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Archive for Monday, January 22, 2007

Gadgets for baby care: Do you really need them?

January 22, 2007

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— Congratulations! You're pregnant. Now comes the stressful task of figuring out which baby gear you actually need. It's easy enough to head to the baby store, grab the scanner gun and beep on every item in sight for your registry.

Expectant parents are bombarded with advice and pitches from manufacturers and stores that can't stress enough how much you need every product ever invented. The Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association, which defines its market as "prenatal to preschool," reported $7.3 billion in retail sales in 2005, the most recent year for which statistics were available. That's nearly double the $4 billion in sales reported just 10 years earlier. The association, in its summary of annual sales, attributed recent market growth to a rise in the birthrate, along with an increase in new parents who are older, have more disposable income and who "do not hesitate when it comes to spending money on their children."

But, let's get real. Just how useful is all this stuff? How many products do you need to insulate you from the yuck factor when you change a diaper? Does everything a baby touches need to be warm?

"I think expectant parents, they think they'll need all these things because they're very well marketed," said Victoria Pericon, editor of Savvymommy.com, a Web site that features product reviews. "It's a huge industry, but unfortunately, it takes one pregnancy to learn we're really not going to need this."

Pericon, who's expecting her third child, says the "most silly and absolutely unnecessary gift I've seen a newborn receive is a rhinestone pacifier." The blinged-out pacifier is right up there on her list with a knitted cover for the diaper-wipes container. "I'm pretty sure the big green container my daughter's diaper wipes come in can survive the night without needing to wear a sweater that coordinates with her room decor," she said.

So before you get out the credit card or buy that baby-shower gift, make sure you're getting something that matches your particular parenting needs. If you love gadgets, here are some popular ones to choose from well beyond your basic diaper-bag and bottle selection. If you are more minimalist, consider the alternatives.

-Pee-pee teepees: What the heck are these? Any mom of a baby boy knows every time a diaper is changed, there is a potential for getting sprayed. Enter the "pee-pee teepee for the sprinkling wee-wee." These cute, little felt cones are placed on baby's private area to prevent showers. They come decorated with airplanes or firefighters. Cute indeed.


But you could just put a baby wipe or a washcloth, or the diaper itself, over the baby, and it would work just as well.

"I think there are a lot of these little products that come along and (parents) think this would help save Western civilization if we just had this little product to keep my baby from peeing on them," said Alan Fields, who co-authored the book "Baby Bargains" with his wife.

A million pee-pee teepees have been sold since 2002, according to Lisa Malcic of Beba Bean Designs, which created and sells them.

"You can't take the pee-pee teepee too seriously," Malcic said. "What we say to the critics who say, 'Can't you just use a diaper?' (is) you can, but a diaper doesn't have the same ring when given at a baby shower."

-Wipes warmers: What kind of mother would let a baby's bum be wiped with a cold wipe? The shame! The wipes warmer plugs into the wall and water is added to the warmer to keep the wipes moist. But if you forget the water, watch out: crusty wipes.

Besides, once you pull the wipe out and air hits it, it starts cooling off. Truthfully, all you need is some wipes. And cold ones will do.

"Sure, the wipes may be a little cool on baby's bottom, but the crying the baby is doing probably has something more to do with the fact he's wet and doesn't like the draft caused when his diaper is removed while on the changing table," Pericon said.

In contrast, Leslie Hall, mother of two from Richmond, Va., is a big fan. "It keeps their little bottom nice and warm when you have to change them," she said.

-Bottle warmers: Some mothers swear by this. You put a cold bottle into the warmer, add some water and it will heat the bottle so baby isn't drinking ice-cold milk.

But when your baby is screaming, three minutes is an awfully long time to get baby drinking a bottle cold or at room temperature. Even better, get your child used to drinking a cold bottle anyway because when you're out and about, there usually isn't a warmer (although you can actually buy a car bottle warmer, too).

Melissa Spivey, a Greensboro, N.C., mother of 20-month-old twin boys, said she used a warmer for a while, but then realized her boys didn't care if the milk was warm or not. "I always found that the warmer got the bottle either way too hot or not warm at all. I never used it to warm baby food."

-Microwave steam sterilizer: Put your bottles and all their parts inside this round contraption, add a little water, pop the lid on and stick in the microwave to sterilize everything.

But you probably already have some good alternatives in your kitchen. You could sterilize everything in the dishwasher, or go real retro: Drop those nipples and pacifiers into a pot of boiling water on the stove.

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