New parents are a vulnerable group – having just created a miraculous new life, they want to do their very best for it. But, unfortunately, the consumer world is waiting in the wings just ready to pounce on its unsuspecting prey. From high-tech monitors to room temperature gauges, there is so much paraphernalia on the market aimed specifically at would-be parents – the latest being a luxury pram created by Aston Martin for Silver Cross. The 'Surf' (pictured below) comes with the hefty price tag of £2,000 (€2,318).
Although very few people have the budget to provide a set of wheels of that calibre for their infant, when times were good it was a different story – we had the means and wanted our kids to be kitted out as well as possible. But in these economically challenging times, most parents can't afford to buy things they don't really need which will be obsolete after the first six months.
So we asked a few mums and a couple of experts for advice on what is really useful and what you can actually do without.
Mandy O'Rorke, from Kildare, is the owner of BabyBay.ie and BabyBayMarket.ie – she and her husband Jonathan have three children, James, (7), Hannah (6) and Lucy (4). Over the course of their early years, she bought quite a lot of equipment but feels she got good use out of most of it.
"I bought a Maxi Cosi Travel System for my first baby and it was great because it lasted for all three and I sold it recently for €100 even though it was six years old. I also bought a Cosatto cot, which was very well used, a matching changing unit, a double buggy after my second child was born, a crib, bouncer, high chair, entertainer and the usual feeding equipment – bottles, warmer, breast pump etc.
"The travel system was the best purchase because it could be used up to three years and it was wide enough for my youngest to take a nap in it. I think this is the most important purchase and parents should do a lot of research before deciding which brand suits their needs best.
"The most useless item I bought was definitely the bottle warmer – I used a microwave instead, which I know isn't advised, but it is so much quicker and when your baby is screaming at 4am for a feed, you don't have time for the warmer to heat up. I also spent €740 on my double buggy and only used it for a very short time so I would advise parents to go second-hand for this as they are usually not used very much and are often in excellent condition.
"I would also advise new parents to do some research, go into the baby stores and chat to the sales assistants, get all your information and then decide what you need. Don't buy everything before the baby is born – wait and see what you need first. There are lots of gadgets on the market now which look cute and fun but you don't really need them."
Hilary and Paul Hooks live in Castleknock with their baby son Jonathan who is 13 months old. As the owner of Active Mum – sling and dance classes – she found her baby carrier to be the most useful piece of equipment.
"The best baby item we have is the sling because it helps to soothe Jonathan when he is tired or cranky and it's really practical for getting things done around the house and also for getting out and about.
"I did buy a few things that I haven't used such as the Amby Baby Hammock, which I read was great for getting babies to sleep but we ended up just using the sling instead. I also bought loads of baby toiletries, which I was told were essential, but I've only ended up using a fraction of them. I think people end up buying things they don't need out of fear because no one knows what to expect and you are being told by everyone that "nothing prepares you" so they go out and buy everything possible in an attempt to be as prepared as possible. But, unfortunately, having lots of stuff doesn't solve the problem of a crying baby."
Evin O'Keeffe is originally from Washington DC but moved to Ireland when she married her husband, Conor with whom she had her son Liam, who is now 16 months.
"I had Liam in November 2011 and among many items we received and bought, the main things we purchased were: a car seat, jogging stroller (so Conor could run while pushing it), a smaller folding stroller for travelling and going around town, a crib, rocking chair, baby carrier, breast pump and bottles.
"During the first year, there were a lot of things which we found really essential, including: 1. Car seat; 2. Activity mat; 3. Bouncer Recliner; 4. IKEA rocking chair which I slept in with him on some nights; 5. Ergo baby carrier; 6. MAM anti-colic bottles
"Of all the equipment we had, I didn't think we really needed two strollers but having two was quite useful, particularly as one is good for jogging and going off-trails and the other is portable and useful for travel or going into small cafes. Also, I don't think we really needed the sheepskin but it has been nice as it was a warm and soft place for Liam to lie."
Fiona Rea has four children and is an ante-natal teacher with Cuidiu. She agrees and says much of the baby paraphernalia available is unnecessary. But she says people expecting their first child are bombarded with advertising and advice from the moment the happy news is revealed.
"As a first-time parent, it's tempting to go on a spree from the moment you have your positive pregnancy test in your hand. But babies need far far less than the babycare superstores would have us believe – just love and attention coupled with food and warmth – they don't care what they are wearing, sitting in or playing with. In the blink of an eye, they will be heading off to college, so it's best to save the pennies until then. Very little equipment is, in fact, essential. What you will need to have ready for the birth is lots of maternity pads, some new-born nappies, a few vests and babygros, blankets and a warm suit and hat if it is winter.
"A car seat isn't even necessary on day one if you give birth at home, but if you have your baby in hospital you will need one for the journey home. Newborns shouldn't be carried around in a car seat that doesn't lay flat, so you should consider buying a cheap second-hand pram and a good buggy for trips of less than two hours. Slings are another option and before rushing out to buy one you can contact a sling library or go to a sling meet and try before you buy.
"If your baby will sleep in a cot, you might decide to skip the expense of a Moses basket and go straight for the cot. There are plenty of other gadgets available; however none are essential. And there is an abundance of second-hand baby gear available from friends and family, car boot sales, charity shops and classified ads. Cuidiu holds nearly-new sales in most parts of the country. So you can buy virtually anything you need second-hand."