Worst Baby Gifts

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Try as I may to discourage fraternizing between my men and women friends, lately they keep going behind my back, meeting and mating. And you know what that means: a baby shower is sure to follow. As the mother of an older child, I haven't shopped at a baby megastore in years, and a recent trip in search of a shower gift had me reeling. The $5 billion-a-year baby-product industry would have new parents (and their friends) believe that it takes a truckload of gear to properly outfit a nursery. But while some of these products are useful, a surprising number seem designed to remove parents from the actualities of dealing with their baby's bodily functions. Some products are simply wasteful. Some prey on parents' fears. And some are potentially dangerous--moving the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission last week to start hanging recall notices in post offices.

Take the baby-wipe warmer. Baby wipes have become an indispensable item on changing tables, but the warmer--a plug-in device that keeps the wipes from chilling your baby's bottom--is not. Parents and gift buyers tempted by the $25-$30 product should know that one maker of wipe warmers, Prince Lionheart, recently recalled more than 150,000 of them when parents reported getting electric shocks. Know too that wipes can be warmed between your hands.

The Diaper Genie is a popular invention that seals a used diaper in plastic wrap. While it reduces odor, it also puts another layer of plastic between your diaper and the landfill. Here's a better idea: a diaper pail with a tight-fitting, foot pedal-operated lid can be bought at a hardware store and doesn't require $5 Genie refills.

Denise and Alan Fields, parents of two and authors of the baby-product bible Baby Bargains ($15 at babybargainsbook.com), have helpfully outlined nursery necessities for first-time parents and their friends. Several products, they say, try to exploit parents' fears of sudden infant-death syndrome, or sids. "Breathable mattresses" can give parents the dangerous impression that babies can safely be placed on their stomachs. In fact, the rate of sids has been cut in half by parents simply placing their babies to sleep on their backs.

The Fields say parents should take the money they might spend on items like baby swings (there have been six deaths and nine serious injuries from the popular Graco model) or walkers (more babies are injured in walkers than in any other nursery product), and invest in a crib with a snug-fitting mattress that meets safety guidelines (check http://cpsc.gov. Otherwise fine cribs are displayed in stores (and in the current lPottery Barn for Kids catalog) filled with quilts and pillows that can suffocate infants younger than age 1. Parents who receive such bedding sets should dress their infant in a warm sleeper and hang the adorable quilt on the wall.

New parents and shower invitees would do well to purchase a good diaper bag, a stout stroller and an infant carrier or sling--remembering that it's not necessary to bring a new baby home to a roomful of gadgets. A safe bed, a good car seat and loving and attentive parents beat products like the Mommy Bear with "real" heartbeat ($20) every time.

You can send Amy an e-mail at timefamily@aol.com