Generally, I like to avoid dispensing advice about parenting in this forum because I am not yet a very experienced parent and because parenting experiences can differ so greatly. However, this time I feel I have some advice worth giving.
When you are a new parent, or about to become one, other parents delight in giving you advice about what to do. A lot of this advice ends up being what you should buy because they simply couldn’t live without it. Like many new parents, I felt a little panicked around nine-and-a-half months of pregnancy when I didn’t have all of the items I’d been told I would need. For a first-time parent, the fear of being unprepared for this life-changing event can be so strong as to prompt an unwarranted shopping spree, but there are very few items that I consider to be absolutely essential to have purchased before the baby is born. Things like a car seat and a crib or bassinet would fall in this category, but even that could be up for debate, for example, if you live in a large city and use the subway and plan to co-sleep with your infant.
My first bit of advice regarding buying baby gear is to wait. Whether it is a toy, a baby carrier, or a diaper bag, it is better to see how you or your baby reacts to it before making a purchase. I quickly discovered that my copious baby book reading was no substitute for experience. One book considered a ring sling to be the essential mode of carrying a baby. I dutifully bought one in advance, but my son was swallowed in it. I couldn’t see his face and he couldn’t see mine. That alone was a deal breaker. I returned it and bought a Baby Björn. I couldn’t put him in the Björn right away, as he weighed too little, but it wasn’t long before he fit into it and it became indispensable to my ability to eat breakfast in the morning. What’s more, my son went through some periods as an infant where he wanted to be upright all day, which wouldn’t have been easy in the ring sling I had bought.
I also learned this lesson the hard way as regards playthings for my son. After he spent an entire week at my parents’ house being passed around and jumping on people’s laps at age 4 months, I bought him a Jumperoo, thinking he could have fun and I could still have arms left. At the very beginning he seemed to take to it, but he soon tired of it and just stood there dangling and looking at me as if to say, “What now?” His Exersaucer proved to be much more valuable, as it had more toys to entertain him and served the same purpose, minus the jumping. Now, I try to see what toys he plays with most at play groups and play dates with other babies before buying anything.
My second bit of advice is to buy almost everything used. The exception to this is a car seat. Even if the one you are buying used hasn’t yet expired (they are usually made to last about 5 or 6 years), unless you know the person who is selling it, you have no reliable means of knowing if it has been in a crash, which would compromise its effectiveness.
Other than that, anything that can be easily washed or wiped clean is fair game. There are many second-hand stores that specialize in baby and maternity items. I personally prefer Craigslist because that way I don’t have to leave the house until I know there is something I want. I bought my Baby Björn new, which was a mistake. When I later went on Craigslist looking for something else, I saw I could have gotten the same thing for half the price used.
Buying second-hand does require patience. I have at times had to spend a few weeks checking for an item I wanted, but usually I have been pretty lucky. I live in a somewhat rural area and have had to drive an hour or more when my husband and I wanted to purchase larger used items, such as furniture, but I haven’t traveled more than about twenty minutes for baby gear. I suspect this is because people tend to want to get rid of baby gear the minute it is no longer useful to them. Seeing my once-open living spaces fill up with land mines of toys, gates, and other apparatus, I can sympathize. But I take comfort in knowing that, once I am officially done with them, there will probably be some other parent like me waiting to snatch them up.
J LeBlanc is a former high school teacher who resides in Lebanon, N.H. She is currently taking a break from teaching to stay home with her 8-month-old son.
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