Now that we are three kids deep into parenthood, we seem to have hit our stride on what to buy for babies and what to skip. Recently I was in a big box store picking up a couple of essentials and ended up walking around with some expectant parents as they picked out items for their new arrival. As all the experiences of indispensable choices and utter wastes of money came flooding back, I thought I should really write up a list!
5 to Miss
1) Bottle warmers
These take 5 minutes or more to heat up, require constant cleaning and get a disgusting greasy film inside. Hot water works just as fast and it’s not $60!
2) Wipe warmers
My first son couldn’t have cared less if the wipes were warm or not. Like many babies, my second son had sensitive skin, so we couldn’t use wipes and had to wash out cloth baby towels (see more below) with warm water for the first 6 weeks or so. By the time the third baby landed we skipped the wipe warmer all together.
3) Expensive cribs
We initially special ordered and bought a pricey crib … but returned it 20 minutes later when we couldn’t get it home in our car (and I drive a Yukon!). As the older guy got bigger, we realized that he used his crib as a giant chew-toy. Had he done that with the pricey crib we would have despaired but because we’d gone to Ikea as soon as we returned the first one, it wasn’t such a big deal. Designer cribs also tend to take up more space with their fancy finials and feet. and are much harder to move (something we know all too well!).
4) Lots of designer outfits and crib shoes
Babies grow fast! Those little clothes only fit for a matter of weeks — or days! Most of the time, babies live in onesies and sleepers, so the fancy outfits will likely only be worn once or twice at most before the baby doesn’t fit into them anymore. Though they aren’t nearly as adorable, fifteen plain white onesies cost the same as one fancy outfit but are infinitely more useful. And the only thing less useful than fancy outfits? Crib shoes. The only time I have ever used any of the shoes I was given was for photo shoots, and even then they fell off almost immediately or had to wedged on and made the boys cry!
5) Diaper Disposal Containers
I have no idea why these things have become ubiquitous — they are nothing more than glorified garbage cans! They require special liners that are billed as being two-ply but are still thin, break easily and are more expensive on a per-use basis than regular garbage bags. And as for containing the poopy diaper smell? Not a chance. I thought they would somehow seal around the diaper but they don’t. We ended up using individual zippy bags for really awful diapers and found this works much better to contain the odor.
1) Baby wash cloths
Before the first little guy came along, I had no idea what these were for. Everything, as it turns out. We use them for washing faces and hands, wiping up during and after diaper changes (especially if baby is sensitive and can’t tolerate wipes), cleaning spit-up and various other bodily excretions.
2) A folding bassinet
Because he was a bit unexpected, my first son spend his first few nights in a very makeshift little bed: a dresser drawer (we didn’t close it!!). It was well-padded with towels and blankets, and he was clearly very comfortable because he slept like a brick. After the first few nights we got a fold-able bassinet that was made of breathable mesh (so was a lot safer than the drawer) and could be packed up and taken with us for naps. Both boys slept in the bassinet until they out-grew it — literally their heads and toes pressed on the ends! It could also be placed on the bed so the kids could sleep with or near us but without the worry of rolling on them.
3) Bodysuits with a front flap – When the boys were really little, having 3 poppers down low was awkward for us and uncomfortable for them as it tended to rub their delicate skin. Eventually, we found a style with poppers around the waist that was much easier to pop and un-pop for all those changes.
4) Sleepers with Zips – Following on the theme of easing diaper-change drama, sleepers with zips are great for when baby is very small: they facilitate quick changes and unlike a string of 10+ poppers, don’t take much concentration when the new parents are sleep-deprived. We also bought “peanut” style swaddlers with zips rather than velcro which worked really well for keeping little limbs cozy.
5) Inexpensive Diaper Bag – I admit I was sorely tempted by designer diaper bags. They look so beautiful, and they might even come with a pop-out liner so you can convince yourself you’ll use it even after your baby is potty trained. But once you’ve spilled milk in it enough, or worse, left it in a hot car with a poopy diaper, that lovely bag is not going to be so lovely anymore! Instead, I’ve stuck with inexpensive bags in machine-washable fabrics. I also look for designs with heaps of pockets and enough room for a wallet, phone and keys.
5 That Might be Worth It (depending on your baby)
1) A Play-yard or Portable Crib – if you plan to travel frequently, or if you often visit friends and family, having a safe, portable place for your baby to sleep and play might be a good investment. Playyards or Pack-n-Plays can get quite expensive, so I’d definitely put this on a baby registry or look at second-hand options.
2) A Wrap, Sling or Carrier – babywearing is very popular and having the ability to load the dishwasher and do the laundry with your little one in tow is a big plus for new mums. There are lots of options for carriers, from ring-slings to wraps to ergonomic carriers and they range in price from inexpensive to very pricey. All three of my babies liked to be carried while we went on walks with the dogs but got fussy if they were just stuck in a carrier at home, so I ended up choosing carriers that were sportier and more structured. But this isn’t necessarily the case for everyone, so if possible, I’d suggest trying different methods, especially if you can borrow a carrier or buy one cheaply from a second hand outlet.
3) A Swing – some babies LOVE a swing, especially when they are very young. Others hate them from day one. Some babies only like side-to-side swings, others only like front-to-back swings. If you decide to buy a swing, I have two pieces of advice: 1) check the return policy so you can return it if baby hates it and 2) make sure it has a power adapter because battery-powered options get very expensive to run.
4) A Jungle Gym, Jolly Jumper, or Play Pad – your baby might love or hate any of these items at different times but we’ve had great use out of all of them. The play pad gave us somewhere to place our babies to play when they were very young, and the jumper and gym gave them entertainment and exercise as they grew bigger. It also gave our arms a break from bouncing!
5) A change table – in some homes, a change table is a necessity, a place to do what needs to be done quickly and efficiently without other little hands (or paws!) getting in the way. In other houses, change tables are rarely used in favor of a change mat on the floor or couch. It really depends on what works for you and your preference.
And the ONE thing I’d advise any parent to buy or ask for as a gift? Professional photos! Although camera phones might make it seem unnecessary to have photos taken professionally, I’m so glad we did with each of our boys. While our candid photos are sweet and spontaneous, a really great baby and children’s photographer can give you images that you’ll always treasure. They are also wonderful for prints, cards and baby books.
Do you have any baby-related recommendations? What’s your go-to gift? What products can’t you live without for your little one?
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