Let's talk about your baby registry. I've covered the baby-gear market as my job for more than fifteen years and I've had two kids myself, and I've also helped dozens of friends and family through the process. I have seen a lot of agony. Just this week my coworker was wishing aloud that she could have back the hours of her life that she spent researching bouncer seats. To try and spare you similar regrets, here's my best advice...
Start early. You learn you’re pregnant, and a minute later you’re staring at people’s strollers, amiright? A growing number of parents-to-be start their registry in the first trimester, keeping it private while clicking on things they like. “We see first-time expectant parents in our stores early on, learning about all the unfamiliar items that will become necessities,” says Fabio Marciano, executive director of Babies “R” Us marketing and the dad of twins. “But on average, most couples begin a registry at about 19 weeks, when they may know the baby’s sex.”
Update often. Expectant parents change their list all the time, so just own the fact that your registry is a constant work in progress. It doesn’t have to feel perfect before you begin to share it with friends! “Customers visit their registry with us anywhere from a few times per week to a dozen or more,” says Laura Levine, senior marketing manager for Amazon Baby Registry and the mom of three. Accessing your registry on your smartphone makes it practically irresistible. “With your phone you can tinker with your registry anytime, anywhere,” Levine says.
Use your list as a game plan. Besides being a wish list of gifts you hope to get, your registry can also serve as your baby planner. It’s where you can track and organize gear, including the stuff you intend to buy yourself. “On average, our registrants buy about a quarter of the items in their total registry themselves,” says Levine. One reason: Retailers like Amazon, Babies “R” Us, and Target offer a registry completion discount, which means a deal on anything you’ve put on your list. So why not add everything from the crib to a high chair? Saves money and stress!
Pick a place or two to register. Here's how I see it: Visit a store like Babies "R" Us or Buy Buy Baby or Target if you want to pick up and look at actual products. They're also perfect places for speaking to real, live human beings who might help you. If you don't want to deal with sales associates and would prefer to read through dozens of real-user reviews on your own time, start at Amazon.com or Diapers.com. No matter which retailer you choose, you'll be able to fuss endlessly with your registry thanks to apps and mobile sites.
Start with the obvious. You know you need an infant car seat and somewhere safe for the baby to sleep. Start with those two. Soon enough you'll be looking at the many kinds of infant bathtubs with your eyes glazing over, but you can just do sponge-baths for the first month if necessary. So knock out the two must-haves and then gloat that you've started your registry.
Ask your partner's opinion only if you want it. If you already know you want the stroller your sister recommends, don't ask your husband to research strollers. He'll come back with other suggestions, and then what will you do? Your both should work on the registry, but divide and conquer. And when you ask him to take charge of some items, really let him have the final say. This is good practice for babycare, when you don't want to be micromanaging the way he does diaper changes.
Remember that this is basically a guessing game. Different things work for different babies. Every product on the market exists because some baby needed something exactly like that. Will your baby? Who knows. You haven't met your baby yet! You are guessing. Filling out a registry is not like taking the SAT. There is not only one correct answer.
Do not spend an inordinate time on any one decision. I know that picking the right baby carrier seems terribly important, because damn, those things cost money! But you will have to put your actual baby in the carrier and walk around with it to know if you really like it. And...since the baby is currently in your belly, that can't happen. Choose the one that's cute or the one that's inexpensive or the one that has a brand-name that rings a bell or the one your neighbor uses...whatever you like. If it's a flop, return it or Craigslist it or donate it and try another, or decide you're not the baby-wearer you thought you'd be. I promise that all is not lost if something you register for doesn't work out. Likewise, I promise that some weird doodad that someone slips you off-registry—like mircrowavable sterilization bags for your breast-pump parts—is going to be an item that seems to absolutely save your life. Baby gear is weird that way.
Flip a coin. Unlike a bridal registry, where you are asking for the plates you will presumably eat off of for the rest of your life, these baby products are only going to be in your house for a few years, if that. Still stuck on whether you want a plastic infant tub, or an insert that works in your kitchen sink? Heads or tails. That's my final answer.
Stressed by stroller choices? Register for a “starter stroller” for the newborn days. Look for a full-size model that folds easily, weighs about 15 to 25 pounds, and can carry an infant car seat. Is it made for dirt trails? No. Will it fit in a plane’s overhead compartment? No. Those are niche needs you can find in your next stroller. Talk to friends, stick to your budget, and you’ll be good!
Can’t commit to baby gear? If you’ve got three types of swaddles and four brands of bottles on your registry, pare down to one or maybe two brands. After all, you can only start with one! And gift buyers like to know they’re getting you what you really want.
Wish to keep your registry secret for now? It’s easy to set an Amazon or Babylist registry as “private.” If you start on Target.com, don’t check the box next to “Make my registry publicly available online.” At Buy Buy Baby, if you start a registry in-store, it can stay off the Internet until you’re ready. But at Babies “R” Us, all lists are live once they’re started. Here’s a gentle reminder, though: It’s doubtful anyone is snooping, so don’t feel self-conscious!
Jessica Hartshorn is the Senior Lifestyle Editor at Fit Pregnancy and Baby magazine and promises there is no secret best stroller that no one is telling you about.