in the Ikea plastic high chair in McDonald’s though and in whatever high chair there is at restaurants but I think that’s because he is sufficiently distracted by being in a restaurant. At home, he doesn’t sit in one place and eat. I am aware that this may be a bad habit but we weren’t willing to expend that much energy in making him sit in one place. 

Unlike the US, in Hong Kong it is VERY easy to just nip out and buy something you need. In our case, a lot of the stuff is available literally an elevator ride downstairs. So you really don’t need to stockpile everything from the outset. Indian cities might be somewhere in between the US and Hong Kong.

New vs. Secondhand

Most baby stuff is used for only a few months before baby outgrows it. And it’s really hard to know what will actually suit your baby and you, especially for first-time mums. Even if its your second baby, babies have their own quirks. It’s completely pointless to spend a great deal of money on something that may or may not get used and, if used, is only used for a short time. Moreover, although I don’t go overboard with this, I do like the idea of cutting down on buying unnecessary stuff that will soon land in a landfill somewhere.

I got most of my stuff secondhand. This included:

1. Clothes: I put out a call for secondhand clothes and was overwhelmed. My sis-in-law was champion of the cause, followed by my sis and Mincat. Most were in good condition but I was fine with clothes that were worn, that were stained, that were the “wrong colour” for my baby’s gender. And then friends and well-wishers will also gift you clothes. I might have spent about HK$1000 on clothes myself simply because I felt obliged to buy something.

For Benji, it turned out mostly everything I had proved useless for the first two months because he was smaller than expected and as his reflux issues meant that only clothes that buttoned down the front worked. I was so glad I had not bought clothes beforehand. I sent V out with a sample of something that suited Benji and we used those for a while.

For Mimi, I went out and bought a few things that buttoned down the front in addition to another deluge of old clothes from sis and sis-in-law. Turned out I got her size right but she didn’t use the button-downs at all. The regular onesies proved fine. Frankly, she has more clothes than I have place to store and I have barely bought five of those outfits.

Don’t buy: shoes. Extremely cute but entirely pointless for a baby before they learn how to walk. I have a huge bag of shoes for Mimi (all gifts) which I forcefully make her wear just to get some use out of them. But I am Even so, there are pairs she outgrown without ever wearing.

Do buy: Cloth mittens. Not to keep baby warm but to avoid baby scratching himself due to parents too scared to cut his nails thanks to gruesome incident with nail clipper mentioned above.

2. Stroller: HK$400 for stroller we’re using for Mimi now. Considered buying this one new and am glad I didn’t because have not been thrilled with it for reasons that have to do with the model and not it’s secondhand nature. Would have been pissed to have spent good money on it if it were new.

3. Cot: HK$500 for Ikea crib, mattresses and even some sheets thrown in. Mimi is using this one now.

4. Breast Pump: Have two pumps – one from sis, the other from sis-in-law. This meant I could leave one at home and leave one in office. Also, could try out two kinds of pumps. The US FDA does not recommend sharing pumps but I don’t find their reasons logical if you’re using one that was used some time ago by someone else.

5. Bjorn: So glad it was secondhand since never used.

6. Baby monitor: Ditto.

Frankly, I would have got more stuff secondhand but I ran out of time and patience.

Coming up: My thoughts on toys for babies.

Also: What’s your baby must-have list?