Tools for a new project? Baby gear? What do these things have in common?
We have two kids, and several friends and family members had children soon after us. What I noticed is that there are common behaviors between shopping for new tools and shopping for baby gear.
A lot of ToolGuyd readers are at the age where they might be starting families. I figure that some commentary might be helpful, and those of you have already had children could chime in with your own advice.
The first thing to know about having a baby is that everyone will throw unsolicited advice at you. I try not to do this, but it’s a hard compulsion to fight. I’ve learned that it’s best not to argue; just nod and smile. Maybe some advice might turn out to be useful.
Hey – the same thing happens with tools. “Oh, you don’t want the 12V-class brushless drill, get the 18V-class 1000 in-lbs behemoth.” But I’m looking for something for small holes and #6-sized fasteners…
Mistake #1 – Buying Too Much
The biggest mistake that people make is in thinking they must have everything. For those with small tool collections, a new project can be an opportunity to buy a new tool, but one can also go overboard. The same is true with baby gear.
I only bought a couple of things – thankfully inexpensive ones – that we ended up not using.
Someone I know bought a Milwaukee cordless power tool combo kit a couple of years ago. Why? “Because their ‘man card’ required it.” That’s a mistake – buying tools when you don’t know what you’ll need or use.
I’ve seen this on deal sites before. A couple of years ago there was a Craftsman or Ridgid drill press heavily discounted. There were a few serious-looking comments that read like “in for one, now what can I use it for?”
Similarly, there’s baby gear that sounds good but ultimately unnecessary or unused. I bought a “diaper bag for dudes,” and never used it. When we traveled by car to visit family, I used a Milwaukee tool box. For shorter trips or excursions, I had an EDC-style sling bag.
Gimmicks and Gadgets
You don’t need a “baby wipes warmer.” Babies don’t like being changed, period. Having “pre-warmed” wipes aren’t really going to change that.
I thought we needed a bottle warmer. I bought one. I was cleaning it for its first use, realized it was a useless hassle, and so I returned it. Do you know how I warmed a cold bottle of milk or formula? With a small round glass food container filled with warm (or slightly hotter than lukewarm) water.
The routine was simple – wash hands, prep bottle, set a mental timer, change kid, wash hands, swirl bottle once if needed for more even warming, feed kid. Sure, you could use a microwave, but you need to be extremely careful about temps. Every child is different, but both of mine drank milk and formula heated this way just fine.
Just like new homeowners, DIYers, or hobbyists can be with tools, a lot of new parents focus too heavily on baby gear, gadgets, and what-not.
Is that gadget really necessary? Is there an easier way to do things?
That’s not to say that gear and gadgets don’t help, because they can. When we had our son, I bought a Pocket Nanny ($20 via Amazon), and it was great for keeping track of feeding times. My wife thought it was unnecessary at first, but then we both used it all the time. For our daughter, I used timers on our Echo device. Smartphone timers can also work. Using an electronic timer of any kind beats the hand-written log we kept when our son was just born.
Similarly, retailers and brands would have you believe you MUST buy their latest tool innovations, problem-solvers, or gizmos. Sometimes they will help you, but other times you’ll have a lighter wallet and a new paperweight.
Online Advice and Recommendations
Looking for advice online can help, but it can also be frustrating. But, this is true for just about everything, isn’t it? It’s hard to know which sources and voices can be trusted.
When buying infant car seats, for example, I saw a lot of recommendations for a larger model, with people saying the higher 35 lb weight rating is better. Then, I saw a mention about it being larger and heavier than the 30 lb-rated model, and that a lot of children grow out of infant carriers before they exceed the weight limits. So, we bought the “30 lb” model and it worked out well. I tried to pass this info along to friends and family, but no, the 35 lb-rated model sounded too good to them on paper. When they complained about the size and weight of their larger infant carriers, I refrained from an “I told you so.”
These days, you have to be even more cautious. Trust more in information and insights than opinions.
All Users are Different
Swaddle blankets? I perfected how to swaddle, but our son liked to free his arms, rendering my swaddling skills useless. We had to move to sleep sacks. The velcro ones for older newborns and infants didn’t work well, or rather they were an absolute mess to use, and so we ended up with simpler ones.
Babies have different preferences when it comes to bottles, pacifiers, and even milk and formula temperatures. There are some things they can adapt to, and other things that they will be stubborn about.
Trial and Error
Different tool users also have varying needs and preferences. It’s almost never “one size fits all.” Sometimes that means having to try different things.
Do you prefer chunkier cordless drill handles, or slimmer ones? Round screwdriver handles, or tri-lobed ones?
One of our kids liked Avent bottles. The other preferred Medela. Familiarize yourself with available options, which can be as simple as strolling through the aisles of a local store.
Did you know that there are different bottle valves (that’s not the right word, but I don’t want to trigger any work computer profanity filters), with more or larger holes for older babies? The starting size for a small bottle of one brand might allow for much faster flow than both starting and next-level bottle sizes of another brand. A look at the packaging will often tell you.
It wasn’t until I was 20 or so before I learned there were ball-end hex drivers. If you read ToolGuyd regularly, you might be more familiar with tools than most people. But do you follow baby or parenting blogs that regularly introduce you to new products? I didn’t and still don’t. Familiarize yourself with what’s out there.
It’s a learning experience. Nobody gets things right on the first try. Right?
Perception is a Bad Decision-Maker, Experience is Better
“I need such and such because…”
Back when I was a grad student, I had a friend who wanted to buy a DSLR camera. He knew I had one and asked for advice. “Why do you want one?” He thought it would make his photos better. I asked him how many photos he took in the past year or two with his current camera. The answer was “maybe 40 or so.”
I’ve known others who bought DSLR cameras and set them to “auto” with lackluster results. DSLR and mirrorless cameras require some time and effort to achieve the best results.
A different grad school friend wanted to get into woodworking, and was starting to build a list of tools and equipment he believed he needed. “What do you want to make?” He didn’t know. How can you buy tools if you don’t know what you’ll need or how you’ll use them?
Baby gear is similar.
I see people with huge diaper bags. Multiple diaper bags. They drag huge amounts of baby gear everywhere they go. Is it a perception thing, where new parents believe they’re supposed to be mules? I guess this might fit in with the mistake of buying too much.
After my wife’s maternity leave ended both times, I stayed home with our then-infants. Because of this, my habits and tendencies tended to dominate. I packed what I needed, and it fit in a small sling bag. I bought that bag for media events and work-related travels, but found a use for it between trips. I also bought a “diaper bag for dudes,” but ended up not needing it.
Different parents, different babies, different excursions, different needs.
Think about what you realistically need.
Reevaluate as needs change or you see from experience what might come in handy and what won’t.
It is OKAY to plan and prepare ahead of time for anticipated needs. It is also okay to learn from others, just don’t follow blindly, otherwise you’ll end up excessively tooled-up.
Bonus: Random Unsolicited Commentary
Note: I am a parent, not a professional authority. Following are only my opinions, use at your own risk.
In our experience, when our newborn son was crying, 90% of the time it was because he was hungry, at least until we learned this fact. That other 10% were “other reasons,” that we had to guess about, such as my parents’ in-wall air conditioner turning on and off overnight, or not being stimulated enough before driving home from a family visit.
You can learn to anticipate a baby’s needs with routines and signs. Good advice from a maternity nurse: if a newborn is crying because they’re hungry, you waited too long to feed them. “Rooting” is one of the most amusing things a newborn will do.
“You’ll never sleep again” is an exaggeration. Common advice is to “nap when the baby naps.” Routines help, especially at night. We were told not to let our son go more than 5 hours between feedings, which required us to rouse him at night. Changing him before a feeding was usually a good start.
Meet with a pediatrician before you have your baby. I’m sure there are sample questions online. The pediatrician doesn’t necessarily have to be affiliated with your hospital. Philosophies and practice policies, such as immunizations or how they handle “sick visits” can vary.
When you’re close to the due date, have a “go” bag. Our daughter was born early.
“A&D” ointment went on our babies with EVERY diaper change. It might be wasteful, but we used cotton rounds as an applicator. Putting it directly on the baby with a cotton round is more effective than applying some on the diaper. You could use your finger, but this stuff doesn’t wash off very easily. Also make sure to have a tube of “Butt Paste,” as you will probably need it at some point. Again, this is where strolling the baby aisle at Target can help.
Forget the “snot sucker” bulb that they send you home with from the hospital, buy a NoseFrida.
Mothers – decide if you want to do “skin to skin” or not. And if you do, don’t be afraid to ask maternity nurses for help. Dads – you can do this too, and it’s easy if you have a buttoned shirt.
Newborns won’t remember if you have to leave the room to calm down or collect your thoughts for a moment. You’re going to get frustrated, and a clear head works a lot better at resolving things. (Just like on tool-related projects!)
A guy’s guide to nursing essentials: Lanolin cream – be sure what it looks like and where to buy it, a clean finger (for breaking the seal if needed), the phone number to the hospital lactation consultant, and maybe know where your washcloths are.
Never leave a baby in a car seat on a bed or other elevated furniture. I’ve seen people scolded about this by hospital staff.
We didn’t see the need for a diaper pail early on, but a pail or diaper sacks are essential once a baby starts eating solid foods.
We had a small Munchkin diaper bag dispenser (~$5 via Amazon). If you’re going to change a newborn in any public place, spare others the smell. Do NOT dispose of a soiled diaper in a teeny tiny pediatrician’s office examine room. Uch! Double bag it, or bag it and take it with you.
A back seat mirror is a great thing. We had two Britax mirrors. I spent $20 and $16, not the $35 they’re priced at now. Is the baby sleeping? Are they okay? What are they doing? Some people like to have a parent sit with the baby, but you can’t do that if only one parent is in the car.
We saved money on the cribs by going with basic models from Ikea, and splurged on USA-made crib mattresses. If there’s an Ikea near you, do check them out. I liked their play mat, changing station (there’s only so many times you can change a baby on the floor before it breaks your back), and they also have decent baby toys.
This is the style of pacifier our hospital told us to buy.
Make sure you have a pot large enough for boil-sterilizing things like pacifiers and bottle parts, at least initially.
Different brands have microwave bottle sterilizer caddies. Medela steam sterilizer bags worked well for smaller stuff. Get a bottle brush, they’re cheap enough, and make sure you have a clean area for drying baby-related stuff after cleaning them.
Take photos, videos, and notes.
Don’t let your baby near your phone. My son reset my phone when he was ~18 months old and wiped out maybe 6 months of photos. I made sure Google Photos was properly backing things up after that. Luckily I had regularly texted a bunch of day to day photos to my wife.
On our first night home with the baby: “I can’t believe the hospital let us take our baby home. What do we do now??!!” But on that note, hospitals usually have some requirements before discharge, such as ensuring the baby has a safe and proper place to sleep, and that their first wellness checkup with a pediatrician is scheduled. They require the baby to be taken out in an infant carrier car seat, but won’t help you figure out how to do it. They might also require or at least advise the mother to take a class or two while they’re there.
Oh, one more thing – you can *probably* burp your baby a little firmer than you think. Ask a maternity nurse to show you how it’s done.
Being protective is necessary, regardless of others’ feelings. Oh, you want to hold the baby? Wash your hands!!