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Baby Stuff You Shouldn't Buy Used

By Sandra Gordon

I know it's exciting to snag great deals on baby gear and discounted infant formula at tag sales, through Facebook groups and on eBay, Craig's List, and other places. But—confession: I'm not a huge fan of used baby stuff, especially when it comes to infant formula.

Here's one major reason: retailers must take the necessary action with recalled products, such as clearing them from store shelves. But get this: according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, only 30 percent of consumers do the right thing when a baby product is recalled, whether it's stopping use of the product or contacting the manufacturer for repair. That means approximately 70 percent of potentially dangerous baby products are still out there. It's against the law to sell recalled products at yard sales. Still, tainted baby gear can unintentionally lurk in the secondary market, undetected. Yikes!

Secondly, baby product safety standards change frequently. In fact, the safety standards for strollers, soft-infant carriers, cribs, play yards, and other baby products have been updated within the last several years or are currently being manufactured. If you buy any of these products used, there's a good chance you're buying an older, out-of-date model. And even a small safety update can make a big difference. Strollers sold after September 10, 2015, for example, will be tested to make sure their hinges are safe. Stroller hinges produced before this date did not need to be tested; they were responsible for 72 injuries, which included pinched, lacerated, or amputated fingers or arms.

Moreover, for some baby items, preowned products are just too iffy. Here are three baby products that fall into that category.

  1. A car seat. According to Safe Kids, a reputable safety organization, it's okay to buy a used car seat as long as you know its full crash history, which means that you must buy it from someone you know rather than from a thrift store or over the internet. But other organizations, such as SafeNY, recommend not buying a used car seat, period. I'm in SafeNY's camp. Even if you buy a car seat from a friend who swears it has never been in a crash, even a fender bender can potentially impact a car seat's safety integrity. Car seats that have been in even a minor accident have done their job. They should be discarded. Plus, who knows how old the car seat is and what if the owner's manual is missing? There are just too many unsafe variables.

  2. Thrift tip: To save money on a new car seat, start by Googling "car seat" and "sale" to see what's on sale and/or sign up for e-mail alerts on at your favorite car seat sites. You'll be the first to know about promos and special sales. And be sure to beat the system by purchasing through a portal site like Ebates or Upromise to earn a rebate. If you want to use your new car seat for your second baby, go ahead—as long as it hasn't been in an accident and car seat safety standards haven't been updated. Sign up for CPSC's e-mail updates or follow the CPSC on Twitter @uscpsc.

  3. Infant formula. A quick search on Craig's List will yield lots of discounted infant formula offers from fellow parents. But infant formula is definitely a product you should never buy used. It could have been left in the back of a hot or a cold car, or worse—it could be tainted. Who knows? Follow the safest feeding practices possible by buying only from reputable retailers like Walmart and not from online auctions, flea markets or other secondhand venues and storing them properly. Heat and cold can degrade the ingredients and the nutrients in infant formula, so keep unopened powdered formula in a cool, dry place, such as a shelf or cabinet that's not near a heating duct or the stove; 55 to 75 degrees F is optimal.

  4. Thrift tip:Thrift tip: There's no need to even consider buying used formula because store brand formula, like the Parent's Choice Formula at Walmart, costs up to 50 percent less than advertised name brand formulas, is such a great deal! By switching to Parent's Choice Formula, you can save up to $600 per year without compromising quality. As you may know, the FDA strictly regulates formula to keep little ones safe, so Parent's Choice is nutritionally comparable to brands like Enfamil® and Similac® and meet FDA standards.

  5. A breast pump. Unless you're renting a multi-user "hospital grade" pump, which is designed for more than one user, go with a new, never-been-used breast pump. If you get a used pump from another mom, there's a chance it could stop working when you need it most or it could be contaminated. That's because milk and moisture can travel through the tubing and lodge into the pump's motor and microscopically enter into the milk you're expressing, which can make you or your baby sick. With a used pump, there's no guarantee it will be clean and disinfected, even if you replace the tubing.

  6. That's why manufacturers encourage moms to think of a breast pump as a toothbrush or lipstick—like any personal-use item you wouldn't share with a friend. One caveat: Some single-user pumps have "closed systems," meaning that they have special barrier protection to help prevent bacteria, mold and viruses from blowing into expressed milk or into the tubing. But the potential for contamination is still there. Why risk it?

    Thrift tip: To get a freebie pump, check with your health insurance company. As per the Affordable Care Act (ACA), all private health plans must cover breastfeeding support and supplies, which means the cost of the pump itself. And word is the insurance companies aren't skimping. Many are supplying moms with top-of-the-line double, electric pumps. The ACA breastfeeding provision doesn't apply to WIC or Medicaid but many WIC and state Medicaid programs offer free pumps. Contact your state's WIC Breastfeeding Coordinator for more information.

Do Your Homework

Another benefit to buying new baby gear is that you can register it on the manufacturer's website (or sending in the product registration card) so you can be easily notified in case of a recall. Or, let your phone do the work for you. There's a handy app, Slice, which will alert you if/when any products you buy are recalled. All you have to do is create a Slice account with your Gmail or other email account, and ask for an e-receipt at check-out, using the same email address. Working in the background, Slice's analytics will track your purchases for you and send you recall notices if/when they occur.

All told, when you use new products from the beginning, you can save money down the line by reusing them for your next baby if the product hasn't expired or been recalled, or in the case of a car seat, been in an accident or it hasn't been updated and the products are still in good shape. (I know—that's a lot of ifs.) But by reusing your new products, you know the product's history, the condition it's really in and how new it actually is. You'll probably still have the manual too, for reference. Otherwise, be a stickler about safety and start from scratch with your next baby too.

About the Author

Sandra Gordon is a consumer products expert, a writer, and a mother of two. She has appeared on NBC's Today Show and as a baby safety expert on The Discovery Health Channel's "Make Room for Baby." A Consumer Reports author, her latest book is Save a Bundle: 50+ Ways to Save Big on Baby Gear.

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