So, here it is, the long-awaited conclusion to my lists of baby buys, good and bad. You've had the The Baby Stuff People Tell Us We Need, But We Probably Don't and also My Breast-feeding Best Buys.
Today I'm listing the top five baby items which, over the past six months, have seen most use in my house. There's no particular theme to them, they just are the things I think have rocked and which I shall definitely be saving for next time round (unless they are too worn out, in which case I will unquestionably be buying a replacement).
- Play Gym
Lara has the use of a play gym at our house and at both of her Grandparent's houses. All totally different brands, with different dangly bits and different noisy bits but they all achieve the same thing. A play gym is a great place to be able to plonk your baby for a few minutes while you answer the door, or grab a coffee etc. During those first few weeks of motherhood, when the constancy of it all hits you, its nice to be able to chill out for a little while and leave your bundle of joy to wiggle around on the floor in their own little world.My play gym is a Fisher Price Melodies & Lights Rainforest extravaganza which can be found online for around £40-£55. It has the most sturdy frame I have come across, and now Lara is able to stand, she likes to hold herself upright using the frame of the gym. The gym plays music (which, in those early days, I thought was going to push me over the edge, but now I think I've managed to filter it out) and flashes coloured lights. You can also switch the music off and play soothing rainforest noises (gribbitting frogs and babbling brooks) which is mightily relaxing.You don't need to spend a lot of money on a play gym. They start from around £20, which is good value for something you are likely to use every day. A good play gym should have a range of dangly bits of different shapes, colours and textures temptingly out of reach of your little one's hands and feet when they are newborn. I can clearly remember the first day that Lara started to kick one of the dangly toys and I could see the look of purpose and determination in her eyes. I felt so proud of her! These days, she doesn't like to be lying down for too long at a time, but each morning she has some chill out time in the play gym, watching the lights and grabbing the rattles and mirrors and jingly jangly stuff.
- Microwave Steriliser
In the last few days before I left work for maternity leave, I asked the guys (yes, they are ALL gents) from the office for advice on the baby items they felt they couldn't have lived without. The one thing that they came up with that I didn't already own was a microwave steriliser, recommended to me because they are quick, easy to clean, and more compact than traditional steam sterilisers. I managed to get myself one for free from Freegle so that if I never used it, I wouldn't have wasted any money on it.When I first started making up bottles for Lara (just water in those first, sweltering few weeks) I tried out both my traditional steam steriliser, and my microwave steriliser. After only a few goes with each, I had made up my mind that the microwave steriliser was the way to go. It takes less than half the time of the table-top steriliser, it has a very similar capacity, all its pieces fit in the dishwasher and because it has no submersed heating element, it doesn't suffer from the same limescale build up.Now that I am weaning Lara, I have things other than bottles to put inside my steriliser. The bowls and spoons simply don't fit inside my standard steriliser which is very tailored to a specific brand of bottle - the microwave steriliser (a brand I've actually never heard of anywhere else) has plenty space for anything and everything.I have two concerns with the microwave steriliser. Firstly, when I have been away to hotels, I have taken the standard plug-in steriliser with me instead because you can't reasonably set up a microwave in your hotel room! Secondly, I'm not entirely comfortably with the environmental impact of using my microwave to sterilise bottles and bowls several times a day... I don't know whether it is less energy efficient than using a traditional electric steamer, but it feels like it.If you are planning on buying a microwave steriliser, make sure that it is big enough to take all of the bottles you want it to, and that it is small enough to fit inside your microwave oven!
- Rocking/Vibrating/Bouncing Chair
In the very first weeks of Lara's life, it was obvious that she was an upright baby! She couldn't stand lying down for more than a few minutes at a time unless there was something to keep her attention (such as the play gym above). We were given a bouncing chair which was a Godsend. Without it I would have had to sit with Lara bolt upright on my knee for most of the day, and who knows how we would have managed to eat our dinner in peace!The bouncing chair I have isn't very bouncy! It actually takes quite a lot of weight to make it bounce (a two year old toddler seems to do the trick). It does however have a vibrate function which, for the first months of Lara's life, was how we used to calm her down if she got upset. She would go from screaming to fast asleep within seconds of switching on the vibration. The rather unfortunate side effect of the vibration was that it also seemed to induce the mother of all pooey nappies!These days the vibration no longer seems to do the trick, in fact, I haven't even bothered to replace the batteries for a month. It does still remain Lara's pew of choice for her daily lunchtime dose of CBeebies while I eat my lunch. It is a great mix of supportive seat and relaxing recliner.As with the play gym, I would recommend a bouncing chair as somewhere to strap your baby in safely while you need to pop out of the room briefly, or just when you need a rest. Our bouncing chair cost less than £20. Its one of those things that you can pick up for a bargain with all the basic features, or you can go the whole hog and spend up to £100 on a motorised chair that sings lullabies, rotates and rocks. I suspect most babies would be happy with either!My one tip would be to get a bouncing chair with a cover that is removable and easily cleanable. Ours is a ridiculous pale colour and is sponge-clean only. It picks up dust and has never properly recovered from some of the more severe poo incidents!
- Loopy Links
Loopy Links are small plastic rings made in bright colours with different patterns and textures. They can be chained together and attached to prams, car seats or play gyms.Lara was given a set of Loopy Links as a gift when she was first born. At the time I thought they looked like an uninspiring toy, but now I know how much fun Lara has with them, I'm very grateful for them. The links are just the right size for small fists and fingers to explore and practise those first grips. They are hard-wearing and can stand up to the throwing around, the bashing and the gnawing that they receive - they are just the right size for teething rings!I rarely take Lara anywhere without her loopy links - I'd be in trouble if I did.
- Maxi Cosi CabrioFix Infant Carrier and EasyBase
My choice of car seat was very much governed by my choice of travel system (which happens to be a Mothercare 'My Choice' - ehehehe). We did a little research at the time and came to the conclusion that Maxi Cosi was as good as any of the other main brands available so we were happy to go with it.I have been so pleased with the quality of the Maxi Cosi CabrioFix infant carrier that I will, without question, opt for a Maxi Cosi seat in the new year when Lara will move up into a larger car seat. When on holiday earlier this year, we hired a car and a car seat and I was astonished at the difference in quality of the infant carrier we were given.The fabric from which the Maxi Cosi is made is very high quality and hard wearing. The one time when I did need to clean it, it was very easy to remove, clean and re-fit the cover. The straps are easy to use and adjust and I find it dead easy to fit in any car I've tried it in. The biggest plus for me was that the car seat can just be clicked into place on my pushchair wheels, no fiddly adjustments or extra pieces to buy. I shall sorely miss the convenience of that when Lara moves into her next seat!We ummmed and aaaaahed about whether or not to buy the base for the car seat. We don't have Isofix in our car and it would have cost us a minimum of £250 to get it fitted, plus the cost of the Easyfix base. In the end, we were offered the loan of an Easybase from a sister-in-law. The Easybase attaches to the car using the normal 3-point seatbelt. After that, you can just click the car seat into place each time you travel, rather than having to re-fit the belt around the seat each time. It has saved me a lot of time and effort, especially in car parks with little room between each car, meaning I can just place the car seat onto the stand, rush back round to the drivers seat and from there I can check that the seat has clicked into place correctly. If you can afford the base (Easybase from around £65 or Easyfix from around £95) as well as the seat, then I would definitely recommend it.