Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Most useful baby items during the first 6 months: Part 1

Okay, clothes are useful too...

It has almost been a year since our little one was born. I've been thinking about this one way ride, and how our baby changed so much so fast. When we found out I was pregnant, two big, panicky thoughts reverberated  1) does anyone here know what to do with a baby? and 2) how the hell are we going to afford this?

An industrialized mommy complex has been unleashed in the last 10 years that is almost on par with the wedding industry. While throwing a large party that is supposed to embody a relationship and make absolutely everyone with an opinion happy can be stressful, at the end of the day a wedding is an event at which a couple signs a contract agreeing to be, ideally, legally joined to each other.  Caring for a child so that said child, say, stays healthy, meets milestones, defecates in a diaper that has been put on properly requires a great deal more preparation, money and time. The objects and experiences available to "help" new parents keep a baby alive and help it thrive are not only infinite, but amount to a lot of cash. Unlike with a wedding, raising a child comes with almost immediately recognizable and barely surmountable responsibilities, along with a healthy dose of persistent guilt that you haven't done it correctly.

When you are just starting out, as H and I are, the perceived expense of a baby and the things you are "supposed" to buy or do are really overwhelming. When I think back to those first few months of our little one's life, there are only a few things that we really needed, and fewer still that helpful but optional. Here are the top five items that helped us slug through the first 6 months.

 1) Bouncer chair

Handy for a little one that needs to be "held" to nap.

When our little one came home she needed to be held constantly. She had difficulty settling into the crib and would cry for hours and hours. We eventually discovered that she would sleep if we placed her in the bouncer chair. I guess it closed in around her a little bit. In those very early days, one of us would stay awake with her in this chair, while the other guy slept. As she grew, the chair became a place where she could sit and watch us while we did little tasks in the same room. We used it right up until the day she could sit up on her own. A friend of ours very generously gave us the Fisher Price My Little Lamb Deluxe Infant Seat, which vibrates and plays music. Honestly, we never used those features. They kept the baby awake. There is very likely a cheaper version of this seat that would have served the same purpose.

2) Muslin wraps

Muslin wraps are handy for the swaddling challenged.

Best.swaddling.blanket.ever. Hands down champion. These wraps are long and stretchy, making swaddling a breeze. Our little baby was very uncomfortable with reflux during her early months, and swaddling made her feel marginally better. We now use these blankets to cover the ground when we sit in the park, or to cover her legs in the stroller/car seat on a mild day. They are also useful as make-shift sun shields. We got by with two by Aden and Anais, which I snagged on sale for $10 a piece.

3) Microwaveable bottle sterilizer

You name it, we sterilized it in here.
Once the bottles are boiled that first time, they still need to be sterilized before every use during the first 4 months of a child's life. With this sterilizer and 200 ml of water, 6 bottles can be sterilized in the microwave while a busy parent accomplishes other things. Four minutes on high, followed by four minutes of rest and the bottles are ready to go.

A friend of ours gave us her old Tommee Tippee Closer to Nature bottles and sterilizer. The bottle folks would have you believe that their microwaveable sterilizers only fit their bottles. Anyone with depth perception can see that isn't true. It is particularly untrue of the the Tommee Tippee sterilizer, as it is designed to fit Tommee Tippee bottles, which are extra wide and sometime very tall. We were able to stick pacifiers, Avent bottles as well as Ameda and Medela breast pump bottles in here no problem. In fact, this sterilizer was most helpful during the period that I pumped milk at work. Breast pump bottles absolutely have to be sterile. Every morning, I would pop the bottles into this sterilizer, get ready for work, and pack them into my purse on the way out the door. Indispensable.

4) Breast pump - Ameda, Purely Yours

Breastfeeding: great for baby health, and
budget friendly too
I almost recommended my bottle brush over this pump. I didn't have much success pumping at work, as there was no space to do so. That said, this pump worked well at home. Since it is closed system, the pump cannot be contaminated by cytomegalovirus and other such nasties, so the device is easy to resell or donate when a mother is done with it (sans the tubing, filters and cups, of course). In this respect, The Ameda Purely Yours double breast pump is very similar to the hospital pumps.

I was the happy recipient of this pump, which had been used by two other women. When I first returned to work, my supply dipped so I rented a hospital pump for a month in the hopes of boosting my supply. I found no discernible difference between the two pumps. In the end, though, this little guy gave out about 4 months before I stopped breastfeeding our little one. I guess four years of virtually constant use was too much. If you consider that a week's supply of formula for a 6 month old is roughly $30, investing $200 in a new pump to use for a year is kind of a budget and health no brainer.

5) Sherpa - as diaper wipes, face wipes, miracle clean up fabric

Best baby purchase ever, hands down.
Photo credit: Wazoodle
So this was a bit of a surprise. Babies seem to require an insane amount of fabric be invested in mopping up messes everyday. Between pee spray, milk drool, bum wiping, wetting themselves mid-diaper change and the unidentifiable muck collecting around hands and face, babies need to be wiped down constantly. An easy cleaning fix is to buy cartons of diaper wipes and keep them handy during all baby interfacing. Diaper wipes, however, are usually made of some kind of polyester mix. This means they do not break down in land fill. While cheap on a per pack basis (around $4 for a small pack), the ludicrous amount of wiping up required to keep a baby alive and healthy means that in the very short term diaper wipe buying becomes expensive.

While looking into how to make our own cloth diapers (more on that later), I found a very absorbent and inexpensive knit fabric called "sherpa" referenced frequently as a good absorbent layer fabric. A quick google search led me to a New Jersey company named Wazoodle, which sells organic cotton sherpa for around $13 a yard. I bought a yard and a half, cut it up into roughly diaper wipe size (no sewing required, since the fabric is knit) and haven't bought a wipe since. Not only does the fabric absorb over 3 cups of liquid per square yard/square meter, it is softer than most terry clothes and its nap is the best dirty bum cleaner we have every used. We keep a little homemade diaper wipe solution beside the changing area and dip these bad boys into it at change time. We have another set that we keep just for wiping food covered faces. At the end of the week, we wash the sherpa with either the cloth diapers or regular clothes (depending on how it was used). The purchase of this fabric, no lie, was the most budget friendly and clean-baby making decision we ever made.

What items have you found most useful? Any DIY baby supply suggestions?

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