Whether you're going to jog through the neighborhood with your new baby in tow or cruise the aisles of your grocery store, having the right gear makes outings easier and more comfortable for you and your little one.
Before you buy anything, talk with your friends and family. Borrowing gear can save a lot of money. If you buy, advice from friends is invaluable. They can clue you in to their best buys -- and their biggest mistakes. Here are some things to consider:
Diaper bag. The kind of diaper bag you choose depends mainly on how much stuff you like to carry around with you. Some moms like the ready-for-anything style that has room for clean bottles, toys, a change of clothes, and a blanket for baby to crawl around on. Others prefer smaller styles that are just big enough for a couple of diapers and a pack of wipes. Diaper bags differ widely in stylishness too. You can buy a leather bag made by a top designer for several hundred dollars or an inexpensive plastic pack for only a few dollars. Aside from size, consider how you want to carry a diaper bag -- over your shoulder, on your back like a backpack, with handles, or a mix of all three. Color may matter too: If your partner is going to be toting the diaper bag around, you may want to buy a neutral color rather than a flowery, feminine design. Some mothers also find that having two diaper bags comes in handy.
Stroller. There are so many different kinds of strollers that your head may start to hurt just thinking about them: car seat/stroller combos, umbrella strollers, bassinet strollers, joggers, upright strollers, double strollers, and strollers in which the baby sits up front and an older sibling can hitch a ride on the back. The kind you buy depends completely on personal preference; different styles are suitable for different functions. It's important to test-drive a stroller before buying. During the test-drive, notice if the handle is at a comfortable height for you, if the wheels maneuver easily, if it is light enough for you to lift in and out of a car trunk, if it folds easily (if you want it to fold), whether the seat reclines for napping, and how much storage room it has. Strollers come in a huge range of prices, but price doesn't necessarily equal quality, so choose with a blind eye to high-status brand names.
Jogger stroller. Which jogger stroller you buy depends on what activity you'll be doing. Will you be walking in the neighborhood on cement sidewalks or running on unpaved paths? Do you want a jogger that will fold easily and tuck away in your trunk? Would you like a jogger that converts into a bike trailer? Your options also include wheel size (the larger the wheels, the smoother the ride off-road), suspension (the better the suspension, the smoother the ride off-road), front wheel style (a wheel that is fixed in place is better for runners; a wheel that swivels is better for less athletic pursuits such as maneuvering through malls and grocery stores), and price (from under $100 to more than $500). Other options include a reclining seat, cup holders, and rain hoods. Joggers are available for one, two, or three babies.
Backpack. Choose a backpack that suits your lifestyle: Hiking up mountains calls for a more rugged backpack than strolling through malls. Not all backpacks fit all people, so be sure to test the backpack in the store, preferably with a baby in it, to determine whether it fits on your back comfortably. Other things to consider include cushioning for your baby, padding on shoulder straps (to keep your shoulders from getting sore), ease of putting it on and taking it off (particularly if you'll be using it alone without another person to lift a loaded pack onto your back), and storage space. Convertible frontpack/backpack. These packs convert from frontpack to backpack. Some parents complain that switching from one to the other is too complicated; try them out in the store before buying.
Convertible stroller/backpack. These can be a godsend for travelers, city dwellers, and anyone else who needs to alternate between stroller and backpack. Look for a model that allows you to do the converting easily without removing baby or needing a second person to help out. Try them out in the store before buying to be sure that the model you choose isn't too heavy and awkward to be a good backpack and that its wheels work well enough to be a good stroller.
Sling. Slings allow you to carry a baby or toddler on your front, hip, or back in upright or reclining positions. They allow for discreet nursing but can be used by dads as well as moms. Slings come with or without padding.
Front carrier. A front carrier is a great way to keep your infant close while leaving your hands free. A good front carrier is comfortable, cushions your baby well, doesn't cut or pull your shoulders, is adjustable for use by you and your partner, and is reversible, allowing a small baby to face toward you with the back of her head supported and an older baby to face out and see the world.
Originally published in You & Your Baby: Pregnancy.
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