I was sceptical of baby gear, then I became a dad

For new parents, having the right gear can help them feel more in control, less at fate's mercy. PHOTO: UNSPLASH

(NYTIMES) - When my wife was three months pregnant, she started making a list of baby gear.

On the list went the obvious nursery staples (diapers, bottles, wipes) along with some higher-end items we would register for: a sleek stroller organiser, a US$70 (S$97) Hatch night light that could be controlled remotely via iPhone app and would "make bedtime magically simple", according to the company's website.

I did not object to her choices, but secretly, I was sceptical. Did babies not survive for thousands of years without any of this stuff? Would our son really suffer if we changed his diapers on an old towel rather than on the US$140, Instagram-worthy Keekaroo Peanut changing pad?

Partly, I am cheap. But I also worried we were falling for a marketing ploy by Big Baby, which preyed on the anxieties of first-time parents by selling us overpriced junk we did not need and would not use for more than a few months anyway.

United States parents spend nearly US$30 billion a year on baby products, according to an estimate from Grand View Research, a firm that tracks the industry. Much of that money goes for basic necessities such as food and diapers, but an increasing number of families have started springing for higher-end luxuries such as trendy toy subscriptions, electric wipe warmers and the Snoo, a divisive, US$1,500 robotic bassinet that detects crying noises and, in theory, can gently rock a fussy baby back to sleep.

Before having a kid, I had always put high-end baby gear in the same category as high-end pet gear - something people with extra disposable income bought to show off, but did not matter at all to the actual users (the pets and babies).

My career as a tech columnist had made me sceptical of most premium-tier gadgets, especially those with short life spans. And I worried that if we went overboard on baby gear, we would end up with closets full of unused items or, worse, with expensive things our kid would get addicted to, which we would need to pay to replace when they broke or went missing.

Then there were the stupid, Seussian names of the baby products themselves - Bumbo, Bugaboo, Woombie, WubbaNub, MamaRoo, DockATot - none of which I particularly wanted to say out loud in my own home.

"What if we went the minimalist route?" I asked my wife one night. "No registry, no fancy gear. Just hand-me-downs and whatever's cheapest, the stuff we absolutely need."

My wife pretended to take me seriously. But in the end, she politely ignored me. And I am glad she did. Because, today, as the father of a four-month-old son, I have morphed into a full-fledged Gear Dad.

Becoming a father has changed me in 100 ways. But among the most visible changes is this: I now care passionately about baby gear.

At first, I worried that my baby-gear fixation was a coping strategy - a misguided attempt to channel my anxiety into something that felt productive. My wife, after all, was the one giving birth. And although I could not fix her pregnancy symptoms or go to doctor's appointments in her place, I could scour a hundred reviews of travel strollers. If I worried about baby gear, I reasoned, she would not have to.

Since our son's birth, I have found that my interest in his gear has made me a better, more capable parent. I can field his paediatrician's questions about formula types and nipple sizes without breaking a sweat, and I know exactly how many diapers to pack for a three-day trip. I have read the user's manuals and watched the YouTube tutorials, and I can operate, clean and adjust the vast majority of our baby gear without any help.

I have also become well versed in what gear not to buy. I am a staunch believer that parents should spend as little money as possible on baby clothing, for example, and no money at all on things that are designed to be peed, pooped, vomited or spilled on, including bibs and burp cloths.

And while I do not begrudge anyone for putting a priority on convenience, I think any parents who pay US$300 for the Baby Brezza Formula Pro Advanced - a Wi-Fi-enabled, Keurig-style machine that mixes and warms formula bottles with the press of a button - should have their taxes raised.

Gear cannot solve every parenting problem, of course. It cannot quiet a colicky baby, teach a toddler to walk or help a picky eater clean her plate. And families that cannot afford tons of gear or that choose to spend their money in other ways will no doubt raise perfectly healthy, happy babies without it.

But there is something satisfying about giving into the gear itch, just a little. Because gear is, frankly, tremendous. It represents our progress as a species - each pacifier, diaper pail and bottle brush an expression of the Promethean itch to harness technology to bring order to a chaotic universe.

And for new parents - a group with plenty of chaos in their lives - having the right gear can help us feel more in control, less at fate's mercy.

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