A while ago (before I started this blog), a friend of mine asked for some suggestions for useful and unique gifts for new and expecting parents. I’ve expanded my original answer just a bit for posting here. These aren’t your run-of-the-mill diaper cakes and layettes! ;)
If the new parents are particularly special to you, or if you are feeling particularly generous, here are some big ticket items I highly recommend.
Miyo Baby Baby Hammock - Just what it sounds like - it’s a great bed alternative for the first 5-7 months. I like the Miyo best because it is simple and has a really beautiful looking stand, but there are other brands/styles like: the Kanoe, the Hushamok, which has a Miyo-like stand and a Kanoe-like hammock, and the Special Delivery Baby Hammock (which is very similar to the Miyo).
If you are handy, you can make your own. Here are instructions for one very similar to the Miyo.
BOB Revolution Stroller - the king of strollers. While they are absolutely worth full retail, you can usually find them on CraigsList for quite a bit cheaper. :)
Be Prepared: A Practical Handbook for New Dads was my husband’s favorite parenting book. It’s written for dads in a very non-patronizing tone (which is awfully hard to find!). It addresses the man as the main caregiver and has a very “manly” approach to said care-giving. It has quirky illustrations and really useful information.
The First 1000 Days: A Baby Journal is probably the best baby book ever. Nikki McClure’s papercut art is so lovely and the “prompts” for filling it in are unique: “The songs we sing, the books we read, the work we do, the tools you use” are a few. I also love that the cover is bound in such a way that it can lie flat without breaking the spine.
Every new parent should own The Wonder Weeks. It saved my sanity many a time in my first year of mothering and I’ve passed on many copies to friends! It takes a child development approach to explaining why on earth your baby is acting the way he is during key developmental growth spurts.
The Business of Being Born doesn’t have all the answers, but it brings up a lot of important information that many couples might not even consider otherwise. It’s also a movie rather than a book, which for some people is easier to digest. (It’s also available on Netflix Instant View, which is how I first saw it.)
Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth might turn some people off. It’s definitely not “mainstream”! Ina May is an old hippie midwife who started “The Farm” - a commune in Tennessee where women can have their babies in the most natural way possible. The tone is kind of new-agey and there are some rather graphic black and white photos of childbirth. It would be a good choice for someone who has expressed interest in natural childbirth. I think it is one of the most valuable books I’ve read about childbirth - it is so reassuring and empowering.
Baby carriers/slings: These are a great (although pricey) gift. However, because they can be a rather personal choice, style- and fit-wise, a gift certificate to an online store (like this one or this one) might be your safest bet. The Ergo Baby Carrier and Maya Wrap are my two favorites, and are a fairly universal fit.
The Snotsucker, by Nosefrida - I think I would buy this purely because I enjoy the name so much. But according to all the Amazon reviews (and man, are there some funny ones!), it works like no other frustrating blue bulb syringe ever did. I’m tempted to buy it now, even though my baby is already 7 months old!
Swaddling blankets: Swaddling is one of those essential parenting skills that can make or break your first few weeks with a newborn. Having a good swaddling blanket is key. Most “receiving blankets” that you can buy in stores are much too small and end up being entirely frustrating. My favorite favorite favorite swaddling blanket is from Aden + Anais. It’s made out of a huge square of cotton muslin (they are also available in bamboo now, too), so they are quite breathable - baby won’t overheat, even when swaddled tightly in several layers. These boutiquey blankets seem kind of pricey, but they’re so worth it, I’d recommend getting at least two.
Another nice one is from Swaddle Designs. It comes in many different pretty patterns of cotton flannel. It’s heavier weight, so overheating can sometimes be an issue, but I’ve found it to be a great winter weight.
Boppy: Mine is indispensable when I want to stay on the computer and the baby wants to nurse. In fact, HeyLauraWhat.com ought to be sponsored by the Boppy - it’s how I get most of my posting done!
Many people do not even consider cloth diapers because of the assumption that they are difficult and messy (like the olden days - a piece of cotton, scary sharp pins, and rubber pants!) But modern cloth diapers are much more similar to disposable diapers in ease of use, with the added benefit of monetary savings over time. For someone who has never expressed interest in cloth diapering, I’d recommend something like Cottonbabies’ Flip Diaper. It’s a washable, one-size (fits 7-35 pounds….more realistically it will fit better at 10 or 12 pounds) diaper cover that includes a microfiber/suedecloth insert. You can also purchase a box of 18 disposable inserts for only $4.95. GroVia also makes a very nice hybrid diaper with snap-in washable liners or flushable/compostable “Bio Soakers”. I have both the Flip and GroVia diapers and like them quite a bit. I think the GroVia are probably the most user-friendly for someone who has never cloth diapered before.
If someone is interested in cloth diapering but unsure of what type of diaper they would like best, there are several online diaper stores that offer trial packages.Nicki’s Diapers allows you to try any diaper in her store for 15 days, even wash them, and then return for store credit (less shipping costs). Jillian’s Drawers has a couple 21-day trial packs with an actual refund (not just store credit) when you return them. And Squishy Tushy has many different trial kits available, but they keep more of your money after the return. All three of these online stores offer gift certificates.
I picked up a green pair of these Zutano booties at the consignment shop for only $3.50. Zutano is a very expensive boutiquey brand, but their stuff is great quality. The design of these booties allows them to open almost entirely to get that squirmy, folded up infant foot inside very easily. Then they snap on so securely that baby cannot kick them off! Given their effectiveness, I’d say they’re even worth full retail. It’s really hard to find good baby booties, and it’s important to keep those little toes warm!
The other “crib shoe” I especially like are the Robeez and their ilk. These also stay on quite well. I particularly like the look of Plateau Baby Shoes - they are handmade in the foothills of Tibet with real sheepskin (and fleece lining in some!). $.25 of every purchase is donated to the “Joppa Charities” - helping support the widows of the town in which the shoes are made.
Babylegs (and their various knockoffs) are a fun accessory. I always used them to spread the gap between socks and pant cuffs when I was babywearing. You can also use them as arm warmers - they work great at keeping your sleeves from creeping up under your coat!
I’ve reviewed the wonderful organic baby bath products that Zoe Organics makes. Heather is coming out with some new stuff, too, including a sought-after eczema cream and long-lasting lip balm. I’m pretty sure she also has sample sizes, which could make a great gift without too much investment.
Remember that HeyLauraWhat readers get 25% off their first order, now through 12/31/10. (Instead of placing items in your shopping cart online, just email your order (and the discount code: HeyLauraWhat) to firstname.lastname@example.org and she’ll email an invoice with the discount applied.)
Angelina Organic Skincare (which I recently reviewed here) also has a baby line. I have only tried the Chamomile Dream spray, and found it a little overpowering, but I imagine the soaps and creams are just as nice as the others I enjoy.
Here are some lesser known artists with “kid” music that isn’t going to set your teeth on edge.
Renee & Jeremy: It’s A Big World - a stripped down acoustic duo with lovely lyrics. Very gentle and sweet.
Plumb: Blink. This is my favorite; it’s like lullabies for a new mother. Plumb is a Christian Rock chick who did a soft, sweet album after her son was born. There are a couple obviously Christian tracks, but mostly it’s a tribute to a mother’s heart and her desires for the little baby in her arms. I always cry my way through this one!
Jack Johnson: Sing-A-Longs & Lullabies for the Film Curious George - I loved the Curious George movie, and the soundtrack was one of the biggest reasons why. Jack Johnson does a magnificent job capturing the innocence and promise of childhood.
Frances England: Fascinating Creatures - One of my favorite children’s artists. This is more geared toward toddlers. The song “Little Bright Star” always brings me to tears. England’s second album, Family Tree, is also great (best for ages 3-6), and the tearjerker on that album is You & Me.
Rockabye Baby - Lullabye renditions of great rock artists, from The Beatles, Journey, Pink Floyd, and Metallica to Tool, Nine Inch Nails, Coldplay, and Radiohead, this series of albums has just about any rock fan’s band covered. They’re good adaptations, too!
For the Mama
It is really hard to remember to take care of yourself after you’ve had a baby. They’re demanding at all the wrong times; you find yourself realizing, “Oh, I was going to make myself a sandwich about 3 hours ago, but I got interrupted by nursing, then burping, then a diaper change, then nursing again, then…..”
Yeah. So giving the Mama something pretty and lovely and all for herself is an awesome gift.
Postpartum Recovery Kit: I have given various products from this company many times. I made my own “bottom spray” out of a sitz bath tea that my Naturopath gave me, and it is great. I’m sure this, or any of the other items that Earth Mama Angel Baby sells would be very well received.
Find a local massage therapist who does house calls and give that mama a gift certificate for a post partum rub down.
Nursing Necklace: Do a search on Etsy.com for “nursing necklace” or “mama necklace” and you will come up with all kinds of wonderful options for very little money. I like the ones that are a simple gemstone pendant hung on a silk cord. They serve to distract curious little hands from pulling on your face, hair, etc. while nursing or just holding. Plus they’re pretty!
I am surprised by how much I like my Teething Bling (mine is Moonstone). It’s a silicone pendant that looks remarkably like a real stone. It’s soft on little gums and really looks quite stylish!
Meals: I add this to the Mama category because typically it’s the mama who worries about feeding her family. Even if it’s the daddy who shoulders that burden, postpartum daddies are also pretty strung out on sleep deprivation! So give the gift of food - it saves new parents’ lives!
If you’re local, round up a bunch of friends and set up a meal delivery schedule on FoodTidings.com.
Or throw a baby shower where everyone brings a freezer meal for the family to store away until the baby comes!
If you’re not local, you can still send meals! There are plenty of online food delivery sites, but I managed to find a few with some decent vegetarian and/or vegan selections (which tend to be healthier options than your typical Send-A-Meal).
You can order a la carte or try one of these good looking kits from GobbleGreen, a gourmet vegan delivery service. They ship (rather expensively, of course) all over the US and Canada, and the UK!
MagicKitchen.com has a decent selection of vegetarian dishes that they’ll ship nation-wide. And KosherMealsToGo.com has a surprising selection of vegan and vegetarian faux meat dishes in addition to their other offerings (fresh challah anyone?).
If you want to do a food gift basket rather than actual meal delivery, check out Foodzie.com. It’s kind of an online farmers market, or the Etsy of food purveyors. They have some great looking stuff!
Amazon.com has a huge variety of gourmet food baskets, many of which are Prime eligible (free second day shipping).
You can also find out if a local grocery store will deliver, or you can shop online (or send a gift certificate) at NetGrocer.com.
Hopefully that gives you some good ideas. Often, the gift of time is one of the best you can give. In the early post-partum days, drop-in visitors can be an imposition, so make sure you communicate clearly that you’re there to help, not visit (as much as you may want to ogle and sniff on the newborn!). Offering to swing by and wash dishes and scrub toilets, or take the dog for a walk - acts of service that don’t require interaction, so tired parents can hole up in bed with the baby while you take care of things - those are truly amazing gifts, both to give and to receive!
Parents - what other great gifts have you received? Any lifesavers and sanity savers I’ve missed?