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:
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.
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.
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.