Dressing the Very Young Child

One aspect of parenting that I find people put an astonishing lack of thought into is properly clothing children. It is an important consideration throughout childhood, but it is of grave importance during the first year of life.

There are several key issues to take into consideration while planning your baby’s layette.

  1. Is respect for the child’s senses, which are very open to stimuli at the time of birth.
  2. Is respect for the baby’s comfort, including her need for warmth,
  3. Is respect for the child as a holy being.

Some people may be surprised by my use of the word “respect”, in the end, that’s what it boils down too. Your little one does not have a say in how she is handled. If you choose to parent in awareness, you will try to meet both the unique, personal needs of your child, as well as the universal needs that all babies share. This is a show of both love and respect.

Babies come into this world with an exquisite sensitivity to all that surrounds them. This is both a literal, physical reality, as well as a less palpable notion, a sense of spiritual sensitivity and openness. This needs to be considered in all aspects of parenting, but let’s take a look at how this knowledge effects our choices in the area of clothing. Following are some guidelines that I consider in line with this standard of thinking. Some of them are well accepted within the Waldorf and Natural Parenting community, other’s are perhaps less so.

Natural fibers are the safest, purest, and most appropriate choice for a young child. If you can afford to buy organic, then all the better. Making some (or all!) of your baby’s clothing is sometimes a more cost effective way of introducing organics. Organic or not, there is also something quite profound to be said for the love and warmth that infuses a homemade item, especially one that is made with a beloved recipient in mind.

Wool, cotton, and silk are all excellent choices. Hemp and linen are also versatile fibers that may play an important role in your little one’s wardrobe.

Comfort should be of paramount importance when dressing a young child! A little baby’s skin is far more sensitive then an adult’s and care should be taken not to irritate it. Seek out the softest materials you can find. They should be flexible to allow for exploration and not stiff or binding. Merino wool and combed cotton are a good place to start. If you have any question as to the softness of a particular material, try holding it close to your own skin, before you try it on baby. Placing your arm into a pant leg, for instance, and wearing it thus for a couple of minutes, should give you an adequate experience of the article in question.

Also, please look for clothing that is easy to put on and take off. Babies require frequent, often times unexpected changes. You don’t want them to end up being unpleasant for both of you.

While we are on the subject of comfort, large metal clasps and the like, should be avoided as much as possible. Remember that a little one will frequently seem to ‘curl up into himself’, meaning that anything hard is libel to dig into him at one point or another, even when it seems perfectly harmless on a hanger. One popular baby item that springs to mind immediately, are denim overalls with the clasps in front of either shoulder. While these may be a good choice for an active preschooler, I would ask people to reconsider their appropriateness when used on an infant. I can’t even begin to tell you the number of times I’ve seen some poor little child wake up from a nap with a horrible red imprint on his check or neck! When looking at an outfit for your baby I would urge you to consider how you yourself would feel wearing it. Is it something that you would be looking to change out of at the end of a long day? Or is it just the thing that you would want to slip into for lounging about? If it’s not something that you would be happy to sleep in, then it’s totally unacceptable for an infant, period.

Regarding age appropriateness, there is a difference between dressing a baby and dressing an adult! Many people don’t seem to grasp this concept. Furthermore, there is a difference (or should be!) between dressing a baby and the way that you would dress an older child. I’ll be the first to admit that I am extremely old-fashioned in this regard.  I’m a strong believer in bonnets and gowns (both for girls and boys) and sleepers. Miniature adult clothing makes me cringe. Babies aren’t tiny adults. They are something entirely different, and they should be treated as such.

Another thing that babies are not is billboards….plastering your child with various advertisements and sayings is unfair at best and demeaning at it’s worst. For starters, it seems rather impolite, to me anyhow, for one person to project their own beliefs or likes onto another without their consent. Secondly, Nike, Disney, Harley Davidson and the Lakers all spend lots and lots of money on advertising, they are not going to go out of business because of your child, I promise. Third, there is something to be said for shielding our children from the dangers of commercialism for as long as possible.

The other “billboard” type scenario is all the wacky sayings that people seem to find so amusing when printed on a baby’s tee-shirt. I, for one, have felt very strongly that each of my babies came to me with a strong and glorious soul, deserving our utmost compassion, love, and guidance. Such a blessing it is to be entrusted with this gift! What of this heart-felt conviction is conveyed in dressing an infant in a bib that reads, “No, I’m not in deep thought, this is just what I look like when I poop!”? Get my drift? Again, it’s a matter of respect.

Warmth is a hot topic (no pun intended) in Waldorf circles, especially as it applies to the young child. Babies often times have difficulty regulating their own temperature. It is up to us, as their caregivers, to ensure that they are kept warm enough so that their small bodies don’t have to waste precious energy and calories trying to keep warm. Having a variety of hats on hand, and actually using them, goes a long way towards meeting this goal. Cotton caps and pilot style hats for inside and outdoors on mild days, wool hats or bonnets that wrap around the ears for cold days and sun hats for the summer sun. I would venture to say that a baby, and surely a newborn, should have something on her head at all times. Since I know most people will disregard this advise, then at the very least I would say that if it is cool enough for an adult to be in a long-sleeved shirt, then baby needs his hat! I make sure to have a couple of appropriately sized cotton caps around all year long (this has been true for my babies, toddlers, preschoolers, and yes, even elementary aged children, they all have at least one cotton cap.). You never know when you might have an unusually cool evening, your child might become ill, or just be chilled. Sun hats are an interesting thing, as they often seem to be donned more as a fashion statement then as legitimate sun protection. Wide-brimmed hats or old-fashioned sunbonnets seem to be the most effective at protecting a wee one’s sensitive skin. Bucket hats look cute, but often times their brims aren’t wide enough to provide adequate protection. They may, however make a reasonable covering on a shady day.

Diapers, being the closest thing to most babies skin are worthy of a good deal of thought. Organic or unbleached cotton or hemp cloth diapers, coupled with wool soakers or longies make an ideal combination. If you decide to use disposable, do look into the unbleached cotton varieties and avoid the constant chemical exposure of ordinary disposable diapers.

For families practicing Elimination Communication, wool bottoms still provide a lovely basis for baby’s wardrobe. One note for parents choosing to ‘EC’, do be sure to try to keep baby warm while toileting! So many times I’ve seen it happen that baby needs to go while you’re out standing in the snow! Do your best under the circumstances, whatever they may be!

Baby clothes should never, ever be washed with fabric softeners, dryer sheets, bleach, or any scented detergents! I can not emphasis this enough.  It’s an assault to a little one’s senses and a genuine danger to their health.  A mild, unscented detergent from your local health food store, a combination of baking soda with a vinegar rinse, or plain castile soap, are some of the many viable alternatives.

With all of this in mind, what should a baby’s wardrobe look like? The possibilities are infinite and as varied as the varied families doing the dressing. In my own home, over the years (and several babies J), I’ve refined what works best for us. Cotton or wool gowns, depending on the season, over undershirts, a cloth diaper and longies, make up the basic day to day uniform for sleeping and around the house. And hats of course! A sweater may be layered on in cooler weather. In warmer weather a soaker under the gown may suffice.

A couple of warm and comfy sweaters are invaluable. Cardigans are particularly nice because they don’t require going over baby’s head. At my little one’s dressing table I have hanging one cotton sweater with a cotton pilots cap tied about the hanger, for those in-between days, and one thick wool sweater with a wool hat for the decidedly cool ones.

I’ve found the use of a couple of sweater sets for visiting or other more formal occasions to be just darling, while still meeting all of the above listed requirements. Longies and coordinating tops, knitted overalls with wooden buttons, and fully knitted rompers all look adorable and are quite dressy enough for a baby attending even the most posh affair.

Socks and booties are really quite suitable for a baby until they begin to walk, at which point a nice pair of soft-soled moccasins will serve nicely.

If all of this is not a foreign concept to you and you’ve already acknowledged all of the above points, you may wish to take things one step further and consider the source of your child’s clothing. Did it’s creation cause suffering in the world? Was it a purchase that you can feel good about? What kind of chemicals did it pick up along the way? Are you pleased to help support the retailer you purchased from? When you’ve found something that really agrees with you and fits your view of how you want to move through this world, then you should honestly feel joyous when you dress your child in it. Seriously! Suddenly, this mundane everyday act becomes so much more and transcends the practical, becoming a whole new level of nurturing. This is not about guilt!! I want to be very clear on this point. The world that we all live in can be toxic in many ways and there is only so much that anyone person can do. A stressed and anxious parent is far more departmental to a child then a life of polyester suits! I’m not telling you to go out and by hand-made boutique clothing, when you are having trouble putting food on the table! All I’m asking you to do is to every once in a while consider whether your actions are in line with your heart. Whether that means checking out the second-hand store before hitting that big box store again, or learning to cherish hand-me-downs, supporting another mother in her pet project, or sitting down with the sewing machine or knitting needles yourself.


© 2023 Donna Simmons

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