What Babies Really Need in Cambodia


When I was pregnant with Declan, I looked at a lot of "what babies need" lists to figure out what to buy for the little guy. And honestly, some of it was overwhelming and a little ridiculous (poop alarm, anyone?).

Cambodia does not have the abundance of baby gear that American parents can get at any Target or Babies-R-Us store. So when my parents decided to come to Bangkok around the time of his birth, they offered to bring us what we needed.

We bought a few things in Bangkok, but most of our baby gear fit into a fifty-pound suitcase, plus the pack n' play.

I'm extremely grateful for all the gifts and money we received from people back home that allowed us to purchase those items! And it's also been amusing to see the "local alternative" to some items I probably would have bought if I lived in America - but didn't, due to obvious size restrictions.

So here is my list of what a baby really needs - and what the locals use instead.


Declan hanging out in the hammock at church.

1. Baby swing

I remember my siblings using a baby swing when they were young, and I always assumed it was a necessary piece of gear. But they are exorbitantly expensive in Thailand and Cambodia, because they're imported from America.

The local alternative: A hammock. In almost any household, you can see a baby taking a nap, swinging side to side, while mom or big brother pushes it back and forth. Declan even enjoys it once in a while, too.

2. Baby carrier

I still have my eye on this Ergo baby carrier and hope we can get one when we move back to the States. A friend gave us a Moby wrap, which was awesome when Declan was a newborn. But lately it's been a bit impractical (and hot) in 100+ degree weather.

Local alternative: auntie's arms. Wherever we go - church, shop, restaurant - there is always someone willing to hold the baby. I might be a bit too comfortable in handing my baby off. At church on Sunday, I realized I didn't know where Declan was - and when I spotted him, I had no idea who was holding him! But as long as I could see him, I figured it was fine.

3. Cloth diapers

I am a cloth diaper fanatic now (the Kawaii bamboo-charcoal diapers are my favorites!). They do sell disposable diapers in the shops here, but they are expensive. And because there's no city trash service, the landlord burns all our trash. I really didn't want to breathe burning diaper chemicals for the next six months. So we bought and were given cloth diapers and wipes, and they work great.

Local alternative: No diapers. If families are traveling, they'll splurge on disposables. But most families can't afford to buy them all the time. So a rag tied around their waist (or nothing at all) does the trick. And unexpected benefit? Our landlord started potty training his grandson at around six months, using elimination communication. And he was completely potty trained at around a year and a half old.

(Andrew and I are considering starting early, too - so don't be surprised if you see Declan running around in those split-bottom Chinese training pants in a few months. But only at home.)


4. Stroller

We actually did not get a stroller. And for us in Cambodia, it definitely would have been a waste of money. Our city does not even have sidewalks; we live on a dirt mud road. And if we happen to go to Bangkok's giant malls, they even have strollers you can borrow while you shop there. However, I am hoping to get one like this that we can use in Kansas City to walk to the grocery store and around the neighborhood. I miss sidewalks!

Local alternative: Moto. Yes, people ride with their babies on their motorcycles. No helmets, baby just sitting on their lap or in their arms - sometimes slung over the arm of the driver while he navigates with the other. I don't think I'll ever be Cambodian enough to do that. But that's as close to a stroller as people get here!

5. Baby monitor

We looked for baby monitors, but only saw one for $60 in Bangkok. Declan sleeps in the room next to us, and when he cries loud enough, we hear him. That way, we only get up when he's really serious about eating.

Local alternative: not applicable. Like I've written about before, families normally sleep together in one room. So they'll always hear their baby!

Those are just a few things that are seen as baby necessities in America that aren't necessarily so in Cambodia!

What about you? Have you ever bought something for your kid someone swore was essential, only to realize it wasn't?

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