Strollers and spreadsheets: a data-driven mom's 
guide on what to buy for your first child

I’ve been sharing our baby prep process a lot with other moms-to-be lately, so here it is in the interests of helping other parents figure out the whole buying for your first baby thing.

When you’re a super nerd, you prep for a baby just like you would any other major project: with strong research and collaborative spreadsheets. I had a two-step process:

  1. Send a survey to all your parent friends to ask about their experiences, to know what you should and shouldn’t buy.
  2. Create a spreadsheet containing a master sheet of purchases, and a sheet for each type of product you are trying to buy. Log your research and decide on a victorious product.
Now let’s talk a little about each step.

SURVEYING YOUR FRIENDS

First things first: here is the survey we sent out. If I had done this more recently it would have been a Google Form: so it goes.

Now why send a survey out? Several reasons:

  1. I was already asking all my parent friends the same set of questions — a survey allowed me to ensure I hadn’t forgotten a question, and helped me not interrogate people over and over. 
  2. I really wanted to know what our *friends* did, not random people on the internet. The practical experience of real-life friends in parenting is so much more valuable, because your friends actually share your same outlook and values, and so their decisions on stuff are much more likely to be applicable to your own life.
  3. Lots of our friends don’t live in Vancouver, and an email survey let them all participate.

And a couple of notes on how we applied the survey:

  • we promised all responses would be private
  • we offered the option of answering the survey through phone or an in-person chat instead, and in-person chats turned out to be lots of fun! We got to visit our friends' houses and see how they set everything up, and our friends got to wax on expertly on being parents, so it was win-win.

In hindsight, the survey was one of the best things we did in the early stages. Having a diversity of responses to the same questions helped me see there was a huge range of possiblities for tackling common parenting issues. I know Buzzfeed now has a giant 100,000 person survey on do’s and don’ts for baby purchasing, but there’s still no research like the experience of those living in similar experiences to you.

SPREADSHEET TIME


Each spreadsheet has columns headed with our desired criteria: then all we had to do was fill in the boxes with info and make a decision. All credit goes to my husband who is truly the master spreadsheet maker in the family.

The survey already will help narrow down what you might want to get. The next key step in compiling your research, though, is knowing what’s actually available to buy.

That means researching what stores are in your area (or what online stores you want to buy from) and identifying the range of products they carry — then only comparing the products that they have in stock. There’s no point in looking up products that aren’t carried in stores available to you.

A couple of other notes:

  • Back in 2011 when we were making this list, the best place for comprehensive reviews of strollers and other equipment was BabyGizmo.com. They feature videos so you can actually see everything in action, which is super helpful.
  • Do some creative googling and look up advice from people in similar situations to you to find equipment advice. For example, since we live in a small space in an urban environment, advice from New York mom bloggers was very helpful in determining which strollers to buy and which compact equipment to use.
  • Our spreadsheet has actually got too much stuff on it - some items we never even bothered with in the end, like a rocker or an exact number of onesies.  
FINAL NOTES

A few other things to keep in mind:

  • Big lesson: TRY TO BORROW AS MUCH STUFF AS YOU CAN! You’re only going to use most of this stuff for six months-ish, so if you can, it’s way easier to borrow things like car seats for limited times. Parents are always looking to offload their old kid stuff anyway! Also, buying secondhand is also a great option: most baby stuff is in practically new condition by the time a kid outgrows it, so why bother buying new? Make sure to check out this post for tips on places to buy kid stuff used. Also it’s sustainable if that floats your boat.  
  • Hedge your bets by buying less rather than more, since you have no idea what your baby will be like and what they will prefer (don’t listen when your coworker or friend insists that babies need a certain item, you really just won’t know!). For example, we went out of our way to buy these fancy space age glass baby bottles, thinking that we’d get her to use them, and it turned out our baby just hated all bottles and never wanted to use any of them. GREAT.
  • Even though you are a parent, you are still a functioning adult with distinct preferences —ergo don’t buy stuff that you hate and find unpleasant to use, because it will not somehow become tolerable because you are a parent. You also can buy non-baby stuff and repurpose it for kid uses. For example, 10-packs of microfibre cloths from Canadian Tire were by far the best baby product I bought, and you can keep using them practically forever!
  • Try to buy stuff that has a dual purpose, so things don’t become detritus the minute your kid outgrows it.
  • Take note of the season when your child will be born and acquire clothes accordingly - i.e.: you won’t need a giant newborn winter coat if your baby is born in June, unless you live on Baffin Island.
  • They will not need toys until 9 months onward, really.

Good luck! 

Things to do in Vancouver for new moms and babies

I keep running into new parents who are also new to Vancouver. And pretty soon after, I end up spending a good chunk of time spewing out knowledge on places to meet other new parents, activities to do with your babies, and other sundries. In the interests of sharing this knowledge with way more parents are on maternity leave or paternity leave and Googling for answers, here's my brief list (current and useful as of 2014).

PARENT-INFANT DROP-IN GROUPS FROM VANCOUVER COASTAL HEALTH

Vancouver Coastal Health, our local health authority, runs free parent-infant drop-in groups all over the city. They're ostensibly about getting your baby weighed and reaching out to the VCH community nurses, but they're also a sly way of getting you out of the house and meeting other new parents. Half the allotted time is usually just spent sharing or socializing.

There are six VCH community health centres who organize about 3-4 drop-in groups each, scheduled all over the week and located all over Vancouver (so at least one likely fits your nap schedule). They don't really say it, but you can go to any of them even if you don't live in the specific neighbourhood for that group. I ended up going to three for various reasons, and my favourite was Raven Song---the nurses were really helpful, the meeting room is really nice, and there's a ton of student nurses who help you out with weighing or holding your baby while you run to the bathroom.

Anyway, to find the group nearest you, here's the main VCH drop-in group page with all the Vancouver health centres listed at the bottom. Click each health centre to see the group locations in different areas of the city---for example, Pacific Spirit was the centre nearest to me, and they run 4 groups on the west side of Vancouver.

A note: most of the groups are up to 12 months only, because once your baby starts moving, it's too disruptive for the group to manage. But toddler groups exist for after that (and by that time, you've typically met enough parents in the neighbourhood to meet up with on your own).

MOVIES FOR MOMMIES

If you just want a break from home, Movies for Mommies is a weekly movie event at a few theatres in town. You can bring your baby and nobody cares if they cry while the movie's on. Plus they'll turn down the sound for loud bits! Sometimes there's free promo tables or services at the events, and there's giveaways for board books and other products. They're typically held on Wednesdays and Thursdays, but they're on hiatus for the summer.

Here's their main website, and here's their Facebook page, where you can usually find out what movie is playing far ahead of time!

FAMILY PLACES

The Family Places are fantastic resources in town: they are basically houses converted to play centres for young children, and anyone is free to drop by there with their kid to play for just $2. Think of it as a daycare-like space where every baby still has their parent/caregiver with them. These places welcome young babies but are astronomically better if your kid is walking and playing with others. They also run structured programs like Mother Goose storytimes and caregiver support.

There's five Family Places across town:  the Westside, the EastsideMount PleasantMarpole Oakridge, and South Vancouver.

DROP-IN PLAY GYM

Almost all the community centres in town run drop-in gym times, where you can show up with your baby and they can play with toys and climbing equipment in the gym. Here's the list of community centres on the City of Vancouver site: check out the time of the drop-in gym nearest you!

SWAP MEETS

Again, if you don't mind secondhand items, kids swap meets are the best places to get your baby stuff. The swap meet name is a bit of a misnomer as you don't need to bring anything to "swap": it's really more like a garage sale where awesome kids clothes and toys are on sale for $1 each. Each community in Vancouver seems to run at least one swapmeet a year, but they don't give a ton of notice as to when they're happening --- you'll find out maybe about a month in advance at the earliest. Also, it probably goes without saying, but get there early for the best selection. Although I understand that if you go late, you can also swipe stuff people are trying to get rid of at rock bottom prices. So we all win?

Anyway, where's the next swap meet? Obsessively check Kids Vancouver for the up-to-date schedule.

CRAIGSLIST

If you don't know about it already, the kids and baby section of Craigslist is also an amazing place to get used baby stuff at reasonable prices. Many a Bugaboo has been bought here at low, low prices. Here's the link.

DEAL WEBSITES

There's a ton of websites that offer you time-limited deals on baby stuff, kind of like Groupon. This can get exhausting but it also can save you a ton of money on things that you were thinking of buying anyway (carriers, accessories, etc). The most well known is Babysteals.com, but there's a billion more.

PARENT MAILING LISTS

There are a wide variety of parent mailing lists that keep you up to date on what's happening around the city and special deals you can get at stores and stuff. A non-exhaustive list:


AND THAT'S ALL I CAN THINK OF

Drop a comment or send an email if there are corrections or updates, and the like. 

Contact

jhenifer [at] pabillano [dot] com