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Expert Q&A: Choosing Baby Gear

Consumer activist and co-author of Baby Bargains Alan Fields gives the lowdown on where to skimp, save, and splurge for baby.

Does price make a difference in the quality of baby monitors?

Sometimes the simple $20 baby monitors actually work better than the expensive variety. People find that some of the pricier monitors share the same frequency as their wifi or the local cell phone towers, so they get a lot of interference. 

Some of the newer digital monitors eliminate interference, but these are also more expensive than your basic monitors. And today, many people are buying video monitors for the nursery. These are really hot sellers. I think for most people, an audio baby monitor is just fine; a video monitor may be overkill. But it's a matter of individual taste.

My general advice is to purchase your baby monitor from a store that allows returns because it may take a few tries to find one that you like and that works in your particular household. 

Many baby items do double-duty. There are convertible strollers, bureau/changing table combos, Pack 'n' Plays with bassinet attachments. Are these innovations worth the investment for parents?

Convertibility is now the trend. There are high chairs that convert to booster chairs, cribs that you can turn into a toddler bed, and so forth. It's a trend that we support. We think it makes a lot of sense.

The convertible baby products are very practical, and most of them seem to be well designed. Take for example, the multi-function baby stroller, which you can use with the infant car seat and then convert to a regular stroller as your baby grows bigger. This makes far more sense than buying multiple strollers. 

What do you think of the baby swaddling blankets with Velcro? Isn't it just as effective to swaddle your baby the old-fashioned way?

Well, you can learn to swaddle a baby the old-fashioned way without a special blanket. But today, many people don't have anyone to show them how to swaddle. New parents don't necessarily have their grandmother or their mother nearby to offer that kind of advice.

Another reason we're seeing a boom in infant swaddling blankets and sleep sacks is safety. The government now advises against using blankets and other soft bedding in the crib. Sleep sacks and swaddling blankets are a safe way to keep your baby warm without blankets.

Why does Baby Bargains recommend so strongly against borrowing or buying a secondhand crib when your goal is to help people save money?

You should never sacrifice safety to save dollars. A lot of cribs, especially those sold prior to 2000, may not be safe. Also, a secondhand crib may have parts missing or be unsafe in other ways. Finally, many products are recalled, and if you can't identify the make and model of a secondhand crib, you may not realize that it's a model that has been deemed hazardous.

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