Buying Gifts For Expectant Parents


By: Elinor Teele

You've just received a baby shower invitation from your best friend or heard that your brother and sister-in-law are expecting and your mind turns to thoughts of miniature clothing and plush soft bears. But if you want to get them something they'd actually need, along with that adorable mini twin-set, complete with pearls, there's a few things you can keep in mind.

Fundamentals

Like weddings, more and more expectant moms are compiling gift registries. Don't ignore these because they list the things she's chosen. Gift-certificates to stationery shops (for thank-you cards, photo albums, and baby journals), or mammoth establishments like Babies'R'Us, are always helpful. If you are in doubt, you may want to simply ask her what she would like. It's not a surprise, but then again, your gift will not go directly to the back of her closet.

Baby merchandise may have moved into a new stratosphere in the twenty-first century, but moms still need some basics. One of the most fundamental items is the boppy, a cushion shaped like a half donut, which fits around the mom's waist while she is feeding the baby. It is indispensable and an easy place to rest the infant. Parents are also going to need lots and lots of diapers.

Clothing

Babies go through a lot of clothing, especially with all of their burping, spitting, and leaky diapers. Onesies, like long underwear, go on underneath a baby's outer layers. A packet of these will always be in need. If you are looking for outerwear, choose ones with snaps that allow easy access to diapers and have attached boots for the feet. Some sleep suits have cuffs that fold over the baby's hands, which prevents them from scratching themselves. Socks are awfully cute in the store window, but babies aren't too concerned with being fashionable and will kick them off. They also tend to get lost in the wash. Hats, on the other hand, keep a baby's head toasty warm when out for a walk.

You may consider buying clothes that the baby can grow into. While the expectant mother has probably started acquiring newborn sizes, her baby will grow up faster than she'll realize. Think about when the baby will be born and extrapolate forward. If it is born at the beginning of winter, it's going to need six-month sizes come spring.

Linens and Things

Receiving blankets of washable flannel or cotton work well for burping, for swaddling against the cold, or a multitude of other random uses. Waterproof lap pads protect granny's silk dress from being unexpectedly soiled -- always a plus when meeting a relative for the first time.

Babies get lost in big cribs and are usually placed in cradles or bassinets for the first few months, so think small. Cradles need fitted sheets and padded cloth bumpers, to prevent bruises when the little tyke is thrashing around. Blankets made by loving hands out of soft wool or material are guaranteed to be treasured. Check with the parents before you go overboard on this idea -- they may have particular needs when it comes to bedding.

Toys

Despite the trend towards bombarding the baby with educational toys from day one, you can't fight nature. In the beginning, babies are going to have simple needs and simple desires. They won't be able to focus clearly for a while, or even hold their head up straight. What they are fascinated by is the play of light and shadow. Moms in the know say that mirrors and black and white colored items are especially intriguing to a growing baby. Learning is all about imagination, so don't overdose on toys with lots of add-ons and complex functions. Toys like stackers, soft cubes with shapes, and rattles are perfectly tailored for young babies.

Don't discard the typical. It's a rare person who hasn't a memory of a favorite teddy bear or blanket edged with satin. Look for ones that are beautiful to touch, are easily washable, and, in the case of stuffed animals, do not have eyes or accessories that can be ripped off and swallowed. Puppets are a twist on this idea and give parents the chance to hold an animated conversation with their child.

Useful Items

Slippery babies are too small for a normal bathtub. Specially sized baby tubs, as well as washcloths and soft absorbent towels, are never out of service. You might even think about the purely mundane. Diaper rash cream and wipes are going to have a high turnover, while the diaper bin prevents smelly odors. A first aid kit, complete with nail clippers for tiny hands, or monitors to place near the baby and by the bed, are often on the must-buy list for parents.

More expensive items include bouncers, car seats, strollers, and baby carriers. A universal carrier will act as a three in one. It has a stroller frame with wheels into which a baby carrier can be snapped easily. If you have the right gear, the carrier can even be used as a car seat. Before you buy, make sure that all of these conform to modern safety standards and pick carriers with easy to grip handles. Moms and dads will also appreciate products like the Baby Bjorn, a pack that fits over the stomach so the newborn can rest facing the parent's chest while they are on the move. Bouncers rest on wire supports and look like a kind of baby easy chair; those with a vibrating option are often very soothing.

Simplicity is All

Some simple ideas, if you are stuck for inspiration, include books and music. Since the baby is processing sounds, senses, and milk at this time, as opposed to story lines, pick books that the parents will enjoy reading or ones that hold some special resonance in your own childhood. Music to soothe frazzled baby nerves and sleep-deprived parents is also a boon. It can get a little dull feeding a newborn eight times a day, so you may want to consider reading material for the mother, like paperbacks or her favorite magazines, or even talking books that she can listen to hands-free.

For Moms and Dads

With all this focus on the baby, the personal needs of the parents tend to get kicked to the sideline. A new mom might appreciate a facial or haircut. They're still women, not just moms, so think about buying her new lingerie or clothing for her post-pregnancy body. Don't forget that dads, although they're not as sore, are equally involved with the birth of their children. You might want to consider video vouchers for nights spent in, or humorous books tailored towards expectant fathers.

Often the best thing you can give to a new mom and dad is your time. They're going to be tired for the first six months of their baby's life. This means they don't have as much energy to make meals, clean the house, go to the grocery store, or take the dog for a walk. With a new person appearing, they have one less pair of hands to do physical things like put out the trash or water the plants. If you don't have much money, volunteer to baby sit, shop for food, or even just hold the baby so they can get around faster. New moms and dads, like babies, need the basics -- keep the mom well watered and fed, try to find ways to let them all sleep, and lavish them with love.

Elinor Teele is a freelance writer living and working in Gloucester, Massachusetts. She has advanced degrees from the University of Cambridge, England, and is a writer of children's stories, critical commentaries, and non-fiction articles.

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