I was in your shoes once, new parents. Shopping for the perfect nappy bag, pruning baby gear lists down to the true essentials. Three kids later, I'm here to tell you: You're overthinking it. Most of your shopping decisions don't really matter. Illustration by Sam Woolley.
Your Nappy Bag Doesn't Matter
As long as the baby does not exist yet, you can convince yourself that you can come up with a plan that will be perfect for you as a parent.
Let's start with the nappy bag, because it's a microcosm of the whole baby gear experience. You want to carry everything you need, but not too much. Maybe you think that means being the Supermom or Superdad who packs clever things like a stain removal pen for poop stains. Or maybe you aspire to be the minimalist who has a handmade roll-up changing pad with just the essentials tucked inside.
I started out thinking I'd be the minimalist. But when my son was just a few days old, I was afraid to leave anything at home. What if he needed a change of clothes? What if he needed some toys? What if he needed a blanket? What if he barfed all over that one and needed another blanket? I pulled the tags off the giant nappy bag my mother had given me, the one that at first I thought was too big. This will do.
The giant bag strategy worked for a few weeks, but the bag was so giant I eventually stopped taking it out of the car. Why would I want to carry a 4kg baby and a 5kg nappy bag? So I started carrying the minimalist changing pad roll-up I had picked out before he was born. I'd always use up the two nappies I'd packed inside, though, and forget to replace them. I was carrying around an empty changing pad. What was the point of that again?
The truth is this: There are only two ways to pack a nappy bag. You can carry too much, or you can carry not enough. There is no perfect middle ground.
By baby #2, I knew not to bother packing a nappy bag. I would take a nappy or two, and a pack of wipes, and stick them in my purse as I left the house.
By baby #3, I sometimes forgot the nappy.
My preference now is this. I keep a box of nappies in the trunk of my car. Like, I just buy them, and never bring the box into the house. This way I am never without a nappy. Note: If you don't live in a car-centric suburbia, you may have to actually carry nappies with you. Stick a handful in whatever purse or bag you already carry.
I try to remember wipes, too, but it's possible to wipe your baby's butt with toilet paper. Just like you wipe your own butt with toilet paper. It's nice to have a change of clothes for the kid, but that's optional because babies are cute when they're naked.
The Brand of Baby Gear Doesn't Matter
The baby-industrial complex wants you to believe that their products are necessary, and that there are meaningful differences between them. In many cases, that's just not true. Cribs are great, but babies can sleep safely in cardboard boxes. Baby cereal isn't a necessary staple, just one food option of many.
For certain items that a baby's safety relies on, regulations mean that all the products on the market are safe. Car seats, for example, are all required to meet mandatory safety standards. The pricier ones aren't necessarily safer, just prettier or more convenient.
Likewise, all infant formulas are required to provide the nutrients babies need. One brand might be handier or cheaper than another, but there aren't meaningful differences. If your doctor prescribes something for a specific reason, like allergies, follow her instructions. Otherwise, it doesn't matter.
There Are, However, Only Two Good High Chair Options
I can think of one place where there is actually a correct choice in baby gear, but you wouldn't know it by looking on magazines and baby gear websites. It's high chairs. You can read review after review of the best high chairs, which tend to be in the $200 to $400 range. Or you can find something at Babies R Us in about the $100 range. Sure, these can all hold a kid up while you feed them, but will you enjoy digging dried mashed sweet potato out of the crevices of the built-in upholstery? If not (pro tip: You won't), you have two options. Conveniently, they're both affordable:
- IKEA's ANTILOP, which costs $29.99. You can lift the kid out and wipe the chair clean in less than the time it takes to fumble with the disassembly switches on any of those other high chairs.
- Hold the baby in your lap. It's what they prefer, anyway.
I suppose I'm slightly denting my own advice, saying that there is a choice that's better, but parenting is full of surprises and contradictions. Get used to it. Does it matter whether you buy the wipe-down high chair or one of the fussy ones? Not very much. If you never knew ANTILOP existed, you would buy that $100 chair and be fine with it. But now you know, and I hope I've informed you while you still have the receipt.
Prepare to Be Surprised
Every parent has their own style, and every baby has their own preferences. This makes any baby advice, including mine, obsolete at least some of the time. You may become addicted to receiving blankets, while your friend has never used a single one. Your first baby may love something that the second can't stand. No amount of preparation, or experience, will let you get everything right.
For example, I laughed at the concept of a wipe warmer. This is a real device that, yes, sits on your dresser using electricity 24/7 to warm up a stack of wipes to some baby gear company executive's idea of the proper butt wiping temperature. When I saw these in the store, I shook my head. After I had my first baby, I confidently rolled my eyes at the idea. Babies don't care what temperature their wipes are. They certainly don't need a dedicated appliance.
But then I had my second baby, and if you wiped his butt with a cold wipe in a sleepy middle of the night diaper change, he would scream. We could not reliably sleep until we purchased a wipe warmer. The baby thought he needed the warmer. He may have been wrong, but there is no way to argue with a baby.
So I offer this advice. Winnow the gear lists by going with your gut, but be aware that no amount of planning will account for your needs. There will always be at least one "essential" on your list that turns out to be useless; and at least one thing you laughed at that will turn out to be essential. Most of the rest doesn't matter.