Parenting: Baby gizmo must-haves

Published 12:00 am Monday, July 28, 2008

By Rachel Beck
Associated Press
Just because baby superstores have products stacked to the ceilings doesn’t mean most of what they stock is worth buying. In fact, parents should pass by much of it.
That’s the advice coming from Heather Maclean, who has made a business of cutting through the clutter of baby merchandise. The mother of three’s new book, “The Baby Gizmo Buying Guide,” doesn’t list branded items but guides parents through what kind of merchandise to buy to handle everything from sleepless nights to playtime during their child’s first years.
There is a lot to mull, given that $8.9 billion in baby products sold last year, according to the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association, a trade group for the industry.
Here are some excerpts from an interview with Maclean, who also helps run the Baby Gizmo Web site:
Q: Baby superstores are mazes, with thousands of products. What’s the best game plan for how to shop?
A: The stores are great at distractions on purpose. I liken them to Las Vegas casinos, with the lights, end caps and lack of windows so that you are walking in circles for hours, and that leads you to spend more.
That’s why you need to be prepared before you walk into the store. Read a book before you go to learn about categories, products and some of the crazy baby (products) terminology. Then search on the Internet for patterns and prices, and make a list with what to buy. Take that to the store with you.
But make sure you break your baby shopping into small chunks by zeroing in on three things per visit.
Q: In your book, you talk about the “bad baby-product buying cycle.” What does that mean?
A: Many times, parents are driven to buy a product because of the intense need for quiet and calm in their house, but once you get to the store, it’s noisy, overwhelming, and there are so many similar choices, that you end up just grabbing everything.
You might buy six different activity center or swings. You overbuy products and bring them home ó only to then realize it is hideous, ugly, the music is driving you nuts or your baby hates it. But there is no way you can or want to take it back, so it sits in your house and you secretly seethe with hatred every time you walk past it.
A simple way to avoid some of that torture is to take batteries to the store. I have no problem having a salesperson come over, open the box and put batteries in so I can listen to the music before I buy it.
Q: Some products aren’t considered necessities, but they sure make life better for babies and their parents. What goes on that list?
A: You can live without a video monitor, but it can change you life. The amount of sleep I lost when wondering what was that rustle or that cry, but the video monitor lets you instantly see a visual confirmation of what the child is doing.
I also think a pretty high quality diaper bag will last longer and mom will feel a lot better holding it. Why not get a diaper bag that makes you feel great?
Lastly, a good lightweight toddler stroller is something you won’t regret. You can get a $9.99 one for sure, and you can break your wrist pushing it. The minute you make the switch to a $100 lightweight stroller that lets you push it with your pinkies, you will notice the difference. You will use that stroller from the time the child is eight months through four years.
Q: Speaking of splurging a little, we see all those Hollywood starlets in the celebrity magazines pushing their $1,000 strollers. Are they worth that much?
A: They are worth it. Some of those systems are three strollers in one ó they have bassinets, then become lightweight strollers, they have toddler attachments and boogie boards for siblings. When you add up all those options, you would spend just as much on buying all of those things separately.
Q: Hand-me-downs are a great way to save money when you have children, but are they the safest option?
A: Hand-me-downs are amazing money savers, but some can be dangerous. A bad hand-me-down is one that is essential to your child’s safety or has an unknown history. I wouldn’t do hand-me-downs for car seats, because you can’t even give them away to Goodwill. I say no to play yards and cribs.
Cribs are recalled so frequently for a million things that you could never keep up with. Crib mattresses have the issue of bacteria seeping in and staying there. Same goes with breast pumps.
Great hand-me-downs are clothes, of course. Strollers are great ó they are very safe and hardly ever recalled. I like activity tables, baby gyms, rocking chairs and nursery decor.