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Baby Gear Essentials: The Big 4

What Do You Need for Your New Baby?

Before you welcome your baby home, you'll want to have everything in place. That means getting the "big 4" baby gear items: car seat, crib or bassinet, stroller, and -- thinking ahead -- high chair. These tips will show you how to make smart, safe choices.

Have the Car Seat Ready

It's a once-in-a-lifetime trip -- your baby's first ride home! Install the car seat ahead of time so everything's ready. Newborns should ride in rear-facing car seats. Follow installation instructions, or find a child safety seat inspection station for help. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration web site lists stations, or call 888-327-4236. The middle of the backseat is the safest spot to install the seat.

Types of Rear-Facing Seats

Infant-only seats are smaller than regular baby seats. The seat may come out of the base and have handles so you can use it to carry the baby. Convertible seats can be used rear-facing and then changed to forward-facing when your child gets older. They do not have a separate base or carrying handles. The safest way for a baby to ride is rear-facing until they are at least 1 year old and weigh at least 20 pounds. The American Academy of Pediatrics advises parents to keep their toddlers in rear-facing car seats until age 2, or until they reach the maximum height and weight for their seat.

Safe Crib Checklist

Thinking about using an old-fashioned crib? Think carefully -- buying new will give you confidence it's up to the latest safety standards. No drop-side cribs, for example. You can check with the Consumer Product Safety Commission to see if a crib has been recalled and for information on risks from these products. Other things to check about your crib: No missing, broken, or loose parts. All moving parts run on track, smoothly. No more than 2 3/8 of an inch (less than a soda can width) between the crib's slats. The top of corner posts should be out of a child's reach or should be less than 1/16 of an inch high so clothing can't get caught.

Buying a Crib Mattress

You'll need to purchase a separate mattress for the crib. Get a firm one that fits snugly into the crib. A space greater than two fingers' width between the mattress and crib frame means that you need a bigger mattress. To reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), only use a fitted bottom sheet made for crib use, and keep the crib free of smothering hazards -- pillows, blankets, pillow-like bumper pads, and stuffed toys.

Tips on Buying and Using Bassinets

Some parents prefer to use a bassinet at first. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends choosing one certified for safety by the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association (JPMA). Look for a sturdy bottom with a wide base; smooth surfaces; legs with locks; and a snug-fitting mattress. Just as you would with a crib, make sure there are no pillows, quilts, comforters, blankets, pillow-like bumper pads, or stuffed toys in with the baby.

Which Stroller Is Right for You?

Standard strollers usually feature reclining seats, cup holders, trays, and under baskets. Some have a seat that doubles as a carrier and fits your car seat to make transfers easy. There are also lightweight strollers that can be easier to handle. Check the size and weight requirements. Many lightweight strollers may not work for babies under 3 months old. The JPMA also certifies strollers for safety, so look for its seal on boxes.

Stroller Safety Tips

Always strap your child in, even if your journey is a short one. You can choose a stroller with a T-strap or a 5-point restraint (with shoulder belts). Make sure the leg openings are small enough that an infant won't slide through. Don't hang a purse or baby bag on the stroller handles. That could make the stroller tip over backward.

When Baby's Ready for a High Chair

When your baby starts to sit up and eat solid foods, a high chair is essential. Select one with a wide base that won't tip easily. Look for easy-to-use straps, and always strap your baby in using both the waist belt and the strap between the legs. Don't rely on the tray to restrain your baby -- it's for holding food, not a wiggly child. Make sure your baby stays seated (no standing up) and never leave her alone in the high chair.

Reviewed by Kathy Empen, MD on August 18, 2011

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