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Next time you're invited to a baby shower here are ten time-tested gifts guaranteed to be winners.
Keep a newborn and his parents happy with a bouncy seat – the baby can wiggle and jiggle to his heart's content, and his parents can squeeze in a chore or two knowing he's safe and entertained. This versatile, portable piece of baby gear features cheerful fabric stretched across a metal or plastic frame, with straps to ensure safety. Some are powered by your baby's kicks, but others have a battery for a rhythmic and more soothing bounce.
Nervous first-time moms and dads will appreciate the reassuring presence of a portable baby monitor receiver on their bedside table. These gadgets have become more and more sophisticated – some models can pick up a baby's faintest breaths within a range of 600 feet or more. They're particularly comforting for parents whose baby is sleeping in another room. Other options include motion sensors that sound an alarm if the baby hasn't moved in a certain period of time, and video monitors, which let parents see as well as hear their baby.
Soft fitted sheets are a perfect addition to any nursery. You'll find colors and patterns to suit every decor, from traditional pastels dotted with baby animals to bold black-and-whites and geometric patterns. (Fuzzy blankets pair nicely with sheets, but they should be saved for out-of-the-crib cuddling, as soft bedding is a SIDS risk.) You can be sure that any new parent will be grateful to have extra linens come laundry day.
Baby sling or front carrier
One of the handiest ways a new mom or dad can tote a baby around is in a sling or front carrier. Babies love the feeling of being snuggled up to a parent's chest, and the ingeniously simple design leaves a parent's arms free to do housework or errands while the little one sits in a protective pouch. Some experts, including pediatrician William Sears, swear that the close contact encouraged by slings and front carriers helps strengthen the parent-child bond.
Babies are enthralled by their environment in general, but you can make it even more fascinating with an activity gym – a contraption that typically includes a cloth mat and toys suspended from soft bars or arches. Colorful mirrors, noisemakers, and other objects of different shapes, sizes, and colors dangle within the baby's grasp, encouraging the development of eyesight and growing physical skills. Portable and lightweight, activity gyms are great to travel with, whether you're shuttling between rooms or across the country.
For a gift that's both fun and practical, grab a baby tub and fill it with all the essentials a new mother will need to keep her child squeaky clean. Be sure to include baby shampoo, a mild soap that won't irritate a newborn's sensitive skin, a soft washcloth (or sponge), a hooded towel, and a bright yellow rubber ducky for good measure. A baby comb and brush are nice additions, as are a couple of simple bath toys, even though infants won't be able to play with them for several more months. Toss in a bottle of bubble bath for Mom to use when her baby's asleep, and you're done.
A shelf full of classic children's books is a gift sure to win any mom-to-be's heart. Reading to her child will strengthen their bond, and the baby will begin to learn to appreciate the beauty of the written word. Goodnight Moon, Runaway Bunny, and Guess How Much I Love You? are some of the best. If you love the idea of giving books, consider making it the theme of the shower: Have everyone bring their favorite with a note to the baby tucked inside. Be sure to mix some baby-friendly board books in with the traditional hardcover variety so the newborn will be able to appreciate the sound and the taste of your gift.
If you're a parent – or even if you aren't – you know it's virtually impossible to get out of the house without leaving something essential behind. Help the new parents avoid mishaps with an assembled out-and-about kit. Start with a diaper bag; add a couple of diapers, some wipes, an extra outfit (or two) for the baby, a bottle of ready-to-feed formula (if she's formula feeding), a couple of small toys (rattles and chew toys are perfect), and a pacifier; toss in an extra T-shirt for Mom; and finish it off with a pencil, a pad of paper, an extra set of keys (if you can get her originals to make copies), and a packet of safety pins. Now she'll be prepared for anything!
Why do newborns cry at night? This question may be unanswerable, but a basket full of things that make the nursery more soothing after dark can help a new parent survive those first few sleep-deprived months. Fill your sleep kit with a comforting nightlight, a soft blanket (for out-of-the-crib cuddling only, as soft bedding is a SIDS risk), and some soothing music made just for babies (For Crying Out Loud and Lullaby: A Collection are great examples). If you want to splurge, include a white noise machine or a special mobile that plays music and projects dancing lights on nursery walls. The baby will be enthralled, and his parents may look a little perkier in the morning.
Nothing tells new parents "I'm thinking about you" like a home-cooked meal. Before you go to the shower, organize a group of family or friends to make dinner for the new family after the baby's born. Depending on the number of people involved, you can drop off hot meals nightly or every few days for the first couple of weeks after the new baby arrives. Here are 12 delicious recipes for drop-off dinners.