Best Ever Baby Gear Guide

Disclaimer: I understand that parenting takes on many shapes and sizes. Breastfeeding or bottle-feeding, independent sleeping or co-sleeping, strolling or baby-wearing, cloth diapers or disposables. The list could go on.

As the mother of four children, I also understand that every child is different, therefore what you might need for one can completely change with another.

But no matter what kind of parent you ultimately become and no matter what kind of baby you end up having, when you are doing it for the first time, the sheer amount of stuff is just plain overwhelming. This list is an attempt to help those first-time parents weed through the necessary stuff versus the unnecessary stuff.

Please keep in mind that these opinions appeal to a low-maintenance, practical, time-saving, and budget-friendly approach to parenting. I'm a woman who likes comfort and convenience but I don't want baby crap to overwhelm my house. It turns out, you can have both.

Biggest First-Time Mom Mistakes

In many ways, that first year of parenting made me feel like I was back in junior high, or more accurately, a freshman in college again. Remember the first time you had to buy books for class? I don't know about you, but I printed off the recommended list (right there in the bookstore) and bought everything on it. My grand total came to something like $494 dollars and I was only taking like six classes.

I bought everything my professors recommended and I bought many of them brand new. I didn't want someone else's highlighting. I didn't want crinkled pages. I wanted to make straight A's! I wanted my college experience to be perfect!

It didn't take me long to learn that someone else's highlighting might save me hours of time reading and note-taking. It also didn't take me long to learn that "recommended" was not the same thing as "necessary," and even sometimes "necessary" wasn't actually necessary.

The same is true for baby stuff. And I know I'm not the only one. I cannot count the number of times I've found myself in a room full of seasoned mothers all laughing about the crazy things we made important in that first year with that first child. A few lessons in the way of time and sanity saving we all thankfully learned:

  1. Sanitation and cleanliness are highly overrated. Let's face it, germs are everywhere, kids are going to get dirty, and you can't save them from everything. You might not actually need three spares of any given item in your diaper bag. Seasoned moms eventually succumb to the belief that early exposure to germs builds immunity for the school years.
  2. Used stuff isn't always junk. Craigslist, garage sales, consignment sales, and friends with older kids are our best friends. Used baby gear is very often as good as new baby gear, and $20 is a pretty good price to pay for just about anything made out of plastic, even if it requires batteries.
  3. The idea that you can never be "too prepared" is actually a lie. Every mother in the entire universe has found herself in the car, at the grocery store, at church, or an elementary school parent conference covered in throw up, poop, or maybe both - without a change of clothes. And we all survived. It turns out, even if you had a trunk full of spare clothes and a garden hose attachment for your cigarette lighter, you are just going to want to go straight home no matter where you are. Seasoned moms are ditching the big diaper bags and streamlining life on the go with less stress and more time on their hands.
  4. Some expensive things actually are worth the price, especially if you plan to have more than one child. Gender-neutral is the name of the game when it comes to those items you hope will last a decade, and many of them will. You will buy and break at least eight $9 umbrella strollers but if you splurge on that super nice one at Target you won't regret it for a single day.

Useless (but Popular) Baby Gear

  • The Diaper Genie - I'm not above disposable diapers but I am disheartened by the idea of individually sausaging each one into its own plastic take-home bag. The walk from the changing table to the garbage in the garage just isn't that far. A good diaper pail in a strategic location will have the exact same effect as the Diaper Genie with a far better carbon footprint.
  • Baby bath tub - these things are awesome exactly two times. That was how long it took me to realize the prep- and take-down time could have been spent sleeping, or doing just about anything else.
  • Wipes warmer - it turns out none of my kids are bothered by a room temperature wipe.
  • Bottle warmer - unless you are heating bottles for more than one kid at a time, a glass measuring cup in the sink with really hot tap water accomplishes the exact same thing and takes up virtually no extra space in your kitchen.
  • Pacifier sanitizer for the diaper bag - how is this even a thing?
  • Tummy time mats - It is easy to forget that when the world is brand new, nearly everything is entertaining, to include the way sunlight moves across a carpeted floor. Tummy time mats are cool, but they take up tons of space, and have a floor life of less than three months before your child has moved on to bigger better things, like the tupperware drawer.
  • Grocery store cart protectors - I realized pretty quickly that kids in grocery stores are like ticking time bombs. Any seconds added to this chore at the beginning could be critical by the end.
  • Restaurant high chair protectors - they look really cute, but by the time my kids were big enough to sit up at the table in a restaurant they were also big enough to drink the bathwater they were simultaneously peeing in. On the relative germ scale, the public high chair just doesn't seem so dirty anymore.
  • Shoes for babies under 9 months - totally useless but totally cute and totally worth the 90 seconds they stay on. Go ahead and use them, just have your camera ready, and for the rest of the day, keep your expectations really low.
  • Anything claiming it cures colic - if you have a colicky baby, one that spits up everything that goes in and then some, or one that requires the $90 canister of formula, skip the frills, gimmicks, and over the counter "cures." Just know that there are hundreds of thousands of moms who have suffered and will suffer through this, just like you. Find them. Support each other. It does eventually go away on its own.
  • Parenting books (all) - I don't know where to even start on this one. There's no such thing as universal solutions when it comes to parenting. You will figure things out. I find that the best moms I know tend to be the ones who skip the books and read their babies, maybe with a glass of wine in the other hand.
  • Diaper bags the size of airplane carry-on luggage - my solution to this has become a plastic shoebox in my trunk that holds extra diapers, wipes, snacks, and a seasonal change of clothes. I've only dipped into it a handful of times with all of my kids, but the peace of mind it brings saved me when I was one step away from investing in a diaper bag with wheels.

Baby Gear that Sounds Useless but is Actually Practical

  • Baby mirror for the car - you can see them and they can see themselves. Forget about the texting and driving distraction, try playing "What's that noise?" or "What's that smell?" or "Why are you upset?" with a rear-facing infant in the seat behind you. Anything that helps alleviate the mystery is a win in my book.

  • Car seat protectors - the first time you remove your entire carseat (and the base) you will understand this one. To me, this was a $15 investment in pure genius.

  • Baby sound machine - we used fans for several years in our baby's rooms until it became virtually impossible to find one that actually makes any noise. It turns out, sound machines are smaller, last longer, portable, and equally effective when it comes to white noise, which is one of my all-time most effective sleep solutions for children.

  • Bouncy seat - also called "bouncers," these wire and canvas chairs are so lightweight they are easy to move into any room; gets baby up off the floor when he or she is still too young to sit up alone. They are easy to find used but also pretty cheap to buy brand new.

  • Baby recliner for bathtub - this is like the waterproof version of the bouncy seat. It keeps baby propped up in the tub and when you are done it folds and hangs on the shower wall to drip dry.

  • $50+ umbrella stroller - the longer handles alone were reason for me to invest in a quality umbrella stroller, but seriously, the durability combined with the ease and relative compactness makes this my most-used stroller.

Maybe Practical, Maybe Useless

  • Receiving/swaddling blankets - for me this very much depended on the season in which my baby was born. Winter babies tended to use more blankets. But that said, some of my babies loved to be swaddled, others did not. Some of my babies were excellent sleepers with or without a swaddle. One of my babies used those stupid swaddle sacks that velcro all together and create a tiny baby burrito.
  • Burp cloths and newborn bibs - we couldn't seem to ever have enough burp cloths nor bibs with our first child. Then I had three more kids and never used them again.
  • Pacifiers - literal sanity savers if your baby is into them. Completely useless if they are not.
  • Baby monitors - I have gone every direction with the baby monitor need, from not needing nor using one at all, to wanting one with video capabilities, to finally downloading the Baby Monitor App on my phone. This is one item I'd say it all depends on your preference and your needs, and you can probably figure it out after the baby is born.
  • Expensive travel system (car seat + stroller) - My first child was the only one who used the carseat + stroller travel system. I took to baby wearing with all kids after her and never removed the infant carseat from the car again. If you aren't weird about reusing someone else's carseat (I'm not) you can often find them used but in good condition and still well within their expiration dates for a fraction of the cost brand new. In fact, many people can't even sell them, and have taken to just giving them away.
  • Bottles - if you choose to breastfeed you might find that bottles are wholly unnecessary, or the bane of your feeding existence, or no big deal at all. Finding the right bottle could be as easy as using the free ones that came in the gift bag from the hospital, or trying new nipples weekly until you score the match that your baby decides is right. I say: don't stock up on anything until you see what works.
  • Newborn sized diapers - all my babies were big. We didn't even get through the entire pack of diapers from the hospital before we were moving up to size 1. If you want to stock up on diapers, either get a range of sizes, or just go with size 1. It is much easier to cinch a slightly too big diaper than stretch a slightly too small diaper.
  • Baby toys - if you get them as gifts, hang on to them, but this is one area I choose not to spend any money on. Even if you don't register for any, you will get tons as gifts and hand-me-downs, and you never really know what your baby is going to end up bonding with. You might have a baby that is perfectly happy shaking and sucking on some metal measuring spoons.

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