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I have to go with experience too. First time around, I bought several things that were highly rated, but as DD1 got older, or after DD2 was born, I realized there was a better (read:easier or more convenient for me) way to do it. Travel system stroller? Highly rated but so bulky! Next time around (since we're having a boy and our old one is pink) I'll be getting a snap n go until it's time to switch to an umbrella stroller. The nursing shawl I picked out? I wish someone had told me about the Bebe au Lait covers before that.
I think though, that a nice balance is what's needed. I think the expert ratings are a great jumping off point, and probably much more important when it comes to car seats.
I second the Baby Bargains book. I have been starting from there and then asking around to see if the moms I know agree with what it says. I love that in the end of the book they even have a "cheat sheet" that lists the top picks for each category to make it easy when you do the registry But if you want to hear their thoughts about a particular brand or baby item they also list that separately.
I consulted the Internet when doing my research. I think people who have already bought the items have a better sense of what works and what doesn't.
The best part about registering at BRU is when you scanned an item, you could click on the reviews right there and read them! I did that for all of the "big" stuff and it really swayed my decision a lot. My registry on Amazon.com was easier as the reviews are right on the item page
I second getting reviews from like minded moms. The original stroller I had picked out for DD1 came highly rated and reviewed. It was when another horse show mom friend recommended that I get a jogger for the big bike tires that I realized that the small stroller tires totally wouldn't work for our lifestyle. While it would work for many, it wouldn't suit us.
Carseats, it may be wise to check out what the experts are saying. Another good piece of advice I was given when picking out a carseat is to go see t in person and do all the straps, buckles, etc. You will be using it A LOT and you want the buckles to be user friendly to you. You may find that the original carseat you liked doesn't have buckles that are easy, etc.
I think there is always a trial and error when buying some baby stuff. I got a Moby wrap that I had heard excellent things about, but I didn't like it. Loved my baby bjorn though.
I have to say I look at experience first and then pediatricians/AAP etc. I've learned over the years what is "recommended" is not always practical. And there's a big difference between the hype of something recommended and what its true value is. For example if you went by AAP recommendations. Baby should be in a NON drop side crib at the lowest level with NOTHING in the crib besides a tight fitted sheet and baby. Sleep sacs are ok now but there was a time when even those were discouraged. Everyone hyped on it around here but it wasn't practical. Especially in cooler (i.e 20 below) weather. Also you will see a lot of things Advertized (especially quantities in those 'what baby needs' lists) that are ridiculous and totally unnecessary.
I read reviews and listened to what my friends or family (mainly my sis and my cousins who are close in age to me, not my grandmother!!) said because it is all about experience. I don't think I bought one thing we didn't use!!
I researched practicially everything we bought for DS! I'm big into researching stuff anyway so for me looking up reviews on products was a must. I mostly used Amazon and word of mouth from other moms. Those are the two things i found most helpful. There were times i bought something and ended up not liking it so i think sometimes you'll have to learn the hard way since what's good for one person isn't for another. I bought a Bjorn only to end up really disliking it so i sold it and got an Ergo instead. This is just one example. Some people say they never use a changing table or travel system but i've used both soooooo much!!
It depends on the item as well. Pacifiers are so much based on the preference of each baby that its not as helpful to get others opinions where as something like strollers i found very beneficial to get BTDT moms opinions on what they liked/disliked. If you have any specific questions on an item i'm sure lots of us moms can tell you whats worked best for us
I definitely found it much more accurate relying on the opinions of parents They have experience with the different products and can give a much better review in my opinion. I also researched online and was always open to read whatever information I could on baby products. I just found it more reliable to go with parental reviews. Not only online but from friends as well.
While professional reviews are great, a lot of times they are just another sales tactic
Definitely read through real parent reviews and try stuff out! Don't buy a stroller you can't take down and push around, and try compacting it and putting it back up! Carry around the carseat with something in it to see what it feels like carrying it and how easy it is going to be to take in and out of the car, etc.
For example, can you get the stroller compressed and opened back up with one hand? Try it in the store because IRL you might have to do it...a lot! If you are buying a carrier/wrap, try it out before buying too. Don't get it home with a baby only to realize what a PITA it is to get baby in and out of!
Everyone will have different opinions on what works for them but ultimately it comes down to what is going to work best for YOU. So don't be afraid to try stuff out before you make a purchase because a lot of times once you've realized how much you hate it, it's too late to take back!
Honestly when I had my first..I would not do anything that was ok'd by my sons doctor and I bought all these baby products that were supposedly perfect for baby..I didnt use half the junk I bought and ended up listening to my mother more than the doc..after all..she had kids..LOL..Now after already having 3 children I feel sort of broken in enough to trust myself..LOL..