Registering for wedding gifts was such fun. I fondly remember those satisfying beeps from the label-scanning gun as I selected towels, serving platters and a stainless-steel toaster.
Registering for baby gear when I was six months pregnant, on the other hand, was a nightmare. My husband, mother-in-law and I drove to a big-box baby store in the suburbs to fill out a registry in advance of my baby shower in spring 2011. The woman at the customer service desk handed me a registry gun, a fistful of coupons, a checklist with 62 “must-have” and 45 “good-to-have” items and released us into the store.
“Have fun!” she chirped.
I hadn’t cared for a child since I babysat for my neighbors in the early ’90s and hadn’t spent more than a few minutes with an infant, ever. I couldn’t tell a onesie from a romper or a gown or a bodysuit, and I had no idea which one a baby actually wore and when. Then, the financial worries kicked in as I scanned the list and saw that the store recommended that I “must have” two car seats and three strollers.
Before I got married, I knew how a toaster worked and the relative importance of having a “bagel” or “defrost” setting. I didn’t fear that if I chose the wrong towels, I would kill my first-born child. But warning labels are slapped on the side of nearly every item of baby gear, from crib sheets (suffocation) to baby swings (falling) to infant bathtubs (drowning). The stakes could not have felt higher.
So, I did what any pregnant lady would do in such an overwhelming situation: I cried. Twice in 10 minutes. Once in the clothing section, once near the cribs. But there are ways to make this moment easier and even to avoid it altogether.
The most important thing you can bring to the store is someone who has recently had a baby. I stress “recently” because my mother-in-law would be the first to admit that baby gear has changed so dramatically since the mid-1980s that she couldn’t really help me navigate, say, the world of video vs. audio baby monitors. I’m now expecting my second child and, in just the past two years, a whole new category of baby monitors has popped up: WiFi remote view. (“See the center of your world from anywhere in the world.”)
Buy or check out the book “Baby Bargains,” known as the baby-gear bible for clueless parents-to-be. Authors Denise and Alan Fields helped me realize that manufacturers and marketers know that they’re dealing with vulnerable shoppers and are ready to pounce on our pocketbooks. The next time I went to the big-box store, I brought my copy of the book with Post-it notes marking the things I wanted to buy. They numbered far fewer than the 62 “must-haves.”
In February, Amazon.com launched a baby registry feature called Advice Team. It’s a way for parents to crowdsource their registries; Amazon calls it “social shopping.” Registrants can invite friends and family members to recommend items or add comments about their experiences with particular products. Once an item is recommended, it goes to an “advice list,” where registrants can view the suggestions and either delete the items or add them to their Amazon registries with one click.
Online registries, available through Amazon and the Web sites of the big-box retailers, are nice because you can shop a little bit at a time and from your home. Also, there’s no danger of an embarrassing public crying jag. The downside is you can’t feel the different burp cloths to make sure you get the softest one, for example.
One of the most helpful pieces of advice I heard during my first pregnancy came from my prenatal yoga teacher: “You are all that your baby needs. You already have everything.” My body could provide necessities such as food, warmth and comfort. While not entirely accurate — you have to have a car seat installed to take the baby home from the hospital, for example — the sentiment stayed with me for the rest of the pregnancy and always calmed me down.
The commercial aspect of baby-preparedness often obscures the real work of getting ready for a baby. Are you getting enough rest, exercise and nutritious meals? How are you settling into the idea of becoming a parent? Most important: How is your relationship with your partner, or if you’re a single parent, with your support system of friends and family?
What your baby needs more than anything (and especially more than window valances that match his or her crib bedding) is to be welcomed into a stable home overflowing with love.
Saslow is a former Washington Post staff writer.
A super-minimalist baby checklist
These are the things you absolutely need in the baby’s first weeks of life. As your baby grows, new needs will arise, and you can buy those things later.
●Diapers, some size 0 but mostly size 1. By the time your baby weighs eight pounds (which he or she could upon birth), he or she is ready to wear size 1.
●3-5 seasonally appropriate, newborn-size onesies (these are the T-shirts that snap under the diaper) or pajamas (which usually have footies).
●2-3 swaddling blankets.
●A car seat. You’ll need an infant car seat right away, but not a convertible or booster car seat until later.
●Somewhere safe for the baby to sleep, such as a crib or bassinet.