With another round of friends expecting babies soon, I thought I’d give my unsolicited advice to them all at once with a blog post. My main advice to new parents is always the same. Don’t buy all of that stuff. Especially avoid the stuff that is supposed to convert with age. Buy the cheapest, most effective, easiest to handle thing for the current stage of development. It will be lighter and more robust than the convertible stuff and will probably end up costing less in the long run. There are pretty much just three periods you have to worry about through toddlerdom. Lying down, sitting up, and walking. For the lying down phase, forget the prams (useless after a few months), the big strollers that lay back (heavy), and the travel systems (even heavier). Get a lightweight stroller frame for your car seat. They are light and easy to handle and they leverage something you already have, your car seat. For sleeping, forget the big, fancy crib. It’s a waste of space and money and will eventually become a dangerous climbing apparatus that your toddler will insist on scaling. Instead, get a simple bassinet that’s safe for co-sleeping and put the little bugger in your bedroom. You can also stuff the bassinet into the basket of a stroller frame when you’re out and about to have ready for when you want to take the little one out of the car seat and give him some room to stretch out.
Once you reach the sitting up phase, get a lightweight, bare-bones stroller. Don’t get anything fancy. You need a light but sturdy sling on four wheels with a decent harness. The kid doesn’t care how fancy the stroller is. Pretty soon he won’t even want to be in the stroller except for when he exhausts himself from trying to escape the stroller. Don’t waste your money because as soon as the kid is walking you’ll probably end up with the red wagon off of Craigslist. Yes, the used red wagon is the pinnacle of kid conveyance. They love it more than any Bugaboo, Maclaren, or Peg Perego.
Once you hit a year old, you reach the blessed moment when you can move to a forward facing car seat. I still remember when each of my kids finally went forward facing. No more craning your head into the back seat to see how the little one is doing. No more moving the front seats all the way forward to make room for the rear-facing seat. The forward facing seat is your reward for making it through the first year. As for the seat, I wouldn’t bother getting one that flips from rear to forward facing. Use a car seat with a snap in base for the first year and then upgrade to a pure forward facing seat thereafter. The pure forward facing seats can usually be stripped down to a booster seat as the kid gets older. This is one occasion when convertibility is actually useful.
Toys? The old adage that the simple toys are best applies. My boys’ favorite toy is still dirt. Yes, dirt. Dirt, cardboard boxes, and a few non-electronic toy trucks are good for an afternoon of outdoor fun. Mud is a much appreciated upgrade. Indoors it is Thomas the Tank Engine. Laying down wooden tracks and pushing wooden trains is favored over all of the electronic gizmos we’ve bought them. And, of course, you need books. Lots of books. Always books.
Anyhow, for those friends having babies soon, you really don’t need much to make it through the first night after you get home from the hospital. Most hospitals will supply you with enough diapers, wipes, formula, swaddling blankets, and caps to get you through a few days. All you’ll need is a car seat and a bassinet. The things to invest in from there are simple things. Diapers, wipes, and formula (if you are supplementing) are the consumables that you will be replenishing all the time. Swaddling blankets are multi-taskers good for more than just swaddling. They serve as burp cloths, towels, and sheets. Sleep sacks are great things to have, especially once all of those snaps on onesies have pushed you over the edge. Go for the simplest, easiest to clean bottles. Move up to the convoluted ones meant to reduce gas only if your baby has a need for them. I think my kids could have drank from a hole poked in a dishwashing glove. 🙂 Toys for a newborn? You. Your voice, your hands, your presence. You can add the high-contrast toys, mobiles, and rattles as you go, but in the beginning they need only you.