By Tammy DiDomenico
Rebecca Walch is standing in the middle of her garage, and she is not happy. Sure, she has a comfortable house and more than enough yard for her growing family to run and play on for many summers to come. But the garage … the garage has become impossible to navigate. It’s not the family van or her husband’s truck that’s taking up all the room—it’s the mountains of baby stuff. You name it, she’s got it: toys, strollers, an old bassinet, a couple of high chairs, boxes of clothes, and more toys. All of it is for one person: her daughter Emily, age 1 year.
“This is all from my sister-in law,” explains Walch, a 39-year-old Kirkville resident. “She just gave this stuff to me and I have no idea if I really need any of it.”
Walch’s dilemma is common. Her sister-in law thought she was being helpful (and thrifty) by delivering all her used baby goodies during her last visit. Add to that all the wonderful things Walch received at her baby shower and the piles of stuff her mom “just had to pick up” and you have one heck of a clutter problem.
Walch couldn’t bear to risk insulting her well-meaning family members and eager friends by refusing their gifts. But with a young child, and a part-time job, she has found little time to sort through all those hidden treasures in her garage.
“Honestly, the only thing I really used (this year) was the bouncy seat, formula, lots of pacifiers and A LOT of diapers,” she says.
And there you have it, folks—the bare necessities.
For those about to enter the parenting ranks, it’s tempting to overprepare and overspend. Retailers are well aware of this, and they are all too happy to supply new parents with everything they need for every possibility.
“With your first baby, you want everything—and you want everything new,” says Susan Marier, a Baldwinsville mother of Natalie, 3, and Nathan, 15 months. “I know I did. But there are a lot of things you can borrow or get secondhand.”
An unscientific survey of local mothers yielded the advice that anything that can be disinfected or hosed down is a good candidate for a secondhand purchase. Borrow from friends or search local garage sales.
“I would get the larger items secondhand if possible,” Marier says. “But I would never use a used mattress.”
Some local moms report that many of the good old standbys of nurseries past are no longer top of the list. “A high chair is nice, but I never used it,” Marier admits.
Tracy Foss of DeWitt, mother of Murphy, 7, Madeline, 5 and Duncan, 4, says even her crib sat idle for many of those early infant months.
“I found what babies need most during the first month is sleep, love and nourishment—not gadgets which tend to overwhelm everyone.” Foss says. “Our bassinet, Diaper Champ and Baby Bjorn were the most used equipment.”
DeWitt resident Andrea Macie, mom to Joshua, 7, Ben, 5 and Sammy, 2, agrees that less is more during those early weeks and even months. “We found that the must-haves for the first few months are a swing, a bouncy seat and one of those baby swaddlers with the Velcro—it takes the guesswork out of swaddling. Everything else is just another item you have to get rid of at the garage sale.”
Baby swaddlers are among the more recent finds that have become popular with new mothers and fathers. Swaddling is a skill that can elude even the best parents, and the swaddlers can ensure (almost) perfect swaddling every time. “(They are) the one thing I wished I had,” says Foss. “All of my babies loved to be swaddled and I never quite mastered that!”
Anna Maria Lankes, whose children are Riley, 8, and Andrew, 5, says there are some things you can never have too much of: washable clothes, diapers, wipes and a good ointment (the higher the zinc oxide content, the better). Lankes, of Jamesville, also recommends a supply of Gold Bond Powder for the tougher rashes.
High chair designs have changed a lot since they were simple, wooden structures we sat in as kids, so many parents make other arrangements for mealtimes. Several mothers we spoke with opt for portable booster seats instead. The booster seats attach to almost any dining room chair, and they can be tossed in the trunk for dinner out or a trip to Grandma’s. Kelly Rodoski of Liverpool, mother of 3-year old Maddie, says the Fisher Price booster seat was one of her best purchases.
While strollers remain a perennial on new-parent wish lists, they, too, have changed a great deal over the past 20 years.
The so-called umbrella-style folding models can still be found for less than $20, but they are best used for older babies who can sit up unassisted. Infants are better served with one of the many stroller-car-seat combos on the market. “A staple, which I think most moms get now, is the infant seat that (latches) into the stroller—that was fabulous and really helped with transfers,” says Keoki Hansen-Schwoebel, a Fayetteville mother of two daughters—Tulpen, 10, and Greta, 3.
By far the most common item parents interviewed recommended for new parents was some kind of bouncy seat. Even former Family Times editor Tina Schwab of Manlius, mother of Lily, 8, Claire, 5, and Henry, 1, wanted to weigh in on that one.
“For older babies (I recommend) bouncy seat, bouncy seat, bouncy seat,” she says. “Buy at least two (one for upstairs and downstairs), plus maybe one for Grandma’s or the sitter’s house.”
Baby monitors and carriers worn on the parent’s body, such as Baby Bjorns, snugglies and slings, were also highly recommended. Keep in mind that although many mothers prefer the flexibility of the slings, they may not be the right choice for shorter mothers. This really is an item that parents and caregivers should pick out themselves. The right choice depends on lifestyle and personal comfort.
“Though I know people love these things, the Baby Bjorn did nothing for either of my girls,” Hansen-Schwoebel says. “But the nice REI backpack that I could put them in when they were older was great.”
Schwab says her hands-down favorite item was the enhanced Pack ’n Play (a portable crib/play yard made by Graco), which includes a changing table insert. “You can stash diapers, wipes, Vaseline and extra clothes underneath and change the baby right on top,” she says, adding that the Pack ’n Play also offers a safe place to put baby down, away from drafts and pets.
Amy D’Agostino of East Syracuse has 23 years of professional childcare experience to draw from, including a lengthy stint as an infant caregiver with Early Head Start. She is currently working as a private nanny through Liverpool-based Nanny Services. For the past three years, she has worked for the Endres family of DeWitt, caring for 3-year-old Campbell and 5-year-old Shamus.
D’Agostino, who has two grown children, says keeping things simple with infants is the way to go. “From birth to around three months, they’re really just looking around, trying to focus on what’s around them—especially faces,” she says. “But teething rings and rattles are still great—especially the kind that attaches to their wrists and feet with Velcro. Simple mobiles are good, as are toys with baby-safe mirrors.”
A good, well-stocked diaper bag is a must-have, D’Agostino adds, as are bibs and lots of onesies—T-shirts that snap at the crotch.
D’Agostino adds her name to the list of those who consider a bouncy seat a worthy household addition. She also likes Boppies—C-shaped pillow-like supports used by mothers for nursing. They also support infants on the floor in a semi-sitting position.
For small babies, D’Agostino suggests having a simple medical kit. Birthing hospitals and pediatricians recommend an aspirator to clear nasal mucus, small nail clippers, a fine-gauge nail file, and cotton swabs for cleaning the outside of the ears and cord clamp areas.
While D’Agostino recommends purchasing a good infant thermometer, some parents say don’t bother with anything except the old-style glass models. “My vote for the most useless (baby item) would be any thermometer (including ear, underarm, forehead) but the rectal kind.” Schwab says. When you suspect your newborn has a high temperature, “the doctor will make you go back and get a rectal temp anyway.”
Another item for the “don’t bother” column: fancy crib borders and spreads. “It’s not a good idea to purchase all that expensive bedding,” says Macie. “Babies are safest when there is just a crib sheet.” For the cold nights? “I recommend a sleep sack”—a kind of a nightgown/sleeping bag hybrid.
The baby video market may be thriving, but D’Agostino says she doesn’t recommend them. “Children that young should not be watching television anyway, so don’t get those baby videos,” she warns. “Their favorite thing is to see people.”
And then there are the items parents didn’t think they would want—but ended up being surprisingly helpful. “There were two items I thought might be silly, but I used a lot: the wipes warmer, which was a blanket-like thing you wrapped around the wipes container. It’s much easier to wipe a little baby when the wipes aren’t freezing!” says Schwoebel-Hansen. “The other thing I really liked was the car bottle warmer. You plugged it into your car charger and you could warm up a bottle on your travels.”
Marier says her favorite non-essential was the Podee—a hands-free baby bottle that allows babies to feed in an upright position. “I found it after I had my son, and it was great for those times when he was screaming in the car,” she says. “But I wouldn’t use it before they are around 6 months old—after the sucking reflex has really kicked in.”
D’Agostino says as babies grow closer to the 6-month-old mark floor gyms, musical toys and textured soft toys can be added to the nursery.
With so much advice for new parents available, whether from friends, relatives, books, magazines or Web sites, expectant parents can easily get overwhelmed.
Scanning her overabundance of baby gear, Walch says she is surprised by how little she actually did need. “I would say it is better to get the important stuff before the baby arrives, but everybody is different and for a lot of the toys and even
some of the larger items, it’s probably better to wait and see if you really need it.”
Ultimately, her sister-in-law’s generosity did prove helpful. Walch used a hand-me-down changing table every day for months. “Now that was a lifesaver,” she says with a laugh. “(My daughter’s nursery) was upstairs and it was a pain to run up there for every diaper change during the day. So, I put the extra one right downstairs and stocked it with all the diaper change stuff. It’s funny because I’m sure I never would have bought another changing table, yet I don’t know what we would have done without it.”