Monday, March 8, 2010 Parents' Gear

I'm overjoyed that FIVE women I know are expecting this year. Half way through my second mat leave, and about to embark on the juggle that is life as the working mom of two (yikes), I am always glad to learn of new recruits. Strength in numbers, right?

One of my moms-to-be wrote asking if I could narrow the landscape of baby gear down to a top five of must-have items. Ask five parents and you'll probably get five different answers (and over time, needs change) but in my experience, these five items* (plus a crib!) were mission-critical in the first six to twelve months:

Soothing and comfortable for the baby, complete with removable amusements, this fantastic invention gives mothers their hands back. I found that my kids were more independent as a result of having been put down as early as possible, as often as possible. It's not to say I didn't cuddle them a lot, or that I left them unattended, but being able to put them down so I could cook, straighten up, type with both hands, fold laundry, etc. was clutch. The lifespan of a Bumbo seat is short, and it's not for every kid, but it's worth an honourable mention -- if nothing else, babies sure look cute in a Bumbo!

We're out and about a lot. Having something to bring along that securely accommodates your baby, and includes a tray for feeding or playing is fantastic. We have also used one of these as our every day high chair, instead of a stand-alone high chair. Traditional high chairs often have huge footprints. Using one of our own dining/kitchen chairs and a strap-on baby seat made more sense in our smaller home, and didn't make its own decor statement.

The Circle of Neglect...The Isolator...The Office...most parents have fond euphemistic nicknames for these beloved items. Like the Bouncy Chair and the High Chair, these fantastic inventions give your child a place to be outside of your arms. And they amuse AND exercise them too. Couldn't live without these! One or the other is fine. My younger child is a jumper so she was better suited to the Jumperoo, whereas my older one is more studious and placid. He liked the stand-around-and-look/play functionality of the Exersaucer.

Baby wearing is a very personal matter...some of the moms I know couldn't live without their sling or carrier. Keeping baby close while keeping hands free is a great state of being for a mom or dad! There is a wide variety of options in this category and any new parent would be smart to visit a specialty retailer who carries a wide variety of options, to test drive a few. In Toronto, visit Diaper-Eez, Crayons or Moms to Be and More.

5. Good quality lightweight umbrella stroller
I love my Maclaren! It's one of the more expensive items I bought and I have no regrets. Its best feature is that it reclines, making it useful from an earlier age and allowing baby/toddler to sleep when necessary. It's also a proper adult height so I don't have to hunch over when driving it (not true of cheap and cheerful models). It folds down to almost nothing, travels well and handles great. 12 pounds of freedom, this thing. Bottom line with strollers, though, is that one size does not fit all. I'm yet to find a single stroller that meets all parents' needs. Visiting one of the retailers listed above, or Macklem's in Toronto, will help you demystify the gamut of options.

Top 5 things I thought I needed but rarely if ever used:

1. Change table/mattress
We just change diapers where we are...beds, floors, sofas, etc. A good fold-up change mat is a good thing, for comfort and cleanliness at home or on the go.

2. Pack n' Play
Unless you plan to travel a lot, I don't think this is necessary...easily borrowed for occasional use (or even rented in some vacation destinations!). Buying one second-hand would be a good approach if you feel you need one. Craigslist is your friend.

3. Diaper Genie
We use the green bin and haven't had a need for a dedicated waste system for diapers.

4. Baby Bathtub
We use a Thermobaby Daphne bath seat in our regular tub, keeping the baby in place without the need for a mini tub within the tub...we used the kitchen sink to bathe the babes when they were wee!

5. Baby Monitor
This depends entirely on the size and layout of your home. I found that I was able to hear my baby wherever I was in the house and amplifying her every murmur during the night would only have disturbed my sleep. In bigger/multi-level homes, this could be a must have but it wasn't important for us. This said, a video monitor might seem frivolous but now that I'm onto the cry-it-out sleep training, it would be great to be able to see that the baby is safe in her crib before I go in to check her blankets, etc.

Borrow (or barter!) before you buy...
Whenever possible, see if you can borrow the big items (swings, exersaucers) or buy them second hand. Their lifespan is so short that it seems wasteful and unnecessary to splurge for these brand new.

A word about car seats...
Even if you don't have a car, knowing you can get in one with your baby is very important. An infant bucket seat doubles as a cradle when out in a restaurant, etc. too. My babies did very well sleeping in these things when we were here and there. A snap and go stroller was a genius complement to this kind of car seat. Professional installation of your car seat, or a tutorial of how to get it right (see retailers and your local Police station) is very's not as easy as it may seem to get it right.

Baby software...
I've concentrated on gear/hardware here. A few soft items I couldn't do without include as many baby facecloths as you can store, pacifiers, a nice fold-up playmat, some interactive soft toys (love Lamaze brand), swaddle blankets and the amazing Grobag.

*I've included lots of links to certain retailers and brands but it pays to shop around! Please consider your options.

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