OK, maybe you do, but chances are, your infant does not. This is another item that is on a lot of “get this for your baby” lists and, for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out why. That didn’t stop me from trying to settle on one before Astrid was born though, just in case. Let me save you the trouble: skip it.

The one caveat is if you live in the desert or at high altitude. If you do, check with your OB or your pediatrician (if you have one already) to see if they recommend one for newborns in your specific area, but I’m betting s/he’ll say, “No.”

I’m not saying you’ll never need one. You may, when (and if) your baby gets sick. That’s it. Croup or a bad cough or the like and your pediatrician will recommend slanting little Tyrone’s crib mattress up and turning on a humidifier to help him breathe and sleep better. Until then, you won’t need one (unless, as I say, you live somewhere parched and your doctor says so).

Don’t worry about preparing for that eventuality before it happens: humidifiers are relatively inexpensive ($20-60) and available everywhere (drugstores, Target, Amazon, etc.) Worst case scenario, you stop by a Walgreens on your way from the pediatrician’s when she told you to get one. See? You’re done.

If you are just dying to have one, or you definitely need one right this instant, I’ll put in my recommendation for the Crane Drop Shape Cool Mist. (Most places recommend cool mist vs. warm. Our pediatrician says it doesn’t matter which, but I went with majority opinion.) We have one and it works as intended without too much noise or fuss. (Reviews on pretty much every model I looked at ranged from, “This is perfect!” to, “This is terrible (for one reason or another,” so abandon the thought that you’re going to find one that everyone likes.)

On the Crane, you can adjust the mist nozzle’s direction vs. having to turn the whole unit to redirect the mist, which is slightly convenient. It does have a visible light when it’s on, but it’s not irritatingly bright, and its, “I’m working!” hum is minimal. One note: if you have it on full blast, as we did during Astrid’s bout of croup, you will want to put some towels down in the path of the mist to protect your floor or carpet.

Crane Drop Shape Cool Mist Humidifier, $45 at Amazon


Yes, you will need to buy separate soap for your new baby. The Irish Spring in your soap dish has too many chemicals and perfumes for your infant’s brand new, easily irritated skin. Aim for the gentle baby soaps with the lowest number of ingredients and ones you can recognize as natural. Dyes and chemicals are not your friend, no matter how nice it may make the product smell. We went with Burt’s Bees Baby Bee Shampoo & Wash and then, when Astrid went through a sensitive skin phase, we cut over to California Baby’s Calming Shampoo and Bodywash. (They also make it in super sensitive, calendula and eczema formulas.) Both have minimal smell, are multi-purpose shampoo and soap, and are middle of the road on cost.

(If you were thinking of using the classic not very expensive Johnson & Johnson, as everyone did when I was a kid, you might want to reconsider in light of last year’s news that they still include cancer-causing chemicals in their US products.)

Most baby washes are also baby shampoos, so you don’t need to buy a separate product for little Alice’s hair. If she’s born with curly locks though, you’ll probably need to branch out. When Astrid’s hair grew in and Burt’s couldn’t manage the tangles, I made the mistake of smelling Babo Botanicals gorgeous Berry Primrose Smooth Detangling Shampoo. Now we can’t go back to a less expensive product that smells less good. *sigh* (If your little one has serious tangles, they also make a detangler spray which works really well.)

On the truly spendy end of the spectrum, Mustela also makes lovely products for baby skin and hair, but beware: they are super addictive. I have a couple of friends who got caught in the Mustela web and can’t get out!

Note on face washing: you can – and should – wash your infant’s face with just clean water. No face wash needed. As they get a little older, they may develop a little baby acne or other skin irritations at which point, ask your pediatrician what she recommends. I treated the dry spots Astrid’s got as an infant with California Baby’s Calendula cream and moved to washing her face with Cetaphil Gentle Cleanser when she was about one and was getting dirtier.

Tea Collection Sale

June 11, 2012

Tea Collection makes some beautiful clothes, especially for babies. They’re expensive, though, for something little Albert will only wear for a few months, so getting their pieces on sale makes the most sense.

What also makes sense is not ordering them from Tea Collection directly: their returns process is terrible and their exchange process is even worse. (They email you store credit to use for something else weeks after the return is received. If they remember. Which they usually don’t.)

On both counts, Diapers.com‘s current sale on Tea Collection’s classic baby clothes is perfect. (Free shipping both ways if you spend more than $49, and super easy returns.)

I’m sad to think that these pieces might be being discontinued because they’re adorable, but the sale is great, so stock up for your upcoming baby or stockpile a few gifts for future baby showers.

My favorites:

Baby Girl Chinese Jacket in petal pink, $29

Baby Boy Chinese Jacket in indigo, $29

Baby Girl Lotus Wrap Jacket, $22

Baby Boy, 3 Bodysuits, Boxed, $22

And, my all-time favorite baby blanket on sale for $21. At 40″x 40″ and single-ply jersey, it’s perfect for swaddling but will still big enough when your little one is a toddler.

Blackout Curtains

May 15, 2012

Unless you have those awesome European interlocking blinds that can turn your baby’s boudoir into a room fit for developing film, you might want to consider investing in blackout drapes, especially if you’re in the process of choosing drapes for your baby’s room. They’re not absolutely essential, no, but this minimalist mama is a convert to the cause of darkness. (Not like that, you weirdos!) Especially if you have a non-sleeping baby. Or if your nursery is sunny – which is otherwise lovely but might not be the best for sleep at nap and bed time.

Technically, this is a “wait and see” item, since your infant will likely sleep pretty much anywhere, including broad daylight in a crowd, for the first few weeks. After that stage, you’ll need to be a little choosier to make sure Anastasia gets her zzzzs, and she might need a little assistance depending on what kind of sleeper it looks like she’s going to be. If she’s highly distractible and wakeful like our baby was, blackout curtains are one of the things that will help.

There are two types:

  1. Curtains with a built-in light-blocking backing.
  2. Panels of just the light-blocking material that you can hang behind your existing curtains.

The former are easier to manage since they’re all one piece, but the options in design and color are limited. The latter won’t require the cost of re-purchasing curtains you might have already, but they will hang heavier on your curtain hardware (so you might need to keep an eye on how it’s holding up with the added weight), plus you will get a few more gaps that let in light because you’re arranging two layers.

Since I liked our existing curtains, we opted for the panels and here’s my advice: absolutely, 100% get the panels that are the same width as your curtain panels. You want them to hang exactly behind your existing panels. Trust me on this.

I thought I was brilliant saving money by buying the narrow-slice panels that add up to the width of a single panel of our curtains. The site claimed that hotels buy these: the narrow widths allow you to buy however many you need to match any width of curtain panel. After falling for this marketing, my conclusion is that they are jerky liars. I can’t imagine a hotel dealing with the annoyance of these mini panels: they separate when you breath on them and let streaks of sunshine into the room at every seam which ruins the whole point of having them in the first place. This happens all the time. All. The. Time. Gargh!

So just spend the extra money and get the nice Pottery Barn Kids ones which line up with your curtain panels. Seriously.

Blackout Panels, Pottery Barn Kids $39-$59 per panel, depending on width

Blackout Curtains in nursery-friendly designs and colors, Pottery Barn Kids $49 – $229, depending on size, or anywhere else that carries them, e.g. Overstock.com, $40 and up


April 16, 2012

A bouncer is a must. You need to have one. Really. Yes, baby can lounge in a cat bed or on a posh pillow, but there’s no substitute for giving her a good angle on what’s up in the room and the ability to bounce herself a bit. She wants to see what you’re doing and who can blame her?

Combi Bee Bouncer

You’ll be picking up your bouncer to set it on the bathroom floor while you shower, or on the kitchen floor while you cook, or on the dining room table while you do the bills, which means you’ll need one that is lightweight and easy to move around. (Unless, of course, you live in a tiny, open-plan home that has a transparent walk-in shower – then, yes, get one of the giant bouncers that’s hard to move because little Tanya will indeed be able to see you everywhere you go. Also: I’d think about moving. Soon. ‘Cause that place you live in is weird.)

There are a lot of bouncer options out there. Most play music, vibrate, and have a “bridge” with toys of varying intensities hanging off it for baby’s batting pleasure. (Don’t use the bridge as a handle to pick the bouncer up with baby in it. Trust me: they come off. That said, you really do want the bridge to be removable in case it doesn’t work for Junior and he’d rather just look around.) As a minimalist mama, I don’t think new babies should be swamped with lots of lights, electronics, whizzing things and massive doses of color. As a minimalist person, I don’t think my living room wants that either. The bouncer market begs to differ.

It was ridiculously hard to find a basic, safe, lightweight bouncer in a nice color scheme. And when I found the one I wanted, it was discontinued. (I won’t get into the gory details, but this became a mission that ended up including ebay, Los Angeles and the nice surprise of discovering that you can order inexpensive replacement parts for pretty much anything Mattel – or any of their sub-brands – makes. So keep that in mind when pieces snap off your toys!)

Anyway, my recommendation is to get one of the super basic ones and save the special features for your baby swing (in which your baby will likely be more comfortable anyway).

Big and/or Expensive 

If you have a ton of room or the budget to get a second lightweight one to move around the house, sure, go for it and get the Mercedes model: Peg Perego makes one with surround sound, a canopy, and a seat with adjustable angles. Also: tasteful colors. But you’ll pay $170 for it, so there’s that.

Along similar but much more annoying-sounding lines – although it does have cool-looking stripes – is the Magic Astro Bouncer, which costs $199 but requires all sorts of secondary purchases to get the kick pad and all the features working. My advice: avoid.

And Baby Bjorn, coming in at $149, makes a sleek, no frills, fold-able model that I like a lot and would have gotten if I’d been able to stomach the price tag for something we used for less than a year.

Baby Bjorn BabySitter Balance

The Smaller Lot

If you’re space- and/or budget-restricted, the Combi Bouncer, in bee or ladybug design, is similar to the one we have: lightweight, small profile (for fitting in a bathroom!), an iPod attachment, and no big electronic toys. (Some of the reviewers have noted that absence as a bad thing. I handed Astrid a bunch of things to play with + attached a few toys and balls to the side of her no-frills model with rings and it worked just fine. Also, I wasn’t looking for her to entertain herself for more than 5-10 minutes anyway: she wasn’t keen on being left on her own as an infant, and I wasn’t keen on substituting blinking lights for actual interaction, so we were on the same page.)

Down side with the Combi: you can’t remove the cover for washing. Ours doesn’t come off either and it wasn’t a problem since Astrid wasn’t particularly accident prone, but it’s something to consider.

Bright Starts makes some inexpensive bouncers ($25-$50) in subtle colors, but I found their footprint to be too big – they’re just very wide. And Fisher-Price, of course, has their offerings ($27 and up), some quite light and small profile, but God: those patterns… (I am still a fan of their Zen line, but the Infant Seat isn’t truly a bouncer + it’s just too big. If you love the aesthetic of that line, just spring for the swing.)

Good luck! And don’t stress too much about this purchase: a bouncer is really nice to have but if tiny Lyle doesn’t like the one you get him, you can always trade off on Craigslist – or just wait a few months and he’ll be crawling!!

I’ve always liked Skip Hop‘s style and Astrid (and I) were really happy with their farmyard activity mat when she was tiny: soft fabric with some texture and crinkles for fun + the standard arches for dangling soft toys with their own small (and quiet!) features, all of it in tasteful primary colors with minimal electronics and garish extras. Done.

A friend of mine registered for their latest play mat, which reminded me to check their site. The farmyard theme has been replaced by a treetop one that’s just as appealing, if not even more so. Or maybe it’s just my weakness for owls.

The mat still has the extra hanging loops for hooking on some additional toys and a little mirror in the tree trunk as well as the U-shaped pillow to support little Maddy’s chest during tummy time so she can see the room a little better than when her face is flat on the mat. (Yes, that’s what that pillow is for. It took me, like, three weeks to figure that out. I’m quick like that.)

At $75, it’s not cheap, but, for one of the only toys that an infant will use right away (covering play and tummy time) and will be on your floor for a whole year, I’d rather spend the money and skip the cheap-looking alternatives. Yay owls!

Skip Hop Treetop Friends Activity Gym, $75 at SkipHop or Amazon. Or check your neighborhood parents’ group to see if anyone’s ready to part with theirs – they don’t get beat up very much – but do get their share of drool (!) so wash it well before you use it. 

I wrote a while ago about “transitional objects” and how important they can be for babies. Chances are, you’ll pick out one you like before Baby arrives, or someone will give you some candidates at your baby shower.

I liked the duck I got Astrid, but she never took to it (or any other one) and, truth be told, I wasn’t in love with it myself. Maybe she sensed my ambivalence. Anyway, the other day, I came across a couple of Gund’s Comfy Cozies. The blanket part is a bit bigger than most loveys, but also cuter. Plush top, silky underside. I really liked the ladybug and the bee, and the giraffe is adorable. I also like this slightly smaller Gund giraffe. I’m sensing a theme here. Maybe I’ll just go buy a giraffe for myself and be done with it.

Gund Comfy Cozy, $35 at Gund.com