Top 13 Baby Products: From Zero to Four Months

December 29th, 2010

When you’re planning for a baby to arrive in your home, you quickly realize that babies come with A LOT of gear. They require diapers, blankets, strollers, bathtubs, carriers, places to sit…. and the list goes on. And on. And on. When you live in a small apartment, as many urban parents do, you start to get nervous about finding room for all this gear in a space that is probably already packed to the max.

I did so much research on baby products before Elise arrived, trying to find items that were not only the safest on the market, but that also fit into the design sensibilities of our home (Hello giant exersaucer! I will see you… never!). I also chatted with several friends and family with kids to find out what we’d really need.

Now that Elise is four* months old, Alex and I feel like we have a good list of items that we would absolutely recommend to new parents (particularly cityfolk). For the most part, they are items that helped us survive the first four months and made our lives a little easier. This list doesn’t include the obvious things like say, a changing table, or a boppy, but instead some of the lesser known products that were surprisingly terrific. So here goes:

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Kiddopotamus SwaddleMe Microfleece

Elise broke out of almost every swaddle blanket other than this one for the first three weeks of her life. She was like Chris Angel Mind Freaking those swaddles. And because she was so good at breaking out of the swaddle, she would often wake herself up as a result and you know what that means… That was until we started using the Swaddle Me. It gives tired, new parents a break and let’s them swaddle a baby properly and snuggly with velcro tabs. Once we started using this, our little Houdini started sleeping for longer lengths of time. It was amazing. However, you must use the micro-fleece version of this swaddle, as the cotton one is not nearly as strong, making it easier for the babies to escape.

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Maclaren 2-in-1 Baby Rocker and Chair

If it were not for this rocking chair, I probably would have held Elise all day long until she was 4 months old. Because of this chair, I was able to do things like shower daily. For that reason alone, you should buy this chair. It rocks (literally) AND vibrates, which babies love. So well in fact, Elise slept in this chair even at night for the first couple of months. We would carry her from the living room in the chair and put it down in her cradle alongside our bed. It kept her a little more upright, which she preferred over sleeping on her back. I actually think you could get any chair that would be a good spot for a baby to sleep during the day, but this chair worked really well for us.

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Aden + Anais Muslin Wraps

These all purpose blankets are fantastic. They’re light weight wraps that you can use to swaddle, cover a baby from the sun when strolling (not much for SUV protection though), put down on a bed or floor for quick changes on-the-go and they roll up into nothing to stuff into a diaper bag. I cannot recommend these blankets enough. Aden and Anais also makes great blankets too, which are just a little heavier than the wraps, but great for the cooler weather.

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Summer Infant Day & Night Handheld Color Video Monitor

Someone told us that we would never use a monitor seeing that our room is right next to Elise’s and we live in a small apartment. They could not have been more wrong. The day after she moved into her own room (around 8 weeks), we went out and bought this video monitor and have been tuned in to BabyTV ever since. It’s so great because you never have to get up to make sure she is breathing or check that she is positioned ok in her crib and risk waking her up–you can see it all right on your mini tv! While the monitor isn’t perfect–she looks like a zombie if she looks at the camera in the dark and you have to really look closely to see if she breathing, it’s really one of the best baby products we own.

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Total Baby App

I lived by this thing for the first 4 months of Elise’s life. Something I never realized you had to do when you have babies is track their diapers to make sure they are eating enough, and if you are breastfeeding you also need to track from which breast you most recently fed the baby, and then you also need to track naps. If you haven’t picked up on the theme here, you spend a lot of time tracking things when you have a newborn. Pair that with sleeping 2 hours at time (at best!) and you might start to lose your mind. Lucky for you though, there is something called the Total Baby App, which does all the work for you. It tracks everything from feeding times, naps, diaper changes, baths, vaccinations, weight–basically everything you need to keep track of when you have a baby. It also lets you add any details you would like about these actions. PS: I know one friend who rated BMs on a scale of 1-5…

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Baby Soothe App

The one thing the total baby app does not have is a sound machine, which is actually something you often need to have on the go. In a quiet restaurant? In the car? Have a crying baby? You’ll need the baby soothe iphone app. Since it plugs into the ipod speaker, it also works really well if you an iphone jack in the car. You can pipe in baby soothing sounds as you drive.

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Sleep Sheep

When we weren’t on the go, the Sleep Sheep was our go to sound machine. It’s a stuffed animal who makes soothing sounds that babies apparently love, like waves, rain, and a creepy heartbeat. We turned the rain setting on for Elise as soon as we put her down to sleep and have continued to use it ever since. It does a great job of creating white noise for her especially as we walk around on our creeky old wood floors which can often wake her up.

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Lovey (Angel Dear Blanket)

When Elise was not swaddled, her arms were always floating in the air. She seemed to have a really strong startle reflex. Giving her the lovey when she was several weeks old gave her something to hold on to and allowed her to fall asleep without her arms flying in the air and waking her. Note: we only used this for naps when we were watching her—never when she was alone in her crib snoozing.

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Kimono (or sidesnap) Onesies

A friend told me before Elise arrived to get a bunch of these sidesnap onesies because babies don’t like things to go over their heads. I only partially listened to her and got only four of these onesies, which in retrospect, was stupid. Babies REALLY hate anything to go over their heads so all the cute little onesies we had for Elise weren’t used until she got a little bigger. These have the added benefit of making your baby look like a little ninja or Luke Skywalker, which is awesome. I can’t recommend these onesies enough. We picked out these organic ones from Giggle, but many baby brands carry sidesnap onesies.

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Happiest Baby on the Block DVD

I started to read the Happiest Baby on the Block book the while I was waiting for Elise to arrive (she was a week late) and I didn’t like the book. It could have been summed up in 5 pages and it kept going on about how you can’t spoil a baby and you should carry a baby all day long and even as a not-yet-parent, I knew that sounded really weird. How would I shower if I was holding a baby all day?

Fast-forward a month into Elise’s existence and she was crying a lot, more than seemed normal and we thought maybe we had a collicky baby on our hands. A friend suggested we watch the DVD rather than read the book, so we did one night as Elise was tweaking out and within 10 minutes into the DVD, we had a chill baby on our hands. It was amazing. All I can say is the sidehold is like some kind of baby Vulcan hand grip thing, because when we did that, Elise would stop crying immediately. Insane.

Now, while I recommend this DVD because you can see Dr. Karp’s soothing style in action and he shows you how to properly swaddle a baby, I have to say he comes off as a bit of a weirdo in the DVD. I don’t know what these people were thinking handing over their babies to this man in the film. Also, he gets very intense about the “shushing” factor in the film. We didn’t do anything like that, we just calmly “shushed” Elise when she was upset and that seemed to work. Point being, I think you can take away things from this video that work for you and your baby and you’ll find you’ll all sleep better in those crucial first several weeks.

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Skip Hop Activity Mat

The Skip Hop activity was a favorite of mine and Elise’s since the very early weeks. It was so nice to have a place for Elise to lay down, stretch, play with the toys, and frankly, entertain herself for a bit.

In the earliest weeks, Elise would just stare at the cow hanging from the center of the overhang, and “talk” to the cow, but then she soon started pulling and chewing on all the toys on the mat. If she was tweaking out, I could press the sheep who plays “Old McDonald” and she’d break into a huge smile. I think this mat is one of my favorite baby items we own. It was used many times a day, everyday.

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Sophie Le Giraffe

I saw Sophie Giraffe all over the place when we were first shopping for baby stuff and I didn’t understand the appeal of this dog toy turned baby teething device. I really felt like someone was pulling a fast one on new parents. Then someone gave us a Sophie as a gift and as I started to hand it over to Elise, I could see the magic of this toy. All the legs make it easy for babies to wrap their gummy mouths around the toy easily and munch on something chewy, especially as they are teething. And as you can see from the photo above, Elise loved her Sophie.

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Spa Baby Tub

My Mother-in-Law recommended a bucket tub when we were registering for baby items and it seemed very strange to me to bath your baby in what is essentially an overpriced bucket. Then I read the reviews on these tubs and people really loved them, so I went ahead and registered for one and I am really happy we did.

Elise loved the tub and it calmed her down very quickly if she was upset about something. I think having the water go up to her shoulders, so that no part of her body was cold while she was bathing was comforting and for the first several months, probably reminded her of the womb.

My one issue with the spa tub is that it’s not easy to rinse off a soapy baby. We always pulled her out and then rinsed her quickly under the sink hose, so it’s often a two person job the first few times you bathe the baby. Though overall, this tub is definitely excellent.

* I started this post when Elise was 4 months old and never finished it, so even though she’s 9 months old now, this list is still specific to the 0-4 month age range for gear.

p.s. Originally posted on teamrainert.com

Searching for chemical free and eco-friendly toys

August 26th, 2010

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For the last several days I’ve been searching for soft baby blocks that are made of either BPA free plastic or fabric made in the USA. Do you know what an impossible task this is? IMPOSSIBLE. I searched for “made in USA toys” on Amazon and I get a few pages of results, but half of the “toys” are really just bottles or teethers, and the few toys they’ve listed we either have or something like it. I just want some lead free, BPA free blocks that a small baby can play with easily (and not wood). Is that asking too much?

During my search it came to my attention that several of the toys that were gifted to Elise are likely not BPA free, like her favorite monkey with a mirrored tummy. Crap. When I realized this, I decided to do a little more research to see which toys might be BPA free and discovered that Sassy brand toys actually has a BPA free listing of their toys. This got me thinking that all toy companies should have such a section on their site—assuming they have some BPA free toys in their collection, which frankly at this point in the game, everyone should. This is a hot concern for parents right now, so why are toy companies not looking into making their toys a) safer for kids b) eco-friendly?

Fisher-Price, Lamaze Toys, Skip Hop, Carter’s: I’m looking at you. Take all your creative toy and game ideas and start wrapping them in a layer of responsibility. When you do, do yourself and your customers a favor and let them sort your toys by categories that are of likely interest to them (eco-friendly, BPA free, lead free!). When you do, I’ll come back as a customer.

p.s. Even the blocks distributed by Parents Magazine don’t appear to be BPA free. This is the same magazine that often writes articles about how to keep your family safe from toxic chemicals.

This post is part of a month long blogging exercise inspired by Seth Godin.

How Sweet is Technology?

May 28th, 2010

I literally cried in happiness when I watched this 8 month old deaf baby’s reaction to his cochlear implant being activated. It’s so, so awesome and makes me wish I had taken an assistive technology class when I was at ITP. (via reddit and Ted Roden).

If that’s Jonathan’s Mom in the video, I don’t know how on earth she kept such composure. I would be sobbing, but then again, I cry easily (as noted earlier :) ).

Beautiful Prints and Paintings by Kristiana Pärn

May 12th, 2010

Alex and I were very particular about the artwork we picked out for Elise’s room. It’s not very baby like at all. In fact, it’s probably more our style than a child’s, but all the artwork has a subject that a kid would likely enjoy: animals, robots, letters, etc.

While walking around our neighborhood one day, we came across a store called Urban Alchemist. All the items in the store are designed by Brooklyn artists. One of my favorite finds at this design collective was this watercolor/illustration print by Kristiana Pärn. I love the watercolor on wood texture and the whimsical style of the marshmallow trees and sleepy bears.

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We liked this one because it went with the style of Elise’s room and who doesn’t love Polar Bears? However, there were so many great prints to choose from, it was a hard choice. Here are a few of my favorites.

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If you like Kristiana’s work, check it out at Urban Alchemist in Park Slope, Brooklyn or at the Grand Army Plaza Farmer’s Market on Saturdays where she has recently been setting up a table of her artwork (some even mounted on wood, which looks amazing) or online at Etsy.

Writing on the Walls

May 7th, 2010

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After reading The Last Lecture by the late Randy Pausch (a great book if you haven’t read it yet), where Pausch writes about how his parents letting him paint on his bedroom walls made a great impact on how he approached ideas, Alex and I talked about allowing our (then future) children to draw on the walls of their bedrooms as they like. We liked the idea that it would inspire creativity and why not use your walls as your canvas–as long as it stays within their own rooms?

Join the Dots wallpaper allows kids to do exactly that without mucking up the walls, which some parents might not love. It’s interesting in that it has a grid of dots for kids to connect and create designs. While it’s not a blank canvas exactly, it does offer children the opportunity to create something with a little structure. This might be perfect for the budding interaction designer or architect (Hi, Elise!)!

However, I still think it might be easier to repaint a wall repeatedly to create a clean look than it would be to paste and later remove wallpaper.