When I was newly pregnant for the first time, I went into baby gear research hyperdrive. Overwhelmed by the vast options—how do I choose something for someone I’ve never met??—I dropped by a baby megastore to aid in my research. I hoped seeing things in person would help me visualize what we actually needed.
Instead, I felt like I was drowning. A million products screamed from the aisles and racks: YOU NEED ME!
And yet, I got the distinct feeling that the whole thing was a racket hitting new parents and grandparents in their most vulnerable moment.
My husband and I decided we’d try to go minimalist and get only the things we needed, but that’s easier said than done. It’s impossible to know what any particular baby will want before he or she is born, and parents can’t know what they will find useful before they become parents.
So, despite all my obsessive reporter-style research, some items I bought ended up serving me less than I’d hoped. Over the next few years, I spotted alternative items I’d have appreciated more. But since I’d rather spend money on a day out with the kids than on replacing workable baby gear (and I’m waste-averse, so I don’t want replacements as gifts), perhaps my notes can help you make the right decision for your family the first go-around.
Of course, every baby and parent is different, and none of these are intended as #NewsMom endorsements of specific products. I have no connection to any of the companies that make the items mentioned.
I bought: Baby swing
“The one item you need,” well-meaning friends and acquaintances would say, “is a baby swing.”
I researched. I read reviews. I looked at big ones, little ones, fancy ones, basic ones. In the end, we settled for one that folded up and had retractable legs for multiple height options. For us, that research and money was a total waste: In the end, my first son enjoyed the swing a total of two times, and my second didn’t have much chance to try it—his older brother found the idea of pushing the swing too tempting to resist. I deemed it an unsafe situation and a battle I didn’t want to have while settling in with a second newborn.
And of course, anything with straps should only be used supervised. There’s growing safety concerns with baby swings and other baby gear meant to soothe. See this recent story from CBS News.
Instead I’d buy: Nothing
I’d use the deluxe bouncer instead (see next item). It’s smaller and cheaper than a swing, and for us, more helpful.
I bought: Basic, small-size baby recliner/bouncer
This was a last-minute, second-hand purchase, and my first baby LIVED in it during his early days. This little wonder was the only reason I got a shower or a hands-free meal once my husband was back at work and my parents had returned home from their new-baby visit. For both my babies, it was cozy and sleep-inducing… Until they got too big.
Instead I’d buy: “Deluxe,” bigger baby recliner/bouncer
My babies wore newborn clothes for less than a week each—they were little bruisers. So, as helpful and fantastically portable as the bouncer was, eventually the top was sagging just a little too close to the floor, and all too soon, the smaller chair didn’t seem sturdy enough for my big “little guys.”
When I visited family last summer, a helpful cousin offered to lend us her “deluxe” bouncer. My son, only about 4 months old at the time, had already outgrown his bouncer, so I put it on the “not necessary” list.
I’m so glad she insisted. The deluxe bouncer still fit my son, and it felt altogether sturdier and cozier.
(Note: I used it as a place for him to hang out and play—the safest place for your baby to sleep is flat on their back on a firm surface.)
I bought: Cheap, store-brand changing pad
This is one baby item that doesn’t matter, right? Well, there are two factors to consider:
- 1. Surviving storage for the next child
Since we moved countries before my second baby came along, our belongings were packed up in a container, loaded onto a cargo ship, stored in hot weather for months and then sent on another cargo ship.
Given, it’s unlikely your baby gear will be put under as much stress as mine, but the changing pad had disintegrated a bit, and the flexible plastic had hardened and torn.
Since my baby gear is certain to be shipped again, and since I’d rather buy a quality item once than a cheap item three times, I wish I’d registered for something better in the first place.
- 2. Flame retardants and other chemicals
Since becoming a mom, I’ve found it increasingly difficult to discern the line between reasonable worry and unreasonable paranoia. Before I had children, I had no clue all the dangers that might be lurking in everyday products. I don’t want to live in constant fear, but when I noticed changing pad reviewers online kept complaining of products off-gassing, I decided to think about flame-retardant or other chemical exposure.
There are disturbing implications of flame retardants in baby products (especially car seats—read more about that here), though it’s hard to know what, if anything, will truly impact my child. But, when it’s as easy as buying (or registering for) a different brand, I figured—why not?
Instead I’d buy: A nicer, flame-retardant-free one
And I did! Well, to be honest, my generous mother-in-law did.
I went for one by Oeuf because it was the cheapest nice one with good reviews, but I know there are others. I will say, the texture is nice (though usually hidden by a cover) and the peace-of-mind is nicer, but it’s not really waterproof—I have a little puddle stain to prove it. Easy to fix with a little puddle pad under the cover.
I bought: Cheap, big baby bath
When I thought “baby bath,” this was the only image that came to mind: A flat, low-sided oval. So I bought one at my local Target. No brainer, right? It worked fine for what it was, but I simply did not know there were other, less-bulky-to-store options around. Also, the bath is quite heavy when full of water, so that poses a problem when I wanted to bathe him at comfortable standing level (on the counter top) or on the floor (outside of the bath tub—bathing new babies can be awkward and nerve-wracking for new parents, so leaning into the big bath tub to reach my baby’s small bath was not ideal).
Instead I’d buy: A bucket bath or collapsible bath
And, in fact, we did. My son suffered from severe eczema as an infant, and in an effort to soak his whole body more effectively than we could in the low-sided bath tub mentioned above (or in a sink), we ordered the Tummy Tub, a bath that mimics a newborn’s time in the womb. It takes up far less space than the other bath and is a more convenient shape for storage. Bonus: The bucket shape means it uses a very small amount of water, much less than any of the other tubs I’ve seen.
Unfortunately, my first son was too old by the time we tried it for his eczema—apparently he’d already forgotten the feel of a womb—but we used it on our second son from his first week. I watched a video on how to hold him properly so he didn’t slide his head down into the water, but before long he was holding his head on his own (when he wasn’t trying to drink the water). When he grew out of it, he was ready to sit in the big household bath with his older brother.
A collapsible/pop-up bath would also have been amazing storage-wise, but there weren’t many available when I was looking. There appear to be many now.
Obviously, no baby bath should ever be used without very close supervision, especially for newborns.
I bought: Space-saver highchair with cloth cover
With our mobile expat lifestyle, I wanted to choose compact baby gear that could seamlessly integrate into whatever furniture might greet us. A high chair that sits atop a regular chair fits that bill, right? Right?
Well, we realized too late that we might need all the chairs at the table when hosting dinners or parties, and the chair with the baby seat mounted on top will not push under the table, leaving less space—not more.
Also, cloth seat covers might look cozier, but they are more to clean, and they aren’t nearly as simple to wipe down as hard plastic or wood. Believe me, once there’s a solid-food-spilling baby in the picture, you’ll want the option that is the least hassle to clean.
Instead I’d buy: Free-standing high chair with no fancy cover or cushion
Anything not bulky would do—even a basic, old-fashioned wooden one.
I’ll be honest, I drool a little over the wooden convertible Stokke chair so many parents seems to have these days. I’m too practical and waste-averse to buy a different chair while ours works just fine, but if I could go back, I’d try to budget for that one!
I bought: A Pack ‘n Play portacrib
This is another piece of baby gear I assumed was standard. Everyone has a Pack ‘n Play, or something like it, right? Truly, it is a fantastic piece of equipment… But, do you need it? Did I?
Do you hope to use it as the baby’s main crib, an affordable option that can move around the house? Then, yes, perhaps this type of portacrib is right for you.
Do you hope to use it as a travel crib to bring around to Mom’s house or a hotel? This particular kind of portacrib is bulky, heavy and tricky to repack in its bag—consider a legit travel crib as mentioned below. Also, some versions have accessories (i.e. changing table, mobile) that don’t fit in the travel bag at all.
Do you hope to use it as another place to set your child down for a nap, change her diaper or just let her play in, say, the living room? This might be a good option, but consider something like the Rock ‘n Play or Little Lounger, or even simply a travel crib.
Instead I’d buy: A small, rocking crib and/or legit travel crib
In my Pack ‘n Play blindness, I missed the amazing bit of baby gear known, depending on the brand, as the Rock ‘n Play or Little Lounger. I’m sure there are others, but the basic idea is that it’s a compact, easy-to-transport cot on legs that rock. I saw one in action when a cousin brought it to my in-laws’ house for her baby’s nap during a family holiday party. It isn’t great as an all-night sleeper since babies should be put to sleep flat on their backs to prevent SIDS, but it would be helpful for supervised naps or a soothing place to hang out for a newborn.
Another option is a true travel crib. What I mean by this is a lightweight cot that is easy to set up, take down and pack (many even fit alongside whatever you’d pack in a suitcase). Since we live overseas and fly often, we opted to buy the Phil & Ted’s version. It takes a little bit of effort to execute the tent-pole-like set up (unlike the pop-up Baby Bjorn), but it weighs less than 10 pounds and is totally packable. As a bonus, many travel cribs have zipper-down sides, making it possible to lie down and cuddle or nurse your baby to sleep and then zip them up safely.
Personally, the combination of the deluxe baby bouncer and the travel crib could have obviated my need for the Pack ‘n Play, which I used but could easily have done without.
What about you? Is there a baby product you discovered too late? Chime in below or on Facebook.