Faced with the thousands of baby products on the market today, it's easy to lose your bearings, doubt yourself, overbuy or become paralyzed by decision-making. Conflicting online reviews ("a must buy!"; "don't waste your money!") further muddy the waters of your consumer mind. Being exposed to baby goods has been a part of my day-to-day work life for the past seven years, yet I still made some missteps. However, the good news is I've developed a short-list of items I heartily recommend to friends and, now, to you. Below are my hits and misses as well as what I hope is a bit of general wisdom to guide you as you navigate the baby goods marketplace.
My Best Advice:
- talk to other parents about what worked for them and what didn't.
- use the lens of your LIFESTYLE to evaluate any purchase. A great product is only great if it applies to your life and how and where you live. A big, fully-featured, tricked out stroller is maybe ideal for a city-dweller who will use it everyday but total overkill for occasional use.
- buy things as you need them not in anticipation that you may need them.
- buy as much as you can secondhand (or borrow from a friend to try out before buying) so if it doesn't work out, you're not out a lot of cash.
Things I'm glad I bought:
- Baby Snug by Mamas and Papas: I had a Bumbo for my first child and it was fine, but was outgrown within a few months (and handed off to a niece). I was reluctant to pay a lot more for the Snug but was lured in by their pleasing color choices. What sealed the deal, though, is that the soft seat insert comes out allowing your child to use the product even longer using the larger plastic seat. My (on the small size) daughter is still using the soft seat at 16 months and my guess is she'll be able to use the plastic seat until she is at least two, probably longer. The Snug is easy to clean and has become our daughter's "high chair" when we travel or on days when she eats in the kitchen or living room instead of the dining room.
- Glow in the Dark Pacifiers by MAM: Lying in bed, knowing that at some point (or several some points) during the night I would be awakened by my daughter fussing because she couldn't find her pacifier, I had a eureka moment—glow-in-the-dark pacifiers! Finally, my million dollar idea! (I think I even texted a friend about my brilliance.) Well...not so fast...it turns out someone had already invented this product. So while I wouldn't be getting my million dollars, the good news is I could purchase these straight away. And I did. And they're awesome. They really do glow at night, are easy to locate in the crib and are my daughter's preferred pacifier for her own reasons.
- Portable/Travel Swing: I missed the boat on a baby swing with my first child. I bought one (from a neighbor) when my son was already three months old and he didn't hate it, but he didn't love it either. For my second baby, I chose a smaller portable swing and it was basically her Barcalounger for the first few months of her life. She did most of her sleeping and much of her lounging in it. It did have a short lifespan - about 4 months, but it was worth it for us and we passed it along to a friend's new baby.
- Miracle Blanket: We used a few different swaddle blankets (and, in our case, needed a few because our kids spit up a ton and we don't have a washing machine in our building), but the Miracle Blanket was our favorite. The cotton jersey is a great mid-weight and we bought the beige version—perfect for both of our kids: a spring-born boy and a winter-born girl. It held our little Houdinis longer than other swaddle blankets we tried.
- Boppy Pillow: I had a My Breast Friend for my first child and it got some use, but I wouldn't call it essential. When I was expecting my second I figured I'd go without any kind of nursing pillow, but a friend insisted I take her hand-me-down Boppy. Not wanting to seem ungrateful, I took it and now feel almost evangelical about it. It was nice to have for nursing, but even more so it made a great hangout on the floor for my daughter to lay in (they make a newborn lounger specifically, fyi) and to put behind her as she began to sit up (and, often, tumble over in slo-mo).
- Splash Bottle Brush by Skip Hop: Thrilled to have found a durable bottle brush after buying several cheap ones that quickly broke, I wrote an ode to this bottle brush several years ago. I still love it and at $8, I have gotten a lot of cleaning bang for the buck.
- Bath Cushion by Safety First: I've written about skipping a traditional baby bath tub in greater length before and it is still one of my best space-saving decisions for baby gear. This cushion was cheap, small and easy to store and was all I needed for bathing a baby.
- 12 Piece Baby Block Set by OXO Tot: These were perfect for freezing homemade baby food and I used them even more after my daughter moved on to finger foods. So often I just want to store a small bit of food and these do the job and only take up minimal space. They're easy to clean, can be microwaved and the tops are super easy to remove, yet have never leaked in my experience.
- The Mommy Hook: this product bills itself as "the must-have mommy essential". I don't know that I'd go that far but I use mine all the time (especially for grocery shopping) and have tried other stroller hooks and found the Mommy Hook to be superior. However, I think it only approaches "essential" status for urban parents who tend to run their shopping errands with strollers instead of cars.
- Baby Bjorn Baby Carrier: Buying a baby carrier is a bit like joining a cult. Parents tend to become fiercely loyal and evangelical about their carrier of choice. I don't think there's one best carrier; just one you like the best. For me, I like the Bjorn. I have an Ergo which I don't find comfortable to wear or put on and I got a little use out of a sling-style carrier when my babies were very little. I wore my baby almost exclusively for the first six months or so and then switched mostly to using a stroller. My husband and I both found the Bjorn comfortable, easy to use and to adjust between our sizes. (We have the Active version which I don't think they sell anymore.) I highly recommend auditioning carriers from friends before you buy. You might be surprised by what you like.
Things I could have skipped:
- Baby Gym: We owned two of these - a soft, fabric one for my first child and a wood one (IKEA Leka) for my second. They got a little bit of use, but not enough to justify the space in our small apartment. Some babies seem to like them a lot so these seem to fall in that (large) category of "you won't know until you try" baby items.
- Safety Gates: I'm not suggesting no one should buy baby gates. You probably should. But when you live in a small apartment without stairs, they may be unnecessary. We used two gates, one in each entrance to our living room with our first child and they kept him out of the cat food bowl for a few months. With our second child, we realized our older son would have difficulty getting through them so we only put up one and it only stayed up for about a month. In the end, it was just easier to keep a close eye on our daughter once she began to crawl and to do our best to keep her surroundings safe rather than restrict her from or contain her to areas of our apartment.
- Baby Monitor: We used an audio monitor with our first child, but quickly realized we didn't need it in our small apartment. It was, however, useful for when we traveled and stayed in family members' larger homes. We have yet to use it for our now 16-month-old daughter and are just waiting for our summer vacation (where we've rented a large house) before we unload it on a friend.
- Baby laundry detergent: In my too-much-for-my-own-good reading about babies before my first child was born, I convinced myself that we'd need to switch to a (more expensive) baby laundry detergent. I inquired about it on our first visit to the pediatrician and he asked, "Has your baby shown any negative reaction to your current detergent?" Welllllll...no. "Then it's probably fine." Oh, okay. Problem solved. (Some babies DO have sensitive skin in which case Dreft or similar is great to have.)
- Pee-Pee Teepees: These were a well-intentioned gift that were never used. Not having had a baby before, I was willing to believe that changing a baby boy's diaper might be something like this. Or even this. In reality, changing my son's diaper was mostly uneventful and required no extra accoutrements.
- Diaper Bag: I just use...a bag. And my stroller basket. I've never found a need for a specialized diaper bag so I never bought one and have no regrets. With the best of intentions I bought my husband a smallish, cross-body "manly" diaper bag and he never even removed the tag. To each his or her own.
- Clothes that aren't jersey knits: One thing I've learned about dressing my kids is that they both (a now 6-year-old and a 16-month-old) MUCH prefer soft, jersey knit clothing to woven fabrics. Plaid button-down shirts for my baby son? Adorable, but not as practical as a t-shirt or onesie. Knits have stretch which is not only more comfortable to wear, but much easier to put on a squirmy baby.
- Sophie the Giraffe teether: I wanted my son to love Sophie; I really did. She has a long history, is made with integrity and is pretty cute. Alas and alack, my son found her lackluster. Not even a nibble. For teething, he preferred the Raz-berry or pizza crusts.
- Stretch Mark Cream: It's genetics, yo. Cream neither helped prevent or fix stretch marks. Oh well.