baby items you (i) actually need :: the first year

Last month, the food blog Eater published a post about editor Andra Zeppelin’s “Personal Denver 38.” For each city covered by Eater, there’s a list of the “Essential 38 Restaurants.” This is my go-to resource for where to eat. But I loved the idea to feature people’s personal lists, because everyone is a bit different. Different food preferences, different neighborhoods, different lifestyles.

The same is definitely true for baby items. (I can tie any topic back to food, apparently.) There are so, SO, many lists out there about the “essential” baby items. But what that person needs isn’t necessarily what I need. And what I need is not exactly what you need. Someone in a city needs different things than someone who lives in the country or the suburbs. You get my point; there are a few universals, but most baby stuff is a matter of choice depending on your lifestyle, parenting preferences, and more.

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Before Cameron was born, I spent a lot of time thinking about what we’d actually need for him and whether or not we needed anything new. I’ve written about some of my thoughts regarding all the stuff marketed to parents; all the stuff we’re made to think we need to successfully raise our children. I struggle with this. A part of me strives to be minimalist, but I also feel an urge to have the “right” stuff to make my life “easier.” Carefully selecting quality, useful items can indeed add to your life. But I’ve come to realize that too many material things makes me feel overwhelmed. It can be hard for me to focus on what really matters when the living room is a cluttered mess.

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When Willa was a baby, I discovered we actually didn’t need anywhere near as much stuff as I’d thought we would. I was shocked to realize how little we used a stroller. People always talk about how expensive kids are, but for the first several months of her life, I felt like she didn’t cost us anything!

Before she was born I’d tried to take a “less is more” approach to my registry, but we still somehow ended up with way too much stuff. We’ve since gotten rid of some of those things, but we’ve held on to most and continue to use them since we already have them. And I’ve of course bought new things. But. If I could go back in time and only buy or ask for the stuff that’s absolutely a necessity, here’s what I’d recommend to my former self:

Convertible car seat. Unless you are lucky enough to live in New York City, you probably drive sometimes. And if you’re going to drive with your baby, your baby needs a car seat. Your baby does not, however, need an infant seat. The car seat companies just want you to think that they do. That way, you’ll eventually buy another car seat when your baby outgrows the infant seat. I didn’t realize this before Willa was born, but there are lots of “all-in-one” car seats on the market. Meaning, one car seat that you use from birth until they no longer need a seat or booster of any kind. We’re a fan of the Diono Radian because it’s one of the narrowest on the market and also because it folds flat for travel. (It is not, however, the lightest!)

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Prefold cloth diapers. Babies need diapers. (Well, actually, you could go the Elimination Communication route, but that is a whole other topic that we don’t need to get into here.) I’m a fan of cloth diapers primarily for economic reasons. There are lots of debates about whether or not they’re better for the environment than disposables (I’m inclined to think they are), but it’s impossible to debate the fact that you save money by using cloth. The first time around I went with All-in-One cloth diapers because they seemed easiest, but experience has made me realize that prefolds and covers are a better bet. If one or the other gets worn out, you can replace them for relatively cheap, and most adjust small enough that you can use them from day one. I highly recommend econobum, but if you have a bit more of a budget, the Flip “diaper system” is awesome (so glad Alli recommended them to me!). And be sure to get some diaper cream too, as well as bamboo liners so you don’t ruin your cloth diapers with the cream (these are also good if you’re squeamish about poop and want it to be thrown into the toilet easily). Oh and make sure you have a diaper-friendly detergent. I love Nellie’s. You need so little that I only went through two bags in the 2.5 years Willa was in diapers. See, economical!

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Cloth wipes. I use these for everything. Diaper changes. Runny noses. Spit up. Ice cream hands. I love these particular ones because they are soft and have held up well after hundreds (thousands?) of washes.

Baby carrier. I read somewhere recently that baby carriers aren’t just for attachment parents, they’re for parents who like to get sh*t done. You can either hold your baby and get nothing done, or you can wear your baby and get stuff done. Especially when you have a toddler doing the most dangerous thing feasible at the playground on your first outing with the new baby. You need a carrier. Also, babies are tiny. They like to be held close. (Ok, maybe I am a bit attachment-y.) I have two favorites: the Solly wrap and an Ergo. Get both. (The Beco is a close 2nd to the Ergo, but if you only get one the Ergo is a better choice because it’s good for toddler carrying too.)

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Bloom Alma Mini Urban CribThe American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that babies sleep in their parents’ room for the first 6 months. With both kids, we’ve had them in a Pack-n-Play in our room and then we’ve moved them into a crib in their own room. However, during those first months I always stress about where they should be napping and if I’m providing continuity (or does it even matter?). If I had to do it all over again, I’d buy one of these so I could keep it in our room at night and wheel it down the hall or wherever for naps etc. Folded up it’s approximately the same size as a playard anyway, and much prettier. Not to mention it looks much more comfortable.

Bottle(s). Nothing drives me more crazy on a wedding or baby registry than “sets.” Knife sets. Sets of pots and pans. It’s a racket! No one needs both a 6″ and a 8″ chef’s knife. But anyway. Bottles. Here’s the thing about bottles: your baby can’t drink out of more than one at a time, right? And, once emptied, they shouldn’t be left sitting for long or the milk residue will grow bacteria (see useful breastmilk storage/use guidelines here). So. You might need a few bottles. But you don’t need 10. And if you’re not going back to work full-time, you probably only need one. Ok fine, two.

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Blankets etc. Similar to bottles, you do need blankets, but probably not 15. I have 8 of these aden + anais ones and it’s way more than enough. I could get by with just 4. Make sure you read the material content of what you get though, because aden + anais blankets are now sold at Target and other stores and they’re not all created equal. Get the real deal ones. I also recommend sleep sacks. You don’t want to skimp in the sleep department.You can swaddle with blankets, but at 2am when you’re sleep-deprived the velcro version is pretty fantastic. When you baby gets a bit older, this one is awesome because it can be used as a swaddle or not, depending on what they like.

Clothing. Your baby needs clothes. But they grow super fast in the first year and you don’t need the added stress of making sure he wears all his cute 3 month sized outfits in one week. You’ll likely get plenty of clothes as gifts, but if you need more, Goodwill is the bomb. And I love thredUp too. Also of note: sets of white onesies seem to be ubiquitous, but I have no clue why. A pooping baby and a white wardrobe? Stock up on dark-colored basics, like these.

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Highchair. I believe it’s super important to include babies with you at the table for meals, and to do this you definitely need a highchair. (Ok, you can have them sit in your lap, and if your baby will sit with you and let you eat your food, I am insanely jealous. Mine won’t. They need straps.) I like chairs that don’t have trays, so you can put your baby at the table with everyone else. Which exact chair you get depends on your table/eating situation, but it’s hard to go wrong with the Stokke Tripp Trapp. It resells on Craigslist for almost retail because it’s that awesome. I also love Phil&Ted’s chairs. We have this one, which was discontinued, but their newer model looks fantastic, and Inglesina makes a good one too. Great for counters, travel, restaurants, etc. I also like the totseat for travel.

Eating accessories. In my limited experience, babies do need a few items in addition to their highchair to help facilitate meals. I do, however, try to limit how much plastic we bring into our lives and baby eating items involve a lot of plastic. Whenever I buy new things I try to stop and really think about if it has to be made of plastic. A place mat? Yes. A place mat is a good idea, especially if you have a table that could be damaged by excess crumbs and food scraps. I’m a big fan of this one because it sticks to any surface (several of them have suction cups which don’t work on wood or any porous counter/table). We don’t, however, have much by way of plastic dishes or utensils. Willa loves using the espresso spoons that came with our flatware, and I also have some wooden spoons that we use a lot. Around the house I give her food on small plates we already own. However, when she was first started eating I did buy one plastic plate and one plastic bowl from Goodwill. And don’t get me started on sippy cups…I’m a big fan of regular glasses…but I did really liked this cup as her first sippy (although beware: it leaks!), and I’m hoping my bottle-hater will take to it in a couple of months. For some reason “they” try to make parents think that kids need all kinds of special items for eating (fancy Disney plates, for example!?) but chances are you already have some small plates on hand as well as a cup or two that it won’t matter if it breaks. You also need a few bibs. I like these because they’re plain and the velcro doesn’t wear out after several washings (I hate, however, that they’re labeled “boys.” They’re primary colors!)

Thermometer. Self explanatory. But don’t waste money on a fancy pants one. Rectal is the most accurate.

Skip Hop Treetop Friends Activity Mat. Part of me wants to say that a baby doesn’t really need any toys. And that’s somewhat true. But, your life will be easier if you feel like you have a designated place to put your baby down. And this activity mat comes with 5 awesome toys, which makes it a good deal. Also, I recently discovered that almost every single one of my closest mom friends has this exact item. So that is pretty significant.

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That’s it! But I’m certain I’m forgetting something essential. So you tell me: what are your “must haves?” What could you have done without that surprised you?

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