clock menu more-arrow no yes

7 expenses I didn't budget for as a new parent

Swaddle sacks, V-neck T-shirts, and other costs I didn't expect when I was expecting.

The baby swaddle: much harder than it looks!
The baby swaddle: much harder than it looks!
Shutterstock

My husband and I knew we'd be spending more money after our daughter was born. On top of all the stuff we'd acquired to prepare for her arrival (car seat, crib, bed linens, clothes, changing table, stroller), we knew we'd be taking on day care payments, higher health insurance premiums, regular shipments of diapers and wipes, and any number of other costs associated with keeping a baby alive and happy.

But we didn't think of everything. Starting just hours after her birth we were confronted with costs we didn't anticipate. That added unnecessary stress to the first hours and weeks of her life: Nothing punctures the euphoric baby bubble like an unexpected hospital bill. Altogether, we ended up spending about $1,500 more than we expected in the month after our daughter's birth. Here's how it broke down.

Some of the costs are ones we probably should have anticipated; others we really couldn't have seen coming. But the point is, when you have a baby for the first time, you're going to be surprised by the things you spend money on, no matter how prepared you think you are.

1) The cost of our daughter's stay at the hospital in the days after she was born (about $200 out of pocket)

This was a complete brain lapse on my part. I knew I would pay some out-of-pocket cost for my labor and delivery, and for my recovery time in the hospital after my daughter was born (though as my colleague Johnny Harris documents in a wonderful video, I had no idea exactly how much it would be). And I knew I would need to get my daughter added to a health insurance plan soon after she was born, for the multiple trips to the pediatrician that newborns make.

But for some reason I didn't consider the cost of her stay at the hospital for the two nights after her birth. (She had an uncomplicated vaginal delivery; if she'd been born via C-section, we'd have stayed in the hospital for a night or two more. And a birth with complications could have led to a longer stay as well.)

After a bit of back and forth with the insurance company, our out-of-pocket cost for her time in the hospital ended up being around $200. Depending on the terms of your insurance, you could end up paying more or less.

2) Upcharge for a private room at the hospital ($300 a night)

At the hospital where I delivered, the standard maternity room is double occupancy. So after hours of exhausting labor, you get wheeled into a room that you share with another woman and her baby. While not the end of the world, this is obviously not ideal ... and — oh, how convenient! — the hospital offers another option: a private room for $300 a night. (For comparison's sake, that's how much a night at the lovely Sofitel in downtown Washington, DC, costs.)

I'd labored all night, so when the nurse asked if we wanted the costly private room option, my sleep-deprived brain couldn't say yes fast enough. Not all hospitals operate the way this one did — there are plenty of places where a private maternity room is standard. But it's worth checking in advance what the policy is at the hospital where you're delivering, and if there are any other hidden add-ons that you should anticipate.

3) Three swaddle sacks ($30 each)

Swaddling is the go-to way for newborns to sleep these days: It involves wrapping a baby in a blanket so his arms stay put. My husband and I took a baby care class a few weeks before our daughter was born, where we practiced swaddling on plastic baby dolls. It was tricky, but we got the hang of it by the end of the class. We ordered several sets of trendy Aden and Anais swaddle blankets and envisioned our baby spending her first weeks on Earth snuggled up in hand-wrapped swaddles.

Then the baby was born, and we quickly learned that real babies are a lot squirmier than plastic baby dolls. The nurses at the hospital made swaddling look easy, but when we tried it ourselves we found it impossible.

There was one particularly farcical moment in the hospital when the baby was crying and my parents, my husband, and I each took turns trying to swaddle her, consulting three different, contradicting sets of instructions we found online. It was like the setup for a bad lightbulb joke — how many college-educated adults does it take to swaddle a baby? Finally we gave up and paged the nurse, who came in and did the swaddle with one hand behind her back.

I immediately went to Amazon and ordered three swaddle sacks, express delivery so they would arrive by the time we got home from the hospital. These sacks use Velcro and cloth to keep the baby's arms down, and they're basically fail-safe. We never even attempted a blanket swaddle again.

4) Home visit from a lactation consultant ($280)

Breastfeeding, like swaddling, is something that can seem simple enough under controlled circumstances but when you're left to your own devices becomes quite difficult. While I was at the hospital, I was visited several times by in-house lactation consultants, who helped me prop the baby on the pillows just right and adjust the hospital bed to the perfect angle so the baby easily latched onto me.

As soon as I got home, far from the mechanical hospital bed and the endless supply of pillows, trouble began. The baby kept insisting on a "shallow latch" — which was extraordinarily painful. I'd wince every time she started eating, and eventually I started to dread feeding her. Not exactly the blissful mother-daughter bonding experience I'd hoped breastfeeding to be.

Fortunately I live in a city where there are lots of resources for breastfeeding moms, and I was able to book a home visit from a lactation consultant on less than 24 hours' notice. After an hour with her, I was much better at getting my daughter to latch properly, and I didn't experience any further problems with pain and breastfeeding. I was thrilled. I was also $280 poorer.

Still, I was lucky that I was able to resolve my breastfeeding problems quickly. This doesn't happen for everyone — there are countless mothers who fully intend to breastfeed but then run into problems and just can't. Those women face will unexpected costs, too: around $100 per month on formula, plus bottles, nipples, and other supplies.

5) New, nursing-friendly clothes ($200) plus a new, postpartum body–friendly party dress ($200)

I knew I would need nursing bras ($25 to $50 each) to help make breastfeeding easier, but it didn't occur to me until I got home from the hospital how few of my clothes were amenable to nursing in public. Shirts with a crewneck or boatneck were out, because they required me to lift up my shirt and expose my stomach while nursing; same with many dresses, as lifting them up meant even more body exposure.

I ended up buying a few deep V-neck dresses and tops, plus some button-down shirts. Depending on the contents of your closet, you may end up needing to do the same.

Clothing can be an issue even if you aren't breastfeeding. It can take several months to lose the weight you gained during pregnancy, so you may need to buy a few transitional outfits, especially if your maternity clothes are worn out or are not appropriate for the season you're in or a particular event you're going to. I ran into a problem when deciding what to wear to a wedding two months after I gave birth. None of my formal dresses fit, and I couldn't think of anyone to borrow a dress from, so I bought a new one.

6) Baby box ($75)

Like many parents, our pre-baby "nesting" included lovingly setting up the baby's cradle in our room so she'd be close by for night feedings. That worked great at night. But newborns sleep a lot during the day as well, and I soon realized that unless I wanted to be stuck in my bedroom all day, I'd need a portable place for her to sleep so I could hang out in the living room or kitchen and still have her close by.

We decided to buy a Finnish-style baby box, which is pretty much what it sounds like: a lightweight, medium-size cardboard box with a mattress nestled in the bottom of it. It worked great as a place for the baby to sleep during the day for the first few months of her life, and now that she's too big for it, we use it as a box to store the clothes she's outgrown.

Another purchase that can help make daytime baby care simpler: Families who live in homes with two floors might also consider getting a second changing table so they don't need to run up and down the stairs every time the baby needs a new diaper. (If you don't want to spend the money on a second changing table, a less expensive, more portable option is the Keekaroo Peanut changing pad.)

7) Stuff that makes your life easier/more fun (truly limitless)

An Amazon Prime membership so you can get your next shipment of diapers ASAP. Nightly takeout food because you're too tired to cook. A regular housecleaning service because one baby creates about five times more mess than two adults. A Netflix subscription for entertainment during middle-of-the-night feedings. Uber Family rides because you can't bear the idea of taking a crying baby on public transportation. A few more bottles of wine per month than usual to help take the edge off. The work of parenting can push you to add items to your budget that you'd never considered before, in the name of making your life less stressful.

Giving birth costs a lot of money. Hospitals won't tell you how much.