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Baby clothes Buying Guides

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Getting started

Warning: It will take every ounce of willpower not to load up your shopping cart with mini Levi's, tiny sailor suits, floral sundresses, peasant smocks, and rompers in every color. Baby clothes, trendier than ever, are as irresistible to parents (and friends and relatives) as a pool on a hot day.

Everyone wants their baby to be well dressed, and manufacturers have responded with micro styles that appeal to our adult fashion sense. Not that your baby cares. All she wants is to be comfortable, and that's important to keep in mind. The basic necessities--even if they're "pre-owned"--will keep your little cutie content. Still, you may not want to dress your baby in just any old thing.

When stocking up on basics before your baby arrives, purchase only a few items in newborn size. Your baby will outgrow these tiny garments fast--sometimes in less than a month. It's more practical to buy in the 3-to 6-month or 6-to-9-month sizes. If saving money is your mission, do most of your shopping post-baby shower.

Sizes

Baby clothing sizes are usually based on age: preemie, 0 to 3 months (newborn), 3 to 6 months, 6 to 9 months, 9 to 12 months, 12 months, 18 months, and 24 months. But one manufacturer's 6 to 9 months may be quite different from another's because there are no standard sizes in the industry. Every brand of baby clothing has its own size specifications. Try this general rule: "Double your baby's age," said Vivian G. Reisman, president of Baby Steps (www.bsteps.com), a children's clothing manufacturer based in Closter, N.J. For example, if you're buying for a 3-month-old, buy a 6-month-old size; if you're shopping for a 6-month-old, buy a 12-month-old size, and so on. Even though that doubled size may seem a little big at first, your baby will grow into the clothing quickly and you'll have leeway for shrinkage.

You don't always have to double the size, though. It depends on the manufacturer, so experiment. The age-doubling formula ends at about 2 anyway, Reisman said. Then, buy one to two sizes up, depending on your child's size. For example, an average-sized 2-year-old (a toddler in the 50th percentile for height and weight) can probably wear a size 3. But a large 2-year-old (say, in the 95th percentile) might wear a size 4, she said.

Read the weight and length charts found on the back of many garment packages or consult a size chart, which many baby-clothing stores keep on hand, especially those that sell garments in European sizes. But be sure to know your baby's height in inches--that's crucial to converting your baby's size to centimeters.

Consider safety

Be wary of tiny buttons, hooks, snaps, pom-poms, bows, and appliques. They can be choking hazards. Routinely check clothes and fasteners for these loose items. Some clothing with heat-transferred or "tagless" labels may be associated with rashes. Avoid loosely knitted clothes--sweaters, booties, or hats--that might trap a baby's tiny fingers or toes. Cut all dangling threads before your baby wears a garment and avoid clothing that has seams with very few stitches per inch. Before you put socks or booties on your baby, turn them inside out to look for small threads that could capture toes.

Baby's first shoes

To keep your pre-walker's feet warm on cool days, look for soft, elasticized baby socks or booties that cling to the feet so that your baby can't kick them off. You don't have to buy the leather baby shoes you'll see everywhere, which can easily run you $28 per pair or more, and which your baby will outgrow quickly.

You might think that shoes complete the outfit for kids, but wait until your child begins walking--usually at 10 to 14 months--before buying her first pair of shoes. That's when a child really needs them. Jane Andersen, D.P.M., a member of the American Podiatric Medical Association, recommends picking a first shoe with flexibility, which helps the foot develop its arch. "Try to bend the shoe in half," she said. "If it bends easily, it's a good shoe."

The best shoes also have traction on the bottom so your baby won't slip easily. A shoe doesn't have to be expensive to be flexible, but in Andersen's shopping experience, the most flexible shoes are higher-ticket brands. That might include Merrell (www.merrell.com), Nina Kids, Pediped (www.pediped.com), Stride Rite (www.striderite.com), and Umi (www.umishoes.com). And, Andersen said, stores that sell higher-ticket brands generally have experienced sales help to make sure you buy the right size. You'll want some room at the toe, but not so much that your child will trip. Also, keep in mind that toddlers kick off anything and everything, so look for flexible shoes that lace. They're harder to take off than shoes with Velcro closures.

Visit ConsumerReports.org for our latest information on Baby clothes

Copyright © 2006-2012 Consumers Union of U.S., Inc. No reproduction, in whole or in part, without written permission.

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