Recently, a friend of mine who is pregnant for the first time (yay!) asked if I had any tips on what kind of baby STUFF I couldn’t live without when my littles were littler. I’ve been asked this question a few times, probably because I gave birth to three boys in less than four years and have lived in three different houses since we started having kids. We’ve had a lot of baby stuff pass through our doors, but there are only about twenty things I would not want to do new parenthood without.
Here they are…
1. Ergo Baby Carrier – this thing is a back saver. I’ve tried and liked a lot of different carriers, but this one is my favorite for quality, durability, and ease of use. I’ve hiked miles of the Tetons, the rim of the Grand Canyon, and my local Target with this thing on, without so much as one shoulder kink. One of my favorite parts is the snap-on hood to secure the child’s head when he/she falls asleep, and to give a bit of protection from the elements as well.
Here’s my 2 and 1/2 year old, 35 pound son snoozing comfortable on Daddy’s back on a Kitch-iti-kipi adventure this past August.
2. Bath sponge – Trust me, you don’t want the giant plastic molded tub that takes up three quarters of your apartment bathroom. Just get this nifty machine-washable sponge that works in the sink or in the tub, and hooks on the shower head to drip dry.
3. Travel crib – We have a Graco Pack n’ Play that we like, but my mom has a Baby Bjorn that’s been great too. Aside from personal preferences on bells and whistles, make sure it is EASY to collapse and store.
4. Velcro swaddler blankets – Who knew how much better my babies would sleep when wrapped like adorable little burritos? No, seriously though, every single one of my boys loved being swaddled, and these wraps were way harder for them to wriggle out of than a stand-alone blanket.
5. Muslin blankets – that being said, you still have to have blankets. We have a large stash of Aden & Anais blankets that have served as swaddle blankets, sun and bug shades, nursing covers, summer bedding, loveys, superhero capes, and um, disguises.
They wash beautifully, and come in dozens of choices. This green apple one is my favorite.
Man, to squeeze those cheeks just one more time…
6. White noise – It works, people. When I turned on the “rain,” my kids eyelids drooped immediately. Magic.
Again, there are loads of options. We have a clock radio machine with sounds and a simple white noise machine from a second-hand shop that has hung in there for decades. Turn your radio to static or crank up a fan for white noise on the cheap.
7. Bouncy Chair – This was one of our most-used pieces of baby equipment. It is light-weight and can easily be carted from room to room or to grandma’s house. I can still see my Reed kicking his little foot and getting his bounce on! Bonus if the chair has an overhead toy bar for babes who are learning to reach.
Here’s Miles in our simple version at the campground beach.
8. Tummy time mat – Ohhh, the dreaded tummy time. Most kids despise it, but you gotta do it or you feel like dirt when they ask you at the doctor’s office, right, mamas?
Tummy time was somewhat more bearable for our kids with a brightly colored mat. Ours liked the high contrast fabric mat with dangling toys and an overhead mirror.
9. Happiest Baby on the Block – When I was a new mom, I read way too many parenting books, magazines, pamphlets, and blogs. I was a paranoid, germaphobic, vaccine-fearing freak. But I’m telling you, the one piece of propaganda that saved all of our lives was a DVD called The Happiest Baby on the Block.
Cheeseball title. Solid gold information.
Just watch it. The five S’s will make those first months go so smoothly that you may even find time to make dinner. (Or at least call Jimmy John’s.)
If you’re nursing, you need a few extras to keep things, uh, flowing…
10. Breast Pump – Ladies, this is not the place to skimp. If you’re going to watch the girls be stretched two inches down a translucent plastic cylinder, there’d better at least be a payoff. Invest in a nice Medela pump. Mine extracted somewhere around three or so billion ounces of milk with ne’er a stall or a hiccup.
You won’t be let down. (Ba-dom chhh!)
11. Breastfeeding Book – The best breastfeeding book I’ve come across is the one put out by LaLeche League (pretty much the lactation gurus of the universe). This manual was invaluable. It saved me from a lot of pain and tears and the dreaded mastitis (shudder).
Plus, who wouldn’t want to have a book sitting around on their table called The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding?
No, I’m not head-bobbing in the rocker at the crack of dawn, I’m refining my womanly art, thank-you-very-much…
12. Nursing cover – Many women are comfortable nursing openly, but if you’re a gal who prefers to keep covered, I’d recommend a nursing cover like a Hooter Hider with an adjustable piece of fabric that loops behind your neck so the baby isn’t continually pulling the cloth off of you and totally defeating your attempts to keep things under wraps.
13. Nursing pillow – These pillows not only boost baby up to the right height for nursing, they switch-hit as stylish meditation cushions. Or, um, hats.
That’s our hilarious friend, Eric.
Anyway, the Boppy worked great for me (I had one on all three floors of my house), but there are lots of brands out there. One friend of mine loved the My Brest Friend pillow, but I just couldn’t get past the name…
I mean seriously, I’m gonna sit with My Brest Friend beneath my Hooter Hider and practice my womanly art of breastfeeding? Woe, to dignity.
14. Cloth nursing pads – If that scenario wasn’t squirmy enough, let’s add in leakage! Most breastfeeding moms leak to some degree. I highly recommend purchasing some nice soft, washable cotton nursing pads rather than using the disposable ones that feel like you have maxi pads stuck inside your bra. It’s the least you can do for your hard-working parts.
15. Nursing tanks – Simply brilliant. I wore them every single day for years. When you pull your outer shirt up for access, you still have fabric covering your midsection. Most of them have a bit of built-in to keep things (somewhat) supported.
Alright, we know some folks go way overboard on this one. What does a baby really need to play with? Something shiny. Something to bang. Something to squeak. There you have it.
No really though, there were a couple toys that were consistently loved, but for the most part, my kids wanted every single thing they weren’t supposed to have. So if you want them to play with any of these next three, place them barely out of reach or in the zip-tied cabinet with the skull and crossbones stenciled on the front.
16. Sophie the Giraffe – Sophie is the perfect size, texture, and squeakiness for little hands. She’s made from natural rubber and food-grade color. All three of my boys loved playing with her and teething on her.
But be warned– I’m pretty sure my dog would have teethed on her too, given the chance. And this ain’t your dollar store rubber chicken…
17. Haba Sunni toy – It’s cute. It slips in a diaper bag. It’s colored with safe dyes. It has a happy little bell. It was the perfect prop for all my jingles about the sun. Ah geez, now I’m tearing up a little bit. Moving on.
18. A rattle – I paid a few bucks for this thing and it survived three boys. That should be enough.
19. Books – I am a huge book freak (like I may have a problem…), so it’s not easy to keep this one short, but if you only have TWO books in your baby library, I would recommend one lively, sing-songy book that teaches about rhythm and rhyme, like Sandra Boynton’s Barnyard Dance…
…and one great night-time book that has quiet, repetitive poetic beauty, like Goodnight Moon (Brown/Hurd).
There are millions of books to chose from, but it’s up to parents to choose books that teach children not only about the world, but about the delightful music of language. Choose books that sound good to read!
20. Music – Just like with books, there is some horrible kids’ music out there. Rather than torturing yourself with music that makes you cringe, choose quality music that you enjoy listening to as well.
Some calm favorites at our house are Elizabeth Mitchell, Rockabye Baby Lullaby Renditions of U2, Owen Richards, and Baby’s First Hymns.
We’re into folk music here, so when we want something peppier, we’ll play Pete Seeger, Woodie Guthrie, Dan Zanes, or one of these great Smithsonian Folkways compilations.
Who says kids need to listen to kid music? As long as the lyrics are appropriate, children can and should be exposed to a variety of styles when developing their musical tastes.
(I’m sure this is why my dad exposed me to The Who, Celine Dion, Bob Seger, and Gloria Estefan. Wuh. Talk about eclectic taste.)
So that’s my list of must-haves — the most-used, most-appreciated items of gear, nursing necessities, toys, and media.
What’s on your list, gals? What are the tried-and-trues you can’t (or wouldn’t want to) mother without?
If you enjoyed this post, read more personal essay here.
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