I remember the first time I set foot in a Babies“R”Us. I was only a few months pregnant, and I had been looking forward to the day I could wave that scanner gun thingy at all the cool stuff that I wanted for my son. My husband and I had been waiting to register until we knew baby’s sex. Within a couple days of spotting the beans on the ultrasound, we decided it was time.
I had imagined that creating our registry would resemble a shopping spree. I thought it would be totally…awesome. Unfortunately, it totally…well…wasn’t. The store was like a giant warehouse full of products we had no idea if we needed. What was a Diaper Genie, and why was it better than a trash can? Did baby really need his own tub and laundry detergent?
When we found something we knew he would need, we were overwhelmed with options. How do we choose among so many styles of strollers, shapes of bottles, or types of pacifiers? We left the store with our heads full of questions and not one item on our registry.
For the next few months, I started gathering info from all the moms I knew. I called the girlfriends I grew up with; I approached women in my classes at the gym; and I talked to my coworkers. Finally, I spent hours online researching various products. And, lo and behold, I was able to complete my registry and do some shopping before Jacob was born. Much of what we got worked; a few things didn’t. Some of what we bought or had bought for us simply wasn’t necessary. I’ve gone through a similar process with every buying decision over the past year since my son’s birth. My intention with today’s post is to save other mamas at least some of the trouble.
Recently, I asked the readers of this blog to share the strategies and products that made their lives easier during baby’s first year. Thanks again to all of you who contributed. In my last post, I included strategies–things moms can do for their babies and themselves during the first year. Today, we’ll look at products–things moms can buy (or have bought for us). Just like last time, I organized everyone’s thoughts, added in some of my own, and included a few anecdotes straight from the mouths (or emails) of moms. And, again, I want to preface the list with a reminder that different things work for different babies and different moms. In fact, you will see there are even a few contradictions within the list itself.
Here’s what real mamas suggest you get your hands on…
Think 0 to 3 months. Tell everyone you know NOT to buy you a bunch of newborn outfits. My son weighed in at a whopping eight pounds, five ounces at birth. Newborn clothes go up to eight pounds. That meant many of the adorable little outfits people bought were never worn (by him—I did give away some of them). Although it’s possible you’ll have a preemie on your hands, the average baby weighs somewhere around seven and a half pounds. If you’re counting on the odds, you pretty much will have no use for newborn clothes. Go for the next size up: 0 to 3 months.
You’ll need lots. I mentioned this in my last post—my child was always spewing at one end or the other. He spit up all day long and had several leaky diapers most days of the week. This translated into going through ten or more outfits on a bad day. And, Lord knows I didn’t have time to do a bunch of laundry. Have clothes washed and ready to go well before your due date so when you arrive home with your precious package, doing laundry can wait.
Keep it simple. I had received many cute outfits—overalls, button-down shirts with jeans, and socks and shoes to match. None of that stuff got worn…well, more than once, at least. For the first month or so, when you’re busy enough trying to get a handle on more important things, I say to go for the one-piece outfits. In the summer, the short-sleeve onesies are great. For the rest of the year, the long-sleeve sleepers with the feet and the built-in hand mittens are perfect—lighter cotton fabric works for spring, and thicker or lined fabrics are better for the cooler months.
Bibs with plastic lining. In addition to being the king of spit up, my son had an uncanny ability to produce buckets of drool each day, which soaked through his clothes in minutes. The cloth bibs we received as gifts only delayed the problem slightly before the drool soaked through to his clothing underneath and left a rash on his skin. The bibs that worked best were fabric with a layer of plastic underneath.
Don’t forget mittens. I was due in April. At my shower, I received newborn mittens and thought it was a joke. Why would my little guy need mittens in the middle of spring? (I know, I know—laugh if you must, but I hadn’t been around many newborns.) Well, I learned quickly. Somehow my soft and cuddly baby had razor sharp talons that grew at unbelievable rates and that always ended up leaving tiny red scratches on one of us. The mittens are GREAT for protecting baby and you from falling victim to his claws.
Zutano booties. I had the good fortune of being handed down a few things from a fellow mom just before Jacob’s birth. When she gave me these fuzzy booties with buttons, she said, “Really, we found these are the only ones that will stay on.” She was right. We tried lots of socks to no avail. The booties never failed.
BPA-free bottles. You’ll want Level 1 nipples to start (and nothing higher if you are breastfeeding—you don’t want baby getting milk from the bottle faster than it comes from your boob.)
Thick burp cloths. Although most of the burp cloths out there are super thin, a few moms agreed that burp cloths that soak up a lot of liquid are much more practical. All babies spit up a little. Some babies, like my son, spit up 10 to 20 times a day. A heavy-duty fabric is the only way to go when trying to catch the puddle as it hits your shoulder.
Boppy pillow. After my c-section, my entire abdomen was sore for about six months…so sore I couldn’t hold baby against my body. Until Jacob was several months old, I would sit down, position the Boppy pillow around my waist and over the arms of the rocking chair, and place him on top. That way, his entire body weight was on the pillow instead of on me. He nursed and napped this way without me wincing in pain. It works for bottle-feeding too:
“During feeding, my Boppy pillow saved my back….[it’s also great] for support when babies start to sit.”
Cheerios. These are often one of babies’ first finger foods—they’re easy for tiny fingers to grip and for tiny teeth and gums to chew, as they soften quickly.
“I’ve heard moms call them ‘baby valium,’ and it can be true in restaurants or in the high chair…sometimes [my son] throws them on the floor, so they become ‘Floorios’ if he eats them before Mommy cleans them up!”
Freeze-dried fruit and yogurt melts. Even picky babies like these. My son is all about freeze-dried apples and bananas. Just like Cheerios, they’re easy to grasp and soften up when they hit baby’s tongue. They’re great for travel too and often come in portable containers.
Yogurt. I’ve mentioned before that my son is a picky eater. In fact, there’s not one baby food he likes…unless it is mixed with yogurt. When mixed with yogurt, he does not discriminate between carrots, peas, green beans, squash, or any other puree that he’ll reject by itself. I can do 50/50, and he’s still kicking and squealing for the stuff. Who knew it was all in the mixer?
For Keeping Baby Satisfied, Occupied, and Safe
The Happiest Baby on the Block (by Dr. Harvey Karp) on book or video. A few moms mentioned this. One of my best friends gave me the VHS tape while I was pregnant (yes, I still have a VCR). It was so, incredibly helpful. The video was only about 30 minutes long, and out of all the hours upon hours of time I spent reading baby books and websites, it provided the simplest, most practical advice that I actually used.
Pacifier. Although this is a no-brainer for some moms, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to offer one to my son. When Jacob was about a month old and breastfeeding was going well, I thought I would give it a whirl in the middle of a major crying fit. It shut him up like magic. Unfortunately, since the day I decided to use it and even still, I must say Jacob depends on it for sleep. Still, we save the binky for naps, nighttime, and public emergencies when he’s super cranky. It still works like a charm to soothe him.
Pack ‘N’ Play. There’s really no need to buy expensive baby cribs. These are durable, portable, and cost much less. We keep ours in the middle of the kitchen with a bunch of toys inside. It’s perfect for keeping Jacob safe and somewhat occupied when I need to do the dishes, prepare a meal, or just eat. (Although, I admit, these days, my son cries in there mostly, unless I’m facing him and actively amusing him in some way.)
Bouncer/jumper. This is one thing that actually worked for Jacob (although it was for a short spell, and I had to be within 5 feet of him.) Still, it meant I could get a few things done, as long as I was in close proximity. He loved bouncing along with me when I did my step-aerobics videos. He would watch my feet and bounce to the music.
Thick foam mats. Play mats are safe and cushiony. The best are about an inch or an inch and a half thick, because babies fall way more than you expect (or than you will think is okay!). Jacob’s favorite pastime when he first learned to sit was to fling himself into a backbend and bonk his head on the floor. Then, as he learned to stand, he fell on his head quite a bit before realizing that falling on his bottom was a better plan. Although you learn pretty quickly about just how durable babies are, the foam mats can ease some anxiety.
Baby-proofing products. Outlet covers, latches for drawers and cabinets, and gates for stairs are some of the necessities once baby is crawling and walking.
Rocking chair. I mentioned using my rocking chair in combination with my Boppy pillow. The rhythmic motion also works to soothe baby to sleep.
Good swaddling blankets. Most babies, especially newborns, like to be wrapped up tight. Swaddling is one of the five “s”s of the Happiest Baby on the Block video mentioned above.
“We swaddled [our daughter] until she was nearly six months old, and it really helped her sleep. We used receiving blankets at first, but she was able to wiggle out of a regular swaddle within a few weeks. Next, we used the miracle blanket for a few months. When she outgrew that, we devised our own two-blanket technique that functioned pretty much like the Miracle Blanket. Whenever we would find her unswaddled, we’d just adjust our technique to keep her in. In fact, other moms would tell me that they couldn’t swaddle their babies because they would get out of the swaddle and I would think to myself ‘clearly, they aren’t trying hard enough!’”
Sleep sacks. A lot of pediatricians warn against the use of loose blankets. Once baby is too old for the swaddle (usually once he/she can flip over), sleep sacks are great for keeping him or her warm without the risk of suffocation.
For Tidying Up Baby and Baby’s World
Baby nail file and/or clippers. For reasons I mentioned earlier, you’ll need to keep a constant eye on baby’s fingers and toes. Some moms are all about the tiny clippers made just for babies—if you use those, then wait until baby is sound asleep, clip the corner of the nail, and peel the rest away. Baby nail files work if you are afraid you will clip more than the nail.
A gentle baby soap. Our favorite is a Vanilla-Tangerine Organic soap (http://www.naturesbabyorganics.com/organic_shampoo.html). As I mentioned, Jacob spit up so much those first few months that he smelled like some kind of fancy, stinky cheese within a couple of hours of his bath. His neck was a permanent hideout for remnants of dried breast milk that formed into balls resembling cottage cheese. Ugh. This soap made him smell like the push-up pops I used to get from the ice cream truck as a kid.
Natural house-cleaning products. I was surprised to learn that babies mostly do not discriminate about what they stick into their mouths. I remember one mom watching me wash my Jacob’s pacifier and saying, “For the first few months, you’ll do everything you can to wash things off before he puts them in his mouth. Then, when he begins to crawl, he’ll start licking the floor, and you’ll just give up.” It’s true. I feel like the least I could do is steer clear of harsh chemicals.
All Free Clear Detergent. This is a detergent that I’ve been using for years because my husband, stepson, and I all have sensitive skin. It has worked equally well for Jacob. It’s free of dyes and perfumes, is gentle on our skin, and it actually works! Plus, it’s inexpensive and available at most stores.
For Going Places
Grab ‘n’ go bag (or diaper bag). It’s pretty straight- forward that moms should have some sort of diaper/travel bag. More than one mom suggested the Diaper Dude bag—which is practical for both parents to carry. I also got a lot of suggestions for what should be inside: toys, books, diapers, wipes, Desitin or Balmex for diaper-rash prevention and treatment, Eucerin for dry skin (pediatrician-recommended and hypo-allergenic), extra clothes for both you and your little one, cereal or freeze-dried fruit, a first-aid kit, and baby hand and face wipes (I like http://www.babyganics.com/index.php?route=product/product&product_id=86.)
Stroller/jogger. Nearly every day of my maternity leave I took at least one walk with Jacob in the stroller. To this day, as soon as the weather is nice, I strap him in the jogger and go for a walk or run. It’s the getting out of the house that’s key, I think. Even when he’s crying, it’s out in the open air instead of echoing off the walls. Priceless.
Carrier. Different ones got different votes. For me personally, the suggestions I received didn’t work. With only the best of intentions, many people recommended we get an Ergo or a Baby Bjorn. I can’t imagine they could possibly have been nursing moms. For the first half year of his life, anything that reminded my son of ma’s milk made him cry until he got a sip. This meant he could absolutely never face my breasts unless he was about to eat. The carrier that worked best for me was the Moby because he could face outward in it. Plus, it distributed his weight evenly. My husband loved the Infantino Flip (though this one hurt my shoulders if I had it on for more than an hour or so.) Each was under $40! Here’s another opinion:
“I made the mistake of asking for a Baby Bjorn as a gift. My son hated it! I later learned that it’s not very good for boys, because the whole contraption holds up your baby boy by one point, right under…his wee-wee. I’ve collected many other carriers, and the best ones (I did an informal poll with my mommy friends) are the regular sling and the Ergo carrier or Boba.”
Lansinoh Lanolin and Soothies Gel Pads. Sore nipples, be gone.
Spanx. Some moms bounce back to their pre-pregnancy bodies in no time. I wasn’t so lucky. It took me about a year to get rid of my belly. In the meantime, to fit into my clothes and especially my spandex aerobics instructor gear, I was all about undergarments that sucked me in. I had several “shapers” and wore them under almost all my clothes for about 11 months.
Video monitor. There’s something very comforting about being able to see your baby even when you know he or she is resting peacefully. I mentioned in my last post that my son goes to bed hours before my husband and I do. He sleeps upstairs, and we’re downstairs, with the monitor next to us. We watch his chest moving up and down to ensure he’s breathing (yes, we’re a little paranoid). Our monitor is portable so we can even clip it on as we go about our business throughout the house.
Gym with a nursery. Although this isn’t exactly a product, it’s something you certainly pay for. I know there’s no need for me to say much more about exercise as my saving grace, as I write about it all the time. But, one more thing—being able to get a break from my munchkin and bring my blood from boiling to baseline with a good workout…yes, salvation!
Fenugreek supplements. This one is exclusively for the breastfeeding moms. It’s a safe way to stimulate milk supply that is often used when moms return to work and have to pump (which isn’t as efficient as baby’s mouth).
“I had a noticeable decrease in milk supply when I returned to work (probably due to the transition from nursing to pumping during the day), and taking fenugreek nearly doubled my pumping output. [My daughter] is almost a year old, and I’m still breastfeeding. I seriously doubt we would have made it this far without the fenugreek.”
Nutrition bars. This isn’t too new of a thing for me. I’ve always been all about nutrition bars—they’re quick, and they feel sinful even though they’re not quite as bad as eating the triple dip ice cream sundae I’m craving. As I’m even more in a hurry as a mom, I make sure to have a few Luna, Lara, Pure, and other bars in my purse, diaper bag, and desk at work.
A plan for childcare. Again, this isn’t exactly a product, but it’s something many of us put a good amount of money toward, so I thought it fit. If you plan to work post-baby, get recommendations from friends, coworkers, and family well before baby arrives. Some day care centers have ridiculous waiting lists—like years. Also, have at least one good sitter who you can call when you need a break. If you have no family around (like me!), then have a few sitters handy. I even use them for doctor appointments or to go to the gym when the nursery is closed and my husband’s not around. I’ve found you may have to pay a little more for someone who is reliable and pays careful attention to the things that are important to you, but the peace of mind is worth every penny.
That’s what we got for products. Hope this helps some of the soon-to-be and new mamas out there! Please send your comments, critiques, and additions so we have an even better list. Happy mommy-ing!