These days, the second a couple's de rigueur social media birth announcement is posted, the internet's algorithms start churning out ads for an endless string of so-called parenting "necessities." Navigating this avalanche of gear is daunting enough in your home country; imagine doing it abroad, with a whole other set of cultural and marketing forces at play.
Guest writer Lane Sentex, a Louisiana native living her best life as a winemaker in the South of France, talks about giving her daughter a champagne bath, the conspicuous absence of baby wipes, and other singularly French twists on parenting.
By Lane Sentex
One of the things that was so daunting about even thinking about having a baby was the amount of STUFF involved. I would look around at other young parents and think, how in the world do they have the wherewithall to have everything they need to keep a tiny human alive?, as I swished water around in my shampoo bottle for the third time, because somehow it had slipped my mind to get any… AGAIN!
One of the things that was so daunting about even thinking about having a baby was the amount of STUFF involved
With that in mind, from the minute I saw that life-changing little blue line, I was open to any and all hand-me-downs and advice on baby products. That’s not to say I didn’t have my own ideas about what would work and what wouldn’t, but when propositioned with the “if you guys are interested, we have (insert baby product I’d never heard of before), I always said yes.
This approach inevitably led my husband and me to finding ourselves equipped with many things we would have never thought to buy or even ask for. Add to that the fact that I’m an American living in France (not to mention most of my friends in the US are still living the child-free life), I have been surprised by many of the items we’ve been using for our little one that I never knew existed.
Frenchie Baby Item #1:
The Lie-flat Car Seat
We took our first road trip with our daughter when she was a mere 4 weeks old. It was my 33rd birthday, which we had already planned to spend with my husband’s family in Bordeaux -- all but my mother-in-law had yet to meet the baby. So with less than a month under our belts as new parents, we packed everything we could think of into the car to make the 5 and a half- (actually 7-) hour journey.
One of the items I am so thankful to have had is this lie-flat car seat. It came to us through my sister-in-law (who has two kids of her own) as part of a three-seat stroller, one of which is this lie-flat seat. It straps into the car with metal buckles similar to a traditional seat and was so useful for diaper changes in the car, not to mention in easing this mama’s mind in knowing the position was so much more comfortable for my teeny tiny girl.
Frenchie Baby Item #2:
Champagne Bath Bucket
While this may sound like something out of a Dita Von Teese burlesque show, this was one of the items I really never knew I needed. We had already been given a baby “tub” as I knew them, but when my sister-in-law sent my husband home with a giant orange champagne bucket, I was curious to see how it would work.
Our first bath time at home with our daughter was exciting not only because we were putting into practice everything we’d learned from the midwives at the hospital, but also because we saw immediately how much our little one loved her champagne bath. As my sister-in-law explained it, newborns are able to be completely submerged/contained in the water, mimicking the feeling of being in utero. Sure, she wailed before and after, but when she was in that bucket of water with only her head sticking out, it was heavenly silence.
Frenchie Baby Item #3:
The Manduca Carrier
This is one that might also be popular in the US, but flew under my near non-existent mommy gear radar. However, every internet search for this product comes up with 100% non-English results so voilà… The “Magic” Manduca. At least this is how it was presented to me by not one mom… not two moms… but several moms and a BABY CARRIER EXPERT!
The Manduca is known for allowing the baby to be carried in the most ergonomically supportive way possible… the ever famous frog-legs or “accroupi” (squat) position. To hone our baby-wearing skills, my sister-in-law gifted us a private lesson in baby-carrying by a certified expert (yup, they exist). By the end of the course, the verdict was in: The Manduca is where it’s at… and by the way, I should throw that BabyBjorn in the trash.
Now, we haven’t tried our Manduca yet because our daughter is not yet 4 months old, and our expert/teacher advised using the scarf we have until six months and through the winter. Come this spring, though, we’ll break that bad boy out and finally see what everyone’s been talking about!
Frenchie Baby Item #4: Sleep Sacks
Now I know this is probably not a new product in any parent’s repertoire, but I guess I didn’t realize how pervasive they were in French culture until we started getting them. I have seen/heard of sleep suits in the US, but considered them to be something you had maybe one or two of at the beginning when your child was still pretty teeny. In France though, the sleep sack is the modern alternative to the pacifier… how would you get your child to sleep without one?
I’m not personally a big sleep sack proponent. That being said, we currently have, at the very least, ten… one for each stage of our little one’s growth, and all of which were handed down. They even requested we bring at least two with us to the hospital for the birth. From what I can tell, in the US, they swaddle, but here in France, they sleepsack.
In France, the sleep sack is the modern alternative to the pacifier… how would you get your child to sleep without one?
Frenchie Baby Item #5:
The Diaper Change Equipment
Ok, so last, but not least, let’s talk diaper changing culture shock. During my senior year of high school, I worked part-time in the toddler room at a Montessori pre-school. This amounted to me changing about 15 diapers each day. Needless to say, I became quite familiar with the process and what it entailed. So you can imagine my surprise when I babysat a friend’s little girl for the first time in France: When searching through the diaper bag, the diaper was there as usual, but then all I could find were some cotton squares and lotion. Huh?
I’ve since learned that France doesn’t really do the whole “baby wipes” thing. Everyone mostly uses cotton squares dampened with water followed by a light application of Liniment, a mixture of olive oil and limewater. I’m not sure if this is an ecological thing or if baby wipes just never really caught on on this side of the Atlantic, but in any case, I like the idea of knowing exactly what’s touching my baby’s skin. P.S. We’re also those parents using cotton non-disposable diapers so feel free to eyeroll to your heart’s content.
France doesn’t really do the whole “baby wipes” thing
So there you have it. My life in France was full of discoveries even before I had a baby, but now, every day is a new adventure to say the least. I knew having a child would bring me joy, but I never knew it would also give me a way to chill 10 bottles of champagne all at once!
Bisous bisous from the South of France,