New and expectant parents get advice on what products to buy from a multitude of sources: friends with kids, doctors, parenting magazines, grandparents-to-be and increasingly, mommy and daddy bloggers, who are sometimes paid for positive mentions online. Separating the must-haves from the product hype isn't always easy.
"Parents are relentlessly marketed to," says Jennifer Margulis, an Ashland, Ore., mother of four and author of "The Business of Baby: What Doctors Don't Tell You, What Corporations Try to Sell You, and How to Put Your Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Baby Before Their Bottom Line." "Corporate America sees parenthood as an opportunity for them to get new customers."
Some products marketed to parents can actually be harmful to babies, according to Tanya Remer Altmann, a Southern California pediatrician and author of "Mommy Calls: Dr. Tanya Answers Parents' Top 101 Questions About Babies and Toddlers." U.S. News spoke with experts and parents to find out which items you can leave off your shopping list or baby registry. Here's a look at eight of them.
1. Diaper Genie. Denise Schipani, a mother of two in Huntington, N.Y., and author of "Mean Moms Rule: Why Doing the Hard Stuff Now Creates Good Kids Later," received a Diaper Genie (a baby-diaper disposal system) at her baby shower and never used it. At the time, Schipani lived in an apartment with limited storage and says the family took out the garbage often anyway. "I ended up finding it again, unopened, when we'd moved and had our second son, and I returned it to Babies "R" Us," she adds.
[Read: Can I Afford a Baby?]
2. Baby shoes. Buying pint-sized outfits is a favorite pastime for many new moms and grandmas. But while onesies and baby socks serve an obvious purpose, baby shoes do not. "It's hard to resist buying baby shoes—there are so many adorable choices out there," says Kathryn Hawkins, a mom to a 3-and-a-half-year-old in Scarborough, Maine. "And shoes are such a natural part of the average person's wardrobe that they don't really think about the fact that babies don't actually need them to protect their feet before they can walk." During the winter before Hawkins' daughter began walking, she skipped the baby shoes and used a snowsuit with built-in booties and mittens to keep her warm.
3. Baby laundry detergent. In many cases, the laundry detergent that's marketed as "extra gentle" for babies contains the same ingredients as regular, less-expensive detergent. "It doesn't matter if it's labeled especially for babies, but it is a good idea to buy a 'free and clear' or unscented laundry detergent," says Altmann. "Skip the dryer sheets and save money since many can be irritating for a newborn's sensitive skin."
4. Crib accessories. Pediatricians no longer recommend sleep positioners, stuffed animals or other extras intended for cribs. Not only are these extras unnecessary, they can be downright dangerous and can be linked to suffocation and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). "A bare crib with a tight-fitting sheet is all you need," says Altmann.
5. Double stroller. Debbie Kaplan, a mother of two in New Jersey, bought a tandem double stroller when she had her second child and her first child was 2. "The stroller was so heavy it was hard to move in and out of the car, and it was so long it wouldn't fit in all cars," she says, adding that she could have easily hurt her back getting it into the trunk. "A lighter-weight and smaller stroller would have been better for the few times we needed both kids pushed."
6. Baby-sized food processor. New parents who want to save money by making their own baby food may be tempted to buy a food processor that's specially marketed for that purpose. But after borrowing one from a friend, Julia Scott, mother to a 15-month-old in Rhode Island and founder of BargainBabe.com, discovered that her regular-sized food blender worked even better. Food processors designed for baby food "make these incredibly tiny batches," she says. "You end up making baby food every other day because they do eat quite frequently. A regular blender will most likely do the trick—and make a huge batch so you freeze a lot of it and defrost it in the morning."
7. Oversized diaper bag. Jill Adams, a mother of three in New York state, says she tried using a "supersized, compartment-for-everything diaper bag." However, she found it was bigger than she needed and ugly to carry around, so instead she wound up using a large toiletries bag that she could drop into her stroller net bag. As for the supersized diaper bag, Adams says, "I believe it died a moldy death in the back corner of some closet."
8. Video baby monitor. Altmann says she sees a lot of parents spend hundreds of dollars on high-tech video monitors. "There haven't been any studies that show it helps prevent illness, injury or SIDS," she adds. "I find that for most families, if you leave the door open, you're going to hear [the baby]. If you have a really big house, I usually recommend a sound baby monitor so you can hear when your baby wakes up." Audio-only baby monitors are often much less expensive than video monitors, and Scott uses a regular sound monitor for her daughter, in part because she found the video monitor she used while visiting a friend to be distracting.
"The truth is that when you have a new baby, the things that you need the most are not things that you can buy," says Margulis. "What you really need is support with housework and preparing meals and the freedom to sit on the couch for hours and stare in a baby's beautiful newborn eyes."
Corrected on 04/22/2013: A previous version of this story misspelled Denise Schipani’s name.