12 October, 2014

The aesthetically inclined aspiring minimalist's guide to baby gear

Dear long-time readers, I hope you're sticking with me and not thinking, this blog has jumped the shark. 

I recently revised this list for a pregnant friend (the lovely and artistic Lauren who sends me poems that then appear on this site) who raved about its usefulness, so I leapt to the conclusion that perhaps I have some readers who have new babies, are thinking about having a baby, or need to buy gifts for someone having a baby...and hopefully, for those of you, this will come in handy.

For most of my adult life, I lived in apartments around 1000 square feet, which were well-suited to a
Pre-baby apartment in Philadelphia
modern, fairly minimalist style. During that pre-child era, I also made one key observation, which was that I often saw parents pushing strollers weighted down with ??@#$% while their children clung fiercely to their chests.

That seemed really inefficient.

So when I was pregnant, I set out to determine, first, what were the most essential pieces of baby gear, and secondly, where to find baby gear that was sleek and modern. I started out following the blog of a Canadian (I think) mom who had relocated to a small British island (I know there aren't a ton of options, but I can't remember which, or find her blog) and had given away something like 80% of their belongings before moving.

She was intriguing but a little extreme.

Here's another great post on this subject: http://becomingpeculiar.com/a-note-to-expectant-mothers-and-a-minimalist-list-of-newborn-essentials/

In the process, I discovered that parents and children are unique: one person's "essential and sanity-saving" is another person's "superfluous crap pushed on us by our hyper-consumerist culture."

So with that grain of salt, here's what worked for me:

Wait, wait…

Two more general pieces of advice: My biggest regrets are that I succumbed to the dual temptations of (1) wanting everything neatly arranged in the nursery before my son was born, and (2) falling in love with specific colors, patterns and shiny new-ness, and not buying used or borrowing as much as I should have, especially for things that have a developmental lifespan of only a few months.

(More pictures and design ideas can be found on my Pinterest board too: 
http://www.pinterest.com/aecbrown/nursery-design-for-minimalists/


*TRANSPORTATION*
1. Full-size stroller
Thule Chariot
  • Age group - 0 (with car seat adapter for a jog stroller) or 3-4 months (without adapter for jog stroller) to 5+ years old 
  •  When to buy - if you're planning to do a lot of walking, before birth!
  • Specific brands I liked - I loved and got a ton of use out of the BOB Revolution but I have tried the Thule Chariot and like it a bit better in terms of center of gravity for running. It is more expensive but has the advantage of attaching to a bike, cross-country skis, etc. Other non-jog options that I really like if you don’t expect to run (I have friends regard running as sacred alone time) are the Bugaboo Donkey or Camaleon, Stokke Xplory and UPPAbaby Vista – I especially like the lightweight bassinets and the fact that you can flip the upright seat to face you or face out. The Xplory (I think) and possibly some others allow you to raise the seat up so you can push the stroller right up to a table and use it has a high chair.
  • Other comments - Most sell adapter that allow you to mount infant car seats (you have to know the type of stroller and car seat you plan to buy). You can’t actually run or hike with the car seat attached – it becomes really top heavy) but I still used it every day, sometimes for several hours a day, in our park until my son was three or four months old. 
2. Lightweight stroller
  • Age group - 4-6 months (decent head control and sitting with support) to 3-4 years 
  • When to buy - When you realize you want a break from wearing your sweaty but adorable baby while running errands or traveling; consider buying gently used
  • Specific brands I liked - We have a Chicco Liteway - it’s not the absolute lightest but I can collapse or open it with one hand (important) and it does recline which is a plus for naps in the airport. I would recommend against anything as minimal as an umbrella stroller because the handles tend to be lower than is ergonomically optimal – my mom used one during our trip to Hong Kong and it killed her back. Another option that I did not use but many people swear by is a Snap ‘n Go-type stroller frame to hold an infant car seat (often sold as “travel systems” with the infant seat included). I think they are also fairly inexpensive (and widely available at secondhand children’s stores) so it would be easy to use one for the first few months, then trade it for a lightweight travel stroller. 
  • Other comments - I actually didn’t use one of these until my son was almost 18 months old but if I’m being honest, probably by a year or so, I could have given myself a break on all the baby-wearing. I loved my carriers, but babies get hot and sweaty, and even though they are adorable sleeping on your chest, it also would have been nice to put that sleeping baby down in a stroller whilst traveling. Also, I frankly felt like a bit of a freak baby-wearing in London when everyone else was pushing £1000 prams. (A fluorescent green Ergo somehow looked chic in the Colorado sun.)
3. Infant car seat
My 3 week old in his Keyfit carseat,
attached to the BOB Revolution with an adapter;

we spent about 3 hours a day walking in the park
  • Age group - Birth to 30-35 pounds or when head is 2 inches below top of seat 
  • When to buy - Before birth
  • Specific brands I liked - I wasn’t impressed with the American selection and debated ordering one from Europe but ended up just settling for a Chicco Keyfit 30. Totally functional, very easy to use. However, I’d now probably go for the Nuna Pipa for the rigid LATCH and load leg features. Check out this post on new safety features: http://mbeans.com/spillingthebeans/baby/car-seats/an-intro-to-the-new-breed-of-infant-car-seats/ The Orbit Baby travel system looks pretty sweet too. 
  • Other comments - My son used his infant carrier for a surprisingly long time because he was light for his age and length. I continued to use it to travel until he became too tall (14-15 months old) long after moving to a convertible car seat.
4. Convertible car seat
  • Age group - 6 months – 4+ years (Foonf is rated to 55 pounds) 
  • When to buy - When s/he outgrows the infant car seat or can sit up 
  • Specific brands I liked - Clek Foonf. It was absolutely the best seat on the market when my son was turning one and switching out of his infant seat. It allows for a ton of leg room and rear-facing until 43 inches and 50 pounds (an average age of 4 years). It is also REALLY heavy – you would not want to take this stroller in the airport.
Riding in a Beco carrier in New Orleans, aged 10 weeks
5. Soft carrier
  • Age group - Birth to 2 years (but it does start to become a work-out) 
  • When to buy - Borrow a few different ones to try right after birth (Denver had workshops for this purpose) or early in your pregnancy (borrow a baby!), and then buy your favorite; look for a gently used one on eBay
  • Specific brands I liked - Moby or Baby K’tan for the first 8-12 weeks, Beco Gemini II from about 6-8 weeks on
  • Other comments - This requires its own post. At various times, I used both of those as well as a Beco Butterfly II, an Ergo Sport, and a Maya wrap. 
6. Backpack carrier
  • Age group - 4-6 months to 3-4 years (good head control and almost sitting to 55 pounds) 
  • When to buy - When you find the soft carrier isn’t comfortable for the kind of hiking you want to do with baby! 
  • Specific brands I liked - I have an Osprey Poco Child Carrier with a sun shade– but there are tons of options. I didn't buy the one with the sun shade built in and then had to buy it separately - it probably would have cost the same amount to buy the next model up in the series. REI is a good place to try a few out but the in-store selection is not huge. 

Napping in his Osprey Poco in
Frisco, Colorado, aged 16 months
*EATING*
1. Rocker/glider
My goofy 2 year old in his Nurseryworks rocker
  • Age group - Birth to school-age+ (we still have the rocking chair that my grandfather rocked my dad to sleep in) 
  • When to buy - Before birth
  • Specific brands I liked - I have a Nurseryworks rocker and love it – they make a ton of rocking chairs that look like plush, modern armchairs set on rockers. (I also really like the Monte Design Joya rocker.) Mine had wide, flat arms that could balance a laptop for working while nursing. However, most people I know have gliders with gliding ottomans, rather than rocking chairs. At least this is something that is easy to try out in a store. 
  • Comments - Both Nurseryworks and Monte Design make a whole range of beautiful furniture.
2. Bottles
  • Age group - 4-8 weeks to 1 year 
  • When to buy - When you’re ready to start transitioning before going back to work 
  • Specific brands I liked - The First Years’ Breastflow nipples and bottles are supposed to simulate the experience of breastfeeding with a double-layered nipple (downsides: more to clean and they currently only come with plastic bottles – no glass option). Almost all of my friends used them.
  • Other comments - One caveat – there are only two levels of flow for Breastflow nipples, because breast-fed babies are never supposed to progress to level 3 (the thought is that the speed of milk delivery then is beyond the human breast and they will no longer be satisfied with the time it takes to get milk out of the breast). That said, my son absolutely refused the level 1 nipples because my milk delivery was naturally faster than level 1. When we switched to level 2, he was happier. Truthfully, Finn never liked bottles and, if I had been staying home with him full-time, he never would have taken one at all. 
3. Breast pump
  • Age group - birth to 1 year 
  • When to buy - Now if you want to start pumping and storing milk but you may want to wait and see how your (your partner's) supply is
  • Specific brands I liked - I used a Medela Pump In Style Advanced (the backpack takes up less space that the city bag) but I’ve heard Hygeia is great. At work, I used the Medela Symphony provided by the hospital – I always had plenty of milk so I didn’t notice a huge difference between the hospital-grade and home pumps, but I have several friends who rented a hospital-grade pump for home use in order to increase their milk supply. 
  • Other comments - I also ended up buying a small hand-operated pump, the Medela Harmony, which was good for travel when I wasn’t expecting to do a lot of pumping (the Pump In Style takes up a lot of suitcase space) or to get the initial letdown of milk if you have oversupply issues. 
4. Breast pump accessories
  • Age group - birth to 1 year 
  • When to buy - after birth – most U.S. hospital will give you a bunch of stuff free
  • Pump-specific accessory kit – I think most hospitals provide these, or they come with the pump; some people like to have extras.
  • Breast milk storage bags – for freezing, can be labeled with date. I laid mine flat in plastic food storage containers until they were frozen and then dropped them into ziplock bags to save space.
  • Nipple gel pads – I used these in the first few weeks and liked them.
  • Lanolin nipple cream – I used cream only in the first few weeks only but know many people who used it until weaning. It makes great chapstick too.
  • Bra pads – I wore very padded nursing bras that I washed frequently, because I did not like the extra bulkiness.
  • Microwave sanitizer bags – I bought a few of these because our lactation rooms have microwave and they allow you to quickly rinse and then zap to sterilize your pump parts; however, my friend had a much better idea. She tosses all her recently using pump parts in the refrigerator with her milk to keep them from spoiling and reuses them throughout the day, washing just once at the end of the day (you can put most pump parts through the dishwasher, I believe, too). 
5. Nursing bras
  • Age group - birth to whenever you stop nursing!
  • When to buy - have some soft ones ready before birth (bring them to the hospital/birthing center); buy more as you go 
  • Specific brands I liked - I like Cake for a no-underwire option but mostly wore Le Mystère– I fully admit that I had four or five of Sexy Mama in each color. It's hard to find a great nursing bra!
  • Other comments - These were a pain to buy because very few were available in department stores to try on – I guessed, ordered from Bare Necessities and returned a lot. 
6. Nursing pillows
"Reading" a book in his boppy (with custom Orla Kiely cover), aged 3 months
  • Age group - birth to 3-6 months 
  • When to buy - before birth
  • Specific brands I liked - I started out with a Boppy (like most people) but then a friend recommended My Brest Friend. My Brest Friend is much firmer and has a belt to clip around your waist and a pocket to store things (tissues, cream, etc.). I used the My Brest Friend more in the beginning, especially if I was home alone, because it was hard to sit down, position the boppy, and then pick the baby up, without messing up the position of the boppy. The boppy is softer, which is nice, but I found I still needed another pillow tucked under one arm.
  • Other comments - Sometime between 3 and 6 months, my son and I mutually got strong enough that I stopped using a nursing pillow entirely. Although it’s technically not considered safe, the boppy makes a nice support pillow for baby (supervised, of course). 
7. Nursing covers
  • Age group - Birth to 6-12 months 
  • When to buy - At least one before birth
  • Specific brands I liked - I had a Bébé au Lait organic cover in a beautiful turquoise color and absolutely loved it, but I think a lot of brands are very similar. Most have a rigid boning-like material at the top edge of cover, which creates a space for you to look down and see your baby easily. I recently noticed nursing scarves in several shops and on Etsy, and it seems like a great option for a winter baby – it’s an infinity scarf that unwinds and stretches to make a nursing cover.
  • Other comments - Definitely a must-have in the beginning, but I gradually became more comfortable and very graceful (if I can say that about myself) at nursing publicly without them, although that generally requires wearing clothes that were easily to shift aside discreetly (e.g. in a dress, where I have to yank a large part of the top down, the cover was essential). I did not use them on planes, where I could turn discreetly toward the window. After a certain age, somewhere between 6 and 9 months maybe, it also seems sort of awkward and rude to hide your child under a blanket.
8. Sippy cups
  • Age group - 6 months to 3+ years 
  • When to buy - around 6 months to start cup exposure 
    Wondering where his anise cookie went,
    in his Phil&Ted MeToo, aged 9 months
  • Specific brands I liked - ZoLi BOTs are great around 7-8 months because they have a soft, weighted silicone straw (spill-proof too). 
9. High chair
  • Age group - 4-6 months to 2+ years (depending on the chair) 
  • When to buy - When your baby is starting to sit up with support 
  • Specific brands I liked - I started out with just a Phil&Ted MeToo that clipped to the table. Great space saver and great for restaurants that don’t provide high chairs (also, more comfortable too). The only problem was that it was a little too big for my son at 4 months – he was up to his shoulders in the chair. So I ended up getting a Stokke Tripp Trapp too, which I also love (except for the ridiculous price).
  • Other comments - About the Tripp Trapp: Very adjustable, easy to push up to the table, and can eventually become a regular chair. Unfortunately, you have to buy the baby set (the plastic seat that gives extra support for a baby who is only recently sitting) and the play tray separately. But I do really like high chairs that allow the baby to be a full member of the family dinner table and not just off to the side, eating off a plastic tray. 
10. Baby spoons and forks
The Twist family by Georg Jensen
  • Age group - 4-6 months to 2-4 years
  • When to buy - Around 4 months; when introducing solid foods
  • Specific brands I liked - I love the beautiful Baby Nambé feeding set because it's gorgeous and not plastic. Same for Georg Jensen's ALFREDO The Twist set. 
11. Baby plates/bowls
  • Age group - 4-6 months to around 2 years
  • When to buy - When introducing solids
  • Specific brands I liked - I am trying to decrease the amount of plastic in my family's life, so I love the Boon Wrap Protective Bowl Cover – it’s a colorful rubbery/silicone-type material that wraps around regular bowls, protective all the sides and edges from a drop and also suction-cupping them to the table. 

*SLEEPING*


Culla Belly co-sleeper attached to a bed very similar to mine
1. Co-sleeper
  • Age group - birth to 3-6 months (most of the co-sleeping devices and bassinets are not safe for a child who can sit up) 
  • When to buy - before birth
  • Specific brands I liked - The design of the Culla Belly co-sleeper is my favorite; the Bednest is a close second; the Arm’s Reach is more affordable but wouldn’t work with my bed because it has a wide wooden frame on all sides. I didn’t discover any of these until much later but did try (and didn’t like) the Summer Infant co-sleeper.
  • Comments - If you don’t plan to co-sleep, there are some gorgeous rocking bassinet options and Moses baskets (the Vagga cradle by Jonas Lindvall and the Monte Ninna Nanna). I also tried
    Vagga cradle by Jonas Lindvall
    the Hushamok Dream hammock, which is beautiful, but my son kept sliding down to the bottom in it. 
2. Crib
  • Age group - 3 months to 2-4 years 
  • When to buy - you'll probably want to buy it before birth, but you could easily wait until your child outgrows the bassinet/cosleeper
  • Specific brands I liked - We have a Leander Tulip convertible crib (two levels, plus 3 toddler bed options) and like it a lot. I also love the Spot on Square Roh crib (with the clear/acrylic sides). Stokke (a great brand) makes the Sleepi crib, which starts as a bassinet and expands. 2modern is a fun site for modern baby furniture. 
  • Other comments - If you get a standard size crib, the Pebble organic mattress by Nook Sleep Systems is worth admiring. In addition to Leander, Spot on Square and Stokke, other brands that make good-quality, modern cribs are Monte, Nurseryworks, Babyletto, bloom, Oeuf, and Ubabub.

3. Swaddles
Sliding to the bottom of the
Hushamok Dream
  • Age group - Birth until…? 
  • When to buy - Before birth 
  • Specific brands I liked - They are pricy but I (and everyone else) love the aden+anais swaddle blankets. I used them for everything…swaddling, stroller blankets, extra shade over the top of the stroller, burp cloth (they sell separate items specifically as burp cloths but the regular swaddlesare fine for this purpose too), and towels. They make an Easy Swaddle too now, but I had zero luck with any of the devices that are supposed to make swaddling easier or more secure (I tried the HALO SleepSack Swaddle, Summer Infant SwaddleMe, Miracle Blanket, and Woombie) but I do know people who like them.
  • Other comments - I also liked aden+anais bib/burb cloth combo (because it really wraps the baby’s whole upper body) and the muslin washcloths. Their sleep sacks looked cute but I never tried them. 

Swaddled, for the moment, in an aden+anais caterpillar swaddle from the mod about baby set

*PLAYING*

1. Swing
  • Age group - Birth to 3-6 months (the swings usually say something about sitting up and/or crawling – safety became an issue when my son started pulling up on the swing from the outside, around 6 months – earlier than I expected) 
  • When to buy - Pre-birth (see comments below), but I would borrow or buy used so you can easily swap it out for a different model if it isn’t working 
  • Specific brands I liked - I honestly tried five different full-sized swings – the sleek, ultra-modern MamaRoo (he hated it, too slow) that moves in many directions, the Graco Soothing Center (also not fast enough, moved in multiple directions), two traditional back-and-forth Graco swings, and a Fisher-Price one that could switch between back-and-forth and side-to-side (that was the one he liked and napped in for the nanny).
  • Other comments - There are also smaller portable models, including one that will attach a car seat, but they tend to operate at much slower speeds. 
2. Vibrating chair
  • Age group - 0-3+ months 
  • When to buy - before birth, so it’s ready whenever you need it – this is not something you want to have to run out for – or assemble - the night the colic kicks in; consider borrowing or buying used if aesthetics don’t matter to you 
  • Specific brands I liked - There are lots of cool options, but I found that many of the more aesthetically appealing ones (like the Doomoo or the Nuna Leaf) don’t offer the full array of soothing options (rock, bounce and vibrate). The bloom Coco Go is a new one that does all three and also fully reclines for sleeping.
    Coco Go
  • Other comments - That said, my son did not actually seem to like his and spent very little time in (as previously acknowledged, he was quite literally held until he learned to crawl). However, every other parent in the world thinks these are a godsend. I only wish. 
3. Play yard
  • Age group - birth (depending on which type you go with) to 12-18 months 
  • When to buy - I would wait and see…when you feel like you need one, get one
  • Specific brands I liked - I like the Nuna Sena Travel Cot. Almost everyone in the world – it seems – has a Graco Pack ‘n Play. Another option to consider is a freestanding gate enclosure (try Summer Infant or Dreambaby). I like this because they are easy to move and give you flexibility – you can corral baby in the kitchen with you while you cook, use it to block the fireplace or stairs, take it outside on a patch of lawn, or make a semicircle with the sofa on one side so you have easy access to baby.
  • Other comments - I had mixed feelings at first and didn’t think we needed one. Eventually, I got a standard Graco Pack ‘n Play and then got rid of it. I think it depends in part on how big your house is and how independent your baby is. A play yard can really crowd a small living/family room – it was better for me, in the end, to childproof well and let Finn have free run of the place. I did sometimes use it when we traveled, but more often, I just used the one provided by the hotel. Maybe twice, I dragged it into the bathroom while I showered – more often, I just took my son with me in the shower or waited until he was sleeping. The Graco Pack ‘n Play models come with two levels (like a crib) and bassinet and changing pad attachments. If you’ll be visiting a grandparent frequently, it might be helpful for them to have one of those. 
Hanging out under his Skip Hop Alphabet Zoo,
aged 2 months

4. Activity gym
  • Age group - 2-6 weeks to 6-9 months 
  • When to buy - first month or so 
  • Specific brands I liked - Skip Hop Alphabet Zoo or one of the others. Easy. 
  • Other comments - This was one of the very, very few toys I used before 3-4 months. 
5. Activity center
  • Age group - 4-5 months to 9-12 months 
  • When to buy - around 4-5 months, if you are feeling like you need something baby can do on her own for a little bit while you cook dinner or sign some notes
  • Specific brands I liked - Every one is just a little bit different – different dangling toys, different music, beeps, bells and whistles (literally), etc. Some spin, some rock, some bounce. My son's was Winnie-the-Pooh themed because it had the least offensive colors. I looked long and hard for a “blank” model – something that spun and bounced but to which I could attach his own (cherished, sometimes handmade) toys. The only thing I found was the KidCo Go Pod which is completely stationary (seems beside the point). My cousin had a Fisher-Price Superstar Step ‘n Play Piano, which my son really liked, and I have to admit, it’s kind of cool – instead of bouncing, the seat slides back and forth along a floor piano with four or five keys.
  • Other comments - Caveat about bouncing saucers and doorway jumpers: I’ve read mixed things about whether bouncing is good, developmentally, for their hips, and also read recommendations to limit time in an activity saucer to 30 minutes a day. Not exactly ideal for something that costs about $100 and takes up a good chunk of living space. I also had to get rid of ours around 8 months when Finn became more interested in pulling up and bouncing in from the outside than the inside (similar to the swing problem). 
6. Other toys
Grimm Brothers make the best blocks
  • Age group - 6 months to…? 
  • When to buy - whenever, but I got them around 9 months
  • Specific brands I liked - Grimm Brothers Big Box of Colorful Blocks (available on Amazon or from the Land of Nod). Ohmigosh, I am obsessed.
  • Other comments - I actually think that we would be happy if we had these blocks and no other toys – they are expensive but it was hands-down the best toy purchase I’ve ever met. They are beautiful, sturdy and really, really fun. When my son was a baby, I would build castles after he went to sleep, for him to knock down in the morning.
7. Electronic devices
  • Age group - 6-12 months (hear me out!!) to…? 
  • When to buy - 6-12 months, if you don’t already have an iPad 
  • Specific brands I liked - I have to admit, I have found an iPad to be a necessity, especially for travel and dining out, and I much prefer having one iPad that I keep updating with age-appropriate material, rather multiple separate devices (like a Leapfrog that Finn would outgrow every 6 months and a portable DVD player). When mine finally broke and repair was more than a new one, we got an iPad Mini, since it was primarily for his use. The Mini fits little hands much better. 
  • Other comments - There are great apps starting around age 1 – before that, I had Bubbles and Peekaboo Barn, but my son wasn’t super-interested. However, there are also terrific storybook apps (like Sandra Boynton’s books, Dr. Seuss, Anna Dewdney's Llama Llama series, and Skippyjon Jones) and I really liked that I could travel with just a couple of physical books for him to hold, hug and chew but still have a dozen options for bedtime reading. I also used the Mr. Moonlight app for over a year to help him learn when to get up in the morning (not before Mr. Sun is up!) and there are other apps to help log breastfeeding and things like that if you need them. I also download episodes of Thomas the Tank Engine directly to the iPad and I let my son watch a YouTube station called Super Simple Songs (nursery rhymes set to music) and watch clips of Curious George in Spanish.

*CHANGING*
(unfortunately, you can't avoid it)

1. Diapers
gDiapers
  • Age group - birth to 2-3+ years
  • When to buy - whenever – when you figure out how often you go through these, use Amazon’s Subscribe & Save option  
  • Specific brands I liked - I used Honest Company for a long time but recently learned that Bambo Nature is a much more eco-friendly option, so we switched. I also tried gDiapers (cloth diaper with plastic liner and flushable insert) and love the idea but wouldn’t recommend them for newborns (maybe around 3-6 months). 
2. Wipes
  • Age group - birth to 3+ years 
  • When to buy - whenever – when you figure out how often you go through these, use Amazon’s Subscribe & Save option
  • Specific brands I liked - I like BumBoosa bamboo wipes for babies and Kandoo flushable wipes for toddlers.
3. Diaper cream
  • Age group - birth to 2-3+ years 
  • When to buy - before birth
  • Specific brands I liked - I love Burt’s Bees diaper ointment. I tried Boudreaux’s first, since my continuity clinic preceptor swore by it, but it irritated my fingertips and made them chapped. I also hated the Honest Company diaper cream.
  • Other comments - Buy a small tube and see what works best. Also buy some baby oil (good for mild cradle cap) and Aquaphor (for dry skin/early eczema).
4. Changing pad or table
  • Age group - Birth to 1-3 years 
  • When to buy - Consider waiting and deciding if you really want a changing table; start with just a changing pad and/or mat 
  • Specific brands I liked - Jonathan Adler for Skip Hop makes cute fold-up changing mats that also fit a few diapers and a pack of wipes – another plus is that you can skip the diaper bag and just toss it in your purse or under the stroller. For aesthetics, the Pebble ChangePad is just cool. Several cribs and even more dressers have an optional changing tray that can be placed on top too.
  • Other comments - I initially had a big changing pad with a cute cover on top of my dresser plus a fold-up changing mat in the living room for quick changes in the carpet while we were playing. Eventually, I added a changing table in my son's room (unclear why) but got rid of it a few months later – it always made me super-anxious that he would roll off. A lot of second-time parents tell me that they now forgo anything and just change their kids wherever. I think I might try just the fold-up changing mat next time and see what happens.

*BATHING*

1. Baby tub
  • Age group - birth to 3-6 months 
  • When to buy - before or soon after birth; consider borrowing 
  • Specific brands I liked - Several companies make tubs that will fit in the sink, lining and cushioning it. I like Blooming Bath best.
  • Other comments - Once my son was really moving and sitting, it was hard to keep him from bumping his head on the faucet with sink baths. I never liked the baby tubs that sit in the bathtub, so for awhile, I just got in the tub with him and held him, and then he was sitting up by himself. I did get a pebbled bath mat and a protective cover for the faucet. 
2. Nail trimming device
  • Age group - birth to several years old
  • When to buy - before birth
  • Specific brands I liked - ZoLi Baby Buzz is an electric file with a rotating disk - it comes with four disks in different levels of firmness (and different pastel colors) for babies up to a year (I think). It is a great idea but requires patience to use. I love The First Years American Red Cross baby nail clippers - I use one for myself too. Remember to get baby mittens too, to keep him or her from scratching his face early on. 

*STAYING SAFE*

1. Baby monitor
  • Age group - birth to 3+ years 
  • When to buy - before birth
  • Specific brands I liked - If you will have a nanny, I’d suggest the Baby Wifi, which you can easily access from laptops, iPhones, iPads, etc. (both video and sound) – also fun for grandparents to check in. Monitoring is free, although the device is pricy. Downside is that the model I have couldn’t be remotely rotated and required online IT help to set up. Otherwise, there are several good options for video/sound, but for the most part, I didn’t use a monitor (co-sleeping and in < 1000 square feet).
  • Other comments - I also tried an Angelcare Movement & Sound monitor, for pure paranoia (although models without rigid cord covers were implicated in strangulation deaths) – I hear there are now better brands and models for detecting motion from breathing. Speaking from my own experience, it’s something you’ll want only in the very beginning. A good video monitor is really plenty.
2. Childproofing devices: I would highly recommend getting and installing these now, just because it’s hard to do once the baby is around and would rather you be playing than screwing and drilling (or worse, wants to HELP screw and drill).
  • Safety 1st magnetic locking system for child-accessible cabinets (and any higher cabinet containing medication, chemicals, etc.) for when the child invariably learns to climb.
  • Baby gates – in fairness, you can wait for some evidence of impending crawling to install these – we just put a Dreambaby gate with a door at the top of the stairs. Summer Infant and Safety 1st also make good gates. I like the Dreambaby gate because you can click the door into a position where it will stay open; the rest of the time, it swings shut automatically. I also wouldn’t hesitate to get a few different gates, to block different areas as needed. 
  • Temperature sensitive LED faucet lights – shines a red light through the water when it’s hot; useful reminder for yourself now and great for toddlers later.
  • Nonslip bath/shower liner and protective cover for the bath faucet (as mentioned above) – I like Skip Hop’s stuff.
  • Wedge locks or similar devices, depending on your window type, to prevent windows from being opened more than a few inches – we just got Window Warden for the double-hung windows that we like to be able to keep open a crack.
  • Outlet plug covers – they have made increasingly complex models after concerns that children could pop out the little plug covers and choke (I’m sure they could – but I struggle to remove them without breaking fingernails), and your options now include a swivel outlet cover and swing-shut cover. When my parents renovated, they replaced the old outlets with the newer kind that don’t allow things to be stuck inside them – they are only a few dollars each at Lowe’s, so that’s an option too. 
  • Protective covers for outlets and power strips that have things plugged in most of them - Safety 1st makes these; they are really hard to open and fully encase the outlet or power strip so your child can’t unplug things like the television and then suck on the power cord.
  • Anti-tip TV and furniture straps – Safety 1st, Summer Infant, The First Years and KidCo all make devices for this purpose. Most of them recommend locating the wall studs, which is kind of a pain (and definitely something to tackle now), but I just discovered the website Meghan’s Hope and am now very paranoid about this. (Coincidentally, Finn’s dresser broke last week, so now his clothes are all stored in built-in baskets in his closet…no more nasty baby-death-trap furniture to worry about.)
  • Plastic dial covers for the stove – these snap over the controls on your stove (different products for different types) and the top has to be popped open to turn the dial. My mom is currently refusing to use these. 
  • Oven front lock and stove top shield – Try Safety 1st. I have to admit that the stove top shield, which prevents your child from grabbing a pot handle, is a huge pain to use. Fortunately, it slides in and out pretty easily, so you can put it in place while a sauce is simmering and take it out again if you’re actively cooking. 
  • Protective covering for sharp edges, like coffee table corners - These are hideously ugly. Rather than use them, I rearranged my living room so the coffee table (aka, work of art) was tucked between the sofa and the bookshelves, more like a side table – it also freed up open space for playing. I also considered getting a round coffee table. 
  • Door knob covers – These are useful for rooms you definitely don’t want your child going into; they aren’t really safe (in my opinion) for keeping your child “in.” For instance, I used them on the outside bathroom doors in my old apartment; now we have one on my mom’s bedroom door, so that when my son is napping, he can’t access it, but isn’t confined to his room and can get up to go potty, etc. (Before I started trusting him to actually nap, I used a gate on his bedroom door, so he could easily call for me but not get out.) They make different ones for French door handles, etc.
  • Cordless Roman shades - you can get devices to keep cords on window coverings out of children's reach (children of all ages, from very young infants to toddlers have been strangled) but just going cordless is the best bet. 
And finally here are some things I…

...never even tried:
  • Diaper genie: Most people say this is the most unnecessary. Plus, in all honesty, breast-fed babies’ diapers really don’t smell bad until they start solids. And I almost always dumped the poop into the toilet (from the diaper) for environmental reasons. 
  • Wipe warmer: Again, my son never cared. Maybe for a baby who truly seems sensitive to a room-temp wipe. 
...had and didn’t use/got rid of:
  • Bottle warmer: My son never seemed to care if his milk was a little cool and it was a pain to use. I put the milk in the refrigerator the night before to thaw and then our nanny warmed it in warm water on the stove. 
  • Beaba Babycook baby food maker: It was easier just to purée whatever I was eating (in the mini food processor or Vitamix) that to separate steam and blend his food. Also, I know have several friends doing “baby-led weaning” which basically means no purees at all; they eat what they can eat, when they can eat it. Also, they sell a variety of different kinds of tiny plastic Tupperware containers for freezing your homemade baby food – I was trying to minimize plastic in my home and also found that using silicone ice cube trays was easier and cheaper. 
  • Diaper bag: I briefly had a yellow Petunia Picklebottom (the name is cringe-inducing but the bag was cute) diaper bag that clipped perfectly to the stroller. However, the sheer weight of it seemed to increase the risk of the stroller tipping and I didn’t like having to switch my wallet, keys, sunglasses, etc. from my purse to diaper bag and back again, so after a few months, I ditched it. I also found that it encouraged me to lug around more stuff than Finn actually needed and that I then tended to grab my purse and the diaper bag, which
    Orla Kiely diaper bag
    meant I was carrying two bags…you get the picture. Diaper bags seem high on the list of things second-time parents say they don’t use anymore; however, if you must, the Kate Spade secret sales that pop up on Facebook are a good place to get a reasonably priced stylish one. Orla Kiely also makes sadly more expensive ones that I love and that double well as travel bags. 
  • Bumbo: My son basically spent the first seven months of his life being held by someone actively multitasking. Consequently – we theorize – he developed good head control and torso control fairly early. So he spent little if any time in the Bumbo. Plus there was the whole recall thing. 
...personally liked but probably not essential:
  • Belly Bandit: Abdominal stabilizer that claims to help flatten your stomach and get abdominal muscles back. I put it on right after giving birth and wore it pretty frequently for the first four to six weeks. I really liked it. I thought it worked, but moreover, it actually did help my back my improving my posture and I think it gave me a lot more confidence to get out of the house in the very beginning when most people look like they’re six or seven months pregnant instead of recently delivered. 
  • Circo corner bath toy storage: TOO MANY BATH TOYS! At least this controls the chaos. 
  • A rotational toy storage system of some sort: Because if you have family and friends, you will quickly have too much stuff, and it only seems to get worse. Currently, we have a Land of Nod cube bookcase with six Circo cubes of toys in the family room; another handful of cubes are on the top shelf of the closet and get rotated in periodically. This preserves my sanity and also means that toys are genuinely played with, rather than dumped out of their bins and scattered under the sofa. 
  • Breathable Baby crib liner: My son rolled early and quickly got his arms and legs stuck through the bars of his crib (which he was already not sleeping in). These are mesh bumpers that theoretically shouldn’t pose a SIDS risk (although the official recommendation is still against any type of bumper). I found these the same way I found lots of useful baby stuff – I had an idea of what would solve my baby-related problem, I assumed that I was probably not the first person to think of it, and I Googled until I found what I had been imagining.

One final piece of safety advice… 

Be wary of new "must-have" products, especially those intended to soothe babies…during my son's first year of life, the Nap Nanny, Bumbo, PeaPod, and Angelcare monitor were all recalled due to the fatal accidents involving young children. Most, if not all, baby products come with a postcard you can mail in to be notified of recalls - send it in, but stay on top of baby safety news too. Accidents are often reported in the media before the company agrees to or initiates a recall.

Good luck! I'll review our favorite baby/toddler books in another post!