I’ve worked in lots of homes with lots of babies. Different families have different styles, both in the way they run their home and in the way they approach parenting. I’ve used these stints amongst varied parenting and household styles to experiment with and explore which of the thousands of possible baby accessories are most commonly used and which are the most necessary and useful. It’s not the same list.
#1 Thing you think you need but don’t:
Plenty of seasoned parents will tell you they’re an unnecessary expense. It’s not just me. You can change a baby on the floor, on the bed, on top of a chest of drawers. As time goes on you’ll find yourself changing them in the backseat of the car, on the kitchen table, and as they get older while they try to run away. All you need for these changes is, at best, a change mat with raised edges, and at least, a soft but firm surface.
One of the major reasons parents think they need the actual change table is a notion of them as the safest option. Baby change tables have a small raised edge running the length of the changing area, designed to discourage baby rolling off and breaking his precious noggin. Safety when changing your baby, and, when having a baby in your care full stop, is always a top priority. But, the little edge on these tables is all but pointless. A baby old enough to roll can and will roll right over them. Nothing is a substitute for your vigilance. If anything, thinking you are in a less precarious situation could lead to complacency – “I can walk over to the other side of the room for a moment because baby is safe on her change table”. You’re better off always being aware that if you’re not on the floor, you need both eyes and hands on the baby when changing and dressing them.
Secondly, the storage space under them is, in my experience, a nightmare to access. Not very wide but very deep open shelving. You wouldn’t use it for a bookcase or wardrobe or pantry, and you’ll be more anxious/distracted/hurried/harried when wanting something for the dressing and changing of your child than you ever are when selecting a book or a pair of trousers or a tin of tomatoes.
Most change tables I’ve seen end up a mini storage space for things not in everyday use and things not needed at all but merely forgotten. The everyday things get placed on the floor next to the change table, or in another chest of drawers (wait, didn’t we hear a chest of drawers with a change mat could be used a change table?). Because you need to have your eyes and hands on the baby when changing, you also need your wipes, lotions, nappies etc easily accessible with one hand. You will never regret having a flat space out of the baby’s reach to put their clothes and nappies ready for the changing process. That chest of drawers is looking better and better: baby at one end, flat space for all necessities at the other, nappies and sundry in the top drawer….
These sorts of observations other parents may already have shared with you. Here’s the bit I think you’re less likely to realise until you’ve cared for a lot of babies at different stages. If you lay them down at your mid height with their feet pointed towards you (as a change table demands) soon enough they will kick you – repeatedly, joyously, and painfully, in the stomach. Sounds obvious now I’ve pointed it out doesn’t it? But not every baby will do it, and not always, and not at the same age. So you may not have heard this one from your friends. And, bizarrely, many parents think this is a necessary and cute part of the changing process. But if you do not enjoy being kicked in the gut (and don’t make the mistake of thinking those little feet can’t hurt like the dickens) then you, like me, will be frustrated by a change table that requires you to lean into these fevered kicks.
From my experience I’d say well over 50% do at some point fairly consistently enjoy kicking vigorously and the change table points those powerful legs right into your belly. Solution? Approach them sideways. Don’t be fooled by the teeny tiny baby back from the hospital. Soon they’ll be twice, three times as long and sideways access makes it easier to reach everything anyway. This is where you may guess I’ll recommend a good size chest of drawers. Use a padded change mat with raised sides laid length-ways along the top. You can store things on the flat surface at either end out of reach of kicking feet and grabbing hands. You can store bits and bobs in the drawers for easy access. You’ll have a flat space to pop down the change of clothes or whatever else you happen to have with you. And when your little darling no longer needs a change table, why you don’t have one, you have a chest of drawers, useful for many more years.
Don’t bother buying the change table. Buy two of the raised change mats and use an existing chest of drawers or buy one instead of buying the change table. Long and wide is the best option if you have the choice. Have one mat set up on the drawers permanently, and use the other for changes in varied spots (near the bath, in the lounge, in the backyard… flexibility will only make your life easier). Your wallet, your sanity, and your stomach muscles will thank you for it.