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When Is Your Baby Ready To... Get Baby Gear & Stuff?

  • ...Have Her Ears Pierced?
    4 months, after she's had a tetanus shot. If you opt to do it this young, those piercing booths at the mall are not the place -- have her ears pierced by her doctor. A good number of pediatricians perform this service now. The doctor will probably do this anyway, but just in case: Ask that your baby's ears be numbed first. The bonus to getting it done at this age is that she's not yet coordinated enough to pull on her ears, making it much less likely that they'll get infected and much easier for you to care for them properly (your pediatrician will tell you how).
  • ...Wear Real Shoes?
    As soon as she's standing, but then only outside. She shouldn't wear shoes full-time until she's walking steadily. "Millions of years ago, we weren't taught to walk with shoes," says Jeffrey Falcone, a pediatric podiatrist and clinical assistant professor at the New York College of Podiatric Medicine. "Kids who are learning to walk need to feel as much with their feet as they do with their hands." So while your baby learns to stand on her own, barefoot is best for the house (socks can be slippery), and a shoe with a flexible sole (it should bend with gentle pressure) and a soft upper part is good for outings to the park. If your baby isn't anywhere near walking, you can still buy adorable footwear. Soft-soled slipper-style shoes like Pedipeds and Robeez are geared to newborns on up.
  • ...Give Up Her Paci?
    Pretty much any time between now and the last year of preschool. Despite what your pushy sister-in-law says, the American Academy of Pediatrics actually recommends pacifiers for naps and bedtime for the entire first year to reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). As to the oft-cited dental problems, pacifiers typically have no effect on the teeth before age 2, and little effect before the fourth birthday. One caveat: Recent studies have linked pacifiers with a higher rate of ear infections, so if these have been a problem, it may be worth trying to lose the paci sooner rather than later.

    Here's a tip: Many babies between 7 and 9 months of age seem to hardly notice if their Binky disappears. So that's the perfect time to start reducing the situations in which you allow it. For instance, drop wide-awake, during-the-day use first, then go from there, until she's using it only at bedtime in her crib. If you've missed that window, don't worry. Just avoid making the switch when there are other big changes going on at home, such as your return to work or during the throes of potty training.

  • ...Ditch the Baby Bath Tub? And Bath Seat?
    Once your baby is sitting up on his own, you're ready to leave the baby bathtub behind. (Hallelujah! The day that thing leaves the kitchen counter for good is a happy one indeed.) But now you'll need something to help you wash her in the big tub. It's just too awkward (and back breaking) to try to hold her with one hand and wash her up with the other.

    It's fun to hop in yourself and scrub down together once in a while, but not at every bath. So a bath seat really comes in handy, as long as you get that it's not a safety device. It is only a tool that makes it a little easier to wash your baby. No matter how comfy he looks in it, do not leave his side even for as long as it takes to grab a tissue. And fill the tub with as little water as possible -- you only need about an inch to clean your baby and let him splash. When he starts trying to wiggle out of the bath seat -- or it's suddenly a tight squeeze -- it's time to toss that too. Just be sure to down a non-skid mat, decals, or even just a towel to prevent slips in the tub.

  • ...Fit in Various Baby Carriers?The worry: fitting a too-small baby into one of these items.

    What you need to know: First, check the manufacturer's specifications. After that, here's what experts recommend:

    Front carrier As long as your baby is above the carrier's height and weight specs (depending on the model, usually eight pounds and 21 inches), you can carry him around facing in from the get-go. He'll be ready to face out once his neck is strong enough to hold his head steady, usually when he's about 3 months old. And don't be overly concerned if his head slumps forward when he starts to snooze. It may look uncomfortable, but he'll be able to breathe just fine.

    Backpack No earlier than 3 months, and even as old as 6 months, depending on the type of backpack, say experts. A baby needs adequate head and neck control to keep his head stable and supported.

  • Umbrella stroller Six months at the earliest. A baby needs good trunk control -- meaning the ability to sit up independently -- because of the lack of support usually found in these strollers.

    Jogging stroller While some manufacturers say that joggers are appropriate for babies as young as 6 months, Dr. Brown says she wouldn't advise it for babies under 1. "The ride can be quite bumpy for immature spine and neck muscles, especially going over curbs or rocky paths," she says.

    Bike trailer or bike seat A baby should be at least 1 year old before being put in a trailer, say the AAP and other experts. Besides the bumpiness potential, there's the risk of a spill, so your baby will need to wear a lightweight bike helmet while on the ride, and his neck won't be strong enough to support one until his first birthday.

  • ...Face Front in a Car Seat?
    When it comes time to turn your baby around in the car, which is more important: her weight or her age?

    What you need to know Both are equally important: A child should remain rear-facing until she's at least 20 pounds and 1 year old, say experts. Dr. Shu goes even further and recommends keeping your child facing the back as long as she can stand it. "If we all could travel facing backward, we'd be safer. As soon as you face the front, the chance of whiplash goes way up," she says.

    But what about kids who pitch a fit because they can't see you? Dr. Brown, mom of a 10- and a 7-year-old, says she's been there. "We flipped my daughter around when she was nearly twelve months old, but she was over twenty pounds at that point. I thought it was actually safer that way -- otherwise, I worried I was going to get in a crash, what with all of the turning around I was doing to quiet her down. But I still tell all my patients to wait!"