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Who Needs Baby Albums Anymore?

Why do we still buy baby albums? Last year, 4.2 million American babies were born, and category leader C.R. Gibson — which sold the first baby books in 1898 and now has over 20% of the pre-fab baby book market — sold roughly 800,000 traditional, hard-copy baby books to their families.

I don’t judge. As an expectant mother last year, I listed a baby album on Lila’s baby registry. I figured, everyone has one; my daughter should, too.

The rest of our registry list was practical, and included items we needed to care for Lila on a daily basis, like burp cloths and snot suckers. The baby album was the rare item that was more reflective, an attempt to capture all of the excitement my husband and I assumed would begin imminently — and continue at Wi-Fi speed.

There’s only one problem: Our album is like the tortoise in a hare’s world. What busy mother remembers to jot down every change in her baby’s album? I, for one, can’t seem to remember to write down all of Lila’s accomplishments, and then there are the times when I discover that our album has no page to record Lila’s newest development, like the time she propelled herself forward yoga-style, in what I dubbed Flying Plank Pose.

Forgetting to chronicle everything may be my personal shortcoming, but it raises a larger question in my mind: Do we still need baby albums? How often have you gone back and referenced yours? I have to confess, I don’t even know where mine is.

Lucky for me, my mother has an incredible memory for detail and is always happy to share stories from my baby and toddler years. I don’t feel deprived, and in fact, I find stories both more compelling and more memorable than tidbits that fit on Mad Libs-style pages.

It’s hard to feel inspired or connected to a book with pre-packaged questions. To be fair, some of that is inevitable in a product geared toward the mass market. Some sections of our book simply haven’t suited us. For example, I didn’t need a page to list all of my baby shower gifts, because in keeping with Jewish tradition, I didn’t have a baby shower. Instead I opted for a gift-free girls’ night out over dinner.

However, I give the book’s author credit for dreaming up so many questions and attempting to appeal to the widest possible spectrum of families. Our book is designed to capture the highlights of my child’s first five years, and I hope that all five are as joyous and memorable as the first was.

But the fact remains: Baby albums are essentially an anachronism, much like record albums. We live in an increasingly paperless world yet baby albums remain popular as an all-paper option.

As a 21st century writer, I write about my experience with motherhood for a series of blogs. My pregnancy and Lila’s first year have been regularly chronicled in 700 word pieces, which my husband calls love letters to our daughter. While my articles aren’t identical to baby album updates, I’d posit that they paint a fuller, more vivid picture of my daughter — and my parenting — at every stage. Other parents may not blog, but they likely also record their children’s growth digitally.

In the future, if Lila wants to know what her first year was like, she’ll search online. When Lila uttered her first word and mastered walking, I updated our family via email. When Lila makes funny noises or dances, I use my smart phone to take videos or photos. When something notable happens, I tweet my observations. And when we recently purchased Lila’s first pair of shoes — yellow ruffled sandals — I posted a picture of her golden slippers on Facebook.

Parents may (legitimately) worry about over-exposing their young children online, but I doubt most parents are willing to completely reverse course. This is how most of us live — out loud and online. Baby albums would be more useful if they could accommodate that change, aggregating Tweets and Facebook posts through a Google alert type mechanism into a central online baby album that parents could design and manage, like a WordPress site.

Traditional baby albums will always retain certain charms, like providing pretty storage space for my hospital bracelet. But in the age of Pinterest and Instagram, perhaps albums should have both online and off-line components, so busy parents don’t always have to remember to pencil in the details. After all, we’ve probably already typed baby’s breaking news on Facebook.

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