Face-Off: Silk Slings
As luxury items go, silk slings make a certain amount of sense; in addition to being comfortable and looking fabulous, silk is the strongest natural fiber in the world. We asked a friend and her two-month-old baby to try out two of the swankest slings on the market, despite her insistence that they were too nice to be drooled on.
If you’re looking for a sling that turns heads, you can’t do much better than the Oopa Baby ($119-$200). The vivid colors and Pucci-esque prints make this sling a stunning accessory, especially if you wear a lot of neutrals. (If your wardrobe is heavy on colors and prints, you may want to choose one of Oopa’s less expensive solid designs.) All slings are outfitted with a small zipper pocket and color-coordinated metal rings. Unfortunately, our tester found that the Oopa didn’t feel as good as it looked. The fabric cut uncomfortably into her neck and shoulders, yet didn’t seem tight enough around the baby. (It should be noted that our tester was on the petite side, so perhaps a smaller size would have made for a comfier fit.) And the Oopa is high-maintenance; it needs to be cleaned by hand.
The pricier Sakura Bloom sling ($240-$360) is reversible and machine-washable (though not dryer-safe). While it’s made of a heftier silk than the Oopa, our tester found that it kept her baby less sweaty on summer days than the lightweight polyester sling she’d been using. The fabric stayed in place – no tugging or slipping – and was soft enough to wear comfortably all day. Because there’s so much fabric, it’s possible that a newborn would get a little lost in this sling; however, the two-month-old who tested it was perfectly happy. In other words, it’s sturdy, wearable year-round and simple to care for. The website calls it “a functional work of art,” and that’s pretty much the case. Of course, with its triple-digit price tag, it certainly should be. – Gwynne Watkins
Two of a Kind: Shower Gifts
Finding the right baby shower gift can be tricky, especially if the expecting parents have gone the no-registry route. These two gifts are suitable for almost any shower – and they both manage to look extravagant while being secretly, entirely practical.
These seem to be a favorite among A-listers like Debra Messing and Julia Roberts, but you don’t often see them on the shower circuit. Every new mom needs diapers, but somehow wrapping up a package of forty-eight size smalls lacks a sense of elegance. True, there are websites that give you instructions on how to make one of these bad boys yourself, but if you weren’t blessed with the crafty gene (as I wasn’t), check out the beautiful collection of two- and three-tiered diapers cakes at Bloomers, all garnished with silk flowers and topped with a keepsake ornament. – Katie Bayless
For a gift that’s sure to inspire some double-takes, pick The Baby Bunch. This charming bouquet of silk flowers contains an entire starter wardrobe – a bib, a T-shirt, a hat, a onesie and several pairs of socks – cleverly rolled up to look like roses. The presentation is flawless, right down to the box it’s shipped in, and the cotton baby clothes (particularly the organic variety) are blessedly soft. And hey, if you happen to be the shower host, this can be your gift and your centerpiece. – Gwynne Watkins
We’ve been lucky enough to try out several different kinds of baby carriers in our home, and unlike other dubious baby products hawked to the masses of new parents, I think these devices are genuinely useful. Why lug around that huge stroller when you can strap on one of these? Well, the reason, we’ve learned, is that after a while, you get tired and sore from carrying around your little sack of sugar, and even the best carriers and slings are somewhat restrictive. These two brands claim to offer the best possible infant-carrying experience, so we tried them both out.
I’ll start with the K’tan ($55). This is, to my taste, one of the more attractive carriers around. It doesn’t have a lot of buckles and strange designs and padding, so parents who wear it generally don’t look foolish. It employs the simplicity of the cool “sling” design, while using two straps instead of one to share the load with both shoulders, sort of like the all-popular (but ugly) Björn (see a recent review below). It’s the best of both worlds! Except it’s super difficult to put on. It’s like some kind of puzzle and if you don’t have the directions in front of you, you probably won’t succeed. My wife left for a walk with this thing on and returned five minutes later because she’d put it on wrong. This is a drawback with a squirming baby.
The Ergo ($92), on the other hand, is easier to load up. It has two big padded straps for your shoulders and has gotten very high marks from all of our hippie-type friends with kids. They like its versatility (you can use it on your back, too) and (perhaps obviously) its ergonomic design. It really is the most comfortable carrier we’ve found. Drawbacks: it doesn’t look that cool, what with all that padding, and it spreads your kid’s legs kind of wide, so it might be a stretch for the chubby or small-legged. Also, it doesn’t allow for the popular “facing out” option, although personally I think babies look silly and helpless like that, like big ornaments. But that’s just my opinion. Overall, I’d say go with the Ergo, unless you really crave simplicity and fashionable perks – in which, case you must be willing to put up with the yoga-type moves necessary to enter and extract yourself from the K’tan. – Arthur Bradford
During the many sleepless nights when my son was first born, I often wondered aloud why they didn’t make a burp cloth with a catcher’s mitt at the end. When my son spit up, it was like the flood dams being released and no amount of absorbent cloth was going to soak up the outburst before it cascaded down my back. Wouldn’t you know – someone invented something that solves this very woe. The ingenious BurpCatcher has a pocket at one end of the cloth, carefully cradling the precious “present” from your newborn. Available in flannel or fleece, and a trio of colors, rest assured that the higher price ($10) will be offset by your decreased dry cleaning bills. – Katie Bayless
This cute starfish-shaped piece of plastic ($15) performs two functions: it emits a shrill alarm when submerged, thus preventing you from over-filling the tub, and it displays the exact temperature of the water, so you don’t burn your baby’s sensitive skin. I’ll address function number one first: the suction cup, like most suction cups I’ve encountered in bathtub/shower situations, is unreliable. The starfish kept falling into the water, causing the alarm to go off too soon. Plus, if you’re far away, you likely won’t hear the alarm over the filling water; it isn’t that loud. Functio1n number two: the thermometer works fine, but really, can’t we just feel the water and know when it’s too hot for our baby? To be honest, I don’t even know what the proper temperature is, number-wise, but I do know when things are too hot. However, my wife disagrees with me on this point, and she often thinks I’m going to do something careless and maim our child – so I was pleased to show her actual scientific proof that I am not an idiot.- Arthur Bradford
While toting our four-month-old through the neighborhood one day, my husband ran into a friend who was toting his six-month-old. “Is that a Björn?” our friend said. My husband was about to reply that it was, but we’d gotten it off Craigslist for $5 and the labels were all peeled off, when our friend smacked his own head and said, “Jesus. That woman walking by just heard me ask you that. How stupid did that sound: ‘Is that a Björn?’ No wonder everyone hates us.” The Björn ($70-$90) is ubiquitous and the Eurotrashy name is, indeed, embarrassing to utter in mixed company. And, at $80, it’s become a symbol of all things baby-trendy. However, it’s also hard to beat for design and convenience if you choose to go the way of the non-sling carrier. It’s very sturdy and accommodates babies of many sizes. You can face your baby in for down time or out to charm passersby. And it’s so form-fitting and sturdy, you can run down the subway stairs without waking him up.
But there is competition: the Jeep 2-in-1 Carrier ($40) is half the price and just as good. There is a dopey-looking zipper panel in the front, supposedly for a little extra air (and potentially a crazy-looking tan) on hot, sticky days. Depending on your build, it may be more or less comfortable than the Björn. I couldn’t really tell the difference, but my husband said it cut into his ribs a bit once the baby got close to twenty pounds, whereas my friend Lauren said it better suited her petite frame. In any case, it’s light and well-made and the Jeep label is sewn in on every available surface, so no one will ever mistake it for a you-know-what. – Ada Calhoun
The sound is a little tinny, sure, and if you place your iPod too close to the speaker, the whole thing sounds more like a beeping car alarm than a portable stereo. But if you’re dealing with a meltdown that no amount of milk, Cheerios or chewable morphine will cure, then the Stroll-a-Tune ($30) may be the perfect stroller toy for you. Just cue the music and watch the meltdown dissolve with the blissful, calming melodies of Gwar (or whatever your kid likes). In the beginning I wanted to mock the Stroll-a-Tune. How hard is it, I wondered, for a parent and child to simply talk? Does technology need to follow us to the stroller, too? Then I installed the stereo (it took a half hour, mostly because I’m as mechanically inclined as my one-year-old) and was pleasantly surprised to find myself singing out loud on the street and seeing my daughter actually enjoy it. If you can’t live without music or if your kid can’t live with your voice (or simply doesn’t react well to chewable morphine), then this gizmo is for you. Don’t let the cheap-looking packaging fool you – it works better than it looks. – Mike Adamick
On its face, the Mommy Hook ($5) looks like an oversized and (thankfully) under-priced rock-climbing carabiner – something you can pick up at any reasonable sporting goods store. “What a crock,” I said, put out by yet another common product slapped with a “mommy” label and marketed toward The Parent Who Must Have Everything. Then I gave it a try. It wasn’t half bad. I hooked it on my stroller and went shopping, grateful that the hook gave me some spare storage space when the bottom of the stroller filled to the brim. When I got home, I unclipped the hook and used it to carry all the grocery bags inside with one hand. The cushy handle, I found, was actually quite comfortable – at least, more comfortable than the death grip of a thousand plastic bag handles strangling my wrist. I wouldn’t advise rushing out to buy The Mommy Hook; it didn’t actually open the door for me or offer to babysit, so it wasn’t that useful. But if you’ve got five bucks to spare and you do a lot of shopping, it might just come in handy. – Mike Adamick
You’ve gotta give the folks at Bobo Central credit for promotional chutzpah. They are shilling what amounts to a souped-up gardening glove as “the world’s first fully interactive, sensory-stimulating, touch-sensitive, portable, wearable, audio-visual entertainment system made exclusively for babies.” Awesome! Our five-month-old did, in fact, find The Bobo Glove ($19) fascinating for a brief time. And I feel confident that she would have loved the glove if the rubber teething ring, or the plastic pull toy, had been located on one of the fingertips, rather than (bizarrely) on the wrist. That way she could have gnawed away while enjoying the rattle or the squeaker or any one of the several other noisemaking doodads on this very busy little glove. As it was, she got tired of chewing on the doodads, which are covered in fabric. My wife and I did appreciate the basic ingenuity of the BG, as well as the fact that it doesn’t require batteries. But our baby thinks a redesign is in order. – Steve Almond
The function of the Babesta Bottle Hugger ($10) is threefold: it helps your baby get a grip on her bottle, maintains the temperature of the beverage inside and protects the bottle from breaking when your kid flings it across the room. Of course, all three things could be accomplished just as easily without the stuffed duck apparatus, but then it wouldn’t be so cute and theoretically appealing to your child.Our daughter was not a huge fan of the duck-shaped Bottle Hugger, but she’s still a little young for such things. So we gave it to another set of parents, who told us that their son really liked it. It wasn’t that convincing a claim, though, and when we grilled them, the father revealed that he’d been mainly using the Bottle Hugger as a beer holder. My wife and I thought of a few other unorthodox uses, none of which is appropriate to mention in a parenting magazine. Seriously, don’t a lot of baby products seem like they’re intended for something naughtier?- Arthur Bradford
There’s a bathtub in our cramped Brooklyn apartment, but the sink is too close to kneel by it – so I bathe the baby in the kitchen sink, then hustle her to a waiting towel in the bedroom to dry off. Before we got the Timboo hooded towel from Baby Dagny ($28), some part of this drying-off process used to make my daughter cry – maybe the towel I was using was too scratchy, or the color palette a little dull. But since the arrival of this insanely soft, bright green towel, I’m not exaggerating, she hasn’t cried once. Whether she knows that bamboo is nature’s most sustainable resource (some species grow four feet a day), or just really appreciates a soft towel, who knows? I’m just psyched she likes the hypoallergenic, non-chemical, antimicrobial version, and that for once it isn’t twice the price. – Deirdre Dolan
For parents who are self-conscious about their carbon footprint, cloth diapers are a clear, if intimidating, choice. Luckily, Bummis makes it easy, with user-friendly diapers that won’t have you yearning for those landfill-clogging disposables. The company’s cotton diapering kit ($120-$160) includes enough diapers and covers to get you started, as well as extensive – and comprehensible! – directions about how to wash, fold and attach them. They even have a toll-free number for the diapering-challenged among us. The cost is a fraction of what you’d pay for Pampers, especially when you consider that you can use them again with siblings. We were also impressed with their new Bamboozle line – diapers made of bamboo, which is naturally antibiotic and absorbent enough to last through the night. These will cost you up to $20 a pop, but it’s worth it. They make your baby look like Bam-Bam from the Flintstones! – Erin Almond
Wipe Warmer Face-Off: Safety First vs. Prince Lionheart
There are some things baby can’t do without: diapers, food, shelter, your undying love. Then there are “must have” items that seem a bit suspect, especially while you’re still pregnant. For instance, a wipe warmer – you know, so baby can get his little butt wiped in balmy tropical grandeur. Ridiculous! At least we aren’t wiping butts with leaves and twigs anymore; room temperature wipes will do just fine, thank you very much! Then comes baby, he poops, it’s winter, your hands are freezing and you have to clean him up with an ice-cold wipe.
The world of modern convenience beckons. Feeling like an entitled brat from Monaco, I buy the Safety First Especially for Baby Wipe Warmer ($20) from Babies-R-Us. It hangs just off the changing table, and comes with a “bonus diaper organizer.” The hole your fingers reach through to retrieve a toasty wipe is heart-shaped. Life is good. Then Daddy uses it. The heart-shaped hole is too small for his bigger, faster, more impatient fingers, he yanks out the plastic piece and tosses it over his shoulder. Within a week, the lid is broken from his flipping it up like he’s popping the hood of our car. The wipes dry up and now Mommy’s pissed.
Meanwhile, across town, my friend Carie and her son Ike are enjoying booty-wiping bliss with the Prince Lionheart Ultimate Wipe Warmer ($22). (Pretty serious name for such an un-profound, but definitely Crusader-worthy, item.) Shaped more like a tissue box, the warmer allows each wipe to be pulled out with ease, leaving the next ready for plucking. It even comes with an Ever Fresh System – a thing on the bottom to keep wipes moist. Hallelujah.
So, I’m here to tell you that unless you live near the equator, where a cool, refreshing wipe on the bum is much appreciated, you, too, may wind up with a wipe warmer. Stick to a straightforward model like the Prince Lionheart, especially if Daddy approaches diaper changing like he’s roping a calf. – Ondine Galsworth
Despite the fact that our six-month-old daughter is teething up a storm – and drooling the approximate contents of Lake Tahoe on a daily basis – we cannot get her to bite onto just anything. Josie has turned away all manner of ready-to-freeze/pediatrician-approved teething devices. Thus, we did not greet Sophie Giraffe ($19) with high hopes. Sure, it’s “handmade in the French Alps.” And it comes in a cool box covered in swanky French adspeak. But it’s basically a squeak toy in the shape of a giraffe. Le grand whoop. Imagine our glee, then, when our little saliva factory immediately chomped onto Sophie’s head and let out a joyous yelp. (Our daughter, that is, not Sophie.) In fact, Sophie has become just about all our daughter wants to chew on these days, aside from our fingers. We figure this is fine, because the product is “all natural rubber” and, as instructed, we washed it before handing it to her. At seven inches tall, with lots of thin limbs, Sophie is also incredibly easy to latch onto – a crucial quality for Josie, who loves to use her hands, but hasn’t quite sussed out the cause-and-effect pattern of loosening her grip. There is always the concern that our daughter might grow up with an insatiable hunger for giraffe head. Until her teeth come in, we’re willing to take that risk. – Steve Almond