I was among the first of my friends to have kids, which meant navigating the baby gear scene somewhat blindly. I walked through the aisles of Babies ‘R’ Us and Buy Buy Baby scanning whatever seemed useful, but not having much product advice beyond what my mom found useful 25 years ago. It wasn’t until I joined a playgroup of other new twin moms and took some parenting classes at the 92nd Street Y that I could chat about and see park blankets, pacifiers and push toys in action.
Raising kids inevitably means acquiring stuff. When you live in a two-bedroom apartment, in New York City space is at a premium. If something is no longer useful, I happily toss it or pass it along to a friend. I’ve compiled a list of sanity-saving gear for the first five years. These 50 products are worth the precious square footage they take up. If only I knew about them when registering!
Essentials for Sleep
- Summer Infant SwaddleMes and Halo SleepSacks: Velcro makes for a great “baby burrito.” I find that swaddled babies sleep longer because their flailing arms don’t startle baby awake. Thanks, Dr. Harvey Karp and The Happiest Baby on the Block!
- MAM pacifiers and clips: Because there is no “upside-down,” baby can more easily pop these pacifiers back in. Glow-in-the-dark versions are brilliant. Clip a pacifier to baby’s car seat and carrier so you don’t have to fumble to find it.
- Brookstone sound machine: My baby lets out a contented, sleepy sigh when she hears that rumble.
- Blankets and Beyond security blanket animals: Introduce a lovey to your baby that you can replace if lost. Take a picture of all lovies with their labels visible to simplify your hunt for a replacement later on.
- Carter’s Zip-Up Sleep & Play: Because who wants to search for snaps during the 3 a.m. diaper change?
Essentials for Food
- Medela bottles: I pumped right into these and used them to feed my twins. The tops have just the nipple and a ring. Less parts = less dishes.
- Nursing pillows: Double Blessings for twins, Boppy for singletons. These double as tummy time supports and lounge chairs.
- Medela Easy Expression Bustier: Hands-free pump bra so you can relax, be productive, or just imagine you’re Madonna while pumping.
- Tovolo silicone ice cube tray: Freeze homemade baby food purees. Pop out and store frozen cubes in Ziplocs. Defrost a cube or two for a quick meal.
- Green Sprouts waterproof bibs: Rinse off and hang to dry for the next meal.
- Fisher-Price SpaceSaver high chair and portable booster seat: These buckle onto regular adult chairs. The high chair cover easily snaps off to machine wash. Portable option is useful for long trips or dinner at a friend’s house.
- Munchkin SureGrip straw cups: We used these to transition off milk bottles at a year and still use them at 5 years.
- Munchkin Snack Catcher: Minimize spills and encourage independence.
- The First Years Take & Toss plastic bowls, sippy cups, straw cups, and divided plastic plates: We use these daily for cereal, water, smoothies and meals. Avoid the dreaded, “Mom! My food is touching!”
- Contigo water bottles: My favorite yet in the battle against leaks.
- Beech-Nut fruit/veggie purees in disposable pouches: I use these on-the-go snacks to keep my baby awake in the stroller while rushing home for a nap. They are also good for incorporating vegetables that baby would spit out if served straight up.
- OXO Tot dishwasher basket and drying rack: For the abundance of bottles, sippy cups, pacifiers, pump parts, straws and small accessories that are now part of your life.
- IKEA adjustable-height toddler table and chairs: Great for meals and activities as kids grow.
Essentials for Travel
- Lillebaby Nordic carrier: Great for naps on-the-go and for boarding airplanes with pre-walkers.
- Baby Jogger City Select double stroller: As a city family, our stroller acts as a car. The sturdy wheels can handle snow, rocks, curbs and stairs. We’ve used various combinations and directions of car seats, stroller seats and a glider board.
- Summer Infant 3D Lite: This lightweight umbrella stroller folds easily as we hop on the bus.
- Graco Snap N Go stroller frame: The infant car seat easily clicks in, which is great for those first few months before baby can sit up in a regular stroller seat.
- Graco Nautilus 65 LX 3-in-1 Harness Booster: This car seat transforms into two stages of booster seats for your growing child. My kids love to store their treasures in the cup holder and side cubbies.
- JJ Cole BundleMe stroller bunting: Keeps baby cozy with just a light jacket. I wish I could crawl into this “stroller sleeping bag” on blustery mornings!
- Aden + Anais muslin blanket/nursing cover: An airy cover-up for babies who are nursing or sleeping in a carrier or stroller.
- PackIt freezable lunch box: Built-in ice packs save me a step on busy mornings.
- Graco Pack N Play: Sets up in a minute. The basic version is affordable enough to keep one at each grandparent’s.
- Usborne wipe-clean activity books: Keep kids busy on airplanes and cars and while waiting at the doctor’s office or restaurants.
Essentials for Health and Safety
- DenTek Kids floss picks: These plus power toothbrushes and fluoride toothpaste are my best friends in the fight against cavities.
- Summer Infant Ultimate Crib Sheet: This pad snaps to crib slats for easy changing, so there’s no need to hoist up the mattress. This is especially helpful when kids get sick or wet the bed at night. The three layers serve as a sheet, absorbent mattress pad, and waterproof pad.
- Crib that converts to a toddler bed with side rail: Encourage independence, save your back and prevent falls. This setup can easily last for four years.
- Safety 1st Finger Pinch Guard: Having these on my doors has saved us from many tears! Easily removable.
- Puddle Jumpers: Life jackets that let kids practice their swimming strokes.
Diapering and Potty Essentials
- Walmart Parent’s Choice diapers: Best deal out there. Size 1s are less than 10 cents each! With a wetness indicator strip, there’s no guessing whether baby needs a change.
- Babies ‘R’ Us disposable changing pads: These are especially helpful when public restrooms don’t have changing tables and who knows what’s on the floor. I keep one on my changing table at home in case of a blow-out.
- Aquaphor Healing Ointment: Skin protectant for diaper rash, drool rash, chapped lips, irritated skin and minor cuts.
- Playtex Diaper Genie: I spent an entire year with three kids in diapers. Tossing diapers in the outdoor trash just wasn’t going to happen and this was great at locking away odors.
- Babies ‘R’ Us diaper booster pads: Add absorbency to nighttime diapers.
- Baby Bjorn Potty Chair: With my twins, it was useful for each to have his own potty so we could have “potty parties” together. My third went right for the regular toilet seat with the help of a step stool.
Essentials for Play
- Fisher-Price Rainforest Bouncer: A great place to set baby down during your speed shower.
- Infantino Twist and Fold Activity Gym and Play Mat: This easily collapses to store under a couch.
- Lamaze toys: These colorful, textured toys clip onto car seats and strollers so they don’t fall overboard like our Sophie La Girafe did.
- Fisher-Price Jumperoo: Gives baby a new vantage point and works the leg muscles.
- Land’s End and KEEN water shoes: Sturdy treads prevent playground wipe-outs during sprinkler season.
- Micro Kickboard Mini Scooters: Three wheels help new balancers. A solution for longer walks as you transition out of the stroller.
- JJ Cole Outdoor Mat: This water-resistant blanket folds compactly into its own bag and is perfect for the park or beach.
Essentials for School
- Skip Hop Zoo backpacks: The smallest doubles as a safety harness. The regular size works well for preschool.
- Pottery Barn whiteboard calendar: Home base for coordinating school events, playgroups, playdates, birthday parties, babysitters, date nights, Sunday school volunteering, work commitments, doctor’s appointments, vacations, visitors and community events for our family of six.
- Plastic homework folders: Protect papers from that inevitable water bottle spill.
- Inchbug labels: Dishwasher- and washing machine-safe adhesive name labels. Perfect for labeling clothes, backpacks, folders, water bottles, lunchboxes and shoes. Reusable Orbit Labels are great too.
Expecting moms: I hope you’ll use this as a registry cheat sheet. New moms: I hope this will save you time as you weed through the gazillion products in the baby gear industry. Veteran moms: Thanks for chatting up your gear with me. Let me guess, did you just nod your head as you checked off all of these beloved items stocked in your own home?