The Practical Guide to Baby “Needs”
From a mom not afraid to tell it like it is
With my kids now nearly 3 & 4 years old, we are finally in the season of life when we get to purge the baby stuff. It’s gotten me thinking about how many of the “needs” were never used and many random off-registry & off-my-radar gifts were must-haves.
Here are my thoughts and recommendations for new parents on what you really need without the down-your-throat “YOU NEED THIS if you want a happy, healthy baby” marketing.
I decided to make this post a series since there are so many items for babies that new parents are overwhelmed with that there is a lot to cover. Stay tuned for future posts, they will be linked right here or you can always follow Remodelicious on Facebook.
Unless you’re one of the ultra-rare families who don’t drive anywhere ever, you’ll need one of these. Eventually more. Unlike many baby items that nesting, pregnant, hormonal moms think that they must have before delivery (but don’t, really), this is basically the most important item. No pressure, it’s just the one item 99.99999% of us can’t live or take the baby home without.
The Infant “Bucket” Seat
You may not need the baby bucket car seat. We didn’t buy one. We are the only people I have never heard of who went straight into a convertible carseat, but I promise it was fine (especially with baby #1). Here’s the deal: they are big, bulky, heavy, pains in the ass. I was out shopping while super pregnant and happened to look around me to see that all of the crying babies where in baby bucket car seats in the carts while quiet, sleeping babies were in an ergo-like carrier (more on that below). It was the middle of the recession and I didn’t feel like spending a ton of money on a fleeting item. Sure, they say that your baby can sit in them unit they are 30 lbs+, but 2-year-olds are generally 30 lbs. Have you ever seen a 2-year-old in a baby bucket? No. You’ll use it for a year tops before you want to burn the thing and roll it down a hill in favor of a convertible seat.
“But how will I ever keep the baby asleep?” you say? Babies love to sleep. Some move more easily than others, but my first child would have slept through Armageddon and my second was a light sleeper and still wasn’t a huge deal to move to the Ergo or bed.
Should you opt for a baby bucket, naturally you want the best of the best. Be wary of used carseats from strangers, but know that for the most part, carseats are carseats. The more expensive, the heavier and generally more tricky to install they are. If you can borrow or buy one from a friend, DO IT. You seriously won’t use it that long. Let’s say you use it until your kid is 10 months old. 10 months pre-baby may sound like a lot, but 10 months post-baby will flash before your sleep-deprived eyes.
The Convertible Seat
You’ll likely use this from your kiddo’s first birthday through age 3-4. Some parents even go beyond that. It’s worth it to get something you really like, and I suggest waiting to buy it until you need it. You’ll have a much better idea of what you want after you’ve dealt with carseats. We went for pricey, matching Britax seats when I was in full-blown nesting mode, but later were over moving the heavy seats back and forth and wound up purchasing additional seats for our second car that the kids rode in only a few times a month. Don’t get hung-up on weight limits. Most kids are into boosters well before they reach the limits on convertible seats. Weight limits are clearly for marketing to new parents who assume that a larger number = better. It doesn’t.
In hindsight, here’s how I would prioritize features of a convertible seat:
- Safety (although nearly all seats that are readily available have passed rigorous tests)
- Comfort. We rented a Cosco seat with a rental car to drive around Wisconsin, and our little princess who was used to a cushy seat would not have it. She was uncomfortable so we were uncomfortable. Wish we’d had our seat with us.
- Easy to install & move, because it’s actually been easier for us to move seats than to have spares readily available at the right time & place. BBB pushes the heck out of the Britax convertibles, but they are awful to move. I have this at #3, but it’s a close one.
- Cupholders. Sounds idiotic, but we never travel anywhere without water in Texas and I’d rather they have a handy place to keep it rather than it winding up on the floor while a screaming 2-year-old distracts be from the red light ahead.
- Color. If you’re going to be passing the seat down to future siblings, you’ll want to pick a gender-neutral color. Replacement covers are expensive and third-party covers can void your warranty.
The Booster Seat
After the convertible seat and typically around age 5 or kindergarten, it’s time for a booster. Many parents switch as early as age 4 and 40lbs and many others keep their kiddos in convertibles as long as they can stand them since the harness is most secure. It is much more convenient once you reach the age of booster seats since kiddos can buckle and unbuckle themselves (so make sure they are mature enough to keep buckled) and is often necessary when you now have a younger sibling or two to buckle every time you get in and out of the car.
Some boosters offer LATCH connectors, and with boosters, these are more important when the child is not in the car than when they are. In harness seats, the LATCH system secures the seat to the car and the harness secures the child to the seat. In a booster seat, the seatbelt is securing the child to the car. Many reviewers complain that the LATCH system isn’t tight enough on boosters, but it is really meant to keep the seat from flying forward when the child is not in the car and therefore the seatbelt is not holding the child or seat down.
High Back Boosters
High Back Boosters provide extra support in the form of side-impact protection and position the seatbelt lower so kids no longer need to put the upper belt behind them (which is a big no-no these days). When you see complaints about high back boosters, it’s because the belt positioner doesn’t work well and children cannot properly position it themselves. Most high-back boosters convert to backless boosters down the road and are generally under $100. The Graco Afflix is a standard these days as an all-around favorite, but there are other options to consider as well.
Occasionally, the headrests in your car can interfere with the top of a high-back booster so definitely try one out before you buy if you can.
- $$$: Britax Frontier
- $$: Evenflo Securekid Harnessed Booster
- $$: Graco Afflix with Latch *Top Pick
- $: Evenflo Big Kid AMP
Backless boosters are for kids tall enough to have the seatbelt properly positioned with only the additional height that the booster seat provides. Many boosters convert into backless boosters and they can be purchased separately as well.