When you bring home a baby, you bring home something else as well: a subscription, a ticket to a strange new domain, one populated by goods designed and manufactured for babies–and their parents–to better equip them for all of life’s supposed challenges, to train, dress, entertain, edify, and amuse them. An industry of industries churns out one product after another, first placed on baby registries, then procured and presented, and then, sometimes, handed on down, to the generations to follow. They cater to many, many needs, some imagined, some real; they cater to anxieties and insecurities; they reassure, comfort, sustain; they prop up the edifice of upbringing and rearing.
There are wipes, fragrance-free, made of the right chemicals that won’t corrode skin; high-technology diapers that could soak up a mid-grade tsunami; breast-feeding aids, boppies, that promise comfort to the exhausted mother; ointments, creams, lotions, shampoos, all carefully calibrated for the tender infant’s epidermis; towels that will dry and warm; rattles that will distract and amuse; books in bright and dark contrasting colors, all the better to train babies’ eyes with; cribs and cots with adjustable bottoms and padded walls; bottles of plastic and glass sporting a dazzling variety of nipples and shapes; bottle cleaners and sterilizers; breast pumps, which introduce a new sound, disturbingly industrial, to the daily rhythms of the household; hand sanitizers to ensure the non-transmission of germs from caretakers and enthusiastic visitors to the baby; food processors for blending, whirring pureeing, and chopping, to prepare those mysterious concoctions that babies so happily and messily consume; musical toys, sometimes classical, for the more refined sensibility and the more ambitious parent, sometimes plebeian; talking toys, sometimes jocular, sometimes perky; toys with flashing lights; video and audio monitors; diaper changing tables; diaper pails, which, sadly, need to be emptied periodically; strollers and perambulators, their sizes ranged along a spectrum marked out by gigantic, tank-like behemoths at one end and slender whippets at the other; baby carriers for placing the infant in front, at the back, or on the side of the parent’s body and then carrying around; car seats for safe automotive transportation–you can’t bring home your baby from the hospital without one; high-technology noise machines to ensure an undisturbed daytime nap while the sounds of the city–the fire engines, the ambulances, the road construction crews, the police cars, the sanitation trucks–rage outside; bibs to keep the soon-to-be-soiled cute onesies and dresses clean; the high chairs for dining; the door swings; the rocking chair; the plastic tub and rubber duckies for the bath; the numbered blocks for learning to count; the snot-suckers; the thermometers; the pediatric vitamins.
The list goes on; you get the picture. A dazzling array of products conceived and constructed with every need, every eventuality, every possibility, seemingly kept in mind, anticipated, and catered for. And then, placed on the market, advertised and hawked as indispensable aids for life’s journey.
Tiny creatures; but ones apparently requiring a complex, expensive, and intricate infrastructure, all made available for the right price.
10 thoughts on “The Baby Industrial Complex”
Ha! It looks like you’ve done a pretty good accounting of our acquisitions. But you missed one of the bigger items, and one that can really break the bank if you let it, the stroller! And, of course, you as an author should have remembered the endless number of books telling you how to raise your little nugget, including those that explain how best to use all the aforementioned items.
I didn’t forget the stroller, but yes, I did forget about the mini-library of babycare books, especially the sleep guides.
It’s a wonder we ever managed to raise children before the industrial revolution…
Ha – a miracle indeed.
Oh yeah. With the first one, it seems you buy EVERYTHING out of anxiety and cluelessness. At least I did. The second time, not so much. And it’s not just that you have the stuff already, it’s that you realize you don’t need that much.
Yup – we fell for most of the hype!
Are my congratulations just late? Or very late?
Peter: Not too late – my daughter was born in December last year: https://samirchopra.com/2012/12/26/newsflash-fatherhood-impedes-blogging/
As a mom and a prof who teaches political science, I love the title of your post. You nailed it!
Thanks – it’s been on my mind for a while.