One of the first things you’ll discover as a new parent is that this stage of life comes with many trappings: pacifiers, bottles, breast pumps, strollers, car seats, bouncers, cribs, swings, infant carriers, play yards, and baby gates — not to mention diapers, diapers, and more diapers. Step into any local baby product store or visit any online baby shop and you’re apt to be overwhelmed. Indeed, baby products are a multibillion-dollar industry, with hundreds of products introduced each year. Does your baby really need all that “stuff”? The answer is no. Somethings are necessary; others, as cute as they may be, are purely optional.
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Organized in a handy A-to-Z format, you can find here a wide range of essential baby (and parent) gears. You will also find a reference section, a list of recent product recalls, a guide to the most commonly prescribed medications for babies, and a tons and tons of tips and smart money moves for new parents.
The baby products marketplace is always changing, of course. New models are frequently introduced and old ones discontinued. We’ll try to make sure the products listed throughout here will be available at the time being and that the prices reflect what you’ll pay.
- Breast Pump
- Car Seats
- Changing Table
- Crib Alternative
- Food Maker
- High Chair
- Nursing Bra
- Play Yard
- Rocking Chair
- Soft Baby Carrier
Several key trends are influencing the kinds of baby products you’ll see in stores, in catalogs, and on the web right now. Here’s a quick peek:
More functional designs
Studying the preferences of parents, many manufacturers have decided that functionality is essential to sales success. And they’re right. For the most part, the best products are not only safe, they’re durable, user-friendly, and tailored to today’s new-parent lifestyle. Consider strollers, for instance. Now that parents tote their children practically everywhere, there are strollers for all occasions, tastes, and budgets — from $20 umbrella strollers to models that steer more like a Porsche than a pram and are priced upward of $700. Many of the higher-ticket strollers have comfort features such as cup holders for both baby and parent, and outdoorsy or high-tech looks with rugged, fat tires, and suspension frames that supposedly allow your child to ride in bump-free bliss.
High chairs have also gotten in on the functionality act. Many have a height-adjustable seat as well as trays that can be removed and put back with one hand. Some recline so that baby can enjoy a post-meal snooze without having to be moved. Others are designed to grow with your baby, converting through the months and years from an infant high chair to a toddler chair to a computer chair for a teen. It may seem strange to picture your baby using the same chair more than a decade later, but manufacturers say it can happen. You’ll also find bassinets that convert to a crib, then to a toddler bed, then to a junior bed, and finally to two kids’chair.
More stylish choices
Functionality aside, manufacturers have also upped the style ante. From cutesy to sophisticated, you’ll find products inspired by popular children’s characters and television programs as well as chic lines that nod more to parents, such as designer diaper carriers that can pose as a handbag or briefcase and strollers whose look mimics SUVs, inviting a phenomenon known as “stroller envy”.
What kind of “style statement” do you want to make? What “look” can you live with for several months or even years? Or does any of that even matter to you? These aesthetic questions are something to consider before and during your shopping trips because they can play a big role in the price of many products.
Greater attention to safety
Safety is a major concern among product manufacturers today, and safer designs continue to evolve. Products marketed specifically for babies are generally safe, partly because of government safety regulations. Agencies involved in ensuring safe products include:
1. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (www.cpsc.gov) — It regulates baby equipment and oversees recalls. It enforces general rules that apply to most product categories as well as mandatory standards for a few specific categories, such as cribs and clothing.
2. The US Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (www.nhtsas.gov) — It oversees mandatory safety standards related to the crash performance of car seats.
3. The US Food and Drug Administration (www.fda.gov) — It is responsible for the safety of baby formula and most baby food.
4. The US Department of Agriculture (www.usda.gov) — They monitor baby food containing meat.
Products are approved for safety or certified to meet certain requirements through a system of standards, some mandated by federal regulation, some followed voluntarily by manufacturers. Federal agencies, industry groups, and consumer organizations work to refine those standards on a regular basis.
A new baby can take a surprisingly big bite out of your budget. Here are some ways to save:
Take advantage of freebies and coupons
If you don’t mind getting your name on mailing lists, call the toll-free customer service lines or register at the websites of formula, baby food, and disposable diaper companies for their parenting newsletters and new-parent programs, including coupons and free samples. Even if you don’t register, you may get them anyway. Somehow, when you have a new baby, word gets out.
Consider a discount club membership
At places like Costco or Sam’s Club, you’ll reap decent discounts on everyday items you’ll soon be using a lot of such as disposable diapers, baby wipes, and laundry detergent.
Buy as baby grows
Aside from the basics listed earlier in this chapter, hold off on buying baby products until you’re sure you’ll need a particular item. The wait-and-see approach can save you money.
Prices can vary from one shopping venue to another, sometimes dramatically. Megastores and discount chains have the lowest prices, although not always the largest section. For personal attention and more informed sales help, smaller stores are a better bet, although keep in mind that salespeople may have an incentive to push their most expensive wares. And beware of the emotional pull of lines like “but it’s for your baby” or “it’s not every day that you have a baby”. Unless you’re on guard, it’s easy to be persuaded to unwittingly spend, spend, spend.
Watch for sales
Big stores routinely put out newspaper inserts with savings of up to 20% or more for branded items.
Web shopping can be a convenient way to find the information you need about baby products and services and to make purchases – all without having to pack up your baby and the rest of your family and troop from store to store. Many baby and parent websites have online stores that offer good savings, especially at sale time, and periodically throw in free shipping.
Watch the shipping costs
When you prefer to shop online, watch out for the shipping costs. They can sometimes negate any savings – and then some.
Consider pre-loved items
Baby clothes, bedding, and toys can sometimes be found in thrift stores, online, and at yard sales at a small fraction of their original retail prices. However, some items such as car seats should always be purchased new to make sure they comply with the latest safety requirements and have no hidden flaws.
Ask about return policies
A store’s return policies can make the difference between being a satisfied customer and finding yourself stuck with something you don’t want or can’t use. So be sure to inquire. It’s not unusual for a store to allow returns only 30 days after a purchase, which won’t help if you’re shopping well before your baby arrives.
Manufacturers and retailers will often replace returned goods that have clear design or manufacturing defects. Hold on to warranty information so you can refer to it if there’s a problem. You may also find a warranty being used as a sales too. Some less expensive but adequately firm baby mattresses, for example, offer no warranties, while top-of-the-line models may have a “lifetime guarantee”. That may be protection you don’t need to pay for, considering that the typical use of a baby mattress is about two years per baby.
Here’s a checklist of what you should have on hand before your baby arrives. Many of these products have their own dedicate page.
- Car seat
Beds and Linens
- Crib mattress
- Bassinet or Cradle (if you don’t want to put your baby in a crib right away)
- 2 to 3 fitted crib sheets
- 4 or more waffle-weave cotton receiving blankets (for swaddling baby)
- 2 mattress pads
- 1 or 2 waterproof liners (for crib or bassinet)
- Diapers (either disposable or cloth)
- Diaper pail (optional with disposables)
- Diaper bag
- 4 sleeping outfits or onesies (one-piece sleepers, preferably with attached feet)
- 6 side-snap t-shirts
- 4 to 6 one-piece undershirts (that snap around the crotch)
- A small baby cap (although the hospital will probably give you one)
- 6 pairs of socks or booties
- 2 to 3 soft, comfortable daytime outfits (get only a few items in newborn size. Then, go for clothing in the 6-month size – your baby will grow into it quickly. But don’t buy baby sleepwear that’s too big; it’s a fire hazard)
- Cotton sweater or light jacket
- Brimmed hat
- Snowsuit or heavy bunting
- Heavy stroller blanket
- Warm knit hat
If you are planning to breastfeed:
- 2 or 3 nursing bras
- A box of washable or disposable breast pad
- Breast pump (if you expect to use one)
- 4 small baby bottles (with newborn nipples for expressed breast milk)
- Bottle drying tree
- Bottle brush
- Insulated bottle holder for diaper bag (the hospital may give you one)
- 3 packs of cloth diapers (or burp cloths)
If you are planning to bottlefeed:
- Six 4- to 5-ounce bottles
- A few extra nipples and rings
- Dishwasher basket (if you use a dishwasher)
- 3 soft hooded towels
- 2 packs of baby washcloths
- Baby body wash that doubles as shampoo
- Pair of blunt-tip scissors (or baby-sized nail clippers)
- Zinc-oxide-based diaper rash ointment
- Infant bathtub
- Soft brush and comb
- Mild laundry detergent
Medicine Chest Essentials
- A pain-and-fever reducer (recommended by your baby’s doctor, such as Infant’s Tylenol)
- Cotton pads/swabs
- Nasal aspirator
- Digital thermometer
- Rubbing alcohol
- Petroleum jelly
Keeping Baby Happy
Extras: Nice But Optional
- Changing table
- A rocker or glider
- Soft carrier
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