A fellow military spouse is having her first child and you want to give her something both useful and appropriate for the military lifestyle. But what? How do you tell the difference between your run-of-the-mill baby gift and something that will go the distance in making her life easier?
Stop fretting, we’re here to help. We asked some seasoned military moms what their top can’t-live-without items are and, based on their input, created a short military mama gift guide! This straight forward guide is a rundown of all you need to know about the top four items those MilMoms said they simply cannot live without in their sometimes single, sometimes dual parent lifestyle.
Whether you’re looking for a great group gift or something to give just from you, our simple, short guide should get your gifting wheels turning.
Without further ado – we give you:
The Military Mama’s Baby Must-Haves
A Safe & Comfy Car Seat
The most suggested item from and for military moms is a comfortable car seat for baby – a must for in the car sanity. Deployments, field time and temporary duty absences mean parents often spend hours of their week running kids around town solo from appointments, sports, school, day care and social events. A small child who is comfortable in his seat is much less likely to complain during lots of car time.
Our favorite seats are from Safety First. Reasonably priced at about $150 - $200, their seats get fairly high safety ratings and can be used rear-facing for children between five and 35 lbs, forwards up to 40 lbs and as a forward-facing booster seat up to 100 lbs. That’s a lot of seat use for your money. We have found the seat to be incredibly comfortable for our children, as have most reviewers. It also comes with a handy cup holder that can be easily removed for cleaning.
Bonus: these are seats you can fly with since it’s been approved by the Federal Aviation Administration. We’ve used it on a plane without a problem in the forward-facing position. The only downside is that it is quite bulky to lug around the airport.
The other reason we love this seat is that it’s easy to install and uninstall, making swaps between cars a snap.
Downside: Dissembling a car seat for cleaning is never a cakewalk, and this seat is no exception. We’ve done it, and we do not want to do it again. Following the cleaning instructions in the manual can make it much easier, and once the cover is off it does wash-up nicely. The manual recommends hand washing the cover, but we ignored that and it turned out just fine.
An Easy to Use (and Clean!) Baby Play Seat
Oh, Bumbo how do we love thee? Let us count the ways. If you don’t have children you’re probably saying “bum-huh?” But seasoned moms know this formed foam, lightweight, shaped seat helps infants sit and gives growing babies the upright view of the world they so crave. The result? A content kid. And that, friends, is priceless.
We find the Bumbo seat great for road trips as well and have frequently used it as a travel high chair. Add the snap-on tray, and you have a whole new venue for toys and snacks.
An optional, washable seat cover is also available. While we found the cover did not shrink when run through the washer and dryer, we did think it was a little unnecessary considering how easy the seat is to clean with a damp cloth.
The seats and covers are available in a variety of colors.
A great snack bowl
Why are we including something so small in our gift guide? Because the secret, in our minds, to solo parenting a brood of happy youngsters is snacks – lots and lots of (preferably healthy) snacks. But that glorious fix-all doesn’t help at all if moms must spend post-snack time cleaning hills of fishy crackers off the floors. The solution? A great snack cup.
We like Munchkin’s snack catcher cup for the job. This cup and its flapped lid are sturdy, do well in the dishwasher and come in a variety of fun (and easy to spot when lost in the depths of the trunk) colors.
Sometimes it’s the little things in life that save the day.
A Functional Baby Carrier
While many have jumped on the “babywearing” wagon as a way to keep their infant close and comforted, we love baby carriers for a whole different reason – practicality.
Busy military parents know that holding your child in your arms is not always practical, strollers can be cumbersome and letting those who are old enough toddle along behind can just take too long or be dangerous. A baby carrier is the perfect solution – it keeps your child close while giving you both hands to take care of business.
Infants love baby carriers because they put them right where they long to be – snuggling close to mom or dad. Older kids love to be carried this way because it gives them a great, moving perspective on the world without making them feeling restrained the way they would be sitting still in a stroller.
We like the Ergo Baby performance baby carrier for its comfort and versatility. It is one of the only carriers that has been tested for children up to 90 lbs. We have used it for long hauls through the airport for up to 40 lbs (the recommended limit – and really, who wants to haul more than 40 lbs of kid on their back?) and have found it to be surprisingly comfortable considering the size of the child.
The Ergo carrier can be worn both on the front for smaller infants using the Ergo infant insert (which we have tested and love) and on the back for larger children. And after a little practice, it is easy to put a child in it on your back solo – and we know from experience that doing so leaves all bystanders in awe. It's also super easy to adjust, making swaps between mom and dad a breeze.
The only downside that we can find: It cannot be used to carry infants on the front and facing outwards, which some babies (and parents) seem to prefer.
A toy that helps you enjoy lunch out
We all know how kids like to throw things on the floor repeatedly, particularly when you’re trying to enjoy coffee or lunch out with friends, so when we discovered a practical solution we had to share. The Busy Baby Mat is a silicone placemat that stays put and allows you to tether toys to it. Gone are the days of “fetching” toys off the floor when you’re trying to have a conversation.
The mat sticks to any smooth and clean surface and is safe to put food on. You can use it on a high chair tray, table, airplane tray table or even wrap it around a shopping cart handle. Tethers connect toys and pacifiers to the mat so you don’t have to worry about losing them.
Bonus: the Busy Baby Mat was created by Army veteran Beth Fynbo.
A portable bottle warmer
Baby bottles have come a long way since we first had kids. Now there are about 72 different kinds of bottles, just as many varieties of formulas and even a machine that mixes the bottles for you. But when navy wife Alaina Moulton was looking for something to help her warm bottles on a road trip, she came up short. So she made it herself.
The Baby’s Brew is battery-operated and holds a charge for 8-12 hours, allowing you to go out on the town. The warmer allows for the perfect temperature for breast milk or forumla, and allows you to have a bottle ready in less than 10 minutes. It is leak-proof and easy to carry in a purse or diaper bag.
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