Having had eight children, Meredith Marshall knows all about reusing baby items.
She has reused cots, strollers, linen, clothes, baby wraps, baby carriers, and car seats.
“As I’ve had eight boys, clothes my six-month-old is now wearing was once worn by his 17-year-old brother,” she says.
Of course, Meredith is hardly the first or only one to hand items down among family members; a UK study shows that one-fifth of mothers have accepted hand-me-downs for their children. And the benefits of doing so aren’t just financial – they can be practical, too.
Barbara Minuzzo, senior project coordinator at The Royal Children’s Hospital’s Safety Centre, says that as a general rule, if the item is clean, is still of high quality and stored correctly, there is no reason why you can’t pass items on to younger children.
It’s only if the baby has sensitivities to certain materials, or if there have been problems like mould or dust mites around the area where it was stored, you’d have to reconsider passing it along.
Does the second-hand shoe fit?
While many experts wouldn’t recommend handing along pre-walker shoes – they may have taken on the shape of the first child’s feet, making it unsuitable for the next wearer – it’s okay to consider hand-me-down shoes in other circumstances.
Tracey Byrne, a UK-based paediatric podiatrist, says it’s okay to pass on shoes if they have a wide fit, have adjustable straps (like Velcro), are made of natural materials, and have a flexible sole, which allows the child’s foot to develop naturally.
If there’s a lot of wear on the soles and heels, it’s best not to pass them down. Another important thing to consider is whether they are machine washable, as this can help remove residual bacteria/fungi, or to ensure the inner sole can be wiped down with surgical spirit.
Unfortunately, no amount of flexibility or cleaning can deem a car seat reusable once it’s 10 years old; manufacturer recommendations mean that they need to be replaced after this time, or a child’s safety can’t be assured.
It’s also important to know the history of the car seat, as Minuzzo points out. If the seat has been in the car during an accident, it shouldn’t be passed on, regardless of whether there is actual visible damage to the seat.
The age of the item must also be considered when looking at second-hand baby furniture, such as cots and change tables, and prams.
“The older an item is, the more it could have been superseded by another item that would have had more safety features in it,” says Minuzzo.
Change tables are yet to have an Australian standard, so it’s important to monitor recommendations from reputable consumer groups, such as Choice, to determine whether the table you used for a previous child can still function safely and practically for future children.
On the other hand, cots, high chairs and prams all have standards which must be met; the Better Health Channel has a handy checklist that will help you work out if an item satisfies the latest requirements.
Passing on toys
After an older child has outgrown a toy, it’s natural to want to pass it on to a younger sibling or friend. But Minuzzo advises caution, recommending that the toy’s condition is thoroughly assessed first.
“We have to make sure that the eyes and noses are still stuck on [stuffed toys and dolls], because the child might have taken these toys everywhere, kissing and hugging them,” she says.
Toys with batteries can also pose serious dangers to young children – more so if they’ve been left unused for a period of time, when the battery may have leaked – so it’s worth checking them over carefully. Also ensure no magnets or pieces have come loose, and that there are no small pieces that could cause a choking hazard for younger family members.
Reduce, re-use, recycle
There was a time when sharing and reusing baby items amongst siblings were common, but now, Meredith Marshall notes, “our society is so set on cleaning and artificial products to ‘make their space germ-free’”.
“We have to have everything new and have been programmed to think that everything for a baby MUST be new,” she says.
But as environmentally aware and money-conscious parents continue to pass items between each other, manufacturers of many baby products – from breast pumps to cloth nappies – now pubish information about hand-me-downs, in order to keep them in working order and a hygienic state for years to come.
To help you decide what to reuse and what not, there are plenty of ways to find more information: