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.

From the WebMD Archives

All parents want the best for their baby, but that doesn't mean you need to blow your budget on the most expensive baby gear.

Consumer advocate Alan Fields and wife Denise Fields, co-authors of Baby Bargains, Baby 411, andToddler Bargains, have been helping new parents find deals and steals on baby and toddler gear for years. Their books include quality ratings and detailed safety information for each product.

Do you recommend that couples make and maintain a budget for buying baby furniture and other baby gear?

Yes, we believe it's a good idea for parents to create a budget and stick to it as much as possible.

The key is to focus on the basics. For the nursery, you're creating a safe place for baby to sleep. It doesn't have to be a sterile hospital room. You want it to be nice, but you can create a wonderful environment without going overboard.

You're going to need a bassinet, a crib, a place to store baby clothes and other items, and a place to change diapers. These are the basics. On top of that, you may want a lamp, curtains, and maybe a new coat of paint, but keep it simple. In other words, don't spend $500 on a set of designer sheets -- that's a waste of money.

I'd also say that it's important to have an eye on the future. One reader recently asked us what we thought of a combination crib and dresser. The problem is, when your child grows out of the crib in just a few years, you have to sell the whole thing.

When you're buying baby furniture, it also makes a difference if you're planning to have more children. So think ahead when you make your nursery purchases.

There are so many types of baby carriers and strollers on the market. Do you think it's a matter of individual taste or are there some that you recommend across the board?

It's a very individual thing. There is a big difference between all the different types of baby carriers, and it's worth it to spend time figuring out what suits you and your circumstances.

Do some research and think about why you want to use the carrier. Your baby gear needs to accommodate your parenting style. For example, attachment-style parenting puts a big emphasis on the sling.

Baby strollers are also very individual. What kind of lifestyle do you have, and where do you live? If you live in San Francisco or New York, you're probably going to be using public transportation, so you want a very light stroller that's easy to fold. If you live in Dallas, you're more likely to be in the car a lot. If you live out in the country where you're pushing the stroller on gravel roads, you may want an all-terrain stroller. There are many choices available, so it's a good idea to step back and think it over before you register for a particular baby carrier or stroller.

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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.

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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.

What else should parents avoid borrowing or buying secondhand?

We recommend against using a secondhand baby car seat. Car seats quickly become obsolete. So a secondhand seat is likely to have outdated safety features. Also, if you get a secondhand car seat, you don't know if it's been in an accident, which can compromise its integrity.

Toys are another item you should be careful about buying secondhand. There are a lot of toy recalls, so you need to do your research.

Finally, we don't recommend that you use a secondhand crib mattress. A used mattress can harbor bacteria from baby pee, spit-up, and so on. And you don't know how the used mattress was stored, which could also contribute to bacteria, mold, and other issues.

What is the most common mistake you see expectant parents make when buying furniture and other baby gear?

First-time parents often feel they have to get the most expensive baby products and gear that's bloated up with features. For example, many first-time parents buy the Cadillac stroller and then find out that it's incredibly heavy and they can't get it out of the car.

I'd advise expectant parents to avoid rushing out and buying everything before your baby is born. It isn't as if you can't go shopping after the baby arrives. Wait a few months and find out what kind of parent you are and what kind of baby you have.

For example, not every baby is going to need a baby bouncer seat or a swing. But if you end up with a fussy or active baby, a bouncer seat or a swing is essential. Take your time about some of these purchases.

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Can you suggest small, low-cost items or details that people should consider to make their nursery look great without blowing their budget?

Wall decals are a great, economical way to decorate the nursery. It's also a good idea to follow a generic theme for your nursery (versus a narrow theme with expensive accessories) so you can add features without spending a lot of money. A cute lamp can go a long way.

WebMD Feature Reviewed by Roy Benaroch, MD on September 15, 2013

Sources

SOURCE:

Alan Fields, co-author, Baby Bargains, Baby 411, Toddler Bargains.

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