When I was expecting James and started prepping for his arrival, I was beyond overwhelmed by all the options for EVERYTHING, from bottles to bouncers, not to mention all the differing opinions from friends, family, and online about what first year baby essentials I had to have and what was a total waste of money. We swore we wouldn’t buy tons of baby gear and toys we didn’t need. A) We didn’t have the space and b) And this is going to sound terrible to any non-dog peeps out there (but peeps who consider their fur baby their baby will get it), we did that with Dakota and we promised not to spoil our next one that much. I am actually pretty proud of us for sticking to that vow. We were lucky enough to inherit a bunch of hand-me-down baby gear from friends and family that allowed us to test out what worked and didn’t, but we also did the desperate middle of the night Amazon orders (and a one-time middle of the night Walmart run). Some stuff worked and were legit life-changing and some stuff didn’t work at all. Then with Charlotte, we ended up adding some baby gear to our collection, and discarding others that we could affirmatively say were not worth the money. Now two babies in, I get asked all the time about baby gear, so I thought I’d share the only first year baby essentials you absolutely need.
So first, some things I learned about first year baby essentials:
1. What works for some babies doesn’t work for others. So anytime you can buy gear second hand, share or borrow from friends/family or buy on clearance over buying brand new, go that route. Even just borrowing something for a day from a friend or neighbor to see if your baby likes it is a great way to try before you buy and can save you money and space. Trust me, no matter how selective you are, the gear adds up because…
2. All baby gear has a short shelf life. Something will work amazingly for a couple months, weeks or even days, and then not at all. It’s inevitable. Sometimes it’s cyclical and they’ll come back to something, and sometimes it’s just game over. Since we lived in an apartment in the city when James was born but have in laws who live in a house with a big basement not too far away, we stored gear at their house and swapped new in for old as he grew. We knew we wanted to have more kids so we want to save what he grew out of for the next one but otherwise, I would totally sell it or give to friends, which we’ve also done with some gear that we just found wasn’t helpful. Again, this is why borrowing or buying second hand is a great option imo. I’ve also leant a neighbor or friend something to use and then they gave it back when Charlotte was born/or in that phase to use it, which was a great way to save some space.
3. Accumulate over time. If you can, rather than buying a million things before the baby is born and you actually really know what you need, I say invest in some must-haves (place to sleep, changing table, bouncer and carrier or stroller) and then pick up stuff as you discover what you need. With Amazon Prime (and like everyone else offering fast shipping), it’s easy to get any of the first year baby essentials fast — without leaving your pajama, no-shower, zombie like zone that is the first few weeks of having a newborn.
4. The right baby gear is worth every penny. Seriously. When something works, it can be a lifeboat you desperately need when you’re on the edge. Again, you really need to find what works for you and your space and lifestyle because that’s half the battle — it might be coolest thing ever but if it doesn’t fit your lifestyle or work for your child, there’s no point. And it sucks that you have to try out a lot to find what’s right, because every baby really is different. Each one likes a different bouncer. Some babies (and moms) like the carrier, some like the stroller. Some babies sleep great in the crib night one and some need the fancy Snoo. If it gives you two more hours of sleep or keeps your baby entertained for 15 minutes so you can shower, it’s generally worth it. Or at least that’s what I found. Small victories, right?
And as much as it really depends on baby and lifestyle and you and all that, my mom tribe really helped suggest some life-saving first year baby essentials that got me through those tough times, and I also discovered some on my own, so I wanted to share with you because I know how much 10 minutes to shower or an hour of sleep or a back that isn’t breaking from carrying a baby for hours at a time can mean.
So without further ado, here’s the first year baby essentials that helped me survive the first year with a baby, and everything I can definitely say was worth every single penny.
This is one of those first year baby essentials that you absolutely need. We got a bajillion swaddle blankets and at the time, I almost returned some, but seriously you use them all. the. time. To swaddle, to wipe up spit up, to keep your baby warm, to protect your clothes from spit up, to clean up weird leaks, to play Peek-a-Boo, you name it. These muslim ones are breathable and adorable and we still use them all the time. For all those reasons, they also make a great baby shower gift, because seriously, you can’t have enough.
If you live in a small apartment like we did, this chair is a lifesaver. We tried to get by without a high chair and used various chairs including the Bumboo, but at a certain stage (around 7/8 months), it was clear, we needed a highchair to properly feed James and to contain him during mealtimes and other times honestly. I love this chair not only because it’s compact and fits in smaller spaces, but also because unlike most of the other options, it doesn’t look like a kid’s high chair but fits pretty seamlessly with any decor. It can get pretty dirty fast, but I wanted the white to go with our kitchen table and chairs. One thing that’s annoying is all the pieces come separate — the seat attachment, the tray, the cushion, etc. — but I’m glad we invested in this one, and it tucks away nicely. I do have to say our cousins gave us the rolls royce of strollers — a huge convertible one that is super comfy and a little taller that we keep at our in-laws and use a lot there — and James and Charlotte both loved it. I think it’s because it’s really comfy and big and they also liked being higher up, so if you have the space, it’s worth considering, but when it comes to aesthetics and saving space, the Stokke is the better fit for our house. We also have this spacesaver option that we inherited from my sister-in-law and it’s another great one. We keep this one upstate at the lake house, and it’s comfy, attaches easily to any chair, is easy to clean and the kids like it, so it’s a great option if you don’t have space for an actual chair (although it’s big enough that the chair will not easily slide under your table, which is why we didn’t go with that option for home).
A $30 teether, seriously? you ask. Or at least that’s what I said, and now here I am including it on my list of first year baby essentials, which must mean it’s worth every penny — and it is. I was gifted one as a shower gift and everyone says it’s a must have so I held onto it. I tried giving James it when he was still pretty little, and when he didn’t take to it, I was like, those fools, everyone says you need all this expensive baby gear, but your kid ends up playing with pots and pans. And then he started hardcore teething around 6 months and suddenly I understood the Sophie obsession. Sadly, Dakota, our goldendoodle who is no longer a puppy but doesn’t seem to get that, also shares that obsession. She couldn’t wait to destroy Sophie and it wasn’t long before she got her chance when her parents were busy changing her brother. I nearly killed her, and then I sent Andrew out to get a new one. I didn’t even bat my eyes at the price, or that it was 11pm at night and he had to drive to Target. I actually Amazon Primed two more in the event that Sophie should get eaten again. Whatever it is, when they’re in the thick of teething, that Sophie is bae. Of course right when we had James was when all the news about Sophie’s having mold inside came out so you have to be careful how you wash it (you’re really supposed to wipe it down, not soak it in soap and water or put it in one of those bottle cleaners), so that’s kind of annoying but again, it’s a small price to pay to calm down a teething baby IMO.
Honestly, we got this stroller before James was born because our friends did, and they liked it and it had really good reviews, so it was easier to just go with it than to invest tons of time comparing given everything else. Also, the price tag was slightly more reasonable than some of the other brands, and we ended up finding a barely used one from another mom, so we went for it. I was more of a marsupial mom (or is it a kangeroo mom? whatever you get the point) and carried James and Charlotte. James just tended to sleep better and I found it easier to navigate small shops of NYC and to have my hands open to carry stuff or shop etc. Plus, I loved having him snuggled up to my chest, but what I realized is that when he fell asleep on me, I couldn’t sleep too. He would wake as soon as I sat down or tried to transfer him, so I ended up having to walk around for his full nap. I didn’t totally mind because I liked the exercise and it got me out of the house, but as he got bigger, the stroller became key both to save my back and so if he fell asleep I could get stuff done while he napped. While I found this stroller could be difficult to navigate sometimes in super narrow aisles of NYC stores, I love that it converts from basinet to seat and you can face the seat toward you or out, the carseat clips in, it has great sun protection, a rain cover (very hand in NYC) and a bug cover (which I haven’t used much but could be handy upstate), it’s really comfy, has great storage, and the seat tilts for easy sleeping. We used the bassinet for James and Charlotte to sleep when they were first born and it worked great too. It’s also nice to have that one stop shop. Our nanny used it every day for years and would take James to music of gym class in it, then to lunch, park, etc. and never have to stop home, which makes it like an urban car kind of. Again, we didn’t really comparison shop, but I really like this one. I wish somehow that it had a conversion to quickly make it a jogging stroller so it was truly like a one-stop shop.
One big debate we had was whether to go with the more compact Cruz or the roomier Vista that can convert to fit two kids and even three with the kickboard. We decided because of space issues to go with the smaller Cruz. Andrew’s justification at the time was that we don’t know where we’ll be when we have two kids (or more), and we may want a totally different stroller or a newer model then. So when we found a family selling their barely-used Cruz, we decided to jump on it. Then when Charlotte was born, we did move, but I ended up wearing her a lot and then pushing James in the stroller, and then James was really big enough to ride the kickboard while I pushed Charlotte. It wasn’t until Charlotte was about six months old that we bought a double stroller for travel and longer walks etc.
Technically, some swaddling pros may not find this to be one of the must-have first year baby essentials, but I wasn’t great at swaddling. I didn’t have the patience and also James was a Houdini who would always manage to get out. Andrew was actually a swaddling ninja (which ever so slightly pissed me off that he was so much better at it than I was), but half the time James would still manage to get an arm out and then it was all unraveled from there. I loved these sleep sacks because they basically swaddle the baby for you so it makes it super easy. You have to make sure they’re the right size for them, so it’s safe but I found them to be a lifesaver. We had a lot of trouble getting James to sleep on his back in the crib or bassinet and swaddling truly was the only shot we had so these were amazing. Even if you’re a swaddling ninja, I think they’re nice to have if the grandparents are sitting or you’re lazy or just want to keep them from scratching themselves while they hang out. With Charlotte, I was too lazy to try anything else.
Our friend coined this “the circle of neglect”, and boy was this one of my all-time favorite toys. It’s enormous and took up so much space in our living room, but I didn’t care once I saw how much enjoyment James got out of bouncing in it, how much energy he burned off (great trick to use before bed), and how it allowed me not to have my eyes on him for 10 or even 20 minutes at a time. This one is worth every penny mamas both for the break it gives you and for the laughs, because watching them squeal with delight as they bounce up and down is pretty much priceless. Now I will say, Charlotte was not a huge fan of the bouncer, which is funny because she’s such a wild one now. But she also would sit quietly and play without climbing on everything in the 6 months to 1 year range. Now, she’s a total crazy lady, and I wish they made a Jumperoo for two year olds, but that’s another story…
This is one of those first year baby essentials that is debated because some parents are baby wearers and some aren’t. I will say that having the option to hold your baby and be hands free is really key, even if you are more of a stroller mom than a wearing mom. It’s also great for plane travel and when you have more than one kid, wearing the baby allows you to chase after one without worrying about the other. As I mentioned, I really carried James a lot and so this was a lifesaver. It helped us get him to nap, which was really hard for us and it allowed me to do things all over the city and have my hands free. I also really liked using it for travel — rather than having to gate check a big bulky stroller and all that stuff, I would just use the carrier to go through the airport and keep James or Charlotte strapped to me on the plane, and for the most part, it worked well. Even if you gate check, it’s nice way to hold the baby on the plane when they’re really little without having your arm go dead for however many hours. Again, I just used the one my best friend recommended. I liked it and have no complaints, but some people swear by the Ergo, saying they prefer the weight distribution and there’s the cover so you can create a dark cozy space for the baby to sleep. I do have to say that seems nice, but because the Bjorn worked well for us, I never ventured outside of it and would just use swaddle blankets if I wanted to cover James or Charlotte up while we walked/shopped/flew. I found this one was also easier on my back and worked well through both babies.
My mother in law gave us a traveling changing pad station and initially, I was like we have a changing table, why do we need that and if we’re on the go, can’t we just use the bathroom changing stations, but now I realize she was so much wiser because we use this all the time both at home and on the go. Trust, me this is one of those first year baby essentials that no one has on their lists but you need. First, so few bathrooms have changing stations and you really want to put something down in the ones that do. Second, you find yourself in the most precarious places when you need to change a diaper — I’ve used this in airports, airplanes, the car, bathroom floors, tables, you name it. It’s easy to throw in the diaper bag or bottom of the stroller and I like to keep it stocked so we always have diapers, wipe, cream in it and I don’t need to rifle through the diaper bag to find anything to change a dirty diaper. I also use it at home sometimes when I don’t feel like going to their room to change them.
I was skeptical of white noise machines initially — felt like another piece of baby equipment that we didn’t really need (kind of like wipe warmers), but this was a godsend. Another gift from the MIL, this one was a travel one that could go on the stroller, come on vacation, be hung on the crib — basically, we used everywhere to help the kids sleep and stay asleep. As I’ve mentioned, James wasn’t a good sleeper and anything that would help us get him asleep or keep him asleep was a godsend. Also, both kids slept in our room the first six months, and it was really pleasant to sleep to — there’s the white noise sound but also ocean waves and a few others.
There are some first year baby essentials that you need before baby arrives, and if you buy nothing else, you’ll need a carseat. Otherwise, they won’t let you leave the hospital. We bought this largely because it went with our stroller, and we used it with Charlotte too. I love that it fits into the stroller and it’s one system. My one complaint is that it’s heavy, but compared to others, it’s definitely not the heaviest so I think that’s one thing you just have to suck up about these carseats. I felt like it’s a great option if you have the stroller that goes with it and works really nicely for your first year. We found we did lots of car rides, whether we were going upstate, visiting people, or making up an excuse to just get out of the house for awhile, and having a really good carseat that we could also hook into the stroller or easily carry around and plop down at a restaurant or wherever we were was also nice. I think it’s pretty comfy too because James and Charlotte almost always fell asleep in it and there have been times where we’ve brought them into the house sleeping and they’ve ended up napping in it for hours in it, which I know you’re not supposed to do, but as long as you’re keeping an eye out and it works, I didn’t dare to wake the sleeping baby.
Ok I didn’t have this with either baby, but it’s something I would now add to my list, and probably use instead of the UppaBaby Mesa carseat and stroller. With that said, the baby will grow out of it between 6-9 months and then you need another carseat and stroller, so just something to keep in mind. But every mom raves about how amazing it is to have a carseat that literally unfolds into a stroller, and I imagine it’s a lifesaver for travel. When we travel and have to bring carseats and strollers, it’s so much, so I would splurge on this just to avoid that nuisance alone, and it makes it easier to pack up and travel for trips to the grocery store, mall, etc.
A lot of moms swear by this and love this for placing your baby anywhere. I’m not sure that it’s necessary, but I did find it helpful for placing Charlotte anywhere around the house while I was doing stuff for the first few months, so I would definitely add to your registry. You can also just stick the baby in a bouncer or bassinet though if you are trying to limit how much you get.
Tummy time is a big part of those first few months, so I definitely would recommend a play mat you can use to engage your baby during tummy time. Neither of my kiddos were huge fans of this exercise, so I found a play mat that they could engage with and later play on really helped. I love this one by Lovevery because it’s literally designed to help with all your child’s milestones, from teething to batting to touch and so much more. It’s like a built-in learning station for their first several months.