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A Wife’s Guide to Baby Registries

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Experienced mothers all over the world host baby showers for their families and friends. In most Western countries, new mothers ask for specific gifts at showers by creating registries to tell guests what they want. But when moms-to-be register for their own gifts, they often miss out on the wisdom and expertise other members of their communities have to offer. Experimental Wifery offers some ideas to think about how to decide what you’ll need for your new baby and a few practical suggestions about how to register.

Think about what you’d like your life as a parent to be to be.

There are dozens of different parenting philosophies that go in an out of vogue. Instead of reading as many different parenting books as you can find to pick a side in the “mommy wars”, sit down with your partner and discuss your own childhoods. What did your parents do well? What could your parents have done better? Add items to your registry that might help you be the kind of parents you want to be—and be sure to omit items that won’t.

  • My parents and in-laws believed in letting their children explore through unstructured play. We knew play yards and stationary walkers weren’t for us.

“Window shop” by observing other families.

If you see another family making happy use of a baby product, don’t be afraid to ask about it! Most moms and dads are pleased to talk about the things that make parenting a little easier. Keep in mind that, while moms of older kids still have plenty of wisdom to share, moms of younger children are more likely to know about the latest product and safety information for baby shopping.

      • Adam resisted adding a soft baby carrier to our registry because he thought it looked unmanly. But when he saw a male friend snuggling with his newborn, he just had to have one. It turned out to be one of the most useful and enjoyable tools for taking care of our new baby.
      • Adam and I knew from observing a friend’s family that we wanted to practice baby-led weaning. A high-quality high-chair was a must while a baby-food maker was unnecessary.

Look for quality, not luxury.

Not only are luxury baby gifts expensive for the people who care about you to buy, they also set a bad precedent for the future. For example, how easy will it be to replace $50 layette outfits with hand-me-downs or $1,000 nursery furniture with less expensive items? Even though luxury is a bad idea, quality does count. Remember that most women only get one baby shower, no matter how many kids they have—so you’ll want to register for products that will last.

  • Looking for quality instead of luxury doesn’t mean registering cheap. My aunt and uncle were happy to buy us a nicer umbrella stroller that fits our needs and will likely last for many years.

Prioritize things that are more important and things you’ll need first.

There are certain things it is fun to buy—and certain things that it isn’t. Try to keep a balance on your registry between what you need and what you’re likely to get.

  • Baby clothes are adorable and most women love to have an excuse to buy them. You may want to add a few clothing staples or a lovely coming-home outfit to your registry, but try to focus your registry on things people won’t buy you an impulse.
  • A breast pump, on the other hand, is an embarrassing present, even though it is a necessity for many working women. Consider specifically asking a group of friends to go in together to purchase one, or ask your shower hostess to organize the purchase for you.

Timing is everything.

Flip through a copy of a book like What to Expect for the First Year or The Wonder Weeks to see what new skills your baby will probably learn when. Register for the things you’ll need the soonest. Keep in mind that your baby will still have birthdays and holidays to receive gifts like toys and clothes, but a shower is probably your only chance to get the things you really need for your baby.

  • When our son celebrated his first birthday, no one wanted to buy him the new convertible car seat he needed. They wanted to buy him fun toys and clothes. If we wanted help with another expensive baby item, we should have added it to our registry when I was pregnant.

Register smart.

Companies that host baby registries are clever. They place moderately priced items on shelves next to luxury items to encourage you to register for the most expensive. They also push many products as “necessities” that you won’t really need. It takes some effort to stick to your principals once you have a scanner in your hand.

  • By all means go to the store. Look at the items for which you’re registering. But make sure you only register at stores where you can access and edit your registry on-line. That way you can take off items later if you’ve gotten too scanner-happy.
  • The Universal Registry Button is a great way to include handmade items or unusual gifts to your list.
  • When I asked around, wipe warmers and bottle warmers topped the list of “necessities” that weren’t.

Save your gift cards.

Unless you’re missing an absolute necessity, save your gift cards until after your baby is born. When you run into a problem with your baby that a new product would solve, use those saved gift cards to buy it on-line.

  • I had to have an emergency C-section and live in the basement for two weeks to avoid going up and down stairs. Thank goodness for the leftover gift cards I used to buy a play yard, which we used as a portable bassinet.

Experimental Wifery’s Baby Registry Check-List

Your registry should reflect who you are and the way you and your partner want to live with your new baby, but here’s a checklist for how you might want to put those principles into action.

What are the real registry necessities?

The most important things most newborns will need include…

  • 5-7 receiving blankets, the bigger the better
  • Diapers in newborn and size 1 or a set of 10-12 cloth diapers
  • Baby wipes
  • Burp clothes or flat cloth diapers (for cleaning messes)
  • A car seat
  • Newborn head support for the car seat

Most new parents will need…

  • A diaper bag
  • A glider or rocking chair
  • An ottoman or nursing stool
  • A changing table
  • A diaper pail
  • A baby monitor

What will your baby wear?

Most new moms receive plenty of clothes for their babies’ layettes without having to register for a thing. If you do register, focus on necessities only, adding a cute coming home outfit if you’d really like. Keep in mind that, even though baby clothes are sized by age (newborn, 1-3 months…) your baby’s size and shape may deviate from these standards. Be sure to think about season when you register.

For warm weather, register for

  • 5-7 short-sleeved onesies
  • 5-7 sleep dresses or pairs of footie pajamas
  • 5-7 pairs of socks or booties

For cooler weather, register for

  • 5-7 long-sleeved onesies
  • 5-7 pairs of pants
  • 5-7 sleep sacks or pairs of footie pajamas
  • 5-7 pairs of socks or booties
  • 1 hat
  • 1 coat, sweeter, or bunting

Where will your baby sleep?

Where a baby ought to sleep varies widely by culture and time period. (Did you know that cribs are a 19th century invention to keep children away from supposed noxious fumes near knee level and explosive fumes near the ceiling?) Discuss your preferences with your partner and then register for at least one of the following items:

A bassinet or Moses basket A bassinet is a small, cocoon-like bed for babies up to about 4 months. They make it easy to keep a baby in the room with you, but will need to be replaced fairly soon. Babies who are beginning to sit or pull up should never sleep in a bassinet.
A cradle and cradle mattress A cradle is similar to a bassinet, but it rocks. Be sure to register for a correctly-sized cradle mattress.
A co-sleeper Many families that practice co-sleeping swear by these baby beds that attach to the side of the parents’ bed to make nighttime feedings easier. Be aware that the American Academy of Pediatrics advises against co-sleeping and that these devices are less carefully regulated than bassinets, cribs, and cradles. If you choose to use them, do so with caution and be sure to assemble them correctly.
A crib and crib mattress A crib is a bed for infants with raised sides to prevent them from getting out on their own. Most lower from a higher, “bassinet” position to a safe height for babies who can stand. Be sure to register for a correctly-sized crib mattress.
A mattress Adam and I made the unconventional decision to forgo a crib and move our son from his cradle to a twin-sized mattress on the floor of his completely baby-proofed room. It doesn’t look as cute and doesn’t keep him confined, but he loves sleeping in his “big boy bed” and often rewards us by playing with himself quietly before waking us up in the morning. Try to get a mattress without bromated fire-retardant chemicals. (An organic mattress or a mattress from Ikea are your best bets.

What will your baby eat?

Adam and I are big supporters of baby-led weaning: mothers nurse their babies and then gradually introduce table foods. But whatever decision you make about how to feed your baby, be sure you’re fully equipped with the products you’ll need:

3-5 bottles Bottles come in glass and plastic, both of which have drawbacks. Glass bottles can shatter and create a safety hazard, but plastic bottles can leach harmful chemicals into your baby’s milk. Don’t count on BPA-free products to be truly chemical free.
A breast pump You’ll need a breast pump if you’re nursing and planning to spend more than thirty minutes at a time away from your newborn. Electric pumps are a good idea for nursing moms who work full-time outside of the home, but a hand-held pump is a cheaper, easier, and quieter alternative for women expressing only one feeding a day.
Formula It is a good idea for even nursing mothers to keep a box of pre-mixed formula with an attachable nipple on hand. (Many OB-GYNs and maternity wards give these out as samples.)
A baby-food maker If you choose to spoon-feed your baby, you may choose to make your own pureed baby food. Baby-food makers are specifically designed, extra-fine food processors for introducing “solid” foods at an early age.
Baby spoons Baby spoons are a must if you are going to spoon feed, but you might also like to dip spoons in soft foods and hand them to your baby to self-feed.
Baby bowls Whether you’re going to practice baby-led weaning or spoon feeding, you’ll probably want a baby-safe place setting. Avoid putting anything hot in plastic bowls and never microwave them to help prevent plastic chemicals from leaching into the baby’s food.
A splat mat Protect your floor with a plastic or laminated cotton tarp under the baby’s seat.

How will your baby participate in family activities?

By the time a baby is about 2 months old, he or she will want to be a part of the things you do as a family—first by watching and then by participating him or herself. Your baby will love any or all of these seats that puts him or her in the middle of the action:

A bouncy chair or rocker These reclining seats are ideal for newborns and young infants. Bounce them or rock them to help calm babies to sleep.
A Bumbo chair A Bumbo chair allows a young infant who can already hold up his or her head to sit upright.
A high chair High chairs are great ways to include babies who can already sit independently in the action at the table. You can also choose a seat that clips onto the table or straps onto a chair if you are short on space.

How will your baby get around?

It seems hard to believe, but even a little 6-8 pound bundle of joy begins to feel heavy very quickly. Making trips outside of the house easier by registering for a carrier or stroller that fits your needs:

A snap-in car seat base Buy 1 snap-in car seat base per vehicle to make it easier to get your baby in and out of the car.
A sling Slings are the snuggliest way to carry the youngest babies. Be sure to follow instructions for using them correctly.
A soft carrier Soft carriers strap a baby to parents’ fronts or backs for easy carrying and comforting. You’ll get more use out of a convertible carrier that holds newborns facing toward you, infants facing away from you, and older infants on your back.
A snap-in car seat stroller Snap-in car seat strollers are an easy, inexpensive way to transport newborns and young infants. Pop the car seat into the umbrella-style frame, but make sure the frame design can safely accommodate your car seat.
A standard stroller Babies who can’t sit up should ride only in strollers where they can recline. Go to the store to look for strollers that are the right height for you and easy to use and collapse. Many car seats and strollers come as a set so the car seat snaps onto the stroller.
An umbrella stroller Umbrella strollers are the lightest, most portable strollers, ideal for babies who can already sit up on their own.
A shopping cart cover I thought cart covers were unnecessary luxuries until my son came down with terrible, unexplained stomach flu. He hasn’t been sick since we purchased the cover.

How will you keep your baby in one place?

Once a baby can begin to scoot around on his or her own, you’ll want to have a safe place to leave him or her for a few minutes at the time. It’s hard to guess what sorts of things your baby will like, but that doesn’t mean you need one of each of these items. Choose what seems to fit your parenting style and the space you have in your home:

A swing Some babies love swings. Look for a swing in which your baby can sit upright to make the swing last longer.
A play yard Although many babies will play happily in play yards, some hate to be cooped up in such a small place. Even if you have an active baby, many play yards are still useful as portable cribs.
Baby gates and other baby-proofing items Any baby-proofed (or mostly baby-proofed) room becomes a play yard with a baby gate preventing your baby from crawling into more dangerous areas.
A stationary walker or exersaucer A stationary walker lets a baby stand or sometimes walk in place while he or she plays with various toys mounted to it. They can take up a lot of space in a home. (The American Academy of Pediatrics does not recommend the use of mobile walkers.)
An activity jumper Similar to a stationary walker, an activity walker let s baby stand or jump while he or she plays with mounted toys. (The American Academy of Pediatrics does not recommend the use of door-mounted jumpers.)

What will your baby play with?

Many new parents are surprised how little interest newborns and young infants have in toys, but here are a few items your baby may enjoy playing with in the first few months of his or her life:

A mobile Even newborns enjoy watching the movement of mobiles over their cribs. Choose one with high contrast over pastel colors. And keep in mind that a mobile doesn’t need batteries or electronics to float over a baby’s crib.
Montessori toys Some young infants enjoy playing with these developmental toys made for the youngest babies.
A play gym A play gyms is a great way to keep a young infant interested before he or she gets on the move.
A minky Soft stuffed animals or blankets provide an extra level of comfort to babies when their mommies are in another room. Register for at least two so you can always have one washed.
A nursing necklace (for mom) Nursing necklaces are one of the only baby (and mommy!) –safe items of jewelry for mothers of precocious infants.

As your baby grows, check out our guide to buying great baby toys.

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