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.



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. 

Shopping: Bloomingdales

March 8, 2012

I have one word for you: pajamas. I have two more: ten dollars. At Bloomingdales. I know: I couldn’t believe it either. Like the New Yorker I am, I love Bloomingdales, but I don’t expect my affection to be returned inexpensively.

My wonderful aunt brought Astrid a set of footie pajamas and, I can’t remember why, but I needed to exchange them. I headed down to the Bloomingdales baby department (yes, they have one at the much-smaller-than-New-York’s-and-not-nearly-enough-shoes-by-a-long-shot Bloomingdales in San Francisco – it’s in the basement by kitchenware), and discovered a whole little section of $10 all-cotton pajamas for babies. Crazy.

They’re tucked in next to the Burberry and Ralph Lauren $60 pajamas and, in my opinion, for a tiny person who will grow out of them in 20 minutes, these are a much saner investment. A few of the prints aren’t my favorite, but just stick with the ducks and giraffes and your little one will still look tasteful. It’s not like she’ll be wearing them out to a major social event or show up in People’s “Celebrity Babies.” At least I don’t think so. If she will, let me know and I’ll find you some nice togs for that too.

Not available on the Bloomingdales web site, so head into your nearest store.

Shopping: Macy’s

March 5, 2012

OK, so let’s be clear up front: I hate going into department stores. I appreciate that they’ve clumped everything together in one place for me, but, man alive do they give me a headache. Especially Macy’s. There is just too much stuff crowded all up on itself, plus it feels like the staff was hired back when department stores were cool in 1953. They’re well-informed but sooooo slow. And not cheerful slow either. God, I hate it in there.

There are two things that will get me into Macy’s though: pillows (really, their sales are ridiculous) and onesies. Macy’s sells Carter’s plain and patterned onesies (or bodysuits or whatever we’re calling them) for less than anywhere else, including on Carter’s own site, usually $16 for four.

Yes, I bought Astrid some super cute individual onesies with adorable patterns, but for underneath all her outfits + for everyday wear, you’re going to want a stack of plain, inexpensive but still warm onesies and Carter’s is your friend here. (Gerber’s are out there in the plain-onesie space too but, in my opinion, they fit oddly and the cotton is much thinner.)

Babies R Us and Target also carry the Carter’s four-packs of onesies, but they’re usually $20-$22 or unavailable, so unless you have coupons or there’s a sale, hit Macy’s instead and stock up. Trust me: I got hooked on the Carter’s onesies and did a fair amount of checking and re-checking while at Target and Babies R Us and it’s a frustrating experience. Babies R Us usually only has the white ones in-store, so to get their sale prices and the patterned ones, you have to pay shipping. Target’s prices are good, but their in-store stock is all over the place so, unless you get lucky, you’re paying shipping there too.

So just schlep over to Macy’s and buy two sets of four in every size and you’ll be set for the next year (or two). Just make sure you take some sedatives ahead of time though because if you think the housewares floor is claustrophobic and irritating, just wait until you see the baby department.

(Hold off on the sedatives if you’re still breastfeeding though. Seriously.)

While you’re there, take a quick look at their First Impressions section of the baby department and see if they have any jersey blankets or good pajamas. It’s their house brand and the patterns and designs are usually more tasteful and subtle than the Vegas explosion going on on the rest of the floor.

Oh – and pick me up some pillows while you’re there, would you?

Note: Carter’s, kind of inexplicably, makes three lines of baby bodysuits, one labeled (logically) “Carter’s” and one called “Just One You” or, I thought, “Year.” Or “JOY” as Target will sometimes call it, and one called “Precious Firsts.” It’s confusing, but don’t worry about it: it’s all the same stuff – same quality, same company. 

Another Swaddling Option

February 28, 2012

I just had tea with our fantastic post-partum doula, Caroline, yesterday and she mentioned my swaddle round-up and a new swaddle on the market, the True Womb Sleeping Swaddle. I hadn’t seen it before so I thought I’d pass it along to all of you to see if anyone’s tried it and liked it (or tried it and not liked it). It resembles the Miracle Blanket but Baby’s arms are in little pouches instead of wrapped. Also: it closes with Velcro. A lot of Velcro, apparently, which Caroline and I (and a couple Amazon reviewers) agreed sounded pretty loud for late-night diaper changes. But who knows? Maybe it’s awesome. If you know, let us know!

True Womb swaddle, $36 at Amazon

Bottom line necessities: 

  • 1 sturdy, warm blanket for warmth and floor time.
  • 2-4 lightweight inexpensive blankets (muslin or flannel) for general use (shade, clean-up, having in your bag for whatever comes up). 

Optional, nice to have/will use later too: 

  • 2 flannel, muslin, or, even better, jersey blankets for swaddling. Get them big enough to use for bedding later (47″ square is great).
  • An extra warmth/floor blanket.

Giggle Better Basics Ultimate Swaddle Blanket

When I made my registry/shopping list pre-baby, it bothered me: web sites and books all recommended I stock up on “receiving blankets.” Since I would be busy with the delivering part, I assumed my excellent OB would take care of the receiving bit  and bring along any necessary accessories, including blankets.

What exactly is a receiving blanket? What is it used for post-reception? And why did I need, like, eight of them, especially since these same books and sites were adamant that only if I wanted to endanger the very life of my newborn would I ever think of putting a blanket in the crib with her before she was, say, twelve?

From the other side of having an infant, here’s the deal: you’ll need some blankets. Small ones. That’s it. That’s what they mean by “receiving blankets.”

And forget, “You will need 4-6 light receiving blankets and 4-6 heavy receiving blankets.” Just get a few (3-4) small-ish, regular blankets based on your climate and the time of year you’re due.

Here’s what you’ll need them for – buy/register accordingly:

Swaddle Designs Receiving Blanket

Swaddling. The first few weeks of swaddling you’ll probably use blankets (vs. your other swaddling options). The hospital will send you home with a couple. If you aren’t delivering in a hospital or want some extra ones, buy them big so you won’t have to replace them in a month and you can use them on your toddler’s bed. Also, get jersey over flannel if you can because it’s softer and stretches better (= fewer broken swaddles later when Junior gets stronger).

Jersey blankets are weirdly hard to find, but they’re out there. My favorite, favorite, favorite baby blanket still – for swaddling or otherwise – is Tea Collection’s Lotus Print Blanket (pink or blue pattern). 40×40″ and $35 at their site or in stores. Soft, washable, single-ply jersey. Best, best, best. 

Satsuma Designs makes one that will work: only 35×35 but the right weight and feel. $26 at Amazon$32 at their storeOr Giggle’s Better Basics bold-stripe blankets ($36 online or at their stores.)  And JJCole’s new line ($27 at BabyEarth) also looks about right, although I haven’t personally seen them. 

 SwaddleDesigns makes large (46×46″) flannel swaddling blankets that wash well and will be big enough to last you through all your months of swaddling and will still be serviceable for your toddler’s bed. $10-$25 at or $12-$20 at Amazon. Giggle’s Better Basics Ultimate Swaddle Blanket is similar, $25 at Giggle.

Aden + Anais makes even larger (47×47″) muslin blankets that are definitely stretchy enough for swaddling and their patterns are really very cute. But they’re also very lightweight, so not ideal for cold-weather babies. Still, a great cross-purpose buy. $50 for four at Aden + Anais ($26 for single organic), $32 – $50 on Amazon

Aden + Anais Muslin Swaddle Blankets

Warmth. You will not put these in the crib with your baby at night or nap time, but you will still need them to shuttle baby to and from the car on a chilly morning and cozy him up in his car seat or stroller. It’s also nice to have something toasty and fuzzy to put under him in his swing or bouncy seat. You do not need more than two of these (one for use, one for while the other one’s in the laundry). If you live in Florida, you’ll be fine with jersey or cotton – no need to invest in one of these.

If you have some warm, fleecy blankets around already, you can probably re-purpose those if they aren’t too big: just make sure to wash them in baby detergent first.

We were the lucky recipients of one of Little Giraffe’s chenille fleece blankets that are like a cloud of softness (until you wash them 100 times – or once, if you try putting it in the dryer!) Not cheap and the cloud part won’t last, although the warmth factor will. One still lives in our car for cold mornings. $65 at LittleGiraffe or $32-$65 at Amazon (or $80 from your local, high-end baby gift shop!) 

American Baby Company makes a Little Giraffe knock-off for a fraction of the price, so that might be a good option if Uncle Warbucks doesn’t step up with the expensive option. ABC Fleece Blanket with Satin Trim, $12 at Amazon.

Little Giraffe Chenille Blanket

The floor. This might be the same as your Warmth category blankets, depending on how much you invest in your Warmth blankets and how dirty the floors we’re talking about are. Your infant will spend a lot of time on the floor, not all of it on a play mat. You will want to put little Violet down at Grandma’s house to get tummy time, at your new mom’s play group while you discuss the finer points of the dream feed, and in your kitchen while you mix yourself a nice cocktail (just after breastfeeding, naturally). I would recommend a pretty heavyweight material, so there’s some padding and warmth built in, and a very washable color and fabric.

Really, here, you may not need to buy anything new: you can absolutely re-purpose one of your softest household blankets or quilts, provided it’s relatively portable. (Do make sure to pick one that will be comfortable for someone who can’t lift up his head yet – no wide-wale corduroy! – and wash it in baby detergent before you use it.)

Dwell Studio for Target Infant Blanket

DwellStudio for Target Newborn blankets ($13 at Target) are only 28×38″ but are so heavy and the patterns are so nice, they’re still a great floor/multi-purpose blanket (although probably not for swaddling: I found their double-ply material too heavy for that.)

Aden + Anais also makes adorable 4-ply muslin Dream Blanket (47×47″) that would work well – although their backgrounds are always white. And they’re $50 each. But man, those patterns are cute…

Shade. In the car, in the stroller and out and about in the sun, you’ll need something to shade Willemina from the sun. Her eyes will not like any sun for a few months and, while indirect sun is great for Vitamin D, you won’t want her in the direct sun for some time after that either.

Many baby carriers (like the Ergo) come with a hood, baby slings will fold over her, and many car seats also have a collapsible hood that will come most or all the way over the baby, which is awesome for shading her eyes from the sun coming in your car’s back window or while she’s tooling around in your car seat/stroller combo.

If your carrier or car seat doesn’t have that option, no big deal: just keep a lightweight, dark-colored blanket handy. It can be one of your swaddling blankets, no problem. (Don’t use your heavy fleece warmth blanket though: she needs to breathe under there!)

Disasters. Well, messes anyway. There will be spitting up, possibly a lot of it on a long car ride, for example. Maybe at a gas station outside Tahoe at night after a very long day. I don’t want to get too specific. Buy cheap and not too many and just have a couple in the car for the day if you’re out.

Carters 4 Pack Receiving Blankets, $17 at Babies R Us (This is what comes up when you search for “receiving blankets” at Babies R Us, but these are both too lightweight and too small – 30×40″ – to really work for receiving much of anything, particularly a swaddle (unless Bertrand is a very small baby and stays that way). They are cute and very washable though and can wrap up a mess nicely. Or a baby in a pinch. A small baby.