DON'T THROW OUT THE BABY WITH THE BATH TOYS
Hand-me-downs are the ultimate way for parents to save money. Baby clothes are probably the best hand-me-down, because infants grow fast and it can be easy to spend a small fortune trying to keep up. While it's tempting to accept any secondhand item another parent offers, there are some things that probably should not be handed down.
Related: 50 Tips for Raising Children on a Budget
Bath toys are cute and can be lots of fun. But it doesn't take long for mold and mildew to settle into the innards of these bright baby toys -- as little as a day or two, an Environmental Protection Agency spokeswoman tells Real Simple. Even if a bath toy looks clean, it can be extremely difficult to be certain, particularly if the toy isn't see-through.
Car seats can be pricey, making the prospect of a hand-me-down pretty attractive. Unless the seat's history can be 100 percent verified to make sure it's never been in a serious crash, though, it's best to pass on hand-me-down car seats. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has standards that should be met before a car seat is reused after an accident.
Cribs are another popular item to hand down. But a change in crib manufacturing standards from the Consumer Product Safety Commission in 2011 highlights how accepting a used crib could be hazardous for a baby. In addition to banning the manufacture of drop-side cribs, the safety standards address overall crib construction, hardware, and other features designed to keep little ones safe. It's also a little risky to accept a used crib because there may be missing pieces or parts.
Breast pumps are another costly but must-have piece of equipment, at least for moms who plan to express milk. The potential issue with used pumps: Most sold in stores are open systems, which means the milk may come into contact with parts of the pump that cannot be sterilized. Any remaining milk particles could potentially make their way into breast milk and expose a baby to viruses or other hazards, according to La Leche League International. To be safer, buy new.
Experts recommend pacifiers be replaced on a fairly regular basis, especially when there are signs of wear, such as discoloration or holes. If there are some pacifiers thrown into a box of baby items being handed down, it's best to toss them unless they're new and in the unopened original packaging. Pacifiers aren't very expensive anyway.
Like pacifiers, bottle nipples face problems with age, such as cracking, holes, or other signs of deterioration. The trash is probably the best place for hand-me-down nipples.
MESH-SIDED PLAY YARDS
Playpens, or portable play yards, are a pretty hot commodity. Most modern versions feature mesh sides so parents can see the baby and air can circulate. While this sort of hand-me-down is welcome, parents should inspect all the mesh thoroughly to ensure there are no tears, holes, or loose strings. It's also vital to make sure the top rails lock into place and the mattress included is the original. This is a lot to ask of a parent-to-be, so avoiding used play yards may be best.
Baby walkers, while popular in decades past, have fallen out of favor. In 2004, Canadian health officials outright banned their distribution and sale. Baby walkers can still be bought in the United States, but many experts, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, recommend against their use, and accepting a used one can be risky if it was made before a CPSC safety standard update in 2013.
Used bean bags seem like a fun item to accept for older kids. But unnoticed holes or stretched seams can allow the small pellets inside to escape, which can create a major health hazard for any child who might mistake the pellets for candy. Some bean bags (particularly older ones) have also had issues with zippers that do not lock, with the same concerns. It's a good idea to inspect potential bean bag hand-me-downs thoroughly. Better yet, buy new.
OUTERWEAR WITH DRAWSTRINGS
One type of clothing that shouldn't be handed down: outerwear with drawstrings. They used to be common, but the CPSC has determined that drawstrings are a serious strangulation hazard for kids. Modern children's clothing no longer features drawstrings, but a piece or two might be found in a bunch of hand-me-downs. Discard them, or cut the drawstrings out immediately.