If I had to do it all over again, which baby gear would I absolutely buy again?

Now that my younger child has turned one, we are find ourselves leaving the baby stage behind.  As all parents know, babies require an extraordinary amount of gear – clothing, strollers, sippy cups, bath toys, and thousands of other items that retailers are trying to convince people that they need.  Some of these items have been invaluable, while others didn’t quite live up to the promise of the manufacturers.

Having been through the baby stage twice now, I’ve found a handful of items that I found truly invaluable.  These are items that either so perfectly fit a need that I can’t imagine not having them or items that vastly exceeded their competitors.  I thought it would be worth taking a minute to highlight the best of the best.

Baby Gate
Once the babies become mobile, parents are faced with the need to keep them off the stairs or out of certain rooms.  There are a variety of baby gates on the market, but they generally fall into two major categories – fixed gates and roll-up gates.  A fixed gate is like a door that opens and closes, while a roll-up gate is kind of like a window shade that stretches across the the path.

I really find fixed gates a pain.  They tend to have complicated mechanisms that are difficult to negotiate one handed, and anyone with a kid knows that there is rarely more than one hand free (often you are holding the kid in the other hand).  The real problem with them is that they default to closed, and they are always getting in the way.  Even if the kid is asleep or out of the house, you find yourself constantly having to stop and open the gate every time you want to get by.

Roll-up gates take the reverse approach.  When you don’t need them closed, they are tucked up against the wall and practically invisible.  When you want them, they completely bar the path, and their flexible structure makes them easier to install than a fixed gate.  However, I have seen some pretty flimsy models out there that are prone to breaking or are difficult to open and close.

The gate that I love is the Retract-a-gate.  It’s not sold in stores, but I took a risk when I ordered it online and found it was perfect.  We have one at the top of the stairs which is opened and closed multiple times a day, and another at the bottom which is only closed when needed.

Retractable child safety gate from Retractagate.

First of all, it is very easy to use with just one hand.  It can also take a tremendous pounding; many people use is for dogs since it can withstand a blow of 200 pounds.  It’s one of the few gates that is rated for use at the top of the stairs, and it is has been incredibly durable. I can’t imagine going through childhood without it.

Temporal Thermometer
Taking a kid’s temperature is not a simple task.  Getting them to sit still to hold the thermometer in their mouth or under their arm long enough to get an accurate read is a challenge, and it’s impossible for a baby.  For the wee ones, you have to use a rectal thermometer.  I have never met a parent who views taking a baby’s thermometer rectally as “no big deal.”

The problem with a baby is that all they can do is cry, and you are often left trying to guess what is wrong.  There is a long list of possibilities (dirty diaper, teething, bumped head…), but many times you will find yourself wondering, “could she be sick?  Maybe she has a fever.”  The problem is that you have to take the baby’s temperature to answer this question.  This is such an ordeal that you are probably only willing to do this when you are at your wit’s end.  

Exergen Temporal Artery Thermometer with Silver Ion Antimicrobial Head

You slide it across your child’s forehead and down their temple, and it instantly gives you a temperature reading in a few seconds.  You need to briefly trick the child into holding still for a moment, and then you are done.  It transforms checking a temperature from an ordeal into an easy answer.

Some people have raised concerns about the accuracy of a temporal thermometer, but our pediatrician assured us that they work well, and they use them themselves in the office themselves.  And if you are still concerned, you can use it in two steps – take a temporal reading first, and if it comes out high, go for the rectal thermometer to double check.  I’ve never had to bother, personally.

Best of all, everyone in the family can use it, and we will have it for years.  I can’t say the same for the rectal thermometer.

Baby Seat
Parents with babies have to buy these special bath tubs to wash the kids in, and for the first few months, you can’t avoid it.  However, they are a real pain.  The baby kind of flops around in them and cries a lot, and you are constantly having to try to maneuver them around to get under them.  I find it takes two adults working together to use them.

As soon as they are able to hold their head up, I highly recommend a baby bath seat.

Screen_shot_2011-07-26_at_8

It keeps them from falling over into the water, but they are now upright.  This makes the bath much more fun for them, since they can start to interact with toys and other objects, and it is much easier to poke around and get them clean.  I was a little skeptical at first, but my mom got us one, and I was immediately converted.  Ours is from Juvenile Solutions, but there are others on the market that I am sure are perfectly fine.

High Chair
There are some very fancy, expensive high chairs out on the market.  I enjoy beautifully designed products, and I found myself attracted to the Svan chair, since it would go well with our decor and not scream “baby”.  We bought one for a few hundred dollars and used it with our first child, but with our second child it has been sitting in our basement.  It worked okay, sort of, but it was a pain to clean, and the tray never managed to stay level.

What do we use instead?  A $25 booster seat from Fisher Price, strapped to a sturdy folding chair.

Fisher-Price Healthy Care Booster Seat
No, it’s not pretty, but it is extremely practical.  First of all, it is super easy to clean.  Second, we can take it anywhere we go.  When we don’t need it, we just stick it in the closet.  My advice is save the hundreds of dollars and just use this instead.

If anyone would like our old svan highchair, you can have it.  Just come pick it up.

Stroller
I’d be remiss if I didn’t give a shout-out to our Phil and Ted’s stroller.  There are many fancy models out on the market, but I find the Phil and Ted’s inline style so incredibly useful that I can’t imagine going to any other.

The beauty of this stroller is that it holds two kids, but has the foot print of a single stroller.  We always knew we were going to have two kids, but it still made a great stroller when we had just one.  It was rugged and able to navigate our tough New England winters and uneven Cambridge sidewalks.

Now that we have two kids, it is truly wonderful.  You often have to negotiate tight spaces if you try to go into a store or weave through a busy sidewalk, and even with two kids, it has a very small footprint.  You can go anywhere.  Also, we don’t always know whether our older kid will want to walk or ride.  Since the stroller is still very compact, we don’t feel like dopes lugging around a double stroller when one kid isn’t riding in it.

Some people have concerns that the kid in the back gets a raw deal, since they can’t see ahead, but we really haven’t found it to be the case.  Our older daughter will sometimes insist on riding in the back, and they have a great view out the sides.  We’ve also found that while you lose some storage when both kids are in it, it’s very easy to hang a diaper bag and a booster seat off the sides.

I do have my quibbles with the Phil and Ted sport buggy, though.  The brake is difficult to engage, and there isn’t really a good cup holder for it.  However, the advantages of the double inline stroller have more than made up for these, and it seems that they have improved on the brake design in the newer models.
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