If your friends with new babies live far away, and you cannot help them in person, consider sending a housecleaning service or gift certificate for a restaurant. "One time I bought my sister-in-law three hours of a babysitter and a gift certificate for a massage," says Murphy-McCarthy, who would have been pleased to receive a similar gift. "Someone gave us a certificate to go out to a restaurant," remembers Faherty enthusiastically. "That was my favorite gift."
Not sure what to buy for a new baby or how to help a new family? Try one of our favorite ideas:
Personalize: New parents who have schemed, agonized, rejoiced, and sometimes argued over their new baby's name LOVE to see that name on things. A pair of feetie pajamas embroidered with the new baby's name or a personalized scrap box for Baby's hospital bracelet and other early keepsakes become that much more meaningful. Later, when the baby is older, she will share her parents' fascination for her name. "A baby's name holds a special meaning for him," explains child psychiatrist Nora Schwartz-Martin, who lives in Amherst, Mass. "Having [their] name on childhood belongings helps children develop an independent sense of self and strong self-esteem."
Baby Basket: Consider putting your gifts in a basket. Nursing mothers, who are voracious eaters, can re-use the basket to put fruit and nut snacks next to a favorite nursing station; infant clothes, extra diapers, and a small package of wipes can be kept in a basket in a different room for a quick change. Baskets are also invaluable for housing stuffed animals and other toys. As babies get older and amass more toys, the need for baskets or other toy storage devices grows apace. "Instead of flowers," says Frank Faherty, whose family sends their friends with new babies baskets of fruits and nuts, "it makes more sense to send a basket with useful stuff in it like coffee and tea...so when people are coming to visit the baby you have some food to offer them."
Bring Food: The hardest adjustment new parents have to make is how to manage everyday life while responding to their new baby's needs-just going to the bathroom, never mind taking a shower or preparing dinner, seems daunting. But sleep-deprived and disheveled, new parents need to eat. One of the very best things you can do is to bring over a meal with your baby gift; or even make the food a gift in itself. "Food just made everything easier," remembers Stephen Schrems of Easthampton, Mass. Schrems works as Ani Difranco's sound engineer and had to be on the road some after his daughter, Lillian, was born. "You didn't have to think about what to prepare, or what you had to go shop for." Homemade or take-out, a bag of fresh groceries or a case of easy-to-prepare organic mac and cheese, the food you bring be greatly appreciated.
Newborn Bookworms: Experts say it is never too early to begin reading to children. Consider buying simple books that have brightly colored illustrations. Newborns see contrasts most easily so books with contrasting colors or black and white pictures are a good idea. Also consider books of poetry or nursery rhymes that babies will enjoy throughout their childhood. Newborns love the sound of their parents' voices and rhymes help children acquire language.
Homemade Happiness: Consider making something yourself. A handmade outfit, hand-knit sweater, booties, or baby blanket carries a special meaning. When you make something by hand you give the baby a part of yourself. Laurie Olsen of Berkeley, California, buys different fabrics, each with its own meaning, for the baby quilts she sews for her nieces and nephews. She sews a new quilt for every new baby, making each baby quilt part of an on-going family tradition.