BABY GEAR: The Good, The Bad, and the Unnecessary
By Stephanie Ondrack
(This is a reprint from 2011, when we used to have a Yahoo Discussion Group. We have replicated here it in it’s unedited entirety.)
As many of you know, we conducted a loose and unofficial poll on our Yahoo group this summer. We asked the question, “What baby gear items did you find the most, and least, useful?” We received about 50 responses, with some people limiting themselves to their number one item for each side, and others contributing long and comprehensive lists. Far from scientific, with no hint of statistical significance, we present to you an edited summary of the results. To merit mention in our tally, baby gear items had to elicit more than two votes. Thus, many items that you submitted are not present in our summary.
DRAWS, TIES, AND CAT’S GAMES
Some things appeared with almost identical frequency on both lists. These included:
Bottles: The usefulness of bottles, evidently, depends completely on whether you use them or not. If you bottle feed, they are literally and unarguably essential. If you do not bottle feed at all, they are clearly unnecessary. So while they appeared a couple times on both lists, I am mentioning them here instead of including them in the tally.
Nursing Covers: These also deserve a special mention. They only appeared on a small handful of lists, but some mothers described them with affronted indignity, while others praised their contribution.
Quotation, “What an insult! I don’t cover my own head while I’m eating, I need to see my baby’s latch, we like to make eye-contact, the cover got in the way, and besides, its airless and stuffy under there!”
And, “They allowed me to breastfeed in public while retaining a sense of modesty”
- MOST USFUL: CARRIERS:
Absolutely resounding winner, with over 30 mentions. Many people just listed the generic term “carrier” or “sling”, while others specified brands or types. Of the brands mentioned, ERGO was the clear favourite with about 18 hits. The runners up, in order of preference, were the Moby or Cuddly Wrap (combined, since they’re so similar), the Beco, the Baby Buddha, followed by single mentions of various brands of other carriers, such as the Bjorn, woven wraps, and ring slings.
Quotation: “The Ergo was by far the best carrier I have used. In the beginning it took some time getting used too but once I figured it out it made my life SO mucheasier, especially once I learned how to breastfeed in it.”
- MOST USEFUL: “Somewhere safe to put your baby down while you do stuff”
This category got quite a few votes. Broken down, the bouncy chair was in the lead with about 10 mentions, followed by Baby Arches or Play Mats (combined) with 5 mentions, and then the exersaucer with 2 mentions. Several other devices in this category (swings, jumparoo, bassinette with mobile, etc) got one mention each.
Quotation, “You absolutely need somewhere to keep baby content for a few minutes while you brush your teeth, grab the laundry, or make a sandwich”
- MOST USEFUL: CLOTHS, BLANKETS, and WASHABLE WIPES
I combined these three categories because so many people merged them. In total, these items formed a coalition that earned an impressive 16 votes. While some people were clearly talking about one single use (wrapping baby) or another (cleaning spit up), there was no obvious way to separate them. Too many of the mentions referred to mixed use. For example, “lots of soft, flannel, receiving blankets or cloths… carried everywhere to clean up messes, wrap babes in, and generally solve all manner of problems”.
- MOST USEFUL: STROLLERS
Strollers ranked high on both the most and least useful lists. Perhaps this has to do with the age of the baby in question, since many people mentioned that they did not use one for the first several months, but found it indispensable later. As a ‘most useful’ item, the stroller merited 8 votes.
Quotation, “Yes, the stroller was essential for us. And really, even if you prefer baby-wearing, grandmoms and other ‘old school’ caregivers love taking baby for a stroll while you catch up on your sleep or need to eat. The stroller will grow with you. When baby is holding his/her head up; walks to the park, beach and excursions are great with a stroller. I did love the baby carrier; but could not do without the stroller too.”
- MOST USEFUL: CLOTH DIAPERS
Cloth diapers got 7 mentions. These, obviously, are of no use to anyone exclusively using disposables, but unarguably essential to anyone using cloth.
Quotation, “Cloth diapers were an upfront investment but has already saved us so much money and since we plan on having more children there will be additional savings.”
- MOST USEFUL: DIAPER BAG
Diaper bags scored a solid appearance on 6 people’s most useful list. Interestingly, most of these entries explained that they do not use an actual ‘Diaper Bag’, but some other, less iconic substitute, such as a MEC back pack or a simple fabric produce bag.
Quotation, “Baby bag – No need to purchase a fancy baby bag from the baby store. We used a black tote (actually a yoga bag that I already had) that had lots of pockets and storage space”
- MOST USEFUL: HIGH CHAIRS
High chairs were next, ranking a total of 5 mentions. Almost everyone specified the brand they preferred, or at least described the style. Most people seemed to value light & portable, or easy-to-clean as the guiding features.
Quotation, “My high chair is cheap and easy to clean, no nooks and crannies. With a plastic shower liner underneath I didn’t get stressed about letting my child learn to handle food at his own pace”
- MOST USEFUL: KING SIZE BED
Next in line was the venerable King Size Bed. Not technically a ‘baby item’, this still received 4 independent mentions.
Quotation, “I would say that a king size bed is an essential baby item.Got onethe second time round, and sure wish we had it the first time round!!!”
- MOST USEFUL: BOUNCY BALL
Again, not marketed as a baby item, yet 3 people mentioned an Exercise Ball in their list of most important things.
Quotation, “Good for bouncing baby when you’re too tired to stand”
- MOST USEFUL: CHILD’S LIBRARY CARD
It is fascinating how many of these most-mentioned items are not traditional baby gear! 3 people mentioned their child’s library card, and another 4 people mentioned books or CD’s.
Quotation, “We love the library! We visit the library as often as we can and have access to (what seems like) an endless supply of books and children’s music whenever we want”.
And now, for the other side of the coin, the items most often relegated to the basement, the Re-Gift pile, or Craig’s List.
- WASTE OF SPACE: CRIB
Traditionally regarded as one of the most essential baby items, our respondents ranked it as the very least useful. The crib got mentioned 14 times as an item that never got used. However, two people added the caveat that after they removed one side of it and used it like a co-sleeper, they got some mileage out of it after all.
Quotation, “I also wish that we never bought a crib as we quickly turned into bed sharers”
- WASTE OF SPACE: SWING, EXERSAUCER, BOUNCY CHAIR, JOLLY JUMPER
These devices share second place in both the most and least useful lists. I suspect this is partly because I combined the categories, so that people who love the bouncy chair but loathe the swing end up in both lists. Nonetheless, 11 people mentioned one of these items as completely useless.
Quotation, “The mechanical swing was an annoying waste of space. It took up a lot of room and our daughter didn’t ever like it. If she’d liked it, my opinion might be different!”
- WASTE OF SPACE: STROLLERS
The usefulness of the stroller seems to depend largely on the age of the baby. People with younger babies generally seemed to make do without, while people with older babies / toddlers seem to use them regularly. Altogether, strollers got 7 hits on the ‘unnecessary’ list.
Quotation, “ Our stroller was totally useless for the first months (we preferred the carrier)”
- WASTE OF SPACE: FOOD MILLS / PUREE-ers
Featured next on the useless list, with a total of 5 hits, are Food Mills or other gadgets to puree baby food. Since babies don’t begin solids until at least six months, they are generally ready for table food at that age, completely bypassing the need for purees, cereals, or other glop.
Quotation, “The food mill someone got us never got used at all, since our baby skipped purees entirely”
- WASTE OF SPACE: CARRIERS
While no one listed ‘carriers’ as categorically useless, many people described one particular style or brand as something that did not work for them. The Baby Bjorn was the only repeat in this category with 4 mentions, followed by a few brands mentioned only once each. My impression is that preferences for particular carriers and slings are quite personal, and the same ones that work for some people do not work for others.
Quotation, “Baby Bjorn Carrier – I did use this for the first month and not only was it very uncomfortable to use but it felt like she was uncomfortable in it as well”
- WASTE OF SPACE: DIAPER BAGS
Similarly, while diaper bags got listed several times, it was always to critique a particular style or price-range, not to pan bags in general. 4 people mentioned diaper bags. It sounds like there’s an opportunity here for a redesign!
Quotation, “Way too pricey, and not at all designed for walking while wearing baby in a carrier”
- WASTE OF SPACE: BABY BATH TUBS
Although a couple people did like these, they appeared 4 times on the unnecessary list.
Quotation, “We found it so much easier to just bring him in the tub or shower with us”
- WASTE OF SPACE: SWADDLERS
Swaddlers appeared 3 times on the useless list.
Quotation, “We tried and tried, but our baby just hated being confined!”
- WASTE OF SPACE: PACIFIERS
These also ranked 3 votes for unnecessary, although I suspect an equal number of people, if asked, would say that they do find them useful.
- SPECIAL MENTIONS
A few other items stand out, not because they got listed a lot—they did not—but because they appeared so completely unanimously on the “useless” list. It seems like none of the responders had any use for the following items:
Pee Pee Tee Pees
Tiny Baby Towels
Baby Hand Covers
So, although opinion varied greatly on certain items, while others were clear winners or losers, we will close this poll with two final opinions from readers, “You hardly need anything, really. For the first few months all babies want is you”, versus “There are no useless baby items. You will use everything”. You decide.