Welcome to the Baby Gear Series! When you’re getting ready for a baby, long lists of “must haves” can be overwhelming. Here’s what you ACTUALLY need (and all the stuff you don’t). Click here for an introduction, links to the complete series, and a FREE baby gear checklist and e-book!
Getting out of the house with a baby can feel like an Olympic sport, especially in the beginning. My motto has always been “be prepared” (no, I was never a scout), and in my effort to fully be prepared for every possible contingency, we often looked like we were staying overnight when we were just going to church! Truthfully, though, you don’t need that much.
In the Car
- Car Seat. This may be the most important purchase you make for your baby. It’s one of the few purchases that could literally be a life-or-death decision (if you are ever in an accident), so it’s important to get it right. Thankfully, they aren’t that complicated. You’ll need an infant seat (the kind that look a little like a bucket and usually clip into a base) at first, then a rear-facing seat until age 2 (that’s the current law on car seats, at least in California). You can get “4-way convertible car seats” that go from infant to booster seat, but there are safety concerns and it is very convenient having an infant seat that clips out (for one thing, you can take a sleeping baby with you without disturbing them; for another, a grandparent or babysitter only needs their own base rather than uninstalling & re-installing the entire seat). We bought both an infant seat and a rear-facing to front-facing seat. Look for one with the JPMA (Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association) seal to be sure of it’s safety. I’m not usually a brand-name shopper, but finding a car seat in a brand you recognize (i.e. Graco, Chico, Brittax) can be helpful as lesser known brands (or brands that are just starting to branch out into car seats) may not be as high quality. This is one area where a splurge makes sense. The most important factor of any car seat is that you install it correctly. BEFORE THE BABY IS BORN (at least 2 weeks before your due date), buy your seat and take it to an inspection station along with the instruction manuals for both the car and the seat (it’s helpful if you read them over first). Someone can help you see how to install it if you need help (or just reassurance). My friends recommended a Chico key fit 30 car seat (infant) and Brittax marathon. While we loved our Baby Trend Flex-Loc Infant Seat (it was simple, the bases were relatively inexpensive, and it clipped into our jogging stroller), I can’t say I honestly recommend our second car seat, as the straps tend to tangle. My friend Lesley also has a “non-recommendation” for you: “I hate my Maxi Cosi convertible car seat, mostly because it shows all the stains and is hard to clean. You have to completely take off the cover and hand wash it and line dry it”. Get it used? Please, NO. The main danger with a used car seat is that if it has ever been in (even a minor) car accident, it can become weakened in key areas that you may not be able to see, making it less effective. They also expire after ten years (plastic does deteriorate over time, especially in the hot sun). If you can be absolutely 100% neither of those things (an accident or an expiration) has happened, then it would be okay. But only then. (For example, we bought a new car seat for our car but the grandparents have used car seats that have never been in an accident and are less than 10 years old, that we got from a family member). If you do get a used seat, get it from someone you know & trust. DO NOT BUY AT A YARD SALE. (Sorry for beating a dead horse, but the safety of your little one is way too important to me to not emphasize this point).
- Recommended: “Baby on Board” Sign. For quite a while, I wondered what these were for. Were they for bragging rights (like those “my child is an honor student at some school you’ve never heard of” bumper stickers)? Were you supposed to drive more carefully around them? Actually, they are to let first responders know that someone in the car is unable to get themselves out. Knowing this, we got one for our car. They are only a buck or two, and I like the peace of mind. Get it used? Sure!
- Recommended: Sun Shields. We love the sun shades that attach to our windows to keep the sun out of Man Cub’s eyes. While not a need, they cut down on fussing. A little tip: when your little one is rear-facing (remember, until age 2), put the shades on the side window closest to them and the rear window directly behind them instead of on each side. Get it used? We did.
- Optional: Soft Mirror. Some moms like having a mirror to look back at their baby with. I think I would just be distracted. If you’d enjoy it, go for it. One important caveat, though: BE SURE it’s a soft mirror, so that if it becomes detached in an accident it will not hurt your baby. Get it used? As long as it still attaches securely.
- Optional: Soft Toys. It can be very helpful to have something to amuse your little traveler. Just be sure they are soft and no small parts. Get it used? Yes.
- Safety Risk: Extra Padding. Padding that does not come with the car seat can unsafely compress, causing too much space. ONLY use the padding that comes WITH your car seat. The exception to this (according to the car seat safety inspector we met with) would be tightly rolled towels (not too soft) on either side or your baby’s head, when they are in that “wobbly head” phase. Also, if you want to bundle your baby, do it with blankets OVER the car seat straps, not jackets or blankets under the straps (these, again, can compress).
Out & About
- Stroller(s). Technically, this is not a need, but oh my goodness they are handy! Man Cub loves going for walks around the neighborhood (his favorite thing right now is to point out everyone’s trash cans), and a stroller can be very useful. I will, however, let you in on a little secret: You can do this VERY cheaply… as in, $15-30 new. You see, unless you actually jog (personally, I’d rather do crunches), cover rough terrain, take a ton of luggage with you, or have multiples, you don’t NEED a jogging stroller (with one wheel in front) or even a full-size stroller (with four wheels) of any kind. There, I just saved you $80-200. We acquired a jogging stroller from a friend, but had no place (near the door) to put it. So we bought a $20 umbrella stroller (the kind that fold up tiny, like an umbrella- they are also super lightweight) with a shade panel, bought a $10 basket that clips on (for water bottles, keys, and a diaper- all you really need for a walk), and called it good. We’ve been using it for over a year and it works great; it still comfortably fits our almost 30-pound toddler and fits in our coat closet (I highly recommend to apartment dwellers, especially if you’re not on the ground floor). Now, if you want to get a jogging stroller (especially if you can get a free hand-me-down), go for it. Just don’t let anybody tell you that you NEED one. (As a side note: If you get a jogging or full-size stroller, I’d get an umbrella stroller also, for trips, Grandma’s house, etc…). There are all kinds of bells and whistles you can get (including literal bells, rain covers, extra baskets, and reflective stickers) that may or may not make sense to you. You’ll have to consider your individual scenario. For example: Man Cub and I don’t walk out of necessity, so we don’t need rain or night gear. If you do go the full-size or jogging route, there are “travel systems”- baby gear lingo for “infant car seats and strollers that go together”, which may be useful to you. The infant car seat can clip into a stroller base (as well as a car seat base), for babies who can’t hold their heads up (which is, I’m sorry to say, the one thing an umbrella stroller is not god for). Later, the stroller can be adjusted for an older baby without the car seat. If you want a bigger stroller, this is a nice way to go. Get it used? Yes, if it’s in good condition. If you see duct tape or any other self-fix, politely decline. Ask the previous owner to show you how it works, if possible (if not, youtube can be very helpful), and look up the manual.
- Diaper Bag. This is another area people can easily overspend in. all you really need is a large bag, preferably with compartments, that is wipeable and/or machine washable. The tag does not need to say “diaper bag” (you don’t keep the tag anyway). You just need a place to stash your essentials (these may include: wipes in a plastic container, wrap/carrier, change of clothes for baby, change of shirt for you, nursing cover, bottles, formula pouches, snack, toys…). I have a good friend who uses a backpack and I use a product carrying bag from my days as a Pampered Chef Consultant. Get it used? Yep.
- Wrap/Carrier. During my totally official Facebook survey, the single most common type of comment was about wraps & carriers. A wrap (fabric that wraps around you) or carrier (that looks a bit like a backpack) helps you to carry your baby hands-free and can be easier on the back. The most important considerations are your hops and back. Go to the store and try them out if you possibly can, once your baby is born. You need to find one that will fit your back and hops well, not add to back pain. Among my friends and I, a few recommended Lillebaby, Boba Wrap, Mei Tai, Tula, Didymos Wrap, Katan Wrap, and Infantino, but none of these were too popular. The Moby Wrap had mixed reviews (I personally love that you can do a lot of different wraps with it, but Man Cub outgrew it astonishingly fast being that he is tall and I am short). Seven Sling got a bad review and Baby Bjorn was also mixed (I liked mine fairly well, but my back did tire quickly in it). Hands down the most recommended baby carrier (four times as many good reviews as second place, with not a single bad review) *drumroll please* was the Ergo. In fact, people loved their Ergo so much I thought I’d share a couple of comments:
“An Ergo! It is so nice to be able to snuggle baby and have hands-free at the same time while around the house, grocery shopping, walking, hiking, etc. I used to even more the second time around, with a busy toddler to keep up with. We bought ours almost four years ago, and two kids later, it is still going strong. Even after the kids are too heavy for me to carry them, hubby can also use it and carry someone on a hike.“- Anne
“Love the ergo baby pack! A little on the pricier side but well worth the investment. I’ve used it for 19months and have machine washed it and everything and it still hasn’t worn at all (looks brand new) Will use for all my kids or if we don’t have any more will sell if in excellent condition!”- Amy
Get it used? Absolutely! These can be pricey new!
- You Probably Don’t Need: Travel Bassinet (While I recommend a Pack & Play for overnight trips, you really don’t need this. Newborns will typically sleep anywhere), Shopping Cart cover (I suppose it’s useful if you do a lot of shopping with your baby in the heat or with an immune compromised baby, but I used mine maybe twice. You can always get a cool cart inside and wipe the handles with a sanitizing wipe)