As you might recall, my son Isaac was born a couple of years ago. This was obviously an occasion for joy and family happiness (and an end to regular sleep) — but beyond that, it was the beginning of a capitalist glut, a massive influx of new Stuff. So, uh, I figured I'd write about that in case any of my readers ever have a kid and want to know about various baby support items.
In general, we had a few constraints:
- our house is relatively small (~1200sqft) and has little storage
- when we were making most of these decisions, my wife and I spent a relatively large amount of time traveling (both via local transit options like BART and AC Transit, and on planes to visit our far-flung families)
- money/price is… not a chief concern
Some of my go-tos for researching items before buying them were the Wirecutter, Baby Gear Lab, Consumer Reports but, frankly, none of these had quite the same set of priorities as we did. We also went to some local retail stores (shout-out to the now-defunct Tot Tank in Alameda) and of course talked to all of our friends with kids. For non-safety-sensitive things, Berkeley Parents Network has been a good resource for used items.
Anyhow, read on for all the big-ticket items!
The go-to choice for a stroller for a modern yuppie family is the Uppababy Cruz (or, if you have multiple children, the Uppababy Vista) — about ⅔ of the families in our day care have one. We looked at them but they're just too big, even when folded, and would take up a significant fraction of our living room (since we don't have a garage or foyer or any closets). We also looked at a bunch of compact strollers, and we ended up settling on the Babyzen Yoyo 2, which has been great.
Some of the pros:
- Folds up to basically nothing and can be unfolded with one hand
- Lightweight enough that it's not inconvenient to carry it around when it's folded
- Built-in bassinet was great until Isaac could hold his head up and sit upright
- Fits in an airplane carry-on compartment 1 and can even be pushed down the middle aisle of most airliners
- Comfortable enough that you can use it basically all the time
- Plenty of add-ons (cup-holder, rain shield2, etc)
Cons that I've seen over the last two years:
- Not a lot of storage, and it's kind of weirdly laid out (the bungee pocket on the back in particular is oddly and unnecessarily small)
- Small compact wheels sometimes have trouble with the less-well-maintained sidewalks in Berkeley and are a total no-go for off-roading (even on well-packed dirt trails).
- The front wheels can twist in such a way as to block the stroller from unfolding, and then you need to use two hands to unjam the wheels. I would say this happens about ¼ of the time.
All in all, I'd probably get the Yoyo again if ours disappeared. It combines the best parts of a full-size stroller and a travel stroller. We've convinced at least one other family to buy one of these after seeing how nice it is in person.
Nobody really explains car seats to you when you have a kid, but they're so essential that you cannot leave the hospital until you prove to the nurses that you have a car seat and it's correctly installed. You will basically go through four phases of car-seat:
- A small very padded rear-facing, mostly-reclined car seat for the first 9-12 months ("infant car seat")
- A larger rear-facing car seat for the next 12-24 months4
- A forward-facing car seat for the next 3-5 years
- A booster seat until they're 12 or 13
We ended up going with a Nuna Pipa for the infant phase and then upgrading to the larger Nuna Rava when Isaac was about 9 months old because he got to be too long for the Pipa3. The Pipa was great; light enough to carry easily, but extremely safe5. It was also very easy to clean, which was helpful when it turned out that Isaac gets easily motion sick and would reliably throw up after about 15 minutes in the car6.
The Nuna has been less-great. It's a pretty heavy car seat, which means that it basically always needs to use the complicated seat-belt attachment mechanism, since the LATCH system has a weight limit of 40 pounds (including car seat and baby). It's also a lot harder to clean than the Pipa, with a fabric covering that's snapped, buckled, slotted, and stretched in place. However, it's (a) very safe, and (b) fairly narrow, which is helpful in a compact sedan7. It should convert to be able to hold him until he's about 5 years old, by which time he can move to a booster seat.
WARNING: Car seats are like bike helmets: they use expanded polystyrene foam to absorb impacts. They may look perfectly fine after a drop or a crash, but they will no longer be able to keep your baby safe. You should always buy a new car seat unless you're absolutely positive that the used one you're getting has never had any kind of impact.
As with car seats, there are several phases of cribs. Medical professionals recommend that your baby sleep in the same room (but never the same bed) as you for the first 6-12 months, and then in a crib that meets a bunch of very stringent requirements after that. We… didn't really follow that advice. Isaac slept in our room in a secondhand Arms Reach Clear-Vue Bassinet for a few months (which was never able to actually attach to our bed because our mattress was too thick) until he got too tall for it around 4 months in and we moved him to his own room. There, he sleeps in a Pottery Barn Kendall8 on a Moonlight Slumber Little Dreamer mattress… I believe this combo is called the "Wirecutter Upgrade Pick Bed Set"… I have no particular comments on any of these items; they work fine. My wife hasn't been able to pick up or put down Isaac in the crib since we lowered it to its lowest setting because her arms are too short, and I'm still kind of annoyed that the CPSC banned drop-side cribs in 2010 rather than finding some way to make them safe.
We also have a Guava Family Lotus travel crib, which we bought on the recommendation of some good friends. It's probably great, but due to COVID we haven't actually travelled or used it particularly much.
I had a strong preference not to have an Internet-connected baby monitor, so we ended up buying the Infant Optics DXR-8, which was relatively well-reviewed and we got on sale at a local baby store for about ½ off. We still use it overnight; unfortunately, in our house with chicken-wire lath in every wall, the radio signal only reaches about 25 feet9 (not even to the back of the house), so I gave in and got a cheap Eufy Solo camera when they were on sale for $25 and firewalled it off so that the stream can't leave the LAN and now there are two cameras in the baby's room – one with a dedicated monitor for overnight use, and the Eufy cam that we can monitor on our phone/iPad if we want to be in the back yard or laundry room.
If I were doing it again, I'd probably try harder to find one solution that would meet both the "I want to leave this on for 10 hours in a row overnight" and "I want this to be usable more than 25 feet away" use cases and wouldn't buy either of the cameras we have.
Remember, when we were picking out all of our baby gear, COVID was still just a glimmer in some bat's eye, so we thought a lot about what we would bring with us when traveling. One of the things that we decided to go nuts on was a diaper / baby bag, and my birthday gift for 2020 was a brand-new Tom Bihn Parental Unit in my favorite burnt orange color.
I'm pretty happy with this bag, but I do wish it were less symmetric; I can never remember which side has diapers in it and which side has snacks.
Tom Bihn is great, though, if you're ever looking for a cool bag.
Diapers in General
Fun fact: babies poop a lot.
My wife wanted to do reusable diapers because they're better for the environment. I very much did not want to do reusable diapers, because I already do most of our laundry and didn't want more.
We compromised on compostable diapers through local firm Earth Baby.
I have no actual idea if compostable diapers are better for the environment. Probably making them out of bamboo fibers instead of plastic at least makes them more likely to biodegrade in our lifetimes, but I've never been able to get Earth Baby to tell me where their diapers are composted or how the compost is used, which worries me a bit[^where-compossted].
We use an Ubbi steel diaper pail because it's pretty much the only thing on the market that both fits standard compostable bags and is not awful.
Fun fact: babies eat a lot. We were lucky enough to be gifted a lot of bottles; our top two choices were:
We still use the Boon system (with sippy cup lids) for travel. They're very easy to clean (since everything that comes in contact with milk is silicone, so you can easily sanitize it) and the design is neat.
Once Isaac graduated to sippy cups, the Muchkin Miracle 360 became the go-to. It seems popular since literally every kid in his class brings one.
We had a no-name bottle warmer that a friend gave us. It was okay, but also probably a fire hazard containing an exposed metal heating element. I was very glad when Isaac stopped caring about the temperature of his milk and we could ditch that thing.
The vast majority of our baby clothes are second-hand from thrift stores, other parents in our day care, friends with older kids, or random BPN postings. Kids grow out of clothes constantly, particularly our very tall baby.
For things that aren't second-hand, I like Primary a lot. Their clothes are expensive, but they're domestically-made and well-made and don't have obnoxious branding. Another key new-clothing source is Bombas; all of my socks are from Bombas, and so are Isaac's because they're the only socks that he doesn't immediately pull off and try to throw away.
We've lost a lot of socks.
Well, I guess that's probably enough for now. Feel free to drop a line if you are soon to have kids and want any random advice.
Hypothetically; we haven't flown anywhere since COVID started ↩
We call this "Terrarium Mode" because the plastic rain shield basically covers the whole stroller ↩
He's 99th percentile for height. It's somewhat odd because both my wife and I are rather short. It also makes it very hard to find pants that fit him. ↩
NHTSA recommends keeping kids in a rear-facing seat until they're 3. Our pediatrician says that this is basically impossible and to do it as long as we can. ↩
Literally the best-performer in Consumer Reports' impact testing. ↩
It turns out that there is baby dramamine now ↩
I mean, our car isn't actually that compact, but a surprising number of car seats are sized to essentially only fit in a minivan or SUV ↩
Which we bought new, for stupid reasons. If you look, there are zillions of them on Craigslist / BPN… But for some reason there were none in the month we were buying our crib. ↩
In addition to only reaching into the next room, the monitor also completely stops working if it's within about 3 feet of an active Qi charger (I guess they're on the same frequencies?). Unfortunately, I use a Qi charger for my watch and phone over night, so the monitor has to be carefully placed every night. ↩
On the other hand, if I were a farmer buying baby poop to put on my flowers, maybe I wouldn't want to tell anybody about it. ↩