Thursday, June 06, 2013

Baby gear

I reiterate that while this will not turn into a mommy blog, I will be talking about various aspects of motherhood on occasion. How can I not? This blog has always been about my life as well as food, and soon a big part of my life will involve caring for a tiny human being. I decided to give you a recap of our thought process as we were selecting big-ticket baby items, as obviously a lot more thought goes into those than into burp cloths and onesies. Some of these choices coincide with certain types of parenting, like attachment parenting. I must admit that at this point, I do not really have a favorite style of parenting, and I am not endorsing or disparaging any style either. I’m reading a lot and looking at what my peers are doing and what health care professionals are recommending, with the intention of cherry-picking what I find useful in various parenting philosophies and combining it with good old fashioned common sense. I am not writing this post to start any debates; I’m simply hoping that our end choices, along with our criteria, might help someone else who is looking for product recommendations. Since our friends and relatives are in Canada and we are in Texas, we could not count on any hand-me-downs and had to start from scratch – obviously, some of our choices would have been different otherwise. Keep in mind that I haven’t given birth yet, so I can’t tell you firsthand how well these items are actually working for us (and some of them are still on our baby registry, not in our possession yet), though I do intend to report back at a later date.

Also: I do not know the sex of our baby, nor do I want to. Until the birth, I will sometimes refer to the baby as “him,” sometimes as “her.” I’m alternating genders in this post, but don’t get confused.

Co-sleeping bassinette
Alright, so co-sleeping is thought of as part of attachment parenting, but that’s not why it appeals to me. Let me clarify first that I personally do not believe in having an infant in the same bed as the parents. I’m familiar with the research that says a mother (not under the influence of alcohol or medication) will be aware enough of the baby, even in her sleep, to avoid harming him in any way (though the same can’t be said about the father). But I also remember reading stories in the news every once in a while stating that a 3-week-old baby died after one of his parents rolled over on him, or one a few months old dying after becoming wedged between the mattress and headboard of the parents’ bed. While accidents like these are rare, I’m aware that they happen and I have no intention of taking any risks.

That being said, the idea of having a bassinette in the parents’ room, probably attached to the bed in such a way that the baby sleeps safely in his own space but is within arm’s reach of the mother, seems perfect. First, it offers distinct, measurable advantages to the baby, such as a lower risk of SIDS and an easier time falling/staying asleep. Second, from my perspective as a new mother, it seems like it will greatly simplify my life. It will allow me to breastfeed at night without even having to get up, and to soothe the baby back to sleep just by reaching over. I realize that I will still probably have to sit up to burp the baby or try another breastfeeding position, and to get up several times anyway (changing the baby, rocking the baby or walking with him around the house when nothing else seems to do, or just to use the washroom myself). That being said, it seems so much more convenient than getting up and going to the nursery every single time the baby fusses that I can’t imagine doing it another way.

As far as I can tell, there are four basic models of co-sleeping bassinettes in the modern Western world. One, the Culla Belly, is only sold in Italy (and sadly does not look nearly as nice as its prototype), so never mind that. Then there are two types of wooden co-sleeping bassinettes, which look good enough to fit in with grown-up décor: the Baby Bunk (U.S.-made) and the Baby Bay (German-made with a U.S. distributor). Both can be repurposed as kid benches, and if you buy two Baby Bays, you can even turn them into a play pen or a seat-and-desk combo. The low-tech website of the Baby Bunk makes me wary, however, and I prefer the look and the rounded edges of the Baby Bay. The fourth option is the Arm’s Reach, which has several different models and is by far the most popular in North America, though it screams “baby furniture.”

While aesthetically I have a strong preference for the Baby Bay, we’ve actually decided to go with the Arm’s Reach Mini Convertible Co-Sleeper. The Arm’s Reach has the advantage of providing a little ledge around the baby’s mattress, so that there is no risk of his fingers or arm becoming stuck between his mattress and the parents’ mattress. Plus, the Arm’s Reach is cheaper, especially on Amazon (especially considering that it comes with a mattress, which the Baby Bay sells separately), is portable and turns into a (admittedly small) playpen. We chose the Mini Convertible over the Original because the latter seemed very unwieldy (I’d have to scoot down to the foot of the bed to get up, which is a hassle at best, and I really don’t see myself doing that days after giving birth). The Original does have a second, lower mattress position, which allows you to use it for about an extra two months, plus it turns into a toddler bed, while you can only use the Mini Convertible for four months or so. This actually suits us, though, as there will come a point when the Engineer and I will want to regain our intimacy and have the baby in his own room, which might come before four months anyway! Our plan right now is to use the crib in the nursery for daytime naps at first, and to transition the baby into the crib full-time as he or before he outgrows the bassinette, at which point we will turn the bassinette into a playpen. If we decide not to attach it to the bed at all, it also works as a stand-alone bassinette, so we won’t be wasting any money. Plus, it can always be used as a travel bed with the mattress in the playpen position, though it doesn’t look as comfortable as dedicated travel beds.

Stroller / Car seat
Picking a stroller is harder than it seems. We don’t want something too big, as we’re aware that once folded, it can easily take up the entire trunk of the car. While we might get a little umbrella stroller eventually, that’s just not adequate for a newborn, so we had to look at more options. Right off the bat, we don’t jog, so all those kick-ass sports strollers are out. We also don’t have to worry about snow. Plus, we’re not high-tech enough to want something like the new Origami stroller, as impressive as it is! We wondered about the usefulness of strollers that can carry two children at once, and really liked the configuration of the Britax B-Ready and, especially, the Joovy Caboose Ultralight and the Graco Ready2Grow. Ultimately, though, we decided that dual strollers might be too bulky, and we’re not all that sure we will need it (instead of having an infant stroller and an umbrella stroller, for example), but we’ll cross that bridge if/when we get there.

We decided that a “travel system” is what we wanted. I’m still learning the lingo, but a travel system has an infant car seat that you can click into place either onto a base in your car or directly onto the stroller. That way, you can move from one place to another without having to wake the baby or reinstall him in a different carrier, a plus in any situation! You can also get two bases for the car seat if you have two cars, allowing you to travel with the baby in either car without having to reinstall the car seat each time. A stroller/car seat combo also makes our life easier by letting us pick only one system.

The idea of having a convertible car seat (one that fits either an infant or a toddler, ideally still in rear-facing position for the latter) was very attractive, but that’s harder to pull off with a travel system. We figured that since we would like two kids, we’ll still have use for an infant seat by the time the oldest child is in a toddler seat, so we will need two seats anyway. We might as well have a seat for infants and later get one for toddlers. A note about car seats: any new seat is safe for your baby (though some experts say that an infant seat is better than a convertible seat for newborns). Don’t buy them used, and get a new one if your current model is more than five years old or has been in a car accident.

So we looked at several brands of travel systems, and liked models by MacLaren, as well as Bugaboo and Peg Pérego (though we’re not made of money), but in the end we chose the Graco 3-in-1 ClickConnect Stroller in gender-neutral Onyx (along with the Graco SnugRide ClickConnect 40 Infant Car Seat). It’s in a reasonable price range, and we loved it when we test-drove it in a brick-and-mortar store. It turns easily, the car seat or bigger child seat is easy to click into place or remove, and you can even fold the stroller using only one hand. Plus, I love that you can install the baby either facing you or facing the front! There is a patch you can open in the shade of the carriage to check on the baby if she is facing away, but for an infant, I’m more comfortable actually being able to see her as I’m walking. I’m sure we’ll get good use out of this on family walks with the dog, some evening when it isn’t too warm after dinner.

Again, not that I’m praising attachment parenting, but this seems like a no-brainer to me for its practicality. Plus, I really like the idea of having the baby so close to me. I walk Darwin by myself every morning, and I keep him on a short leash because he pulls a lot. I therefore won’t be able to walk him properly with a stroller if I’m the only adult present, but if the baby is in a carrier, then both my hands are free, so holding a short leash is no problem. It will also be practical around the house if I need to be doing something but can’t put the baby down. (I might change my tune once summer temperatures hit, but we’ll see. By the way, if you need a maternity coat for winter and/or a baby-wearing coat, consider the M Coat, which you can use even after having kids.)

We wanted to buy only one carrier, so the slings and wraps were out (including the Moby Wrap) because they are not safe for newborns – at least not when the sling is used in the hammock position, and otherwise it does not always offer enough neck/head support. I did have this image of going through airport security with the baby in a wrap sling that would have been just one piece of fabric, no metal ring (I could just breeze right through the metal detector), but then I realized that I’d need to bring a baby car seat with me anyway for transportation once at our destination, so the idea of having the baby on me plus only one carry-on is out anyway, logistically speaking. (Although, after reading this, I might opt for a carrier at the airport and just make sure I have a safe car seat waiting at the other end!)

There are tons of carriers out there, so this list is by no means exhaustive. I considered the Ergobaby and the Mei Tai (including the Baby Hawk), which I think are the most popular brands at this point. The Ergobaby looked like a bit of a hassle with its insert for newborns, and the Mei Tai made me fear I’d tie it on improperly. I briefly looked at Baby Björn carriers, but the variety of models was confusing, and while they are quality carriers, overall they were less versatile than what I wanted, and quite expensive. I then looked at two lesser-known brands, the Boba and the Beco. Both are sold at virtually the same price-point, both are award-winners, both can be used up to toddlerhood, and both get 4 ½ star ratings on That being said, the Boba website has very scarce information, whereas the Beco website has a detailed description along with a clear instructional video, so that’s what we went with. Plus, you can use it in four positions: front carry with baby facing in (a safe position for a newborn), front carry with baby facing out, back carry and hip carry. So we’ve decided to go with the Beco Gemini; it’s made with organic cotton and can be used for nursing as well.

High chair
We didn’t get too worked up about this one. I was initially smitten by the Transformer-like models offered by Peg Pérego, like the Tatamia (it’s a chair! it’s a recliner! it’s a swing!), but honestly, we probably don’t need anything that complicated. I then thought about Ikea’s Antilop high chair, which at $20 and made from easy-to-clean plastic, seemed like a bargain. But the Engineer wondered whether it would be comfortable for the baby (a valid concern); he wanted something versatile enough to grow with the baby a little, and he was adamant that he wanted casters. So we ended up choosing the Graco Blossom 4-in-1 Seating System. The seat is actually easy to wipe clean, and it does look comfortable. The casters are awesome, and it’s easy to use. Plus, it grows with the baby: it fits an infant (with a recliner seat), then a toddler, then it turns into a booster seat and a child seat. The height is adjustable, too. It seems like a really good choice for us, so that’s what’s going on the registry. (That being said, when we spend two months in Montreal for the summer and can’t take that chair with us, we’ll probably just get the Ikea chair for the apartment.)

For travelling, I think products like Phils&Ted’s Lobster Highchair are really neat, but I ended up just sewing one of these; we’ll see if it suffices.

Baby monitor
This can be a big expense if you let it. As a paranoid first-time parent, my plan was to get a baby monitor that would alert me if the baby stopped breathing, like the Snuza or the Angelcare with a pad. However, after reading about the number of false alarms, the fact that babies can actually stop breathing for 20 seconds at a time in normal safe circumstances, and some studies stating that use of these devices has not reduced the number of infant deaths from SIDS, I have let the Engineer convince me that a standard audio monitor will be sufficient. (Obviously, this might be different for someone whose baby is premature, has a medical condition, or if there is a family history of SIDS.) We’re going with the Angelcare Baby Sound Monitor, but honestly, so many of them look just fine that I’d really hesitate to recommend one over another. (That being said, I hear good things about video monitors, too.)

Cloth diapers
More and more people these days opt for cloth diapers, for various reasons (it’s more eco-friendly, better for baby’s skin, easier on the wallet in the long run, etc., not to mention fewer “blowouts”). I’m writing about these here because buying cloth diapers is a big up-front investment, even though it will save you money in the long run (especially if you reuse them for a second child). Just so we’re all on the same page right away, because I know otherwise this is an issue for some people: cloth diapers have come a long way in the past decades, and I don’t know of anyone today who uses a rectangular piece of fabric folded up and held on the baby by two safety pins. (And I only bring this up because I HAVE spoken to people who assumed this is what I was getting myself into when I said I would be cloth-diapering! I think the closest you’d come would be prefold diaper + snappi + cover, which is also the least expensive option.) What I found most overwhelming is the sheer number of different models out there to choose from. How do I know what I want, what will fit my baby best, what will work for my lifestyle?

I found some explanatory pages useful, like this one on The Eco-Friendly Family, which has not only illustrations along with the explanations, but also a really helpful demonstration video so you can actually see various diapers in action, so to speak. (For a more professional, albeit not nearly as complete or useful, video, check out this CBS one.) This is particularly convenient if you don’t have a service from which you can rent diapers in the beginning until you figure out what you like for your baby, though of course you can always get a selection of used diapers and go from there (try Re-Diaper or Craigslist, for example). If all else fails, try entering your criteria here to see what’s available to you, and read reviews here. To find out more, I also like the blog All About Cloth Diapers, especially the page New to cloth diapers?, which has a lot of resources.

In the end, I think every family might have a different preference, and every preference could be compatible with various brands and models. For us, all-in-one diapers make the most sense at this point, keeping in mind that one can always add prefolds or inserts for extra absorbency if needed, or disposable liners for easier clean-up. One-size diapers also seem like they’d be best, just because of how long they can be used, although they may not work for a newborn. There are many kinds of diapers sized for newborns, like Peachy Baby or G Diapers, but we feel that’ll be too big of an investment, since we don’t know how long we’ll need them for. Plus, we actually intend to use disposable diapers for the first few weeks (or however long it takes for baby to fit in one-size diapers), partly to ease into the routine and partly because I’d rather not have to wash meconium off brand-new diapers. We also plan to use disposables whenever we go out, as I’d prefer not to carry around dirty diapers in a wet bag, or if I’ve miscalculated how long I could go without washing a load of diapers. I say disposables, but if the price is right, we’d ideally get something compostable and/or biodegradable. To get back to the cloth diapers, what we’ve decided to go with are the Bum Genius Elemental All-In-One One-Size Diapers with Snaps, given how many positive reviews we’ve read (like this one) or heard first-hand. We’re thinking of getting 24 diapers, with the intention of laundering every other day – I will report back to let you know how that’s working for us.

We’re also opting for washcloths instead of wipes, for all the same reasons as we’re opting for cloth diapers (though once again, we’ll use wipes in the diaper bag). Those can just be washed along with the diapers. Someone calculated the cost of cloth vs. disposable, including washing, and you could still save about $1,500 for the first child (and probably $2,000 for the second if you reuse the same diapers). I lucked out and found washcloths at an awesome price, so I’m very happy about that.

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