Baby Stuff: What Do You Need?

by Caitlyn Stace

NurseryPretty much everything about being pregnant is intimidating the first time out, but nothing is quite so intimidating, in quite the same way, as the baby stuff. Strollers, car seats, slings, carriers, bottles, nipples, blankets, bears, lotions, and, dare we mention rectal thermometers!

The rounder a newly-pregnant woman gets, the more she starts observing the Stuff other mothers have, and the seemingly impossible tasks she performs with her stuff.

Just what exactly do new mothers really need? And here's the mercenary question we all asked when we saw the price tags -- how much can we expect other people to buy for us?

The Baby Registry

When first pregnant, the very idea of a baby registry seems like the worst sort of commercialized greed. It's one thing for a wedding when you're choosing china and linens. It's something else to register for bottles, lotions and -- oh the gluttony! -- car seats and travel systems.

But once you're in the baby scene, you can learn to love the baby registry. They're indispensable. In today's culture, product choice reflects personal parenting choices. For instance, a mother who is committed to nursing will pick a bottle system that will present the least risk to her nursing efforts while still providing a backup. This is the bottle she wants to use, and she probably only wants a few of them. Buying her bottles of other varieties is a waste. If her registry shows only four of one type of bottle, and all have been purchased, then bottles are not something this new mother needs.

National baby registries are also great in this disparate culture where it is possible that some of your closest family and friends don't live near enough to you to attend a shower or to come and see you in person. This allows them to pick something they know you would like and to have the shop's help in shipping it to you.

Registry Etiquette

There are two modes of thinking regarding the shower invitations. One compromise is to not include the information in the invitation, but to be sure to mention it on the phone when guests RSVP'd. If you know your friends and family won't mind, no harm in mentioning where you're registered. It really depends on your situation.

The most important thing to remember about your baby registry is that it's a wish list whose purpose is to help out people who want to help you. No one is obligated to buy you anything, and certainly not off the registry.

Frequently, people ignore the registry all together and select things for you that they themselves liked. Gifts of books loved by others' children, gizmos and gadgets one mother found indispensable, or the umpteenth teddy bear are all gifts of love and generosity to your child and should be appreciated. Remember to write your thank you notes!

What to Register For and Receive

It's fun and intensely overwhelming to wander around the baby superstore planning the perfect, dreamy nursery and assembling the right arsenal of baby gear to get you through any situation. But most mothers are on a budget, and it's smart to plan out what you really do need and how to maximize your dollar.

Certain gizmos like car seats are worth investing some real money into. Other gizmos like wipes-warmers, changing tables, fancy bassinets are not. Here is a list of basic items you need, and tips on how to maximize your dollars:

A Place for Baby to Sleep

One of the things that makes it hard to plan for a baby is that so much of your gear depends on personal parenting choices. For instance not getting a crib and borrowing a cradle from a family member. This can be the smart choice when you don't know how the sleeping arrangements will turn out.

Keep your options open, borrow what gear you can, and don't spend money on fancy items you might not use. Most babies do need a crib at some point, so that's a good investment. A new crib mattress is necessary and should be firm and fitted exactly to the crib you're purchasing.

Another great thing to have is a bassinet. They are tall, free-standing baby-holders. They have mattresses and linens and usually some kind of visor that keeps sun and noise out. Bassinets are convenient to keep your tiny tot at arm's reach in the night, and also moving sleeping infants from room to room without waking them. Cribs and bassinets are good items to get second-hand from friends or at yard sales and consignment shops.

Items like Moses baskets, fancy wooden cradles and elaborate co-sleepers are lovely, but can be expensive and impractical. Moses baskets aren't supposed to be carried with a baby inside of them. Co-sleepers are expensive and can't be moved, and wooden cradles are expensive version of the very practical bassinet.

A Car Seat

Car seats are not items to skimp on. Unless you know the previous owner very well, car seats are not good items to get second-hand. Manufacturers advise that any car seat that has been in any kind of accident, no matter how minor, must be replaced. Car seats are carefully constructed to protect their precious cargo, and any compromise to the structure could limit its effectiveness.

There's a difference in the quality of car seats. Every expectant mother should spend time reading helpful consumer sites and magazines. Consumer Reports test crashes car seats and through their research it's easy to see that there are differences. New brands and varieties of car seats come out every year, so it's wise to check any time you are in the market for a car seat, to see which kind is currently at the top of the market. It seems like the most expensive one is the "best" but not always. Often two seats are identical in safety ratings but very different in price.

When it comes to infants, there are two kinds of car seat options: the infant carrier and the convertible seat.

The infant carrier is the most versatile. The seat by itself can be strapped, rear-facing, into the back seat of a car. It also comes with a base that straps into the family car and can be left there, allowing you to just drop the carrier into the base in one smooth motion. Press the button, and you can pull the carrier right out.

Infant carriers are also designed to attach to stroller bases. In this way, a sleeping baby can be strapped into a carrier, taken to the grocery store, strolled through the shopping mall or out to dinner without ever being disrupted.

Infant carriers, for all their convenience, are only good for about ten months. Once the baby has outgrown the carrier, it is time to go to a more expensive convertible seat.

This is a larger, more expensive seat but typically lasts until the child is 3 or 4 years old. It begins as a rear-facing infant seat, and morphs into a front-facing toddler seat and eventually into a full-grown child seat.

Wraps, Slings, and Packs

In the good old days, people just carried babies around in their arms all day. You'll do some of that. It's good for muscle tone -- mothers have the best upper arms! Eventually, you want your arms free and a convenient and safe way of transporting the little one.

If you can do it, it's wise to have both a body-carrier (like a Baby Bjorn or a Snuggli) and a stroller base for your infant carrier.

The chest packs are marvelous for many reasons. First, they allow a fair amount of mobility to the parent. You can do basic household tasks while a fussy baby sits close to you and feels comfort. Wearing your baby is a good way to soothe the baby, keep him or her right in with the family activity, while also providing security and comfort. Wearing your baby on walks helps burn calories and build muscle tone after pregnancy and is a fun way to interact with your baby outside.

Under no circumstances, however, can you ever wear your baby in a moving vehicle. Babies must be secured in car seats. For this reason, the car seat stroller base is an indispensable tool for modern mothers.

All major infant carrier manufacturers sell their seats as part of a "travel system." These systems incorporate the infant carrier seat with a large stroller. The carrier seat clips into the stroller rear-facing. When the baby outgrows the infant seat, it is removed and the toddler rides in the regular stroller seat. They're sold as a cost-effective long-term solution for moving around with a baby.

Most travel system strollers are quite large and unwieldy. At the early stage with the infant carrier on board, they are extremely cumbersome. We've heard from mothers that these large strollers, in addition to being nearly impossible to maneuver in stores, are also relatively fragile. Many don't last more than one child.

An alternative to the full sized travel system is the stroller base. They fold to nearly flat and are very light. The disadvantage to this choice is that you'll have to buy a separate stroller when your baby outgrows the infant carrier. However, many moms found the travel systems so unwieldy, they bought new strollers anyway. Being freed from buying a stroller as part of a travel system gives you more options.

The Layette

It's wise to resist the urge to buy "outfits" at this stage of the game. Babies spit up, drool, and wet themselves a lot so the best thing to have on hand is lots of onesies for summer babies and toasty pajamas for winter babies. Newborn infants must have their heads covered outside in all but the warmest summer months (when they should stay out of the sun, entirely). Have plenty of cozy stretchy hats on hand, too. Many moms prefer babies have their feet covered, indoors and out, so get lots of warm stretchy socks.

Medicines, Diapers, and Care Items

Any health problems encountered in the first few months of life means an immediate call to the doctor. You should not dispense any medications to your child without the explicit direction to do so by your health practitioner. However, to spare you midnight runs to the 24-hour pharmacy across town, here is a list of basic care needs you want to have on hand for your baby:

  • Several packages of diapers in newborn and infant sizes
  • Several giant packages of wipes
  • A stash of small wash clothes and a plastic dish for water for sponge baths on the changing table
  • A baby bath for later baths in the sink or tub
  • Diaper rash creams
  • Infant ibuprofen and acetaminophen (Tylenol and Motrin)
  • Anti-gas drops
  • Nasal aspirator (babies can't blow their noses so the aspirator helps clear congested nasal passages)
  • Rubbing alcohol and cotton balls to clean the belly button stump (and to help sterilize clippers, tweezers and nasal aspirators)
  • A grooming kit with soft hair brush, comb, tweezers and infant nail clippers
  • A rectal thermometer. Fancy pacifier thermometers and under-arm patches, in-the-ear thermometers and forehead strips don't do the job. The most reliable way to take a temperature is rectally. Have your health practitioner show you how to do this
  • Hand soap and anti-bacterial wash for the bathroom for folks to wash their hands before touching the newborn. Hand wash in the diaper bag for the road

Good luck on your parenting adventure! Remember that no one starts out an expert but with preparation and help, you'll be one in no time!