Preparing for parenthood involves both emotional changes as well as changes to your environment and lifestyle. As you stagger dazedly around the baby superstore examining the plethora of baby products available, you might come to the conclusion that the emotional preparation is a much easier process.
But choosing safe and useful baby products to prepare for your little one’s arrival doesn’t have to be an ordeal if you plan ahead, keep it simple, and keep safety considerations in mind.
The baby’s room is one of the first areas new parents are eager to prepare. Whether you decide to create an elaborate jungle theme or keep it simple with just the basics, your most expensive purchase will probably be the crib. In the case of cribs, beauty isn’t the most important consideration -- safety is. Choose a crib that has slats that are no more than 2 3/8" apart so that your baby won’t fall out or get her head stuck between the slats. If the crib has corner posts, they should be level with the top of the headboard and footboard or over 16 inches. Otherwise, something caught on the crib posts could pose a strangulation hazard to your baby. If you have a family heirloom or are considering a used crib, make sure that the crib meets these safety standards, and keep in mind that cribs manufactured before 1978 could contain lead paint.
You should also take care when selecting a mattress for your baby’s crib. Make sure it’s firm because soft mattresses may put your child at increased risk for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). In addition, make sure the mattress fits the crib and there’s no space in between the slats of the crib and the mattress that your baby could slip into.
You could change your baby’s diaper on a bed or the floor, but purchasing a changing table may be your preference. "Changing tables are much easier on the parental back than changing the baby on a bed, and the shelving underneath was handy," says Madeline Perri, mother of a 4-year-old in Wilmington, Delaware. You’ll be able to choose from wooden changing tables with guardrails, fold-up models, and tables with hinged chest adapters. Be careful, though: you’ll want to select a changing table that’s sturdy and that isn’t likely to tip, sway, or be pulled over by a roaming toddler. Changing tables with hinged chest adapters pose a danger if your child gets his finger stuck between the hinges. A safety belt to hold your child in place is another must, although you should never leave your child unattended while he’s on a changing table, bed, or couch.
Bath time is fun with a baby -- if you have a convenient, safe bathtub in which to get your little one clean. Look for tubs that are sturdy and have slip-resistant bottoms. Many versions are sized to fit snugly in a standard-size kitchen sink, which may be more comfortable than leaning into your full-size tub. Bath rings and flotation devices may be easily flipped over, so your best bet is to avoid them to keep your baby safe from drowning. Never leave a baby unsupervised in or near tubs or buckets for even one moment -- 78% of all infant drownings take place in water in the home.
Once your baby’s clean, he or she will need some clothes to wear. For the first few weeks while your infant’s umbilical cord area is healing, t-shirts will avoid irritating the area. Onesies that fasten at the bottom making changing diapers a snap. Never dress your child in clothing with drawstrings -- they pose a strangulation hazard.
When you’re choosing bedding for the crib, make sure the sheets fit properly -- sheets that are too tight can come off and wrap around an infant’s head, posing a suffocation hazard. Soft baby washcloths and towels are also a good bet for baby’s delicate skin.
Getting From Here to There
The first few weeks of your child’s life might be spent indoors, but you won’t be housebound forever. Your first foray into traveling with your baby begins on the day you leave the hospital. In most states, a car seat is a necessity before you’re allowed to leave the hospital. It’s best to purchase a new one -- an older model may not have necessary safety features and a car seat that’s been in a crash could be damaged and may not protect your infant properly. Your infant 1 year or younger and up to 20 pounds should be placed in a rear-facing seat; he or she won’t be ready for a forward-facing seat until toddlerhood. Make sure the baby is in a seat designed for an infant because using a seat designed for toddlers may be too large and may allow your child to slip out during a crash. Always use the safety belt when you’re buckling up your infant, and if you have a seat that doubles as a carrier, make sure the carrying handle is not in an upward position. In an accident, the impact could force your child forward into the handle and cause additional injury.
When you are ready to take your baby on the road or to the mall, a stroller can ensure a smooth ride. Look for a sturdy version that won’t tip easily and doesn’t have pieces that will pinch your baby’s fingers. When you’re out and about, refrain from hanging diaper or shopping bags from the stroller’s handle -- the weight could cause the stroller to tip. To avoid injury, never leave your child unattended in a stroller, even with the brake activated.
Having Fun When Baby’s Here
The gentle motion of an infant swing is useful for soothing a fussy baby and for freeing up your hands, and both manual and motorized versions are available. "We preferred the manual swing to the motorized swing because the seat seemed to be more comfortable and because the motor was way too noisy," Perri says. When you’re purchasing a swing, make sure that there aren’t any pieces that could trap your baby’s fingers and that there’s a safety belt (a T-strap that goes across the waist and under the bottom is best) to keep your baby secure.
Playpens are also great for keeping a curious baby contained for short periods of time, if you choose a type that has safety in mind. A well-padded version will protect your baby from painful bumps and bruises, and the sides should be at least 20 inches tall so your little one can’t escape. Many models are portable, which means you don’t have to rely on scrounging up a potentially dangerous hotel or cast-off crib when you travel. "It's liberating to not have to worry about where the baby is going to sleep," Perri says.
Dana Dillon, a mother of two in Oxford, Pennsylvania, has an alternative to the traditional playpen: the baby ball. "It's a round, portable, small thingy you can lay your baby in and even zip up the mesh so bugs can't get in. It was great to have so [my daughter] could lay around the family area and not get tromped on by [her brother] or the dog. We also used it on the road when visiting family and such for naps and sleeping over night instead of hauling a huge Pac-n-Play with us," Dillon says.
If you’re considering a walker for your baby who can’t isn’t yet walking, think again. The American Academy of Pediatrics strongly discourages the use of walkers because of the risk of severe injuries from falling down stairs. The AAP estimates nearly 29,000 injuries are caused by walkers every year, so leave walkers off your registry list.
Stocking Up on Essentials
Before you pack your bag for the hospital, stock up on these essentials so when you arrive home with your baby, you won’t have to run to your local superstore for supplies.
- Diapers: Have at least 50 newborn or size 1 disposable diapers on hand to get you through the first week. If your diaper of choice is cloth, 40 to 50 diapers on hand will prevent daily trips to the washing machine.
- Diaper rash medication: A small tube of diaper rash cream or ointment will help clear up any rash your baby may have in the first few weeks; Perri recommends A&D Ointment.
- Baby wipes: Check with your baby’s pediatrician about whether he or she recommends diaper wipes. If you get the OK, choose several boxes of an unscented variety -- scented versions may irritate your baby’s tender skin.
- Baby bath and shampoo: You don’t want to get ready to give baby a bath only to find out that dog shampoo is the only kind you have on hand. Look for baby bath that doubles as shampoo.
- Formula: Although breast is best, if you decide to feed your baby formula, a 32-ounce can be more than enough for the first week of your baby’s life.
- Baby detergent: Life with baby is all about laundry. A gentle detergent formulated just for babies, such as Dreft, or plain pure soap flakes won’t be likely to irritate your baby’s skin. Stay away from scented detergents.
The Web site of the National SAFE KIDS Campaign contains plenty of information about how to protect your child from unintentional injury.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission is the place to go to find the latest information about baby product recalls.
The Child Passenger Safety Web offers parents lots of tips for proper car seat installation.