You’re at the baby store. There’s a boggling array of baby gadgets, all of them guaranteed to make your baby smarter, happier, healthier and easier to manage. They’ll encourage motor development and stimulate early learning and – most importantly – they’ll make your baby sleep!
The closets and basements of new parents are filled with this stuff: products that the parents bought that did not amuse or interest the baby and that they eventually got tired of tripping over. If you buy this stuff new, it costs a lot of money and gives you basically no return.
So what is actually worth buying?
The answer to this will differ somewhat from family to family, depending on lifestyle, but here are my top picks for baby gadgets that are actually worth the space that they take up.
1. Nursing pillow. I just discovered these this pregnancy, and they rock. They do three important things. First, they hold the baby at a comfortable height when you nurse sitting up, thus reducing strain on your neck and back. Second, they make it much easier if you need to nurse using the “football hold,” very useful for those situations where the child is unaccountably committed to nursing only on one side and needs to be tricked into taking the other. Third, they do the work of holding your baby up so that you are hands-free to type blog entries about baby gadgets. Mine is a fancy one that clips around your waist and also has a back support, but the simpler one that I used at my sister’s was also good.
2. Swings, vibrating chairs and things. So the there are dozens of variations on this theme: basically, devices that are supposed to rock and or vibrate your child in a more or less reclining position so that they will sleep without being manually rocked, patted and walked. For obvious reasons, these are very easy to sell to new parents who are desperate for sleep – or at least for the opportunity to sit down. The good news is, they work. Kind of. The bad news is, for any given baby there is exactly one device that will work and all the rest are a complete waste of space and money. My advice is to start with the simplest solution, which is to see if your kid is happy sleeping in the car-seat listening to music. Then move up to the vibrating chair (these are easily acquired at thrift stores – if your kid likes it, and you want the latest and greatest model, you can donate it back and buy a new one. Assuming your kid also likes the new one. Baby’s can be weirdly particular.) If that doesn’t work, maybe try them out in a swing. If you can, visit other moms or go to playgroups and use their baby stuff to try it out. That way you can find out if your baby is interested before making a purchase.
3. Jolly Jumper. Not all kids like these, so if possible the “try before you buy” rule still applies. If your child does like it, however, you are more or less home-free. My second practically lived in a duck-shaped jumper from the time she was old enough to try it until she was walking. She loved it so much that she would jump herself to sleep and then go on jumping in her dreams. I suspect this early training is partly responsible for her present abilities as an acro dancer. My other children were less enthusiastic, but most of them liked it okay.4. AOL CDs. Okay, they don’t actually have to be from America On-Line, it’s just that I first discovered that CDs and DVDs are great baby toy by giving my eldest the free discs that AOL used to send out in an attempt to get us to install their lame product on our computer. Any disc that is scratched, obsolete or otherwise useless will do. Babies are mostly just interested in the way that the light refracts. Of course, these are functionally free and if your baby doesn’t like it, or loses interest, you just toss it in the garbage.
5. Old remote controls. What can I say, babies like buttons. And perhaps they dream of one day having the power to change the channel. They especially like remote controls where a light comes on when you press the button, but make sure they can’t accidentally get into the batteries.
6. Metal-frame Baby Hiking Backpack. This is really good only if you like hiking or live rural, but they are lovely for when you want to go on trails that aren’t accessible by stroller. Also. I don’t know if this is a standard feature but mine has a fold-out stand so that you can walk your baby to sleep and then put them down and keep them upright in the backpack, without changing their position or taking them out. For babies that love to be walked but immediately wake up the moment you take them out of their carrier this can be a godsend. The only disadvantage is that they don’t come into effect until baby is old enough to support his head.
7. One-of-a-kind contraptions. Children vary tremendously, even in the first year of their lives. The whole tabula rasa theory of infants is utter balderdash – the sort of abstract stupidity that would have quickly disappeared from the discourse had the male theorists bothered to consult women who had raised multiple kids. Sometimes, it’s necessary to come up with special solutions tailored to the needs of a particular child. My personal favourite is a device created by a friend of mine called a “Boog tower.” It’s basically a tall wooden stool with rails that allows her small daughter to safely stand in the kitchen playing with bubbles while mommy meticulously slices limes. The key here is to pay attention to your child’s developing personality and come up with creative solutions that fit both the temperament and interests of the child, and the particular needs of her parents.
That’s about it – I mean apart from obvious essentials like car-seats and strollers. I’ve had lots of other junk over the years, but mostly I remember it just being junk.
Top image courtesy of Pixabay. Boog Tower courtesy of Christine Pigott.