Monday, December 13, 2010

Baby products that proved great investments

When you're having your first baby, you're faced with a lot of uncertainty. You want to be as prepared as you can be, but not go overboard. When I found out recently that a good friend was expecting her first, I decided to write out all the products that were helpful in the first few months with a newborn. Keep in mind this is our take--things might be different for you. We had certain ideas of how we wanted things to be. Sometimes that worked out, sometimes it didn't. But the following products definitely helped us through it.

Stroller – buy a good one. Make sure you can put your infant car seat in it, though you’ll only use this feature for the first year or less. You want a stroller you can navigate easily with one hand over different terrain options and long handles for saving your back from bending over to push. You’ll probably use a stroller for 5 years or so, mostly in the beginning but also at places like the mall or theme parks as they grow. We shelled out about $120 for a good umbrella stroller by Combi, but it proved a nightmare trying to navigate with one hand while answering the phone with the other (happens much more often than you might think, and baby isn't so patient if they want to keep moving). We'd definitely look at the $300 plus range next time. But keep in mind you may also want a very portable little one that you can keep for around the neighborhood, while you keep the big one in the car for outings that you want to go smoothly. (Trust me, you'll be lugging around so much stuff, trying to do 3 things at once all the time--it will make a huge difference if the stroller works like a dream.)

Infant car seat – You need one before you can take the baby home. But you’ll only use the first one for a year or less (we used ours 9 months before Rohan outgrew it). Make sure you do the class the hospital offers to help you get it installed properly. You might think you can do it, but the peace of mind of having a certified professional test it out was worth it. You definitely don't want to have to install it when you're leaving the hospital with the baby! I figure they're all pretty standard.

Monitor – I’d buy a better one if I could do it all over. Our $60 Fisher Price monitor from Target died after a year (batteries in the handsets don’t hold a charge, though they work plugged in still). I would spend a bit more and get one with a video monitor. Rohan is over two now and we still use his every nap and night time. We also take it anywhere we travel. I don't think you need one with a heart rate monitor unless there are health issues to monitor.

Plastic bowl – It sounds strange, but such a simple item has proved so useful! We took home the one they used in the hospital. We kept warm water in it on the changing table for wiping Rohan off with a diaper change and sponge baths. Now we use it in the tub to rinse him off. I didn’t see anything so simple and so useful in stores. You could use a Tupperware container, I suppose, but the ridges for holding on the cover might make it a bit awkward.

Cotton cloths – Sameer’s grandmother had a soft cotton sari cut up and sewn into squares, which we used as everything from burping cloths to bathing, and still now for wiping Rohan’s mouth and hands when he eats. They are softer than baby washcloths and don't fall apart (or get stuck all over the skin) like the cotton balls the pediatricians recommend.

Organic diapers and wipes – They say not to use wipes on newborns, but we used them for messy poops. Gentle, organic ones worked great and never caused a rash. Have to be careful that the bum is completely dry after, but that's also true if you use only water. We used 7th Generation and ordered them from places where we could get discounts (, and full price from Publix when needed for convenience.

Wipes warmer - This I would have though to be excessive. However, my step-mom bought us one saying it was great for my step-sister's baby. And it was wonderful! Those wipes are freezing coming out of the package, and this makes them much more soothing. The warmer is only about $20 and it's a great way to dispense the wipes, too. Just beware you will likely have to buy little replacement liners for using inside the warmer, to help keep the wipes moist and prevent browning. These are not expensive, and I usually just got them in the online order with the diapers and wipes.

Diaper pail - I never found the diapers to be that smelly, but perhaps that's because we had a great diaper pail right by the changing table. They also say that baby's poop doesn't smell bad until you start introducing formula or solids, anyway. But you still don't want dirty diapers in your kitchen trash, right? Our model included filters, which we stopped using since it didn't smell anyway, and it worked with regular tall garbage bags, so we didn't have to buy special ones to use with it.

Baby bath tub – Some people use their sink. There’s also a special baby tub like a bucket they can be sat upright in. But a very basic plastic infant bathtub from Target did the job for us for several months. We set it on a towel on the floor to bathe Rohan, as we were scared of dropping him while wet and slippery if we used it on the counter. Hard on the back but good for peace of mind. We used the included sling once and only once. It holds the baby above the water, and makes them very cold! Once Rohan could sit up solidly, we started using our big bathtub with only two inches of water. We never got a spout cover and he has never hit his head on the spout (this was a concern for a while).

Organic towels – We had both cheap bath towels and nice fluffy organic ones. The thin, cheap ones just didn’t feel very nice. We’re still using the organic infant towels now. We didn’t really use the hood feature, though. We also got a bathrobe for Rohan but he was so impatient after his path (to nurse) we never really used it. Having a ton of cotton baby washcloths has been helpful, too, even now, for washing his face and drying his hair a bit while still in the tub, etc.

Baby nail clippers – I’d get good ones next time. Our first set broke within a couple months and believe me you’re continually clipping those little nails.

Baby mittens – Useless! I got these as I saw our friend’s baby scratching up her face all the time. But the mittens just fall off. Socks worked much better. (You might think you can keep the nails clipped, but he or she will get scratched regardless.)

Baby sling – I bought a very nice looking sling after reading about all the benefits of babywearing. However, I rarely used it. Rohan seemed to disappear into it, and his body would twist to conform to my body. I didn’t like that the top would close, cutting off fresh air circulation. I might want a Moby wrap style instead. But I think baby wearing suits those who are going to be busy doing a lot of stuff where the baby must be brought along, and that was not me. I see a lot of moms at the park or playdates with their toddler wearing their newborn in a carrier. Great option for that! Since I only had the one child, I was at home rocking him or pushing him in the stroller if out for a walk. It would have been great if I could have worn him for laundry, cleaning or cooking, but babywearing isn’t really appropriate for that.

Bouncy seat – we never technically had once that bounced, though I’d get one next time. We had a little chair that just rocked and vibrated, and that worked fine to soothe him sometimes, but it didn’t give him exercise. The chair converts to a toddler rocking chair as they grow, but my experience with this type of 2-in-1 products is that it doesn’t do either particularly well. He doesn’t use it now. I wouldn’t spend much on a bouncy seat, though, as they can’t use it for very long.

Crib mobile – We had a great mobile my boss lent us. It had a few jungle animals that rotated and leaves that opened and closed as it went around. It played jungle sounds. Rohan loved to watch it it and we used it until he was sitting up by himself. It was the favorite of all his crib toys. (He hardly paid attention to his mirror, though he'd watch the little clip-on toys if we shook them to make sounds. These can also clip onto the infant carrier, to keep them amused in the stroller when very young.)

Crib – We only used ours for daytime sleep as Rohan stayed in a co-sleeper next to our bed at night. Eventually he totally rejected the crib and just slept with us. Except we continued to put him in it when we had to set him down and for him to play and move around a bit safely (or I needed to shower or something :) We really had wanted him to sleep with us, but the pediatrician kept insisting he sleep on his own (and in a different room) saying that everyone would sleep better. I even bought an expensive organic wool and cotton mattress hoping he would sleep there peacefully, but I think the problem was that he just preferred to be with us. Would have been useful to have one that converts to a full-sized bed for use later, though he will probably sleep with us at least another year or more. (If you want a great mattress, we have Rohan's still wrapped stored under the guest bed--let us know and you can use it.)

Sheepskin pad - I got one of these when I was bent on getting Rohan to sleep in his crib. They are supposed to have tons of benefits for babies, from helping regulate temperature to providing a more naturally cushioning surface. Then I washed it in the washer and it all balled up, total bummer. I still have it on Rohan's big bed, going largely unused. But I wish I had one for all of us. Truly heavenly, but probably not necessary.

Organic crib sheets - I got blankets and sheets all in natural organic cotton, as I just didn't want the pesticides and dyes on his skin.

Woombies - I may have some I can loan you, but these little miracle bundles are a failproof alternative to swaddling. We got a ton of Woombies, as they seemed to help Rohan sleep, at least until the reflux stage.

Swaddling blankets - We didn't get to swaddle a lot, but I know mommies who swear by it to get a good night's rest for all. I'd say when buying a swaddling blanket, make sure it's going to work as a non-swaddling blanket, too, as you'll find you need tons of blankets (due to the laundry turnover).

Nap Nanny – This would have been indispensable if we had it from a small age. Rohan had some reflux issues, which made for rough nights. He might have slept better if he had this to keep his head elevated. But by the time I found out about it he was too big to get much use out of it. Instead he slept in his car seat on the floor next to the bed a lot. Even in the swing sometimes. Even if your baby doesn't have reflux, a Nap Nanny would be great for when they have a cold or even to prevent reflux by keeping them elevated after feeding (while their digestive system is still immature). Check out the local Wee Cycle for these, they have them new.

Crib wedge – This was a waste of $10. I got it to help elevate the crib. This helps with reflux and also breathing when the baby has a cold. But he didn’t like to sleep on this surface and would just roll down the slope.

Baby swing – We had a basic model, but here are some reviews for other swings. All you need is something motorized that will keep him or her rocking, maybe a couple different speeds. The front-back motion seems to be best, rather than side to side. We didn’t use the music function at all.

Hammock - I came across these, as well, when Rohan was too big. But I love the concept of a natural hammock. It might better than a swing, co-sleeper and Nap Nanny all in one. There are all kinds of different ones out there, even some that are designed to keep the baby slightly up, so it helps digestion.

Co-sleeper – For the first couple months, Rohan slept in a co-sleeper next to our bed. I think to do it over, I’d just keep him in bed with us. I was so scared since it was our first baby and we worried about accidentally rolling on him or a blanket falling across his face, but honestly they can’t move around at all and I had taken precautions with pillows and blankets (getting non-poofy memory foam pillows and using only one blanket on the bed). You are just paranoid with your own baby, though that goes away after experience.

Rocking chair – My mom had said this was the thing she used the most, and I probably did, too. It soothed Rohan and was restful for me, as I could lay my head back. We spent hours at all times of the day/night sitting in this. (Ideal would be a rocker/recliner.)

Sameer couldn't use the rocking chair, so an exercise ball type of contraption is another alternative. You can't imagine the time and energy you'll put into trying to get your baby to sleep (or stop crying at least). Endless walking around the house with them on your shoulder... This ball is supposed to give them the same effect but save your back (and probably help your core regain some tone, bonus!)

Changing table – Of all the furniture, this was the most useful for the first year for us. It’s back-breaking trying to change and clean a baby while leaning over the bed, so the table keeps them up at a manageable height in a safely confined space. We actually made our own using an old table we didn’t need anymore and bolting down the changing pad. There was lots of space next to the pad to keep all the supplies we needed nearby.

Dresser – We don’t have one for Rohan, but I wish we did. His room is too small to fit much furniture, but you end up with so many little things and mounds of clothes, and this would help corral it all. Plus you can get a style that will last them through college, probably.

Waterproof pads – I found some good, basic cotton waterproof sheets (I think these are the ones, I can't quite recall the brand) that I cut in two and placed under Rohan’s body when he slept or sometimes in the car seat, etc. This guarded against blowout poops that would leak through his clothes (which happened nearly every day). I still keep these around just in case he has an accident so I can line the car seat and sit him back in it if needed, but haven’t actually used them since he wet the bed during potty training one night. There are also disposable waterproof sheets you can use when you need to change the baby in a public changing station. I also had some polyester waterproof pads we kept on the changing table (so you don't have to change the pad cover each time), but they pilled and didn't feel as nice as the cotton ones.

Clothes – I had Rohan in comfy sleep ‘n plays for most of the time. These are cute little pajama type suits that cover the feet and zip or snap up to the chin from the foot. I tried to buy organic cotton with neutral colors (in case we decided to have another and it turned out to be a girl). I didn’t like zip up styles as much, because they often tended to be short in the body (shrinkage in the dryer was crazy) and didn’t last as long as the snap-up type because the baby grows so fast. Or I would buy them size up. I found Hanna Andersson at around 4 months and he’s been wearing their organic PJs ever since. The two-piece 80 cm ones have lasted two winters comfortably, which is amazing considering how much he’s grown. The zip-up ones, not so long, but they were great for that age. He has some pants and t-shirts from the site that are also on their second year. Another brand I loved for infant clothes was Under the Nile. (I think you may be able to find cheaper prices searching on other sites that carry the brand at discount.) Now I'm enjoying Boden clothes for Rohan, and they have a great collection for newborns, too, though not organic.

So get some clothes in newborn but mostly in 0-3 months and also 3-6 for starters. You'll probably be using the 3-6 month clothes by one month! You'll see different brands also fit differently. I especially liked the kimono-style of closure rather than over-the-head sort of tops, as it's hard to stuff them into those. They’ll outgrow the clothes so fast it’s a shame, because it feels they don’t get much wear out of stuff. Much faster than it’s labeled. To give you an idea, Rohan was wearing many 2T sized things at one year, just to fit his belly. At 4 months, he was wearing 9-12 month clothing. For the first week or two, he actually had some preemie items he wore, but he would have been fine in newborn or 0-3 months. Things seem to be labeled much more naturally since he’s turned two, though.

You do need several changes of clothes on hand, as diapers do tend to leak, and you could change outfits up to 4 times in 24 hours. (Laundry became a daily chore for us with a baby – it’s not just their clothing but yours gets dirty faster with drool, spitup, and flyaway poop, as well as blankets, sheets, towels, changing pad covers, nursing pillow covers, etc.)

One friend recommended hanging up all the baby clothes, as you can easily assess the length and what you've got at a glance. They're so small they tend to be hard to sort through. I kept them in little baskets labeled by age/size, but they didn't always fit accordingly.

Baby Legs - I got a pair of these legwarmers, but they didn't prove very useful. They were tight at the top of the legs, and I just put comfy pants on Rohan instead.

Hats - We hardly ever put hats on Rohan. He was such a hot baby and seemed to prefer not to have them on. I know some like to keep a hat on all the time to prevent heat loss, and a lot of newborn outfits come with them, too.

Shoes - Shoes are just plain silly on an infant. They don't need them until they are walking (and even then soft-soled shoes are better).

- My friend loaned me her Boppy, and someone else loaned me a My Breast Friend. They were both very helpful, but I think it caused me to nurse Rohan in a position that helped contribute to his reflux. I would rest the cushion on the arms of the chair, so he ended up lying horizontally while nursing. I thought that's how it was supposed to work, but it would have been better if I made sure he was slanted with his bottom down more. They say the Boppy can also be used to prop the baby up when they start wanting to sit up, and I did use it for this a little. But we also had a Bebe Pod supportive chair from someone else that we used more. This stage only lasted a month or so, so I'm not sure whether I'd recommend buying one of these (maybe used?)

- I took a picture of my growing belly every month, and we snapped endless photos once Rohan was born. However, there are wonderfully talented photographers who offer packages to professionally capture your pregnancy and baby at different stages. I would love to do this if we had it all to do again.

- Get some soft, relaxing music. Babies love it, and you will, too.

- We started reading baby books to Rohan from the day he got home. This was particularly good for Sameer to bond with Rohan, as I had the nursing advantage. Rohan really seemed to enjoy it, and I'm sure it had a positive effect. (We started Your Baby Can Read at 4 months, though we couldn't tell if he was actually able to recognize the words until 12 months or so.)

For mom

Nursing bras - My breasts have changed so much through pregnancy, the first few months of nursing, the following two years, and now since weaning. You almost need to get different-fitting bras for each change. It makes a huge difference in how you look and feel to have a good bra, so do yourself a favor with this. There are some nice ones that don't show when you're wearing a nursing pad (which looks terrible in pictures later, by the way!) There's a great shop you should try on the second floor of the Oaks Plaza where Gator Cinemas is. (Don't be put off by all the wigs for cancer patients, they just have a lot of products specific to women's needs there.) My friend also said she never used nursing bras, just nursing tanks. I had another nifty thing, a tube you could wear around your midsection to keep it from getting cold when you were nursing. I didn't use it a lot, as I just didn't have the foresight to put it on when getting dressed each day. Remind me and I'll give it to you.

Nursing clothes - If I had known I'd be nursing 2 years, I might have invested in more nursing clothing (dresses and tops with strategic openings). However, after a year, I wasn't doing it much while out of the house, so it probably wouldn't have been necessary. However, for the first year, maybe... There are surprisingly fashionable options via catalogs and websites.

Nursing pads - I blew through boxes of these with major leaking. Ugh. I had to use some specialty cups the lactation consultant gave me at one point, too, but that spilled through sometimes, too. Later I found some silicone reusable options I really liked. They only last about 3 months per pair, though, and I think I lost them before that. I might try washable organic cotton ones next time.

Diaper bag – This goes with you everywhere you go, so it is great to have a nice one. You need all your own stuff to fit as well as the baby’s, so you don't have to carry a purse, too. Look for one that attaches to the stroller. I tried to use the free one the doctor’s office gives you, but that only lasted a week or so. Load it up with scented plastic bags for tossing dirty diapers, clothes for you and the baby, diapers, wipes, clothes for cleaning off drool, and a few bright toys. Most diaper bags also come with a padded diaper changing pad.

Nursing cover - I had a nice organic one I think from Weecycle. I used it probably a total of 10 times, but it was totally appreciated those 10 times. When baby wants to eat, you've gotta feed! And you don't want to have to go in some dirty public bathroom.

Breast pump – Just a simple hand pump from Medela was all I needed (to help relieve engorgement and do a bit of bottle feeding). Rohan didn’t take to bottles, so it went largely unused after 3 months. You might need a pump right away – in fact Sameer had to sterilize and assemble it the night we got home from the hospital. I couldn’t imagine expressing by hand at that point, though you get used to the milk situation more after a couple weeks. If you plan to breastfeed when you go back to work, you may benefit from a heavy-duty electric pump. Though maybe make sure you can return it in case something prevents you from breastfeeding (I hear they’re quire pricey). I had a bottle set from Medela, also, and I ended up using them to store baby food in the freezer once I started making it.

Local resources: (go in person, the websites just don't do them justice!)

The Little Shop - consignment clothing, toys, activities, nice place to hang and have a coffee, stroller fitness classes for mama.

Weecycle - consignment items (great for selling things when you're done with them) as well as new things like nursery furniture.

Hey Baby at Thornebrook Village - a smattering of baby-related things you won't find at big box retailers.

Miracles Maternity Boutique at Thornebrook Village - lots of fun baby and mommy things.

Other fun sites:

The Land of Nod


One Step Ahead


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