Maternity for Engineers: Baby registry

January 10, 2019

I have a theory about why trying to find the perfect wedding dress is such a Thing. I think it's a placeholder for wondering whether you've found the "perfect" spouse, but displaced onto an object instead. Baby gear is similar, I think, for trying to feel prepared and capable of being a good parent. Our impending cross-country move was helpful for not going too far down this hole, and now I have a more established philosophy around baby gear. To paraphrase Michael Pollan, I think you should "get some stuff, not too much."

Here are some general principles and tips around baby gear:
  • Until the baby is on the outside, you don't know that much about 1) what your baby is like, and 2) what kind of parent you're like. Therefore, when pulling together a baby registry, it makes sense to make some reasonable guesses about different options you might want to try but save most of your purchasing power for after the baby has been born. There are also just variations like recovering from vaginal birth vs. C-section birth. You will know more in the future and can then best make use of the problems that can be solved with money, like buying duplicates of the most useful items to cut down on laundry.
  • If you have stuff that's brand new, you may want to consider airing them out ahead of time. Nesting by setting up and painting a nursery is a picturesque tradition, but it seems generally recommended to try to have clean, scent-free air for newborns. This article on VOCs is not too fearmongering and has some good recommendations.
  • If you live in an area with a Buy Nothing group (modern day, Facebook-based version of Freecycle), these are GREAT for baby and kid stuff. You can pass along what you don't end up using and keep your own clutter manageable too. There are also often baby/kid consignment shops as an alternative to boutiques or Amazon.

Sources I used for researching baby gear:
  • CanDo Kiddo: she's an occupational therapist and writes a fair amount about supporting your baby's development and how to help prevent flathead syndrome. I like how she explains her reasoning and that she has a mindset of trying to keep things simple, since you can always buy more stuff later on. I consider her quite reliably and trustworthy.
  • Lucie's List: this site, by its nature, is a little bit more into Stuff, but their tone is friendly and the guides were helpful to go through for considering what I might be interested in having.
  • Baby Gear Lab: to quote my friend who send this to me, "I don't think their advice is nearly as bullet proof as, say Sweethome, but it's something."

Categories of baby gear, by function:
  • Transport
  • Sleeping
  • Feeding
  • Diapering & Cleaning
  • Clothing
  • Other

TRANSPORT

Probable must haves: car seat, stroller, diaper bag
Recommended but also can wait: wraps/carriers/slings for baby wearing

If your baby is going to ride in a car, you will need a car seat. The car seat was the main thing that I wanted to get brand new, to avoid concerns about whether it's been in a crash previously or has been recalled. Those portable "bucket seats" for young babies, that have a base to click into in the car, are known as "infant car seat carriers." These seem to be very convenient for if you expect to be going in and out of a car very often, will be transporting your baby in multiple cars, or if you have other young children to wrangle safely between your home and the car.

Those situations didn't apply to us at the time and I was persuaded by this article to consider just getting a convertible car seat with an infant insert instead, which is less convenient, but would help avoid the temptation of letting a baby sleep too long in the car seat and contributing to a potential flat spot on his head. I also wanted something with a cover that could be machine washable. We got the Maxi-Cosi Pria 70 with Tiny Fit insert which has been fine. Very confusing to figure out how to install it securely, which is common for car seats, so I was glad that our hospital had a car seat clinic we could go to to get help with that. Definitely look for similar car seat safety clinics near you to get help with installation! Ours even had a fake baby to practice getting into/out of the car seat, haha.

For a stroller, I therefore did not choose one of those systems that an infant car seat would just click into. I wanted something that would recline pretty close to fully flat so that it would be all right to let the baby sleep in it, as well as be easy to maneuver and collapse to store. I got a used Baby Jogger City Mini GT Single Stroller and have been happy with its collapsibility and adjustable handle height, with the tradeoff that the storage basket is a bit small. For a fancy, high end (expensive) stroller, I'd probably try to get an UppaBaby Vista, especially if there are multiples involved, for its bassinet attachment.

Diaper bag: I would recommend considering diaper backpacks, or honestly, just a good lightweight backpack that is roomy, with a few different zipper pockets with then some pouches inside to keep feeding stuff vs. diaper change stuff together. If you decide to use a bag that wasn't designed as a diaper bag, you'll probably want to get a portable changing pad, since those are typically included otherwise.

Baby wearing: you can watch a lot of YouTube videos to try to figure this out, but I think this is where visiting a baby boutique in person can be really helpful. Oftentimes there will be workshops or classes where they go through various models, with fake babies that you can practice with! I liked using a Moby at home and found it more comfortable than the Baby K'tan, but the Baby K'tan was less hassle to use while out and about where I wouldn't want to be dragging a long strap on the ground. We eventually got a Tula with infant insert as well as a Baby Bjorn for Dan, as though made more sense to him for how to get them on and the baby in them.


SLEEPING

Probable must haves: crib, crib sheets, swaddle sleep sacks, plugged in white noise machine, blackout curtains
Recommended but also can wait: portable white noise machine, portable crib, other sleep sack aids

For a crib, I wanted to roomshare but not bedshare, which seemed like a good combo of reducing risk of SIDS and supporting breastfeeding rather than trekking over to a nursery in a different room. It's helpful to minimize the distance between the baby caregiving task and where you fall asleep, without falling asleep with the baby on you while you're on a chair or sofa. We got an Arm's Reach Co-Sleeper. That was an ok size for about the first 5-6 months. No need to worry about the branded sheets, which are kinda scratchy anyway--king-size pillowcases work totally fine.

We also used a Pack'n'Play for naps. Later on, I talked Dan into getting the Guava Lotus travel crib which I definitely recommend, it's easy to pack/unpack and the side zip keeps open the possible of a Montessori-style floor bed while also being easier on your back than leaning over a traditional crib. In general, having at least 3 sets of crib sheets helped with laundry cycling as you improve your diapering technique.

Joke was on me a bit because most of the months in the co-sleeper were during our exclusive pumping/bottle feeding months, and the Montessori floor bed is not a good idea for our FOMO sleep resister! We have quite a collection of different swaddling sleep sacks. You can get some of those muslins for DIY swaddling, but the sacks with velcro/snaps/zippers are really helpful for simplifying the process. I found the SwaddleMe Original Swaddle 3 packs to be most cost effective, but there are tons of different designs with various benefits. You might get lucky with a baby that is much more fond of sleep even without those aids though, so you can hold off and rely on Amazon Prime/Now.

There are some classic things to have to set yourselves up for success in the sleep environment: a white noise machine, and blackout curtains or shades. The Marpac Hushh is now my go-to off-registry baby shower gift because it freed our phones from being drained for white noise usage during car rides and it chargeable via USB.


FEEDING

Probable must haves: breast pump, burp cloths, some bottles, bottle drying rack, bottle brush, nursing bras
Recommended but also can wait: comfortable rocker/glider, hands-free pumping bra, other breastfeeding supplies (see this post on nursing-friendly clothing)
Might need less than you think: dedicated bottle warmer

If you want to try breastfeeding and have health insurance coverage, it's worth looking into whether your plan will subsidize the purchase of a breast pump. If yes, that's a good thing to get squared away ahead of time so you can wash and sterilize the parts, get a little familiar with how to put it together, and have it available for as soon as you need it. I planned not to start pumping until a month postpartum, but because Nico couldn't latch due to a tongue tie, I started pumping full-time within just a couple days instead. I really liked my Spectra S1: good power, comfortable parts, quiet motor, rechargeable battery. Not having to plug into an outlet is really helpful if you're going to be pumping while traveling at all.

Burp cloths: we were gift a bunch of cloth diapers to use as burp cloths and just had them in various baskets all throughout the house. We also used them as bibs but in general, I found that I didn't care that much about cleaning up after baby drool.

Bottles are one of the things I was surprised to find out that babies will develop different preferences for. We tried a bunch of different kinds but ultimately settled on the Dr. Brown's Options Slow Flow Bottle Set which were a little fiddly in the parts but I eventually got over wanting to hand wash them all and just used the dishwasher instead. We got a bin for corralling the small bottle parts in the dishwasher. The Boon Lawn Countertop Drying Rack Green and the OXO Tot Bottle Brush were also useful for cleaning. If you do plan to hand wash parts (which I always did for pump parts, which are more expensive and delicate), dedicate a plastic bin to baby stuff so it doesn't get mixed up with anything else in your kitchen sink.

Nursing bras are on the buy ahead list more because near the end of a pregnancy, your usual underwire bras are probably not very comfortable at that point. I tried a bunch of styles and settled on that Bravado Women's Body Silk Seamless Nursing Bra as the most comfortable and still somewhat supportive design. They're a little pricey compared to other styles, but do go on sale at Target and Amazon.

There are tons of additional breastfeeding- and pumping-related stuff you can get to make your life easier, but what happens with breastfeeding, should you go for it, can be a bit unpredictable. Generally I think it's more effective to save your funds to be able to work with a private IBCLC lactation consultant outside of the hospital in case there are issues to troubleshoot and then follow their recommendations on support items.

I also don't think you need to buy formula ahead of time. Once you start buying any baby stuff in a trackable way, you'll probably get sent samples anyway. Also, you don't want to commit to too much of a particular kind of formula in case you need to switch it up to something else.


DIAPERING & CLEANING

Probable must haves: newborn diapers, wipes, scent-free lotion, diaper rash cream, changing pad, changing pad covers, diaper changing table, infant tub, scent-free hand soap
Recommended but also can wait: changing pad liners, mesh wash bags, baby wash cloths
Probably won't really need: wipes dispenser, wipe warmer, special odor minimizing diaper trash cans (a lot to pay for probably less effectiveness than taking trash out frequently)

Cloth vs. disposable diapers: my conclusions from researching cloth diapers is that you might save on the order of a few hundred dollars over the course of diapering one kid, it's thought to be better for the environment on balance, it's not that much more work than disposables once you have your system in place, and it might help with earlier/easier potty training/toilet independence because of wet sensations not being wicked away. I would recommend just going with disposables to start with, just to minimize your early learning curve as much as possible. You can always switch over to cloth diapers later, and look into whether any baby boutiques near you have cloth diaper rental kits to try out different styles.

Wipes/lotions/soaps: we actually used water-only wipes for several months before graduating to regular (but still scent-free and "for sensitive skin") packages of wipes. They were a little frustrating to use at times, but it seemed like staying away from scented anything helped reduce occurrences of diaper rash. For a diaper rash cream, our pediatrician recommended just the classic tube of Desitin and that's been sufficient so far. You will be washing your hands SO MUCH so finding a scent-free hand soap and lotion (or coconut oil or whatever) will help the adults around.

A changing table is helpful on your back for its height, so you could do a changing pad on top of any other furniture you have that would be tall enough, as long as you can secure the pad from moving around. Between the changing pad and the table, you definitely need some straps to help protect against rolling off the pad. It will probably help with laundry cycles to have at least 3 covers, and then potentially the liners that lay on top as well. You can also use the liners over crib sheets to cut down on laundry a bit there too. The idea of the liners sounded silly to me at first, but it helps as your diapers become more secure.

Hooded towels with animal faces on them are just too unbelievably cute, but similar to clothing, you might end up being gifted plenty of towels and blankets. I thought baby washcloths were unnecessary at first, but they did become helpful after there become crusty food or mud that I needed to try to wipe off. In the beginning, just rinsing with water was sufficient.

Mesh washing bags are useful for keeping together tiny baby items like socks, preventing the velcro on swaddle sacks or bibs from wrecking other items, and separating out items that need to be line dried.


CLOTHING

We actually didn't even buy any baby clothing for the longest time, because people love buying tiny adorable baby clothes as gifts. My general comments are:
  • clothing that comes together with snaps or zippers (vs. only over the head) helps a lot with wriggly babies with giant heads, especially when you're still afraid of how delicate and lacking in neck control they are
  • dressing babies from the feet up is a legitimate strategy
  • the sizes on tags are wildly inconsistent and really only a suggestion. 
  • slightly oversized clothes are easier to get on and off
  • go for organic cotton etc. if you want to do so for being environmentally-friendly, but everything is laundered so often that in the organic vs. conventionally-grown cotton question, I don't see how it would have much of an impact on your baby's skin

OTHER

Probable must haves: forehead thermometer, baby rectal thermometer, NoseFrida the Snotsucker, saline nasal spray, baby nail clippers/file, yoga ball
Nice-to-have: labor gown
Recommended but also can wait: FridaBaby Fridet, oogibear booger picker

Baby healthcare items: forehead thermometer is useful for more frequent temperature checking without undiapering needed, but you still want a rectal thermometer on hand for the most accurate temperature reading. Nasal spray and snotsucker (over the traditional bulb suckers) are pretty much accepted these days as givens for when babies have colds. The booger picker was amazingly useful for our kiddo that was really sensitive to having his nose blocked up in any way, but ymmv.

Yoga ball is for endless bouncing to help with calming crying babies who are otherwise fed/dry.

Your own labor gown is just a nice thing to have to feel more relaxed in a hospital environment in particular. The one I got has snaps at the shoulders, to help with nursing, and snaps in the back in case doctors need access. I continued to wear it at home as a nightgown for several months.

The FridaBaby Fridet is a really nice upgrade from the peri bottles they give you at the hospital, but might be more relevant with a vaginal birth than a C-section?