Our little bundle of joy is 5 months old now and she's an absolute joy. Always one step ahead of her peers, she's taken to the walker early and is now zooming about the house--on wheels, getting into just about anything she can get her mitts on. It's both cute and terrifying at the same time.
Anyway, after a few good solid months of being parents, there are a few things we've found helpful (and in some cases, downright indispensable) along the way that aren't what you'd typically find on the shelves of your local Babies-R-Us. I thought I'd share them with you.
Quart-Sized Mason Jars
As an avid canner, I always have these around and they're incredibly handy for storing just about anything. They're air-tight, BPA-free* [see note], infinitely washable, and easy to sterilize in the dishwasher. We use ours to mix-up 3-cup batches of formula every day and distribute it into bottles. The tight enclosure allows you to shake the mixture vigorously and store any excess in the fridge. No need to buy an expensive "formula mixing pitcher" when you can get one of these for around a dollar.
Now that she's older, we use the 4oz jelly jars to send her homemade pureed food to daycare and I also transfer her oatmeal to one because it keeps it fresher and the boxes tend to leak all over the place (one box fits into a quart jar).
Incidentally, if you don't want to buy a box of 12, you can get single canning jars at the big-box craft stores for a dollar or two.
We found out early-on that our daughter didn't give us a lot of warning when she was getting hungry. It was zero to meltdown in seconds and it's impossible to measure powder into the skinny neck of a bottle and shake it with a screaming infant in one hand. We found it much more convenient to have formula prepared an in bottles in the fridge ready to warm and serve.
A kitchen scale makes life easier because you'll be making anywhere from 16-24 ounces of formula in one batch (for a day's worth). Thankfully, the folks at the formula company print the number of grams each scoop of powder should weigh right on the package. Simple math will get you how much you need for a large batch. Plus, weight is way more accurate than volume, so you'll waste less and never risk over-diluting the formula.
Mini Crockpot "Bottle Warmer"
When we started visiting daycare centers, we noticed that they heat the bottles gently in a slow cooker that they have set on the "warm" setting all day long. You can buy expensive bottle warmers from the bottle manufacturers, but we found that the Little Dipper Crockpot from Rival is a much cheaper substitute at under $15 and takes up much less space on the counter. We leave it running 24/7 so that it's always at the ready.
We originally tried one of those warmers intended to melt a large jar candle and that worked well, but the cavity isn't really designed to hold water, so it rusted out in a matter of months. The Crockpot is a much safer alternative.
A 4-Cup Measuring Cup
Nobody tells you how hard it is to get formula into regular-mouth baby bottle. If you're making large batches at a time like we are, a big measuring cup is a great addition to your kitchen arsenal so that you have something with a pour spout. A funnel sounds like a great idea except that it usually protrudes too far into the bottle to measure accurately.
An Immersion "Stick" Blender
I mentioned this one in a recent post about making your own baby food. If you're going to go the DIY food route, this is probably the best investment you can make.
This one is for those who aren't afraid to tackle a little basic DIY electrical work, but it's well worth the effort. We all hate those plastic plugs you typically use to baby-proof your home. Plus, you have to remember to put them back in when you are done using an outlet or they're not effective. And, they don't help with cords already plugged-in.
Somewhat recently, the building code has started requiring Tamper-Resistent Outlets. They're just like regular outlets except they have little trap doors behind the holes that won't open unless BOTH prongs are being pushed in at the same time. In other words, your kid would have to have two butter knives or two screwdrivers to electrocute himself. What's great is that they're only pennies more per outlet than the regular ones (a buck an outlet, total).
We had to replace the outlets in our home when we moved-in because most of them were old, damaged, or had been painted-over (blue paint? seriously?). We opted to buy a couple "contractor's packs" of these guys instead of the standard ones and I'm pretty happy we did so. It's that much less we have to worry about when baby-proofing.
Baby or no baby, pretty much everyone should have a humidifier in their bedroom, if not a whole-house model. Both radiant and forced-air heat dry-out the air and it wreaks havoc on the sinuses. In the summertime, air conditioning has the same effect. Babies are particularly susceptible and the worst part is you can't ask them to blow their nose (and anyone who's used one of those bulb suckers knows how well that goes over). If you do have a forced-air system and the extra cash, they make whole-house systems that get mounted right onto your furnace.
Plastic Storage Tubs
I'll admit that when it comes to long-term storage, I'm more of a cardboard box kind of guy. I can't see spending the $5-$10 on a plastic box when I can get cardboard for nothing. However, babies grow into and out of clothing so fast, you're constantly storing and retrieving clothing from the attic or wherever you store your extra stuff (unless your nursery has the luxury of a walk-in closet). If you plan to have a second child and re-use the clothing, you'll want to keep it clean, odor-free, and away from pests. Plastic storage tubs are your friend and here's a tip... They're cheapest during the spring (spring cleaning), the back-to-school season, and right after the holidays (as long as you don't mind green and red).
Child Medication and Personal Care Products
You don't realize how much "stuff" your baby needs until your first trip to Target or CVS. Do yourself a favor and put a bunch of this stuff on your baby registry so you have some on-hand to begin with.
Here are a few things we've found useful: Infant Tylenol (acetaminophen), Infant Saline Nose Drops (breaks-up boogers like it's nobody's business), Gripe Water (all-natural colic, hiccup, and stomach remedy--really works), Vaseline Petroleum Jelly (protects skin from drool rashes like nothing else), Diaper Rash Cream, Cotton Swabs (Q-Tips), Baby Wash (body wash and shampoo in one), Baby Skin Lotion.
* Note: The white coating underneath the flat lids of mason jars is unfortunately, not yet BPA-free. My personal feeling is that food comes into contact with it only if/when you shake the jar or turn it upside-down. Unless you're heating the contents with the lid on (which you wouldn't, for baby food), very little if any BPA is going to end-up in the actual food (and the dangers of this happening are still being debated by experts to this very day). If it worries you, there's a new company that just released a BPA-free plastic pour-spout lid that I'm really excited about (but have not yet tried). There are also the Tattler lids, but they're quite an investment and the rubber rings make them difficult to use for everyday storage. They're great for actual canning, however.