Expenses associated with a baby vary according to the parents' lifestyle and parenting choices. Common baby expenses fall into five categories: food, sleep, hygiene, non-food essentials, and travel. All babies have the same basic needs, but the way parents choose to meet those needs may or may not pose an additional expense.
For the first year, a baby's feeding needs are met by formula or breastmilk. If a baby is fed formula, then bottles, artificial nipples and the formula itself are part of the expense. If the baby is breastfed, there is no additional expense, although the mother might choose to buy a breast pump and bottles, which adds to the overall cost of feeding.
A breastfeeding mother will also need nursing bras, nursing pads and lanolin ointment for cracked and sore nipples. Occasionally, a baby has special feeding needs which require additional equipment, such as a finger or syringe feeder. The mother may also need special accessories, including nipple shields or the services of a lactation consultant.
Supplies for the place the baby sleeps can be a major expense. Although many parents find great satisfaction in decorating the baby's nursery with a crib, rocker, changing table and accessories, it is a costly undertaking. Parents who choose to place their child in a crib must purchase the crib, sheets, a mattress, a bumper pad and blankets.
Parents who sleep with their child in their own bed or in a portable crib will spend much less than parents who allow their child to sleep in another room. Co-sleeping parents may choose to buy a co-sleeper crib which attaches to their bed or a safety rail. A co-sleeper can cost as much as a crib, but a bed rail is inexpensive. Depending on the parents' choice, co-sleeping might be less expensive than a crib.
Babies need to be kept clean, and their hygiene includes daily bathing as well as elimination control. The minimum a baby needs for a bath is an all-in-one infant soap that will not irratate his or her eyes. A baby does not need special towels or wash cloths. After the baby grows teeth, he or she will also need a toothbrush and fluoride-free toothpaste. Although these are common baby expenses, they are probably the least expensive.
Elimination control includes disposable or cloth diapers, elimination communication and potty training. Most parents use disposable diapers, which are a recurring expense that can add up to a significant sum. Cloth diapers are reusable, but they require laundering, which is also expensive. Cloth diapers can be very costly if they are handmade or made from expensive material like wool. Elimination communication—allowing infants to use a toilet or potty—is free unless parents purchase a child's potty.
Other common baby expenses are non-food essentials. These include items like clothing, toys, baby gates, baby monitors, and medical expenses. Clothing and toys can be free when passed down from friends or family, or they can be purchased new. Baby gear, such as gates and monitors, is a fluctuating expense which depends on the needs of the family. Medical expenses also depend on individual circumstances, since some babies need special medical attention.
At some point, babies must travel. This normally requires a car seat. Car seats can be free, if borrowed from a friend or family member, or extremely expensive. There are high-end car seats that cost more than the average car payment. Parents might also choose to buy a stroller or a baby carrier, such as a front carrier or sling.
For many parents, childcare is the largest expense. For a stay-at-home parent, this is only necessary on rare occasions. Other parents put their child in a day-care service while they go to work, and some families may even employ a babysitter or live-in nanny. Each of these is another baby expense.