A few weeks back I posted about cost-effective ways to get hold of baby stuff, and mentioned that friends can be a good source of both hand-me-downs and advice about what did and didn’t work for them. Since then, I’ve inevitably been asked which baby items we found useful, so with the usual caveat about all babies (and all parents) being different, here’s our recommendations – or at least the things we’ve made the most use of since September. #ymmv
If you plan to drive anywhere, at anytime – even in a rented car – you’ll need a carseat to keep your offspring safe and to comply with the law. We also carry her short distances in her carseat when going out to eat – it gives her a comfy place to sit in the pub or cafe without us having to faff about with the buggy. A good-quality carseat can set you back a fair bit of cash, but carseats are the kind of object that can easily be found on eBay or local freecycling sites* as other people’s children grow out of them. We were gifted a MaxiCosi – thanks family Smith-Boyd!
*Barry points out in the comments it’s wise to exercise caution accepting second-hand carseats from anyone you don’t know in case of damage.
2. Baby carrier
Useful for short trips anywhere you won’t be encumbered by heavy bags, and great for strolls in the park when you want a bit of fresh air. Most babies seem to enjoy being carried close to a parent’s torso – the sound of your heartbeat, body warmth and smell are probably comforting, and the gentle rocking motion of being carried while walking is also very calming. Ours is a Baby Bjorn; other makes are available.
3. Pram or pushchair
Another item that can begged, borrowed or bought, prams and pushchairs are useful for longer trips and anywhere you’ll be transporting or collecting heavy items (like a big trip to the shops). A 3-in-1 convertible pushchair should take you from birth to toddlerhood; a light, compact model will fold up on the bus or fit in your car easily. Ours is a Britamax B-Smart with big wheels for mounting city kerbs.
4. Breast pump
It’s often useful to have a bottle or two of breastmilk on standby – for Darien to feed Scarlett when I’m out or asleep, for feeding when we’re out and about, and for mixing into purees when you start solids. Pumps are also really useful for stimulating milk supply, draining blocked boobs and preventing mastitis; ours also probably saved my boobs when we had our early tongue-tie issues (see this page for more on dealing with severe cracks). Ours is a Tommee Tippee; pumps can be rented from hospitals if you’re interested in trying one.
5. Co-sleeping crib
Co-sleepers (cribs that strap onto the side of your own bed, giving baby a space of her own that’s still near to you at night) are marketed as a happy medium between all snuggling up in the family bed and shipping your newborn off down the hallway to sleep alone. In truth, Scarlett has slept in a combination of her Snuzpod and our actual bed since birth; even when she does come in next to Mummy for a cuddle during the night, having the Snuzpod attached to the bed means she’s less likely to roll over and fall out as there’s the crib there to catch her. This has, I believe, led to more sleep for all of us. Ours can also be used as a carry-cot and stand alone crib (theoretically – we haven’t tried either).
6. Poddle Pod
Another lovely gift (thanks family Phin!), this is a great device for parking your young baby when you need to go to the toilet/cook the dinner/rest your arms for a cottonpicking minute, and a nice snug nest for her to play safely or take a nap in. Scarlett is just about growing out of it now at 20 weeks, but it’s given us four months of daily, durable service.
7. Changing table
It was the experience of using a friend’s changing table while we were over for a cup of tea that convinced me to put our own (which we’d had for months) in the front room so we could actually use it. It stops you having to bend over or kneel on the floor – a massive godsend now our daughter is more, y’know, massive – and is a really handy place to keep all the changing paraphenalia. Ours is from IKEA and has a fold-out top so there’s plenty of room for changing but it tucks neatly into the corner when not in use.
8. More than one blanket
Stupidly, we didn’t notice we’d need more than one until Favourite Blanky Number One desperately needed a wash. This happened on Day 4. Get two or more blankies.
9. Baby dry nappies
I realise this isn’t the first time I’ve mentioned these wonder-objects, but even now I meet fellow parents who apparently haven’t heard of them. To recap: you pop one of these on at night, and they will soak up all the wet your baby can produce for twelve hours (tested to the limit by us on more than one dozy morning). This means you don’t have to do a nappy change in the middle of the night. This means you both get to sleep. Even if you’re using recyclables in the day, I’d highly recommend Baby-drys at night.
10. Sangenic nappy bin
Whizzes used nappies into an undetectable sanitary sausage; people have asked us where the nappy bin is while literally sitting next to the nappy bin. Recommended to us before Scarlett arrived by several sets of parents who were totally right.
11. More than one changing mat
If you have more than one place you regularly change your baby (for example, in the front room and in the bedroom or nursery) and especially if you live in a dwelling with stairs, you’ll want more than one changing station. This doesn’t need to be a whole extra changing table, but an extra mat that lives in the second place (with a little secondary box of nappies, wipes and cream) will save you an awful lot of hassle carting stuff around the house.
12. Feeding pillow
If you’re breastfeeding, this will help you find a comfortable position to sit in (either you put your baby on it on your lap, or simply use it to lean back against or prop your arms up). If you’re not breastfeeding, these are still way comfy to lean on, and you can prop your 4-5 month old up on one while they’re learning to sit.
13. Rainforest activity mat
This is the exception to the rule I make below about toys – from about four weeks old, this has been Scarlett’s absolute favourite play centre. When she was very young, she liked just sitting in it (in her Poddle Pod, because she was so very tiny, awww) and looking at the flashing lights and coloured objects. Then from about six weeks, she liked swatting the dangling animal toys; later she enjoyed holding them and examining them more closely and making them “work” in their specific ways. Now she’s rolling over, it’s a great place for self-directed Tummy Time. We’ve cycled some of the objects around to give her different things to do, but the basic concept remains excellent (and it totally beats Myleene Klaass’s stupid Baby Orchestra mat which has never interested her remotely as much). If you get your child one play object, make it this one.
14. Waitrose Baby Bottom Butter
Sure, you can buy other kinds of nappy cream more cheaply, but do the other nappy creams make your little darling smell like a Terry’s Chocolate Orange? Didn’t think so. #mmmchocolatey
15. Changing bag
Essential for carting around fresh nappies, wipes, change of clothes and a bottle when you’re out and about. Literally thousands of options are available; I say lightweight and waterproof wins over chic and faddy every time. Get one in a neutral colourway so Daddy can carry it too without his masculinity being threatened (I’m joking, but these people aren’t).
16. Baby wipes
Because they’re so darned useful, right?
We also get good value out of our baby app, and found our NCT course useful (and a much-used source of ready-made friends who may be about to turn into a handy babysitting circle, which for freelancers is worth its weight in gold).
Three things we think you can do without:
1. Lots of toys
Many toys are marketed as being “suitable from birth”. This is a pernicious lie designed to separate well-meaning friends and relatives from their cash when celebrating the new arrival. Babies cannot even focus on an object at birth; when a toy starts swimming into view a few weeks later there’s no way little ones can grab or hold or interact with the thing unless it’s suitably suspended (which is why the Rainforest Play Mat works so well). Scarlett started holding and stroking her toys at around three months, and reaching intentionally for them a few weeks later; at this point the entire world becomes a plaything. She now seems to actively prefer crunching nappy bags or waving her cotton balls around with a triumphant squeal, so there’s little real benefit to purchasing anything calling itself a toy. Your baby will almost certainly prefer the packaging.
2. Loads of nursing tops
I bought one or two (Gap and ASOS both have a good selection) but really, your existing shirts and cardigans will do the do. As long as you have a few nursing bras (get plenty but get them after your milk comes in or they will *not* be the right size), more or less anything you can easily undo will serve for a nursing top. Wrap dresses and crossover tops are particularly good; jumper dresses are sadly right out for now. A shawl or poncho will save your blushes if feeding in public, assuming you have had enough sleep to actually care about what you look like in public.
3. Moses basket
Possibly the most #ymmv item on this list, as other parents we know definitely used theirs, but a) we didn’t really see the point of one and b) if we had got one, it would most likely have been absolutely useless as Scarlett just couldn’t even with sleeping alone for the first five weeks – by which time she was too big for most baskets and slept happily in her Snuzpod most of the time. So we would probably say give the Moses basket a miss, but I know others would disagree.
Also to avoid: baby powder, which has moved from the “do” to the “don’t” list since we were babies. Yeah, I was surprised too. Gets up their noses and causes cancer or something.
What items would you recommend and not-recommend to new parents? Answers on an unused baby powder bottle (or below, if you like).