0

Baby Gate Review: Munchkin Auto-Close Metal Gate

When our younger son was born, we decided to buy a gate to keep his older brother out of the nursery during nap time.

But we couldn’t get just any gate. Our oldest is a big, strong toddler who ranks in the 90th percentile for both height and weight.

We needed a gate that could keep Godzilla at bay.

After doing some comparison shopping, we settled on the Munchkin Auto Close Gate, available for around $59 on Amazon.

The Munchkin Auto Close Gate is made of sturdy steel tubing, and it feels solid. It doesn’t bend when our 3-year-old grabs it and flexes his muscles, and I’ve never once worried that he would be able to break it.

After nearly 18 months of use and abuse, it’s held up well.

Installation

Although I was impressed by the quality when the gate arrived, getting it installed was a bit of an ordeal. The gate requires a fair bit of assembly, and the instructions left a lot to be desired. I’m a handy guy who has, among other things, remodeled our kitchen and bathrooms. But it took some fiddling to figure out how to put the Munchkin gate together. The main problem was that some of the pieces I was working with looked different than what was shown in the assembly guide.

Even after I had the gate put together, mounting it in the doorway was tricky. The gate is a pressure-mount style, with four individually adjustable feet that hold it in place. Each threaded foot needs to be tightened separately, first by hand, then using a wrench once they’re too tight for your fingers to turn.

Not too bad, right?

Yeah, except there’s nothing holding the feet in place, and while I tightened one the others kept falling out. I needed a couple more hands to hold everything together while I worked.

But once I got the gate installed, it was rock sold. The doorways in our home are an in-between measurement, and the traditional wooden gates with pre-set notches are completely useless. Our toddler would calmly walk up to the gate and yank it out of the doorway in one fluid motion.

By contrast, the individually adjustable feet on the Munchkin Auto Close Gate let me find a perfect fit. Now our 3-year-old can rattle the gate and throw his weight into it to his heart’s content and the gate doesn’t budge.

The Munchkin fits doorways from 29.5″ to up to 38″ wide using the included extenders.

Operation

The gate’s swinging, auto-closing door was the main reason we purchased it. While many gates force you to climb over them, the Munchkin gate allows you to just unlatch it and walk through–perfect for when you’re clutching an infant and don’t want to risk a precarious climb.

The door works as advertised. It swings smoothly in both directions, closes quickly and latches securely. It provides some peace of mind to not have to worry whether you remembered to close the gate.

Unlatching the gate is a little awkward: You have to slide a button with your thumb, then lift the door a fraction of an inch before pushing it open. That same awkwardness makes it virtually impossible for a child to open, though.

The only downside to the auto-closing mechanism is that the gate slams shut loudly if you don’t make an effort to slow it down. Not ideal at nap time.

Conclusion

We’re happy with our Munchkin Auto Close Gate and would purchase it again without hesitation. It’s a great choice if you’re looking for a sturdy, reliable gate and don’t need to be able to remove it frequently. The auto-closing feature is a life-saver when you’re carrying a baby while fending off a hulking 3-year-old.

0

Baby Toiletries Checklist

Below is what we use to keep our little ones fresh and clean:

0

Diapering Checklist for Disposable Diapers

Families now have many options for diapering their little ones. While cloth diapering may be the best option for many new moms, we decided to use disposable diapers. We were able to make this cost effective and easy.

Below is a checklist of what we use to keep bottoms dry and costs down:

  • Diapers. I like Huggies and get a great deal on these at Costco. They often have $6 off coupons or have $6 off sales on their Web site. I get a giant case of Huggies for just $32.99 on sale.
  • Wipes. I also buy Huggies wipes from Costco.
  • Vaseline. This is a gentle diaper cream for newborns. It’s also good for their cord stump.
  • Diaper rash cream – zinc oxide. This is helpful for a bit later, especially once they start solid food.
  • Diaper rash cream to prevent diaper rash – (like A&D). I like this gentle cream for everyday use once they’re a bit older.
  • Diaper pail. Just before my baby shower, my sister begged me not to register for the Diaper Genie. She told me a story about how badly theirs smelled and how they eventually burned it in the back yard (they live on a farm). Her complaint: The refills are expensive, and it takes a few weeks to actually fill them up. So your child is sleeping in the same room as stinky diapers for a long time. I decided to try a regular diaper pail that would take cheaper bags that I could empty at any time. I went with the Baby Trend Diaper Champ Deluxe. This has been a cheap system for me, and I keep it smelling great. I use store brand scented kitchen bags from Walmart as a liner, and I wrap each diaper in a scented diaper bag from Dollar Tree (75 bags for $1)—making my own Diaper Genie of sorts. For dirty diapers, I flush the contents if possible, wrap the diaper in a disposable diaper bag, place that bag inside a plastic grocery bag, and throw it in a regular garbage can in the garage. I put air fresheners at the bottom of the diaper pail and the garbage can in the garage. This is so much cheaper and better smelling than the Diaper Genie, which has expensive refills, and which you only empty every few weeks. I empty my diaper pail twice a week and never place any dirty diapers in it.
  • Sanitizing wipes. We use the store brand from Walmart, but any brand will do. I use these to wipe the changing pad after a dirty diaper change.
  • Diaper bag. We like the Skip Hop Deluxe, which is compact, sleek, and manly enough for Dad to carry.
0

Nursery Items for Baby’s First Year: What You Do and Don’t Need

Setting up a nursery can be daunting. Glossy ads from baby stores make it look like you need to create a $10,000 nursery for your little one. BabyCenter’s cost calculator estimates an average of $1,700 for a fully decked out nursery.

We kept things really simple and have been happy with how our nursery turned out. It cost us around $400, and it has served us well for two active boys.

Here’s what we used:

  • Crib. We like the Stork Craft combination crib and changing table. Walmart has a few variations of this crib ranging from $159-$259. We have a small nursery, and this type of crib saves a lot of space and money. Once the baby starts rolling and climbing around, it’s safer to change him or her on a changing pad or blanket on the floor anyway. If you’re really efficient, you can even just place the clean diaper under the dirty diaper, so you don’t even need a changing pad on the floor for wet diapers.
  • Crib Mattress. We went with the basic Safety 1st Heavenly Dreams White Crib Mattress.
  • Crib sheets (2). We went with the really basic Carters Easy Fit Jersey Crib Fitted Sheet.
  • Crib mattress pad (2). We like the Carter’s Keep Me Dry Waterproof Fitted Quilted Crib Pad. If you have a plastic mattress, you can even use a non-waterproof mattress pad, which may be more comfortable for the baby.
  • Glider. I love the Stork Craft Custom Hoop Glider & Ottoman. It’s compact—it fits well in our small nursery—and you can’t beat the $134 price for both a glider and ottoman. I’ve nursed two babies in this, and it still looks like new.
  • Humidifier. It’s great to have a basic cool mist humidifier on hand for cold and flu season. I like the cool mist because I don’t have to worry about my little one burning his hands if he grabs it.
  • White noise machine. We have a white noise machine in each of our children’s rooms. It’s great for blocking out noise, especially when one child is awake and the other is napping.
  • Blackout blinds. These have been essential for daytime naps and bedtime in the summer. We got insulated cordless blackout blinds from Blinds.com and have been really happy with them.

What You Don’t Need

  • Bedding sets. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that babies sleep on their backs in a crib with just a fitted sheet over the mattress. Pillows, blankets, toys, and crib bumpers are all SIDS risks. BabyCenter has a good article on SIDS prevention.
  • Expensive changing table. We did well with a crib/changing table combo (and saved a lot of money and space). You can also just change the baby on the floor.
  • Crib bumpers. They are a SIDS hazard.  By the time the baby is old enough that they are no longer a SIDS hazard, the baby starts using them to try to climb out of the crib.
  • Expensive curtains or other nursery decorations. I waited to see what my toddler liked before going crazy decorating his room. Also, you may want to keep the nursery gender neutral in case you have more children. Our baby spends most of his time playing in the living room or his brother’s room anyway. That’s where all the action is.
  • Crib mobile. Once your baby is pushing up onto his or her hands and knees (usually around 4 or 5 months old), experts recommend taking the mobile out of the crib anyway. I used a lullaby CD and a white noise machine to soothe my little ones.
3

Prevent accidents and keep your sanity with this babyproofing checklist

Before my son became a toddler, I heard it a dozen times from empty nesters: “I don’t know what people do all of this babyproofing for nowadays. When my kids were young, I just told them ‘no,’ and they didn’t get into things.”

Fast forward to my first son starting to crawl: If there was a cord, he would pull it, if there was an outlet, he would poke it, if there was an unlocked cabinet, he’d raid it.

Babyproofing has kept me sane and my sons safe. Here’s a checklist of what has been helpful in our household:

  • Cabinet locks. We like the Safety 1st Magnetic Locking system because they lock the cabinets tightly with no gaps. We also like that they can be easily unlocked after the kids are in bed, so it’s much more convenient for us.
  • Drawer locks. We went with the Dreambaby Safety Latches, which are basic but do the job.
  • To keep little hands from turning on our gas stove, we installed a KidKusion Stove Lock on each knob. They are easy for us to disable but totally stump our boys. So much easier than constantly removing the knobs like we did at first.
  • Safety gates. We use the Summer Infant Sure and Secure Deluxe Top of Stairs Wood Walk Thru Gate at the top of the stairs in our spit entry home. This has been essential for keeping our kids safe while making it easy for my husband and me to get up and down the stairs.
  • We also use the Munchkin Auto-Close Metal Gate in front of our younger son’s nursery. Our living room, kitchen, and bedrooms are all on the same floor, so it allowed me to put the baby in the swing in his room when he was fussy while keeping our two year old from climbing in the swing.  It keeps our two year old out of the room while I’m changing the baby’s diaper but allows me to keep an eye on him.
  • Door knob covers. The KidCo Door Knob Locks have been essential in our house. We put them over the doorknobs of the bathroom, master bedroom, and nursery. When the toddlers are running around, it keeps them out of the bathroom and our bedroom. It also keeps our two year old from opening the baby’s bedroom door while he’s napping.
  • Door pinch guard. We put this on our two year old’s door to keep him from slamming in into his (and his baby brother’s) fingers. We like the “door monkey” Childproof Door Lock and Pinch Guard.
  • Outlet covers. We went with the basic Munchkin Plug Covers.
  • Outlet boxes. We got rid of our lamps and went with a ceiling light to minimize cords, but we have a few things that still need to be plugged in. We like the Safety 1st Outlet Cover with Cord Shortener.
  • Sliding closet locks. The Mommy’s Helper Slide-Lok Bi-Fold Door Locks have kept us sane. They keep the babies out of our accordion closets. It keeps my son from getting into his diapering supplies and also unfolding every piece of clothing in his entire closet.

Of course, my kids still need constant supervision, but it’s much more relaxing to let them run around and play without having to say “no” every two seconds.

0

How to Make Baby Food with a Blender and a Steamer

My son is eating solid food now. I’m excited about this milestone, but at the same time, I’m experiencing sticker shock when I see how much baby food costs. Free breast milk no longer serves as my son’s only source of sustenance, so I decided to give baby-food making a try.

The good news is that I realized making my own baby food is much easier than it seems. Baby food always seemed like this magical thing to me. Sort of like cat food—I don’t know what’s in it, and I really don’t want to, thank you very much.

But baby food is just … pureed food (with a little added water). Really. And the easy method I’ve been using has saved me an average of 20 cents per ounce.

Skip Expensive Tools

Baby food making combo units (like the Smart Planet BRM-1 Baby Oasis Baby Food Maker and the Beaba Babycook Baby Food Maker) can cost up to $100 or more. And if you decide you don’t like making baby food, you’re stuck with something that can’t really be used for anything else.

I use a good, old-fashioned blender—the Oster 4093-008 5-Cup Glass Jar 2-Speed Beehive Blender, Brushed Stainless—but any type of blender will do the trick. Before pureeing, I steam fruits and veggies with a $20 steamer, like the Oster CKSTSTMD5-W 5-Quart Food Steamer, White. We use it for our food, too, so it’s multi-purpose, and we can use it even when our kids are older. Then I put the steamed food in the blender, add water, and puree to the consistency I want.

Count the Cost

While baby food costs an average of 17 cents an ounce even at my local discount store, homemade baby food costs only pennies per ounce. For example, I purchased bananas for 52 cents per pound. Out of two pounds of bananas ($1.04), I got about 50 ounces of “stage 1” homemade baby food. That comes to about 2 cents per ounce vs. 18 cents an ounce for pre-made baby food.

Making my own veggies was cheaper, too.  I made 28 ounces of mixed veggies for $2, a savings of 11 cents per ounce. On average, I save about 12 cents per ounce on fruits, veggies, and starches.

Making my own meat saves even more money—pre-made meat runs about 39 cents per ounce in my area, while homemade, pureed chicken only cost me about 6 cents per ounce.

Freeze the Leftovers

The “just grind up what you’re eating for dinner” method doesn’t always work for me. While I usually make a home-cooked meal, sometimes we eat foods that can’t be easily converted to baby food. (Pureed pizza, anyone?)

I like blending a big batch of food and then freezing it in ice cube trays. I use the Rubbermaid Easy Release Ice Cube Tray because they don’t crack easily, but any type of ice cube tray will work.  Each “food cube” is 1 oz., so it’s easy to determine how much I’m feeding my son. Having homemade food on hand at all times prevents me from being tempted to buy the pre-made stuff.

And I’m amazed at how I’ve been able to cut costs without cutting into my time.

1

An Award-Winning Car Seat: Chicco Keyfit 30

The Chicco Keyfit 30 car seat has ranked number one in many surveys, so I wasn’t surprised to see that BabyCenter moms voted it the number one car seat in 2012. We have the Chicco Cortina Keyfit 30 Travel System, with the car seat and the stroller that it locks into.

Easy to Install

The Chicco Keyfit 30 car seat was easy to install. One of the best features is that it has a clip that holds the car’s shoulder strap and lap belt together. This keeps the car seat from sliding on our leather seats or tipping if the shoulder belt begins to retract—a problem we had with our bigger, one-piece car seat for our older child. The base is also separate from the car seat, so it’s easy to thread the seat belt through the openings in the base and lock it in. A built-in level gives you reassurance that you’re positioning it right.

Easy to Strap the Baby In

The straps are easy to expand, giving you lots of room to get the baby into the seat. It’s easy to clip, and it has a nice, big button to help you tighten the straps. A newborn insert gives extra support for small babies.

Easy to Snap In and Out of the Base

When our son was a newborn and we still carried him in the car seat (he’s too heavy for that now), it was easy to snap the Chicco Keyfit 30 car seat apart from the base. The big button on the top is easy to find and grab with one hand. When you put the car seat back into the base, you know that you’ve done it correctly when you hear a reassuring snap.

Somewhat Easy to Snap Into the Stroller

Putting the Chicco Keyfit 30 car seat into the stroller was a bit more difficult. I used the stroller for the first time on a play date with two other new moms. One mom had a front carrier, another an umbrella stroller, and I was the only one with a Chicco travel system. It took all three of us to realize that you have to have the stroller’s tray intact in order to support the car seat. Once I did this, the reassuring snap let me know I’d installed it correctly.

Top-Ranked for a Reason

There’s a reason the Chicco Keyfit 30 car seat keeps ranking well—it’s simply a good product. We’ve used it for two babies, and it has served us well.

0

A Classic, Affordable Crib: Graco Lauren 4-in-1 Convertable Crib

When our second baby arrived just a little over a year and a half after our first one, we weren’t quite ready to put our 19-month-old in a toddler bed. He slept through the night well, but bedtime was still a bit of a struggle. I didn’t want to give up the option of placing him in something he couldn’t escape from just yet, especially with a newborn to take care of.

Our first crib was a white Stork Craft model with a changing table attached to it, which was perfect for a newborn. But our older son had long outgrown the small changing table on the side of the Stork Craft crib, making it pretty much useless for him. I had taken to putting a contoured changing pad on the floor for our large, hard-to-lift son, so I only needed a basic crib for his new room.

I didn’t want to go all out and buy a designer $600 crib. I wanted one that converted to a toddler bed, but I’m not planning on keeping the crib forever, so a good-quality, basic model would do. I opted for the Graco Lauren 4-in-1 Convertible crib in a natural finish. I like the stylish headboard, and the wood is good quality. I especially like the edging on the top of the crib rail; it adds a bit of design to the piece. I bought the Sealy Baby crib mattress to go along with the crib, and it seems to be holding up well.

I have yet to convert the crib to a toddler bed, but the headboard on the side of the crib seems like it will look nice and a bit more “grown up” than the Stork Craft model.

Overall, the Graco Lauren 4-in-1 Convertible crib has been a great addition to our toddler room.

0

An Affordable Baby Carrier: Infantino Swift Classic Carrier

Ever since I had my first son two years ago, I’ve kept hearing mothers rave about baby carriers. Names like BABYBJORN and Ergo Baby kept coming up in casual conversations with moms at my MOPS group, play dates, and dinners with friends. My older son is really independent; he didn’t like to be held that much, let alone be strapped to a parent. He was more of a swing and stroller guy.

But when our second son arrived just a little over a year and a half later, things were different. For the first few weeks, I couldn’t put the baby down for fear that his older brother would trample him. I had to hold the baby at all times to protect him from his active toddler sibling. (He still climbs on the baby, but our now four-month-old can hold his own a bit more).

I didn’t want to shell out the $60-$100 for the more well-known carriers, so I decided to give the Infantino Swift Classic Carrier
a try. I found it on Amazon for just $15.99, so it was a low-risk trial.

It was totally worth it.

The Infantino Swift Classic Carrier got me through the first two months with the new baby. Our latest addition to the family cried as soon as I put him down, so I came up with a solution: not putting him down. I held him in the carrier while I emptied the dishwasher. I held him in the carrier while I answered e-mails. I held him in the carrier while I sent out baby announcements. I even held him in the carrier while I went to the bathroom (I actually found a sanitary way to do this).

The Infantino Swift Classic Carrier has also gotten us through several zoo trips, many church services, and even a funeral. Sometimes I hold the baby in the carrier while my husband pushes our two-year-old in our single stroller. Then we switch off.

If you’re looking for a basic, affordable carrier, the Infantino Swift Classic Carrier might be for you.

Baby Swing Review: Fisher-Price Cradle ‘N Swing

I’ll never forget the moment of panic when our hand-me-down baby swing (the older version of the Fisher-Price Fold ‘n Stow Swing) stopped working. It was midnight on a Saturday. My three-month-old, who would only sleep through the “witching hour” in that darn thing woke with a start. I bolted up from the couch, grabbed a screw driver and some fresh batteries, and went to work. I flipped the on switch and … silence.

The mechanism had died. After six years and four kids (my nieces included), the swing had just had enough.

I don’t remember how we got through the rest of the night, but I do remember this: the next day, we bought the Fisher-Price Cradle ‘N Swing. This has been a lifesaver; it got us through the first six months with our first son, and our new three-month-old refuses to sleep in anything else.

Not Your Mama’s Swing

The Fisher-Price Cradle ‘N Swing is much more deluxe than its older counterpart. It swings in three directions: front to back facing two ways and side to side. I’ve never been so thankful for the side-to-side feature until now: my three-month-old only likes that motion. Our older son didn’t care which direction he was swinging, as long as he was on the move.

Fisher Price Cradle 'n Swing

Fisher Price Cradle ‘n Swing

The swing has a mirrored mobile, which both of my vain sons have loved. It also plays music or nature sounds. The best feature?

The plug.

No More Battery Runs

That’s right: it plugs into an electrical outlet, which has saved tons of money on batteries and lots of time and hassle replacing them.  (No more running to the store at 10 p.m. in a panic). This has been a lifesaver: my three-month-old sleeps in the swing most of the night.

Music to Our Ears

The only downside I’ve found is that I would like the music to play a bit longer. My son needs the clangy music to get to sleep, and sometimes he’ll be just about to drift off to sleep when the music stops—only for me to see those big blue eyes pop open again. Then I have to run and frantically turn the music back on. Usually it only takes two music cycles for him to fall asleep, though.

Nice Cradling

Our old swing wasn’t ideal for sleeping; it didn’t recline much, and I had to make a neck roll out of a receiving blanket in order to support my son’s head properly. The Fisher-Price Cradle ‘N Swing reclines nicely and has adequate head support.

Overall, the Fisher-Price Cradle ‘N Swing is a must have in our household.