If the title of this post had you imagining tiny dumbells and pint-sized Pilates machines, (a) you're welcome and (b) that's not what I meant. This bit of unconventional baby gear is originally for exercising, but it's not for exercising the baby, or even exercising yourself with your baby (unless you want to). What is this mystery object? An inflatable fitness ball.
When a friend of mine had her first baby a hundred years ago (okay, more like seven), I remember her going on and on about what a lifesaver her fitness ball was for getting her daughter to sleep. When I had my first baby a few years later, thank goodness I remembered her advice, because it worked wonders for us and our hates-the-swing baby too. His favorite way to be soothed was with a gentle bounce, and the fitness ball meant we didn't have to prance around the house with a swaddled babe in arms every bedtime, which, you might know, is harder than it sounds. We could also rock back and forth on it, which was a nice stand-in for a glider, which we didn't have room for in our tiny nursery.
One quality I value in any kind of baby gear (or kid gear, or even grown-up gear, for that matter) is flexibility and longevity, and the fitness ball has both. You might already have one on hand if you used a "birthing ball," which I'm told can be helpful for mamas who choose to forgo the sweet, sweet epidural, and then of course you can also use it past the baby stage for its original purpose--to get [back] in shape.
Fitness balls come in a range of sizes, so if you're in the market, just make sure you get one big enough to sit on comfortably. (The photo above is a good example of what you should look for, and I'd also like to point out that it is possible to find stock photography of an exercising woman who doesn't already have six-pack abs. Hooray for new moms!)
Image © iStockphoto.com/golfladi