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Valerie's Guide to Baby Gear
Here's "Valerie's Guide to Baby Gear." I originally wrote it for my sister, back when she was expecting her first baby. That was a couple of years ago, and any given baby product seems to spend about 1 year on the market before being replaced by a new one, so some parts of it are likely to be outdated. This guide meant as a starting point, as you do other reading to figure out what you want.
Index: Car Seats * Baby Clothes * Diapers * Breastfeeding * Feeding Solids * Noses * Miscellany * Brands * Finding good prices * Strollers * Things you don't need *
You can buy an infant car seat or a convertible car seat. Infant seats are the ones you see people carrying babies around in. They look like a box with a handle. Convertible seats stay in the car and arenít designed for carrying the baby around. An infant seat will last for about a year; a convertible seat will last for much longer. But! I recommend getting an infant seat and a convertible seat because an infant seat is incredibly convenient. Infants doze on and off all day. If you have an infant seat, you can take the baby out of the car and into the house without waking it up. Also, it means that you always have a safe, comfortable, place for the baby to sit when you are out and about. Look for a five-point safety harness because that is the safest kind.
I've noticed that first-time parents move their baby from an infant seat to a toddler seat early, while experienced parents keep their children in the infant seat for as long as possible.
Look at the weight and height limit for an infant seat you are considering. Today's babies are often 25 pounds by the end of the first year, while many infant seats are designed only for infants up to 20 pounds. If there's any chance that your baby may be a large one, it might be worth seeking out one of the few car seats that holds babies up to 22 or 25 pounds.
Beware Evenflo car seats. Theyíve had way too many recalls for me to feel comfortable with them.
The website www.carseat.org is very worthwhile reading. It has tons of things that people donít know about car seat safety. Most car seats are used incorrectly. Most parents believe they are using them correctly!
We got a free car seat inspection from our local police department. Many police departments and Chrysler Dealers offer these, for free. I was sure our toddler seat was installed correctly, but they found lots of things that were either wrong or could have been done better. So, I highly recommend getting your car seat installation inspected even if you think it is installed correctly. This might be worth doing with the empty car seat before the baby is born.
Another important feature to look at is how you adjust the length of the straps. You'll need to be changing these a lot, both because the baby grows and also because each day the baby will be wearing different layers of warm clothes, depending on the weather, and you'll need to adjust the straps accordingly. Some of our car seats (we currently own four) have straps that can be adjusted by pressing a button between the baby's feet and pulling on the straps. This is easy and wonderful. Others of our car seats need to be taken apart, and the child removed, so that you can reposition strap lengths behind the back of the seat. This is a complicated process, usually involving two parents (one to watch the baby while the other adjusts the straps). I very strongly prefer the car seats with the easily adjustable strap lengths.
Get a stroller base for the infant seat, so you can take it out of the car and put it on wheels. The car seat can get really heavy and frustrating to carry around. We didnít have wheels for our car seat for our first child, but I wished we did. For our second child we got a stroller that the car seat can snap into, and wow, this is one of my very favorite pieces of baby gear.
We almost entirely put our babies into shirts that snap at the crotch ("onesies"). Itís extremely rare for us to put the baby in a shirt that ends at the waist. This is for two reasons. One is that shirts that end at the waist are going to ride up and expose the babyís belly, which means that either the baby is chilly or you have an endless task to repeatedly re-tuck the shirt in. The other reason is that Iíve heard too many stories about babies taking off their diapers and finger painting the room with its contents. I dread having a baby ever do that. Always having snaps keeps the baby from having access to the diaper tapes.
If your baby is like my two, the first diaper or two are going to be full of so much meconium that it runs over. Meconium (the stuff that is in babiesí intestines before they are born and switch to making real poops) leaves permanent stains on clothes. So you donít want to immediately put your newborn into the cutest outfit you own.
You donít need baby shoes.
For some reason, people gave us a ton of socks. We almost never used socks on either of our babies when they were tiny.
To keep our first baby warm when we went outside, we had a baby-bag bunting. We would wedge him into it, then put it into the car seat. Bad idea! A much better idea is to get one of those warm covers that snaps onto the car seat rather than onto the baby. It is much easier to put the baby into the car seat and then put the cover on, rather than getting little arms and legs into little arm and leg holes every time you want to go out. Also, it is much safer not to have too much padding on the baby. When we had our car seat inspected, they told us that the baby's snowsuit was dangerous because it put too much padding between the baby and the straps. These car seat covers let the straps get closer to the baby -- they donít go between the baby and the straps -- which is safer.
Crib Stores will sell you all sorts of fluffy stuff to put in your crib. Fluffy soft stuff is dangerous! Soft stuff in the crib is associated with a higher risk of sudden infant death syndrome. The safest crib is one with a firm mattress and NOTHING ELSE inside it. No soft toys. No stuffed animals. No blankets! Put your baby to sleep in a blanket sleeper rather than under blankets. Donít put blankets in the crib. Put the baby to sleep on its back. Thatís a very good way to reduce the chance of SIDS.
Look for crib sheets with very deep pockets that stay on the mattress better than typical crib sheets do. Babies have been known to strangle on their sheets. The ones with the deep pockets are much less likely to get loose and cause problems.
My first baby never liked his crib. With both babies, we ended up with the baby sleeping on a futon in his or her own room. Your mileage will probably vary. Iíve seen suggestions to get a very sturdy crib because it will last through several children, all of whom will be spending a lot of time there. Iíve seen suggestions to get a firm and sturdy mattress to make the crib more comfortable. Maybe if we had done these things the crib would have worked out. Maybe not. Iím glad we didnít spend a lot of money on it.
I did a lot of reading about cloth diapering, bought a bunch of cool high-tech cloth diapers, and hated them. Disposables keep your baby much dryer, which in turn prevents diaper rash. (Though actually the number one cause of diaper rash is be poop next to the babyís skin.) Recent environmental comparisons show that cloth and disposable diapers actually have about the same impact on the environment, so itís not like if you use disposables you will be single-handedly trashing the planet. Washing diapers is no fun, and so is sanitizing them, removing poop stains from them, soaking them before washing, and so on. Cloth diapers leak more, so you have to do more other types of cleanup too.
Here's a list of some advantages of cloth or disposable diapering. We ended up choosing disposables, but your mileage may vary:
A diaper tip: If you have a boy baby, point his penis downward when you diaper him. Otherwise his diapers will leak.
It is worth having maybe 50 newborn-sized disposable diapers on hand when your baby arrives. The newborn ones have a little cut-out for the babyís umbilical cord stump, so the diaper doesnít bonk into it. Someone gave these to us, and I found I was really glad to have them. However, you probably don't want more than 50, because babies grow into new diaper sizes surprisingly quickly.
Just so you know: Newborn babies poop in wild colors! Most poops from newborns are mustardy yellow, but sometimes they "do" brown or even green. The first time my first baby made a green poop I called the doctor thinking that he had caught some horrible infection. Nope! It is normal for babies to make green poops. The poop might also be anything from muddy to stringy or seedy. Itís OK. The colors of poop that are not OK are red and black.
The sizes printed on diaper packages are a fantasy. If your babyís diapers are leaking regularly, it is time to move up a size. It took me a while to believe this one, but it is very true. My kids usually have moved up to the next size when they are about half-way through the weight-range of the previous size. Babies generally go really fast through sizes 1 through 3, then spend forever in size 4.
In case youíre wondering: Babies get toilet trained at about age 3. Or so Iíve read. And boys tend to get toilet trained later than girls. My theory is that this is because their muscles are different.
After a fruitless shopping quest for a diaper pail, we got one from a diaper service. We called them up and asked if they could sell us one. They charged us $12 (an excellent price) and delivered it to our door! I like our diaper pail. Jan says it is smelly. I donít smell it. Some people prefer a Diaper Genie to prevent leakage of smells. Other people hate Diaper Genies. A Diaper Genie is a sort of a garbage pail where you drop a diaper in a hole in the top, then twist, and the diaper is encased in a tube of plastic. You end up with long "sausages" of encapsulated diapers. If you use one, you have to buy Diaper Genie refills. Iím told those are vaguely expensive. Thereís another gizmo like a Diaper Genie that uses ordinary plastic grocery bags instead of proprietary bags. That seems much cheaper. Iíve heard some reports that those break easily, though.
Speaking of diaper services, I read that modern-day diaper service has changed. Evidently if you prefer disposable diapers to cloth they now will also deliver cheap disposable diapers right to your door. These are some weird off-brand, but Iíve heard people say good things about them. This might be worth investigating. On the other hand, weíve been really happy with Huggies, or sometimes Pampers.
Tip: Jan noticed that the diaper changing stations in menís rooms are much cleaner than the ones in womenís rooms, so he decided that he would do most of our kids' diaper changes when we are in places that have baby changing stations.
Some of our relatives gave us some Balmex ointment at our baby shower. They swear by it as a cure for diaper rash. I donít know whether our kids have been naturally rash-free babies or if itís todayís diapers or if itís the Balmex, but both our kids have indeed had almost no diaper rashes ever. Anytime we see any red skin during a diaper change, we put Balmex on it and it magically is back to being normal skin the next time we look at it. So we love Balmex too.
You might want to read my Valerie's Thoughts About Breastfeeding page. There's lots more information there.
The standard recommendation is to have 2-3 nursing bras. One of the best brands of nursing bras is reported to be Bravado. I bought mine in a size that was too small, so they were never comfortable and they were very warm in the summertime. I ended up going braless for a while, then switching back to a new larger size of the floppy non-underwire bras that I had been wearing before I got pregnant. I recommend getting 2-3 Bravado nursing bras (if you get ones that fit you you're likely to have a better experience with them than I did) and then see where you want to go from there. New moms change bra sizes at a fast and furious rate, so you don't want to stock up on bras too much until you're fairly stable. I ended up going braless for a while with each baby. I don't think most people do that, but it worked well for me.
You donít need special nursing clothes. But you can spend an awful lot of money on them if you want. The one exception is that I miss wearing dresses. I recommend buying one really nice nursing dress, because itís nice to be able to go out to places in a dress and be able to feed your baby. The classic place to buy very high quality, comfortable, good-looking nursing clothes is Motherwear: www.motherwear.com. They have a nice printed catalog in addition to their website. I've found nursing clothes on eBay at good prices.
For my first baby, I bought an Avent Isis breast pump, so that I could pump some milk and then leave a bottle home with Jan while I was out for an evening now and then. It worked OK, but I found that it was slower than I'd have liked, plus the repetitive wrist action you need to use with it seemed like it could cause repetitive motion injuries, plus after a while it stopped working for me, so I donít recommend it. I recommend springing for the $210 Medela Pump-In-Style. This is a very popular electric pump that is usually recommended for moms who go back to work and pump breastmilk at work. I've heard that these hold their resale value well and so you can sell it on eBay for a goodly percentage of what you paid for it (though when I checked on eBay they seemed to be going for about $50 each). For that matter, you could probably also buy one -- or most any other baby gear -- on eBay. The reason why I recommend getting such a fancy pump is that when you have a baby in the house, time is precious. The Pump-In-Style is much faster than the pump I had, and it can do both sides at once, which is another time savings. I think it may be more efficient about getting milk out. And I think you can use it again without having to wash the entire pump -- which was a problem with the pump I had. Whatever you do, never buy a breast pump from a baby formula company. They have a reputation for making the most horribly uncomfortable breast pumps in the universe.
Also, you may not need a pump at all. Nor bottles and nipples and all that stuff. For my second baby, I bought the fancy Pump-In-Style. I figured that I'd have very little free time for pumping, so I wanted a pump that worked fast. But then we got a massive case of thrush (a yeast infection of the nursing system). I kept waiting for the thrush to go away before I got out the pump. As I write this, I've been battling thrush for 10 months -- and I still have never gotten that pump out of its box. Instead, I tote my (very placid) baby along with me wherever I go, even to the occasional business meeting. That's worked out surprisingly well. (Now I'm saving the pump in case I someday have a baby #3.)
One of my e-mail friends says that if anybody gives you samples of baby formula, throw them away. When breastfeeding gets rough, itís nice not to have these in the house tempting you.
Donít buy too many bottles and nipples of one brand until you are sure your baby likes them. Individual babies seem to have strong preferences. One sibling will only take Avent brand nipples, and another sibling from the same family will only take some other brand.
The current recommendation is to wait until the baby is six months old before starting solids. If you have a family history of allergies, itís more important to read up on this and start solids later, so that you donít trigger a food allergy in your baby. If you donít have much of a family history of food allergies, then itís OK to dive into more foods with less reading.
Donít take feeding advice from baby food companies! They have other goals than giving you unbiased advice.
Iíve read lots of books about feeding babies. Each one makes lots of sense, has good information, and completely contradicts all the others. They also all make it sound like if you donít do it their way you will somehow damage your baby. I think the thing to do is relax! There are lots of different ways to start solids, youíre not going to damage the baby by choosing the "wrong" one, and no matter what you do, your baby will get there sooner or later. No problem!
The classic top-of-the-line high chair to get is the Peg Perego Prima Pappa. I donít recommend it. One of my e-mail friends had a baby who used to escape from hers regularly and a couple of times went nose-diving onto the floor. Yoiks! I did a lot of reading about highchair features before we bought ours, and I discovered that most the features on the expensive high chairs are things that you really donít need unless you are pouring food into an infant who is probably way too young to need solids. We ended up choosing the very cheap $27 Graco high chair which works great for us. One feature it has that the top of the line high chairs donít have is that it has a solid plastic bar that goes across the front of the chair, so that even if the seat belt comes open the baby is still well restrained. The bar and the seat and the seatback are all molded out of one piece of plastic -- it is a very nice design. I like being able to take away the high chair tray to wash it while the baby is still sitting in his high chair, without having the baby held in by just the one strap. The bar is what makes the difference.
My grandmother bought a travel high chair, a The First Years 3-in-1 booster seat. These seem to be available in lots of stores for about $18. We liked the one at Grandmaís so much that we got one of our own. That's turned out to be one of our favorite pieces of baby equipment. It is cool because you can put all its parts in the dishwasher -- although to tell you the truth we have never tried doing that. It is also cool because it means you can set up to feed the baby anywhere, in your own clean, safe spot. Some restaurant high chairs are sticky or dirty or missing straps, and some restaurants donít even have high chairs. So itís nice to have the option of bringing your own. Not that youíll need a high chair anytime soon! But itís nice to know that this thing exists for one day when you may need it.
One of the seamier tasks of parenting is clearing out your kidís nose. The tools to use for this are a bottle of saline drops (ask at the drugstore for what to get) and a suction bulb. Sometimes you can get away with just using the suction bulb; sometimes you need the drops too. We needed to do this a lot for our first baby, but not at all for the second one. So maybe you'll get lucky and not have to deal with this.
Some tips: We ended up with two suction bulbs. One has a more pointy end. Our midwives told us to get it, for suctioning mucus from the baby's nose and mouth at birth. I think most hospitals will send you home with this same type of bulb when you give birth there. The other one has a more rounded tip and a clear plastic section so you can tell if you "caught" anything or not. The rounded tip seems much more gentle on the baby. I think its brand name is "The First Years". The saline solution will probably come in a bottle with a dropper tip. I found it was really hard to have any idea how much liquid I had put into the babyís nose with this. What worked much better was to drip the saline solution onto my finger and then drip it from my finger into the baby's nose. Then I had a much better idea of how much had gone where. Babies noses normally sound "snurgly" for a month or two at 2-3 months of age. This doesnít mean your kid is sick or has a cold or anything -- it is part of normal nose development. Just because your baby sounds snurgly doesnít mean that you have to clean out its nose. My baby so hated having his nose cleaned out that I took to only trying to do anything about it if it interfered with his nursing or his breathing. If thereís gunk in a babyís nose and it isnít causing the baby any problems, itís best to leave it there. Believe it or not, if you ignore a booger, it will work its way out automatically all by itself! Okay, maybe that's too much information. :)
You wanted to hear all that, right?
Some items we really like are:
We've worked our way through four baby monitors. (Thatís the thing where you put a radio transmitter in the babyís room and a receiver with you, so you can hear it when the baby wakes up.) The first two were re statickey and noisy, and the third one got noisy after a while. If I were shopping for a new one, Iíd want to try it out to hear if it is quiet enough. Or maybe this isnít a problem for you -- Iím a very light sleeper, and white noise bothers me. You only need one baby monitor; we ended up with so many of them by accident. Iím told that some of the quietest baby monitors you can find are "the blue and white one that you can get for $1.50 at a garage sale". So maybe they donít make Ďem like they used to. We've also had good luck with "900 mHz" baby monitors, but those seem to work for some people and not for others.
By the way, it's a good idea to bring along your baby monitor when you travel, so that you can leave the baby in one room and go off to another room and still hear the baby.
Iím not usually a brand name shopper. However, for baby products Iíve noticed some very consistent differences in quality between brands.
Iíve consistently been impressed by the quality of items made by these companies:
And Iíve been consistently unimpressed by the quality of items made by these companies:
Finding Good Prices on Baby Gear
The number one cheapest place to find baby clothes and other gear is at garage sales. At a garage sale you can expect to pay 50 cents to a dollar per outfit. You can go home with an entire grocery bag of baby items for the price of a store-bought outfit or two. Also, Iíve been happier with the quality of items I find at garage sales or resale stores than the things Iíve found in regular stores. Go figure!
The second cheapest place to find baby clothes is at your local resale shops. You can find those in the phone book. Our local resale shops sell baby outfits for about $2 to $5 each.
The next cheapest place is the famous online auction site, eBay. For example, there was a time when I could not find footed pajamas for my toddler anywhere, maybe because they were out of season. Eventually I looked on eBay. I found someone selling perfect pajamas in exactly the right size for $3 for two pairs, plus $3.50 postage. So I ended up with hard-to-find out of season pajamas for about $3 per pair. Not bad!
Next is outlet stores and other discount stores. Expect to pay $10 to $20 per outfit.
Finally, at regular stores, expect to pay $15 to $30 per baby outfit. Ouch!
Here are Aunt Debbieís Garage Sale Tips. Debbie writes:
I made several "rules" which has always made it successful for me:
We have four strollers! Theyíre all somewhat awful. Some things to look for in a stroller are:
Things you donít need
We never needed a baby bathtub. It seems much easier to just take a bath together with the baby. We usually make this a two-parented affair: I bathe with the baby, then hand the baby out to Daddy, who dries the baby and dresses him while I finish my own bath. But one parent can bathe with a baby OK. Just put down a towel on the floor next to the tub before you go in. Then bathe with the baby. When youíre done washing the baby, hand the baby out to the towel, do a bit of drying, and then finish your own bath.
We never used our diaper table for diapering. We did use it to store some clothes and spare diapers. But we were much happier doing diaper changes on a bed or the floor, so the baby can't roll off.
Our crib. But we are weird.
Ok, I'll stop here! This is probably more info than you ever actually needed.
If you have questions, thoughts, things to add, things you disagree with, things that are outdated, please let me know
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