Congratulating expecting or new parents is probably the only gift giving event when people actually need things. Now that people are getting married later the concept of wedding gifts, which used to help the newlyweds establish a household, now mostly serve to upgrade things the couple already have (or may even have two of if they weren't living together beforehand). But unless someone has a good source for hand-me-downs, most new parents are starting from scratch. If they don't receive key baby gear as gifts the parents will probably have to buy it themselves, which can add up to a lot of expenses at a time when one or both parents may be about to take unpaid leave.
Of course, "need" is relative. We all have relatives with stories of babies sleeping in dresser drawers, and $900 designer strollers do seem excessive. Still, most people won't argue there are some basic items that are really nice to have when you have a new baby.
At the risk of offending people who bought presents for my baby showers (assuming they haven't already angrily closed their browser windows before getting to this point), I will say that clothes and toys aren't bad gifts. Certainly, I received some good ones, and I really like them. But still, I must say that the gifts I received that have had the most impact were:
- My Boppy Pillow. These pillows have multiple functions, but for the numerous hours of breastfeeding alone this pillow was nearly another appendage of mine during the first few months.
- Burp Cloths. I was not excited when I unwrapped a package of cute and highly-absorbent burp cloths, but I quickly learned the value of always having one on the ready.
- Baby-sized nail clippers. No one warns you that baby fingernails grow really fast and are incredibly sharp.
- Toiletries: Bath wash, powder, diaper cream, etc. All of it got used.
- Goodnight Moon. The only one on my list that isn't practical, but it requires a shout out. I received many books (which are cool gifts), but this one stands out because it became part of the bedtime ritual. It has been read almost every night for the past 8 months.
So, what should you get new or expecting parents? Well, any of the above would be a good start, but below are some more ideas. This is advice is targeted to non-parents, but if you are a parent please comment with your thoughts on gifts.(NOTE: Any brand names are used solely as examples. No one has compensated me, and I really don't care what brands you buy.)
Some of the most useful items are more expensive than a lot of people usually spend on a shower gift, but if you have the means or are going in on a group gift these are some options:
- Car seat. A car seat is arguably the only true "need" because hospitals won't let parents drive away with the baby without one.
- Nursery furniture. Depending on the tastes of the parents furniture can be expensive or quite affordable.
- Pack n Play (or similar). Many parents, like myself, use these to keep a newborn in their bedrooms for the first few months. Later this can be used as a portable crib or just a safe place to put a kid while cooking dinner or taking a shower.
In case you didn't get the hint from the burp cloths, diaper cream, and nail clippers mentioned above, good gifts come in all price points. If you want to spend a little more you can give a few small useful items including,
- Crib sheets and/or Pack n Play sheets.
- Receiving blankets, swaddling blankets, or sleep sacks. (A lot of people are fans of the self-swaddling blankets that close with velcro, but my son never liked being swaddled. As a result, we LOVE sleep sacks.)
- Bottle drying rack.
- Diaper Genie, Diaper Champ or other diaper disposal system.
- Changing pad.
- Diaper bag.
- Spoons, bowls & plates. (These won't be used until 4-6 months but will be appreciated when the time comes.)
A few years ago I was shopping for a new mom but didn't see anything I wanted to buy. I didn't have time to go to another store, so I got her a Target gift card. When I got her thank you note she said it was great because of all the diapers they were going through. I was a little offended. I didn't want her to squander my gift card on diapers; I wanted her to get something she wanted. Now, I understand. She wanted diapers. If someone gave me a gift card for a bunch of free diapers I would think that was awesome.
Clothes and Toys
You still want to buy clothes and toys, don't you? "Don't the parents need some clothes and toys?" Yes. But I guarantee they'll get them. And if not, the parents will buy them. You know how much fun you think it is buying baby clothes and toys? It's fun for the parents, too. But if you still want to buy clothes or toys, here are some thoughts:
- Toys. I've already posted a non-parent's guide to toy buying, so please refer to that. Also, understand that babies don't know how to use their arms when they are born, so toys don't tend to have much appeal for the first few months.
- Clothes. Babies grow quickly, yet the majority of clothing gifts are for newborn sizes. If your outfit is one of a glut of newborn clothes you'll be lucky if the parents manage to get the baby into it more than once (particularly since the clothes on the top of the drawer are the easiest to grab during a hectic diaper change). It's a nice idea to get some slightly larger sizes (3-6 months or 6-9 months), so there is something for the baby to wear later on. One person gave me several onesies in a similar style in 3 different sizes, which was clever because I thought of her whenever I pulled out the next size.
Please include gift receipts.
It may be the thought that counts, but for new and expecting parents the best thought is "I want to get them something that they will use for the baby." Whether they received a duplicate item, need a bigger size, or changed their mind about a registry choice, it's helpful to have the gift receipt. When needed having the gift receipt will be appreciated a lot more than having to hold onto a gift they don't need or want. And don't ask if someone returned your gift or look for it when you visit. Once given, gifts can be used by the recipients however they want...even if they want to trade them in for diapers.