I am completely thrilled to have so many friends expecting their first babies this year! With news of every new baby my desire to give new Mom advice grows exponentially. Pregnant with Adelaide, I got tons and tons of unsolicited "expert" advice about pregnancy and child rearing. It's just natural for parents to want to share their experiences. Justin and I are no different. We were having dinner with an expectant couple last Friday and the two of us couldn't shut up about our girls. Story after story. Most of the punch lines are universally comical but sometimes he and I are really the only ones who could appreciate the memory. Um, 'cause they're OUR kids.
No two babies are the same and no two parents are the same so it's safe to say that all our friends' children will be nothing like our own; and still we like to give advice. Every Mom is the expert of her own children!
This year I am going to become the Aunt to my third little niece! (My sister-in-law is an awesome mom and definitely doesn't need baby advice from me as it is her third child-she could help me write this blog post). My dearest and oldest friend is expecting her first patiently awaited baby this summer along with three other friends and one cousin. That's 6 babies! I'm sure there will be more. I can barely contain myself with all the excitement...and advice.
I've been drafting a baby gear post in my head for the past few months. In no way am I claiming to be an expert on this topic but after two kids of my own and having to plan ahead and pack for overseas living with infants and toddlers I think I have some good information to share on some stuff we've used with our kids. 'Cause I am the expert of my own two children. I won't be the expert on your kids but heck, you could learn a thing or two about something you never thought you might need.
On a nursery (in general). I realize now that my girls are not babies any longer how ridiculous it is to spend a ton of money on an elaborate coordinating nursery. I advocate buying gender neutral bedding and decor if you plan on having more than one child even if you know what sex you are having the first time around. My baby bedding has a lot of sentimental value since both girls used it and if I ever have a son (no pressure Justin) some day he'll use the same stuff. It's cheaper and whenever I can recycle or reuse something I like to. The nursery for us has become a good workspace for dressing and changing the baby. It's a sleeping oasis for the baby. That's it. All of our playtime happens elsewhere. The baby is really only a "baby" until maybe 2 when they move to a toddler bed so try to keep in mind what kind of child's room you'd like to create when choosing baby room stuff. You'll be surprised how fast they move out of the baby phase. When in doubt skip the curtains and the matching throw blanket. I don't know anyone who feels like those items were good investments.
On a chair. You will spend a lot of time holding and sleeping with your newborn. If you breastfeed it's crucial to have a comfortable chair for this purpose. With all the cute rocking recliner type chairs now marketed for nurseries, it's hard not to choose on aesthetics alone. Please don't do this. Choose one that is high backed, soft and wide with space for you and baby and Boppy. Keep in mind your husband's size as well for when he takes a turn sleeping upright with a sick baby. An ottoman is pretty necessary too. You may have grand plans of being very strict about not co-sleeping in bed but inevitably there are nights when the baby is sick or teething and will not sleep unless he/she is upright on your chest (or your newborn could be like Arabella and not sleep away from me for the first two weeks and then not sleep through the night until 15 months). You need a good chair. Period.
On a nightlight. Getting up in the middle of the night to change diapers, nurse or rock the baby is a given. We found early on that turning on the lights in our bedroom or in the nursery was not helpful in trying the keep the baby in a sleepy state. We became experts at changing diapers in the dark. Diapers are fine by twilight, but for a beginning nurser I liked to have a tabletop tap-on nightlight. In the beginning, positioning and latching is everything and I needed to see what was going on. Even when I switched to pumping and giving the milk from a bottle, there is always a moment of disorientation when waking in the middle of the night that a nightlight can help with. Get a rechargeable one. They have some great LED nightlights now that you can tap on and off and take where ever. We use this one. We only charge it every few weeks now. We bring this nightlight with us when we travel too. So much better than having to find a good outlet to plug in a traditional bulb nightlight.
On white noise. I hope all my friends have babies who sleep long and hard and never wake easily from the noises around them. We were not so lucky. A white noise machine was the best purchase I ever made with Arabella (along with a book. See below). Both girls are light sleepers and the soothing hum of a fan, humidifier, or white noise machine helps avoid them waking from exterior noises. We live in a noisy third world city so having a white noise machine in Manila is a must. Bella can sleep through all our air con maintenance crews in the house. We love this little SleepMate white noise machine. It's so small we put it in our suitcase. It's a huge help in hotel rooms and we don't stay anywhere overnight without it. We use this on the loudest setting for Arabella. It's not at all too loud. I have a friend who ran a hairdryer on the loudest most annoying setting for her infant to sleep. She probably would have found the SleepMate too quiet but it's just right for us. Note: fans are good for this purpose, as are humidifiers that hum but my experience is that you can't really travel with either of those. Fans get dusty and humidifiers get moldy with everyday use.
On humidifiers. I don't use a humidifier for white noise, but our little Vick's vaporizer has been so helpful when the girls are sick. We use it every time one of them has sinus congestion or a cough. Since you can't give babies decongestant medications the humidifier is the equivalent of sitting in a hot shower with the baby. Only with a humidifier everyone can be asleep in bed. Genius machine.
On pacifiers. Who knows if your baby will like a pacifier. One of ours is a finger sucker the other LIVES FOR her "nana". Chances are your baby will become addicted to whatever brand the hospital gives you after the birth. If the baby doesn't like that one it doesn't hurt to try other brands of pacifiers just to give your poor nipples a break in those first few months. (I know some people preach about nipple confusion but seriously both my girls had no troubles doing both right away. I actually requested a pacifier at the hospital because Arabella would have been perfectly happy suckling away at me 24/7. Great for my milk supply, not so great for my nipples.) Anyway, every baby and nursing Mom is different. Like freakin snowflakes.
On creams and other gooey stuff. Without boring you I'll just say we use a lot of aquaphor, Lansinoh lanolin, and Mylicon drops. Not a bad idea to just have around. Bring the Lansinoh to the hospital with you. You won't regret it.
On breast feeding stuff. I can't say enough good things about Medela's Pump In Style Advanced backpack. This little mechanical miracle allowed me to pump full time at the office for Addie and full time at home for Bella. I spent many wee early morning hours with this thing hooked up to me and while it was tedious at the time I don't regret giving my girls 13 months of breast milk. There are a few things you need if you are planning to pump. Get a portable cooler to hold your milk in the refrigerator at your office so creepy men don't start making jokes about accidentally using your breast milk in their coffee. Sadly, this is likely. I also recommend getting a Fridge-to-go. This little cooler is small enough to fit in the diaper bag and keeps breast milk nice and cold for at least a couple hours. Invest in a good supply of breast milk freezer storage bags so you can freeze the breast milk the baby doesn't drink. It's a great way to stock up milk. If you every plan on living in a country where you could be on parasite meds that cause you to pump and dump for a week it's awesome to have this big frozen supply of milk. I also recommend not buying a large supply of bottles until you determine which your baby likes. Just buy a few brands to try out. The ease of switching from the boob to bottle is definitely determined by the baby (Bella couldn't wait to get to the bottle but some/most babies would rather linger on the breast). You can try to help things along by having multiple styles and flows of nipples. We really liked the Dr. Brown's wide necked bottles (my sister deemed these the Nalgene of baby bottles). The special valve system really helped Bella since she was gassy. These bottles lived up to all the hype.
Also, don't discount buying a used breast pump. I purchased my backpack pump in style from Craigslist. It was used only once or twice by a new mom who ended up not needing it. So many women use the expensive pump for a few months and then don't need it. Buying used it a great option. I got it half price and then purchased new tubing and breast shields at the lactation center at the hospital. It saved a ton of money!
On baby carriers. We started with a Baby Bijorn and really liked it for the first 8 months for both girls. They both loved being carried this way. The classic Bijorn is not good for heavy babies and I found it hard on my back. I bought the ERGObaby carrier when Bella was one because she still loved to be carried and strollers are hard to use in SE Asia. When comparing the two the ERGO is far and above in design and comfort. I can still carry Bella in the ERGO now and the weight is distributed so nicely it's not uncomfortable.
On strollers. I wish I would have done strollers a little differently. It's really hard to know what you are going to need at different stages in the child's life. There are tons of awesome looking SUV type strollers that are so enticing to buy it's like choosing between a Honda Civic over a Range Rover. Americans can't help themselves. Hind sight is 20/20. After the fact, I understand that keeping it small and simple is my top priority (especially as we are travelers) For newborns, I recommend purchasing a car seat frame to push the baby in. I'm not sure why you'd need anything more. Once the baby is big enough you can move to a stroller. Keep it compact. The single best purchase we made was a simple umbrella stroller that has gotten more use than any of the other strollers we've purchased. We love this one. It is perfection for traveling, navigating a big city or shopping. The biggest waste of money I spent was on the Sit-N-Stand double stroller when Bella was born. We've used this thing only a few times. It was a savior when traveling with the girls alone across the world but I can't say that justified the purchase. Using this in Manila is almost laughable. We push this on the streets on Sundays when the city is empty but other than that it's worthless. We choose to bring the Chicco stroller and the ERGObaby carrier instead. My only other piece of advice would be to look for gently used strollers on Cragislist. You will go through a few until you find your style. Don't waste your money on full price strollers (unless it's the Chicco. Then I say go for it. It was the best $80 we spent on R&R in 2009).
On diaper bags. This is a category that the fashion side of me conflicts with my practical mom side. We used this diaper bag for 3 years (and it's still in good shape for any other kids we decide to have). It's durable and gender neutral so Justin carried it without feeling funny. I love the diaper bags that you can wipe off easily. Now that Bella is older and I no longer have to carry around breast milk or tons of extra diapers and clothing, I use a nice big Coach bag for all my stuff. After carrying around that L.L. Bean black thing for years I treated myself to my first real Coach bag (outlet mall-hello!). Design Mom likes these ones and I have to agree that the bottom compartment/drawer is so convenient. Whatever you do, choose something practical and big! You will be shocked at how much stuff you will carry around with you. Oh, and a nice long strap that can hang on the stroller handles is a must too.
On feeding supplies. I think it's ridiculous that companies are marketing "baby food makers" to Moms. Skip all the baby food processing units and buy yourself a Cuisinart food processor. It's powerful and you can use it for a million other things than baby food.If you don't want to spend a cent you can mash the food with a fork or a mortal and pestle. I would recommend buying good baby food freezer storage. I received this one as a gift and loved it because the rubber is soft and the cubes pop out easily.
On parenting books. The one book I compel each new mother to read is Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child. On a number of occasions this has been my baby shower gift to friends. This book is extremely informative for parents of a child who is a tough sleeper. Very informative for parents who have amazing sleeping babies as well. It's a reference I go back to time and time again. "Sleep begets sleep" is my favorite line from this book. It helped us move from what we thought was chollic or early teething to a happier well rested baby. Actually, I would say it has helped us in the baby, toddler, and child phases for sleeping. Everything from instructing brand new parents to get in habit of putting newborns down for a nap one hour after waking in the morning to how to deal with a scared 3 year old at bedtime. My all time favorite parenting book. I still thank my friend Jenny for lending this to me when I was at the verge of a nervous breakdown when Bella was 3 months old. She was simply overtired (so was I).
I'm sure lots of my mom friends will have their own opinions on the stuff they've loved and the stuff the shouldn't have wasted their money or time on. I'm just giving you my two cents.