Gear Guide for Baby The truth is, pregnancy is nine months of some of the most serious shopping you'll ever do. Outfitting a nursery is fun, to be sure, but it can also be mind-boggling. There's a world of baby gear out there your mother never dreamed of. Where to begin? Right here. Cribs Car seats Strollers Monitors Front carriers Playpen/portacribs Rocking chairs Swings Hanging toys Cribs There are two critical purchases in terms of your baby's safety, and this is one of them. You'll no doubt be tempted to hit the garage sales after seeing what a new crib can cost, but absolutely do not use a model manufactured before 1989, when safety standards were updated. Current regulations require that spaces between side slats be no more than 2 3/8 inches wide; that there be no corner posts, projections, or decorative cutouts in headboards or footboards; and that mattress supports can be lowered as your baby gets bigger and is able to stand up. Mattresses (which you must buy separately) should fit snugly — no more than two finger widths between the mattress and crib side. All this is serious stuff: Unsafe cribs are associated with an alarming number of preventable injuries and deaths, and it's here that your baby will spend a large part of his young life. That said, you'll no doubt discover a tempting variety of crib styles to choose from, with prices ranging from $100 to more than $500. Look for drop sides to make it easier to get Baby in and out (you really need only one side that drops, two ups the price). Car Seats This is the other biggie. Your baby will not even be permitted to leave the hospital unless your partner pulls up with a car seat in the back. There are two types you'll need to know about: infant (for up to 1 year and 20 pounds) and convertible models (for up to 40 pounds). The convertible models, so called because they can be adjusted to fit tiny babies and big toddlers, are, economically, a smart choice. They tend to cost more, but you only have to buy one. Still, most parents prefer to go the infant-seat route for the first year, for one very important reason: It doubles as a carrier, which means you don't have to wake your baby to get him out of the car (well worth the cost of having to buy a larger car seat later on). As for safety, all car seats must meet government standards. To make sure that yours does, don't use a hand-me-down made before 1981 and don't use a car seat that's been in an accident. The tricky part with car seats is installing and using them correctly, so be sure to follow every detail of the manufacturer's instructions. Strollers Choosing a stroller can be about as intimidating as buying a car: You can spend under $100 for a lightweight umbrella style (which is handy later but does not offer enough support for a newborn) or splurge on a $400 all-terrain off-road number. The choice is pretty much up to you. The most important consideration is portability. It should be lightweight enough to heft in and out of your trunk and fold up compactly with little effort. Gear Guide for Baby Monitors Of course you don't need a baby monitor. But in the early months, when you're sure Baby's life is in danger if he's out of your sight, these walkie-talkie-like gadgets provide a measure of sanity that is well worth the $50 price tag. Front Carriers Front carriers and slings have a relatively short lifespan but provide a lot of advantages during that grueling newborn stage. Studies even show that infants who are carried in one of these cry less. If you've got a cranky baby, or just want to be able to use your hands once in a while, this is money well spent. Playpens/Portacribs The latest generation of playpens are also portable cribs, great for traveling or a nap at Grandma's. They can also buy you 20 minutes to safely take a shower or mop the floor. Rocking Chairs There's no place more suited to nursing than a rocking chair, and even after your little one learns to make it through most nights, there will still be those sick spells or bad dreams that require comforting. Swings Let's face it: You need to be able to eat dinner now and then without an infant in your lap. And if you've got a reluctant napper, the gentle click-click of a battery-operated swing may help her nod off. Hanging Toys These "gym-style" toys are perfect for hanging above infant seats, from stroller canopies, or wherever a baby is reclining. At about 3 months of age, your little one will begin to delight in looking at the colorful objects. Later, as his muscle control improves, they'll help him perfect his hand-eye-mouth coordination.