Man Meets Baby #3 – To Buy or Not to Buy

The Short Version

A fair number of sources and sites seem to debate what parents need to purchase for their children. A person with no baby experience will undoubtedly feel intimidated by these lists made by experts. Never fear amigo, I have made a list of items I think you, the man new to all things baby, will need.

Need: A Pack n Play, A Changing Table, A Diaper Pail, Baby Bath, Baby Bouncer, Front Pack.

Might need: Baby Swing/Exersaucer, Pacifiers, Video Baby Monitors, Nursing Pillow.

The Long Version

You’ve had the baby and now you are home. Quickly you discover that your child really needs only three things: sleep, food and diaper changes. The rest of the time it’s you looking at your baby or you trying to get some sleep. Let’s get practical for a moment here.

Your baby can’t do anything. It can’t eat on it’s own, it can’t hold it’s head up and for some strange reason you have to wrap it up at all times or it wails like a banshee.

So let’s talk specifics. Your baby is going to have to sleep. Whether or not you decide to co-sleep with your baby you need to have another option available. Why is this? Because you child is going to sleep very often. During the day you are going to be holding them but, let’s be honest, at some point you need to put them down. I am going to exclude cribs from this list because, like car seats, they are a rather serious purchase that everyone needs to make and there are a number of safety requirements that make them a very detailed purchase. For this list I am going to focus on the more portable, less obvious places where you put the baby down.

In my case we had two options, a cradle and a Pack ‘n Play. I would advise you not purchase a cradle if you have to buy all of your child’s needs. The reason for this is that you can only use one for a short period of time and you can purchase these portable play yards from companies like Graco where they have an insert that works as a cradle or basinet.

The usefulness of these Pack n Plays cannot be overstated. They will be with you for a long time, first with the upper insert installed and then as a playpen. They fold up easily and have wheels so you can move them from room to room with little hassle. We owned two of these and kept one on each floor of our house. Whether it was used for a nap or just a moment so I could change my clothes, the Pack n Play was an essential for getting through the day.

Next is the changing table. Many people claim you don’t need one, that they use a sturdy dresser and that works just fine. I suppose you could do this just like I imagine you could use a mattress on the floor for your bed and couch and dining room table. My point being that changing tables get a lot of use. In the first three months my wife and I were doing a diaper change every hour and a half. I can say that this is the only baby item we own that I really wish I had researched more.

The table we have was great when our daughter was smaller. At 16 months she is almost the length of the table and it has been at least six months since I had a place to rest the wipes (other than in the compartment underneath – this photo is of the table I own) because my previous spot, balancing it on the top right edge is no longer safe from her well-aimed kicks.

Let me be clearer on this point. You have this tiny, squirmy child that has either just gone to the bathroom or has just spit up. In many cases the matter that should be in the diaper has either shot up out of the diaper or manages to get past you when you are taking the diaper off and you suddenly find yourself trying to remove a diaper, keep a child from rolling about in vomit or fecal matter, removing the clothing that is now covered in something awful and you can’t reach your baby wipes because you have no surface to put them on. Then you are trying to get the wipes into your diaper pail while keeping a hand on your child so they don’t fall to the floor.

This isn’t a doomsday scenario, it was a pretty common one for me before my daughter started on solid foods. It’s gross, it’s messy and when your baby is really small it is a matter of logistics. If your child can’t sit on their own, or worse before they have head control, you need to control their bodies. You need a surface that is contoured to help keep them in place while you remove the mess that is now everywhere. If you look at the picture again you’ll see that the top of the table has a lip to it, which is where your contoured diaper pad fits in. The pad is soft and easy to clean, two things which a dresser top are not.

I know you haven’t changed a diaper before but, good fellow, try and visualize this process and picture yourself only having one hand to do everything. If you are handy you can build yourself something that works, otherwise I advise making the changing table one of your gift registry items and really looking them over to find one that works for you.

Then there is the diaper pail. Another item that some seem to think is unneeded. My wife and I were of this opinion until we discovered something – after a certain point a regular pail will develop a stink that cannot be destroyed.

After trying every cleaning agent known to man we decided why not try and buy a real diaper pail since we had to buy a replacement anyway. The one we purchased was not very expensive, it has its own fitted bags that cost about as much as snazzy trash bags do. It has a little container for baking soda just under the lid and forms a good seal when it closes. The best part? I have never smelled that smell again. When you consider you keep this thing in the room your baby sleeps in I think you will agree they are worth it.

The baby bath is another handy item that certain people put on their not to buy list. I cannot imagine why. Babies are really quite fragile. And squirmy. When you get them wet it’s just like getting any skin wet, they become slippery. Now the people opposed to baby baths seem to think that if you own a kitchen sink there is no need for one of these contraptions.

I have to disagree. The first bath my daughter had at home was in our sink, my Mother-in-law and wife doing the bathing. I had to leave the room because I was certain it was all going to go horribly wrong. She survived and that was that, until my wife went back to work and I was the one doing bath time. Now if you are anything like me you are not the most gentle, careful person. You are not known for you ability to be delicate. Picture now your kitchen sink. Hard surfaces everywhere, right? It’s about four or five feet off from the floor? It’s deep? Now picture putting a tiny baby that can’t do anything, even move it’s head in order to get out of water and breathe, into your sink.

These baby baths remove what for me was the horror of bath time. They are small and portable so you can bathe your child anywhere. I did it on the floor of her room until she was about nine months old. This meant I didn’t have to worry about dropping the child. The bath is plastic and the bottom can be inflated with air so it is very soft. One side can be lifted so you can rest the baby’s back at an incline. I’m being overly-detailed here so you can get a sense of the little things that the bath lets you do. It lets you use one hand to do the bathing and the other to support the baby on this incline. Now think of your sink. How are you holding the baby while you wash it? How are you rinsing it off? Where are you putting the towel to dry off your baby?

The final selling point for me was travel. It didn’t matter where we went we had our own, clean bathtub. The added bonus is these aren’t that expensive and fit nicely onto a registry wish list.

The baby bouncer might seem like an unnecessary item since you’ve decided to get yourself a Pack ‘n Play. The reason why I recommend getting one is they are much smaller and therefore can fit in many places where the Pack n Play cannot. Take, for example, the bathroom. Have you thought about this yet? You’re home alone with the baby and you have to go take a shower. Where do you put the baby? You can put the baby in the other room while you shower but then the baby is going to cry. You are then going to think, “Is she crying because she’s alone or because something happened?” Trust me, right now, baby-less, you think you are a calm, rational person who is not going to freak out about all of this baby stuff. You are wrong.

You are going to freak out. A lot. For the very reason that you are new and you haven’t done any of this before. So things like the baby bouncer are a good investment for you because you want to be able to shower or use the bathroom without running out every three minutes to make sure that you child is okay.

Finally the last item is the front pack. My wife and I held off using ours until our daughter was close to three months old but many people use these much earlier. The front pack is a really handy contraption that allows you to have both hands free while holding the baby. Forgive me for stating the obvious here but I would not have known that. This is huge. I have often thought of writing a book about becoming a dad and calling it “The Art of Doing Things One-Handed.” Being able to have both hands free while carrying the baby opens up a world of possibilities, like grocery shopping and washing the dishes and….yeah it’s not a great world but you are doing it anyway so it’s nice to make it easier.

This item tends to be a bit less controversial than the others but some seem to think it is a waste of money. The trick is to find one that is easy to use but also offers good support and will be viable for more than a few months. The model we went with the Baby Bjorn Original Classic. It is usable between the weights of eight pounds to twenty-five so at 16 months we are only now looking for a replacement (my daughter is very small, chances are you will need a replacement sooner).

Items I Think You Might Want

A baby swing or an Exersaucer may seem like an extravagance. You don’t technically need either of these items to care for your child. We own both and I would recommend them. Why? Because it’s nice to be able to let your baby do something other than lie on their back or in your arms. You know how in movies, or in restaurants or pretty much anywhere else little babies seem to always be crying? That’s because they do it a lot. ‘The experts say it’s because they can’t do anything else to express how they feel. It’s horrible. You heard me, horrible. Listening to your child cry is one of the most defeating things you will ever do. After several hours of listening to it you will be ready to make any concession, offer them anything in order for a little peace and quiet. Enter these two items.

My daughter would get tired of being on her back, hanging out in the Pack ‘n Play. Sometimes it would be because she couldn’t see us and sometimes I think it was just too much of the same. So normally we would hold her or put her in the front pack. Other times she needed to be down and it was really, really nice to have this other thing you could put her in. When they are very small a swing is nice because it, well, you know, swings. Many babies like the motion and just sleep. Some, like my daughter, just like to swing and it makes them very happy. It’s not a magic fix and I am sure some babies aren’t crazy about swings so, as with all baby items, don’t spend a ton of money (unless it’s something like a car seat where it’s best to go for what you want rather than cut corners). Our swing, like many of our baby products, was a Craig’s List purchase and was well worth the ten dollars.

The Exersaucer was a bit pricey, but for about six months it made for this really fun, independent toy that my daughter loved. She was able to do her own thing, and so were we.

Pacifiers are controversial. I have no idea why. The only arguments that people have (and the hospital where we had our baby agreed with these enough to have a “no pacifier” policy) are odd and have more to do with the parents than the children. The two major arguments I have heard are:

1) The child will be hungry and the parents will give them a pacifier not understanding it is time to nurse/feed.

2) The child will form an attachment to the pacifier and then end up being one of those weird kids who are five years old and walking around with their ‘binky’ hanging out of their mouths.

Point one is really pretty simple. Newborns eat at very regular intervals. So stick to their feeding schedule and you don’t have to worry about whether or not you are underfeeding them. Also, they don’t suffer in silence. If your child is hungry and you trying giving them something other than food, they will fuss and scream and let you know this isn’t working. Just a side note, if you are planning on breastfeeding the first few days are really, really hard. You don’t know this yet but it turns out that babies aren’t born knowing how to nurse well. They have to learn and for some this takes a bit of time. Oh, the other thing. For the first few days the woman can’t nurse because there isn’t any milk, just this strange in-between substance called colostrum. I won’t go into all of this but basically in those first few days you child can’t eat like that want to and the pacifier is the thing that helps make this less awful.

Point two is also simple. You need to stop using the pacifier before the child forms an attachment. I would imagine the age varies but removing pacifiers from your child’s life before they are one year of age should solve the problem. We did it at nine months and it went really smoothly.

Removing the pacifier may result in having a very bad day or two but that is a fair trade-off for months of peace and quiet. I am emphatically pro-pacifier because they work very well. In the first few months I found it to be an almost instantaneous solution to hysterical baby crying. This is a good thing.

Video baby monitors are the only really iffy item listed here. I will be honest, I don’t own one. I have wanted one for about a year but it just never happened. What the people opposed to these argue is you will learn your child’s cries and be able to discern when you need to go in and when you don’t. I can say this has not happened for me. What has happened, a lot, is I have thought I have heard my child crying (because she had woken up) and gone in only to find her crying in her sleep. This then lead to an early wake-up and a baby who was very fussy for several hours after.

The truth is there are a lot of times when your baby will cry and you are wondering, “Did something happen?” and for the most part, if you have your child in a crib and there is nothing in it that can hurt her the answer will be ‘no’. That being said, if you are looking for gift items this upgrade from the standard monitors will be helpful for several situations. The sleep crying, the times where they fight sleep at the beginning of the nap and you are wondering if they have fallen asleep so you can start doing that somewhat noisy thing, and the times where you don’t understand why it is so quiet and wonder if something wrong. Like I said, this is the least solid item on this list but for me it’s something I wish we had gotten.

Lastly the nursing pillow. Okay, I sense your hesitation here. Nursing = woman. Yes and no, compadre. If your partner is breastfeeding you are not going to be doing too much bottle-feeding while she is around. Presumably one or both of you will be going back to work and then you have the mixed up schedules, middle of the night feedings and who knows what else. If you are doing formula you are now on an equal footing and it’s time to become Mr. Bottle. This is where the nursing pillow is handy.

Until your baby has head control (three months-ish) you have to do some weird positioning in order to give her a bottle. Couple this with the baby not always cooperating because sometimes babies just fight you and it’s much, much more comfortable to have them resting on a pillow while you do your thirty minute bottle time.

You can, obviously, use a normal couch pillow, they do work. If this was all about you I would say that is most likely all you need. Your partner, however, is going to be nursing in different locations in all kinds of situations and will most likely benefit from one of these contoured pillows. It works better for you, too and they don’t cost all that much. If you have resistance to the pillow I would say let it slide, I found it to be much better for my back because I am somewhat tall and sometimes those bottles go on forever.

Author: John Ryan Sullivan

I am a writer and filmmaker.

One thought on “Man Meets Baby #3 – To Buy or Not to Buy”

  1. We have three nursing pillows, though Squish was weaned over a year ago. They are so handy for propping a book or plate, using the laptop, etc. They are also great neck pillows.

    We never had an exersaucer or a bouncer, but the baby pack was an essential. We had a sling for newborn-6 months, and then we invested in an Ergo. I can carry back or front, and I am still hauling Squish in it. I hope to for another year when we’re grocery shopping.

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