When I was expecting James and started prepping for his arrival, I was beyond overwhelmed by all the options for EVERYTHING, from bottles to bouncer, 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 don’t have the space and b) aAnd this is going to sound terrible to any non-dog peeps out there (but peeps who consider their fur baby their baby), 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. 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 live in an apartment in the city but with in laws who live in a big house with a big basement not too far, we store gear at their house and swap new in for old as he grows. We’re hoping to have more kids so we want to save whaT he grows out of for the next one but otherwise, I would totally sell it or give to friends, which we’ve also done with some that we just found wasn’t helpful. Again, this is why borrowing or buying second hand is a great option imo.
3. Accumulate over time. If you can, rather than buying a million things before the baby is born and you 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 stuff you need fast without leaving your pajama, no-shower, zombie like zone that is the first few weeks.
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, but when you find what works, it can be life-changing and worth every penny even if it only works for a week. If it gives you two more hours of sleep or keeps your baby entertained for 15 minutes so you can shower, it’s 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 saved my life, 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 James’ first year, 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 us, 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 our space, but also because unlike most of the other options, it doesn’t look like a kid’s high chair but fits pretty seamlessly with our 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 even if we move to a bigger space, we’ll use it, especially because 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 does love it. I think it’s because it’s really comfy and big and he also likes being higher up, so if you have the space, it’s worth considering and our hope is that when we buy a house, we could use it there, but for now, he eats like a king every time he’s at Mimi and Papa’s. 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 James likes 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 our apartment.
A $30 teether, seriously? you ask. Or at least that’s what I asked, 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. But 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 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. Now that James is one, he no longer is really into Sophie. He’s actually been going through a teething stage recently, but she hasn’t been comforting him, so it might be a short-lived thing for the first teeth. But 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. But considering that they’re not cheap, would be all ears to hear if anyone else has found something better.
Honestly, we got this stroller 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. He 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 (it was the only exercise I’ve really done since he’s been born) and it got me out of the house, but as he’s gotten bigger, it’s just a lot of weight so it hurts my back and I realized that when he falls asleep in the stroller, I can then come home and nap or more likely, get shit done. While I find this stroller can 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 for James, has great storage, and the seat tilts for easy sleeping. We used the bassinet for James to sleep for awhile when he was first born and it worked great too. It’s also nice to have that one stop shop. Our nanny uses it every day and will 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 onestop shop. I’ve been thinking of getting one, but don’t really want to buy another stroller/where would we put it, so my request to Uppababy is to figure out how to make a stroller like this but that can also be used for jogging. 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 is that we don’t know where we’ll be in when we have two kids (or more), we may want a totally different stroller or a newer model then, and then when we found a family selling their barely-used Cruz, we decided to jump on it. Right now, we’re really happy with it and it fits nicely in our apartment (we never fold it up), but I’ll let you know if we change our minds when our family expands. My thought right now is that since I used the carrier so much with James, I’ll probably do that with the next kid and then push James, which I see a lot of parents in the nabe do, but we’ll see. I say this now, and of course, when actually faced with the situation, I may wish I had gotten the double to start with. With that said, my friend said it doesn’t take long before the bigger kid grows out of the Vista second seat and then you have to get a new double stroller anyway so there’s that.
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.
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 he 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.
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 him 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 up while we walked/shopped/flew.
I know this is totally not kosher, but we had the hardest time getting James to sleep on his back in the crib or bassinet as I mentioned (which we think was acid reflux), and the rock n play was our lifesaver. People said it would be, but it honestly was. He did many naps in there and for awhile slept in there at night. We tried everything we could to get him to sleep in various types of cribs and bassinets flat, but for a period this was the only thing that worked and we capitulated because we needed sleep so we could take care of him and he needed sleep so he could grow. It was also nice to put him in it while I was getting dressed or doing dishes, and he’d stay and hang out and be content. We actually bought another because we forgot to bring it with us upstate for a weekend and we barely lasted 5 hours before we hunted one down at a Walmart 30 minutes away. This is my favorite shower gift to give too because there really isn’t a parent I”ve met who hasn’t loved this. We had a few different types of bouncy chairs and swings we inherited by Graco, Mamaroo, etc. etc. and this was really the only one that worked for us and consistently for months. Can’t say enough good things about it.
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 him. I also use it at home sometimes when I don’t feel like going to his room to change him.
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 rock n play or crib — basically, we used everywhere to help him 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, James 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’re still using it though we need to get a new carseat. He still fits the weight limit but he’s long for it and it’s heavy to carry. I love that it fits into the stroller and it’s one system. My complaints would be that James didn’t really fit into it at first, so we needed an insert and I felt like he couldn’t really get comfy in it, but he was small to start, and once he grew a bit it was great. My other 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 almost always falls asleep in it and there have been times where we’ve brought him into the house and he’s ended up sleeping for hours in it.