For special occasions, or for simply showing off, go ahead and dress your baby up in precious, impractical outfits. But for everyday wear, the experts -- parents who've been there -- vote for comfortable togs that embody one basic principle: Easy on, easy off.
For many parents, the speedy approach to baby clothes works best. That's why long infant gowns with gathered bottoms are such a popular choice for the first 6 weeks or so. "Both of my kids seemed to like to feel their legs, and the gathered openings made changes very easy," says Emily Emerick, of Monkton, MD.
Others swear by snap-front stretchy suits, all-in-one clothing -- which dispense with the need for booties -- or zip-front cotton bodysuits.
Until your infant's umbilical cord falls off -- usually after 10 to 21 days -- it's better to stick with kimono-style wrap undershirts or pullovers, instead of undershirts that snap in the crotch.
Avoid buttons or other protrusions down the back. They make it harder to dress the baby. And for infants, who spend lots of time lying down, bumpy clothes can be uncomfortable.
ROCKERS AND ROLLERS
As babies become more active -- reaching for a toy bar, kicking at a mobile, flipping over during diaper changes -- T-shirts that snap at the crotch and stay put become most appreciated. Look for ones that let your infant's head slip through easily: Make sure the necks stretch pretty far out, or that there are buttons, or better still, snaps up one side.
Many parents also favor other clothes that snap at the crotch. "Before we knew better, we bought a few items that didn't, and those pants had to be tugged all the way off for diaper changes," says Justin Catanoso, the father of three girls, in Greensboro, NC.
Before you buy any piece of clothing for your baby, do a quick comfort check: See that the seams are flat inside and out so they won't rub and possibly irritate tender skin, and choose soft knits over stiffer fabrics, since they tend to give more and go on easier.
At this point, many parents put away their daughter's dresses -- which make crawling difficult -- in favor of overalls. They're durable and often come with adjustable straps, so your baby will likely get a lot of wear out of them through toddlerhood.
Make sure the overalls aren't too baggy, or the pant legs will curtail your little one's mobility. (Even if you try rolling the pant legs up, her knees can still get caught in them.) For this stage, it's best to get overalls with elasticized cuffs. Leggings and sweats are also good choices, since they give your baby the freedom to use her legs.
Once your baby starts to pull himself up, forgo those outfits with fabric feet. Bare feet are best; when that's not possible, socks with rubber treads on their soles are less slippery than tights or plain socks.
Sally Quirk Mills, of San Jose, CA, had some trouble when her daughter, Maggie, started walking at 9 months: "She was so tiny that everything she wore still had slippery-bottomed feet." Mills had already built up a wardrobe of these one-piece suits, so she avoided the problem by putting on a pair of nonskid booties over Maggie's footed outfits.
Of course, different clothes will appeal to different parents. And like so much during this first year, the best principle is to follow what feels right to you, and keeps your baby happy.
Elizabeth Edwardsen is the author of The Longstreet Highroad Guide to the Maine Coast.