In the movie Away We Go, there's a character who refuses to own a stroller, asserting "I love my babies. Why would I want to push them away from me?"
When I was pregnant with my first child, I was that mom. Because I planned to practice attachment parenting, I figured I wouldn't need a swing, or a high chair, or any of those devices that would come between my loving arms and my child.
Then I gave birth to a real, actual baby, and I realized that sometimes I needed to use the bathroom or take a shower, and that carrying an increasingly heavy kid everywhere in my arms was a recipe for a backache and seething frustration. I began equipment shopping, and although my budget was small, I learned that there are certain baby and child items worth spending more on.
After logging thousands of miles pushing my three kids through neighborhoods, grocery stores, and airports, I have owned perhaps a dozen strollers. This is the one item that I wish I'd spent more on from the get-go. If you plan to walk a lot, grocery shop with your stroller, or have more than one child, do some research and invest in the best stroller you can afford. If I could do it again, I'd happily pay $500 or more for a stroller that wouldn't fall apart after a couple of years.
If you plan on running with your baby — which can be a great way to fit exercise into your schedule — consider investing in a high-quality jogger as well. We had a cheap jogging stroller that listed to the left, which means that after the first few tries, I never jogged with it.
You probably will not be able to leave the hospital without this piece of equipment; but don't grab just any car seat to fulfill the requirement.
"Every hour, nearly 150 children between ages 0 and 19 are treated in emergency departments for injuries sustained in motor vehicle crashes," the Centers for Disease Control and Protection warns. Fortunately, you have some control over whether your child is injured in a car accident: You can research car seat safety on Consumer Reports (it's worth paying for a month's subscription to the website to access this information) and buy the highest-quality seat that fits well in your vehicle. Never buy a used car seat, because you can't be sure that the seat was never in an accident, which can compromise its safety.
This can feel like a luxury when you have diapers to buy and preschool tuition to pay, but a quality portrait session is really an investment. Your kids will change faster than you realize, and although the snapshots you take are precious, an annual sitting with a really good photographer will result in keepsakes you will treasure forever. I have taken my kids to cheap photo chains, and I have taken them to pros, and believe me: The high-end professional photos are the ones that are now framed on the walls, and that I love looking at day after day. Also, framed portraits make inexpensive holiday gifts for doting grandparents, which helps defray the cost.
When I finally broke down and bought a swing, I bought a tiny, inexpensive model because that was all that fit in our tiny, expensive San Francisco apartment. That didn't cut it for babies two and three, who had to spend more hours swinging because I didn't have eight arms to change toddler diapers, help preschoolers use scissors, and hold baby at the same time. If you are buying new, Consumer Reports has an extensive baby swing buying guide that lays out the many options available nowadays. Go for powerful motion and long battery life (or a plug-in model) over bells and whistles.
I've tried many methods for saving money on childcare over the years; and to some extent, less expensive childcare has worked okay for my family. But I have also visited inexpensive home daycares that I would never leave my kids in, like the place where I rang the bell and a two-year-old walked barefoot across the parking lot to greet me at the gate. Friends have sent their kids to low-end daycares and noticed that hygiene practices were subpar, or even had their children get hurt. You should do your research with any childcare provider, but be especially wary if the price is much lower than other providers. You have to ask yourself: Is the provider able to provide a safe environment and quality staff for the price they're charging.
An inexpensive model may work fine for occasional pumping, but if you plan to pump every day, you're going to need a professional-grade breast pump. The FDA warns against borrowing or purchasing used breast pumps (La Leche League explains the different kinds), so this is an item that you may have to pony up for. Still, even a high-end pump pays for itself if it saves you from buying formula, and some health insurance plans may reimburse the cost.
Crib and Mattress
Crib safety standards have changed drastically in recent years, so you really need to do your research if you try buying a used crib. As for the mattress, concerns are growing about the toxins released by all kinds of furniture in our homes. Considering the number of hours a baby spends in its crib, I found it worthwhile to spend three or four times as much on a non-toxic crib mattress. Second-hand mattresses can raise safety concerns and may even be associated with Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.
I'm happy to buy the cheapest brand of toothpaste or deodorant, but the truth is, the safest sunscreen for your kids — the kind that uses physical blockers instead of chemical ones — is pricey. Pay up, or cover up.
Baby Bottles and Sippy Cups
Bisphenol A (BPA), is now banned from the plastic in baby bottles, but uncertainty still lingers around the safety of many plastics. Pediatrician Juliet Baciocco Spurrier, founder of BabyGearLab, recommends choosing plastics No. 2, No. 4, or No. 5, or sticking to glass. As your child gets older, exercise the same vigilance over the cups they drink out of, at least at home (where they're less likely to lose their cups).