Before my sons were born, I thought I knew all about the essentials newborn babies really need. After all, I had spent years babysitting, which is basically the same thing as being a parent, right? I knew the newborn checklist items moms want more than anything — namely adorable, precious little baby outfits from fancy stores, and the more pieces said outfit entailed, the better. Oh, and receiving blankets — preferably made of cashmere. So soft on a baby's skin!
Fast-forward to actually having a baby of my own, and I quickly learned that I had, to put it mildly, absolutely no idea what I was talking about when it came to surviving the newborn stage. Fortunately, there's no education as effective as new motherhood, and if you've got a high-energy baby (read: he never slept) like I did, you learn to cut through the clutter and focus on baby products that really work.
I sorted through the many products claiming to be registry essentials, weeding out items that I found to be complicated, overpriced, redundant, or that simply didn't work as promised until I had a streamlined list of the best baby products for newborns. Of course, every baby is different, and every family is different, but these are items that (through much trial and error) worked best for my family.
Shockingly, not a single one is made of cashmere.
1A Soothing, Hands-Free Rocker
An instant-classic on the baby-gear scene, the Rock 'n Play is the very first thing I think of when a newly pregnant friend asks what she really needs on her registry. I used it for nighttime and naps — the gentle incline eases gassy little tummies and soothing vibrations promote sleep — and for play. The soft, cozy seat helps babies feel cradled and safe, meaning I could put my boys down for a few minutes and do something crazy, like shower.
2A Playful Bouncer
To a new mom, the amount of enormous contraptions to put your baby in can feel a bit overwhelming: You've got your swings, your bouncers, your activity centers, your jumpers, and more. To keep things simple (and to keep my house from looking like a baby superstore), I liked having this bright, cheery bouncer for when my boys were happily awake and alert. I'd then transfer them to the snuggly Rock 'n Play after they were tired out and ready for a snooze.
3A Safe Car Seat
Although you can save money by going straight to a convertible seat, I'm a big believer in having an infant car seat for that first year of life. UPPAbaby's is lightweight and easy to install — two essentials for moms on the go. Because it snaps into the UPPAbaby VISTA (or CRUZ) stroller, I could switch from driving to walking without having to wake a sleeping baby, making errands a breeze (or at least, as much of a breeze as they can be with a newborn in tow).
4A Set Of Wheels
Sooo, I'm a bit of a stroller junkie. Actually, that's kind of an understatement: I speak stroller the way some people talk about Ferraris, and the VISTA is how we roll. (Sigh. Terrible pun intended.) We've logged an impressive number of miles with ours, and for good reason: It handles sidewalk bumps like a champ, the storage basket can fit an entire week's worth of groceries, it has multiple seat configurations, and it even comes with a safe-for-bedtime bassinet. Pairing seamlessly with the MESA car seat, this is my top pick for all-around stroller.
5A Set Of (Lighter) Wheels
I like to think of the Snap N Go as my everyday stroller's barebones, distant cousin. It's the stroller I reach for when I have a whole slew of errands to do, which works for two reasons: 1) It weighs about 14 pounds, which in Stroller Land is next to nothing and therefore easier to haul in and out of the car 67 times, and 2) it holds virtually every infant car seat, so I didn't have to strap any tiny babies in and out of their car seats 67 times, either. Win/win!
6A Sneaky Soother
I bought this to use as a birthing ball when I was pregnant with my first son, and I figured I'd do the odd crunch or two on it after he arrived. I plead the Fifth on the crunches, but this durable fitness ball was an unexpected lifesaver during some of my son's fussier moments. After wrapping him up securely in a Baby K'tan carrier, I'd sit on the ball and just bounce away (in place!). It was a surefire way to calm him down, and my core did get stronger, to boot.
7Fun For The Floor
We had a long-term relationship with the Skip Hop activity gym. It began with tummy time and basic "lying around staring" time, but that quickly progressed to the stage where they reach for the dangling toys above them, swatting at them in a sort of Pavlovian way. (The LTR ends when you put your baby down, step away, and come back to find your baby has mastered the art of rolling and is now stuck under the couch, which certainly never happened to me.)
8An Easy-To-Use Baby Wrap
Sometimes, despite the ample amounts of thoroughly researched, diligently assembled baby gear I had on hand, my sons just want some snuggles. I was usually happy to oblige (what mama doesn't want baby snuggles?!), but sometimes, laundry must be done, dishes must be washed, and dinner must be made (or, you know, ordered). I loved baby-wearing with the Baby K'tan: it's easy to use, it soothes tears by keeping a crying baby close, and as an added plus, it keeps newborns away from the curious hands of well-meaning strangers.
9An On-The-Go Changing Station
I started motherhood with an enormous, pocket-laden diaper bag stuffed to the brim just in case I needed, say, three outfit changes over the course of my 15-minute caffeine run. I quickly learned a portable changing station with a few diapers, wipes, diaper cream and some hand sanitizer was all I really needed for most of my daily errands.
10The White Stuff
Tiny baby tushies may be sweet, but they're also prone to diaper rash. I found that Desitin — that thick, white standby — works wonders at not just healing the occasional flareups, but at preventing them from happening. My boys managed to escape any serious diaper rash issues (check with your ped if this happens), which I credit to religious use of this goopy miracle-worker.
11Diapers, Diapers And More Diapers
Here's the thing about newborns and diapers: You will need more than you ever thought possible. Between two boys, I've tried just about every brand out there, and for newborns, I never strayed from Swaddlers. Beyond being ultra-absorbent, they have a helpful line that turns blue when wet, so you know it's time to change them (spoiler alert: it probably is, because it always is).
(Psst: Save 20 percent off diaper subscriptions by signing up for Amazon Prime's free 30-day trial.)
As a recovering germaphobe, I try not to go too overboard when it comes to sanitizing my world. Still, newborns have tiny, fragile immune systems, so I made a point to leave a bottle of gentle hand sanitizer in every room. As my newborns turned into solid, chubby babies, I grew more lenient, but no newborn needs to gnaw on public-transportation fingers. (Ew!)
Nursing is one of those things that seems like it should be so natural and easy, but the truth is, for many moms (myself included), it isn't. Using this ultra-supportive nursing pillow will help — so much so that I went and bought one myself after testing it out, even though I had received a similar product as a gift. Newborns nurse all. The. Time, and the Brest Friend was what helped me stick with it.
14A Wardrobe Essential
I pretty much wore one of these nursing tanks nearly every day for my entire nursing career. (In an act of serendipity, I'm wearing one now as I type.) I chose to breastfeed on the go, and wearing this under my clothes made me feel sufficiently covered without feeling restricted. The comfortable support is nice, too, since if you're like me, your girls will grow about three sizes post-baby.
15An Energy Boost
As my body was first adjusting to nursing, I turned into a ravenous eater. I could match my husband, who's got a whole foot on me, bite for bite and still be hungry, so I ordered cases of energy bars (White Chocolate Macadamia flavor, please) to keep the hunger pangs at bay. I even kept a stash in the nursery, where I was known to put one (or two) away during a 3 a.m. feeding.
I'll just be blunt here: Nursing made my nipples feel like they were going to fall off. It got better, but not without a few sessions with a lactation consultant, lots of practice, and gobs and gobs of this soft, velvety nipple cream. It offered instant relief, and I didn't have to take it off before nursing again, which is no small victory: Rubbing cream off of cracked, bleeding nipples is not something I'd recommend. Trust me on this.
17A Toy That Soothes
To binky or not to binky: It turns out that's the real question. The answer is going to be different for every baby and for every family, but for those who opt to use a pacifier to, well, pacify their crying babies, a Wubbanub just may be your favorite thing ever. The cleverness lies in the attached stuffed animal, which both entertains and weighs down the pacifier, making it harder for a baby to spit it out...again and again and again.
18A Cozy And Safe Wearable Blanket
There are many different ways to parent, but one thing that should be non-negotiable is creating a safe sleeping environment for babies. At the newborn stage, that means no loose blankets, stuffed animals, loveys — anything that poses a suffocation risk. I dressed my boys in these muslin swaddles to keep them warm and snug, and the fact that they looked like little baby burritos made it even better.
19Peace Of Mind
I sobbed — sobbed — that first night at home as a new mom. I was terrified that something would happen to our son, and I spent those first few weeks compulsively checking the video monitor and sneaking into his room to make sure he was okay. Then, someone told us about this monitor, which is placed under the crib and sounds an alarm if it no longer detects movement from the baby. It's important to note it's not a medical device, but it provided us the peace of mind we needed to sleep soundly (or as soundly as our newborn let us).
20A Multipurpose Blanket
Babies need so. Much. Stuff. If you followed every registry suggestion religiously, you'd likely need a bigger house to stash all your gear, which I why I opted for pieces that served multiple purposes whenever possible. These muslin blankets fit that bill: They can be used as a swaddle, a play mat, a burp cloth, a sun shade and bug shield, a nursing cover...the list goes on. Stash one in your car, one in your diaper bag, and one in every room of the house.
21A Sound Machine
Some people swear by a silent room to ensure a silent night. I am not one of those people. Each of my boys has had one of these dual-speed sound machines in their room since birth. The gentle, adjustable whirring lulls them to sleep, and unlike other sound machines, they don't shut off after a set period of time. There's nothing more depressing than a baby woken prematurely (thanks, mailman), so this is essential in my book.
22A Wardrobe Staple
To me, there's nothing sweeter than a squishy, happy baby wearing a plain, white onesie. The challenge, of course, is getting the onesie to stay white when formidable forces like spit-up, drool, and yes, even poop try their hardest to keep my whites from looking pristine. I buy about a pack or two of these in every size from newborn to 24 months and use them almost daily.
23The Greatest Baby Toy Ever
Oh, the Whoozit. I suppose there are other products that perform similar functions, but this silly-faced plush toy has always been a favorite of my family's. It squeaks, it squishes, it rattles, crinkles — in other words, it entertains. The bold black-and-white pattern on the back appeals to newborns, and the danglies and doohickeys are fun to explore as a baby grows. I've been known to tie a Whoozit in with the ribbon on baby-shower gifts in hopes of spreading the Whoozit love.
I remember the exact moment my first son noticed these playful stroller toys dangling over his head. I had attached them to his car seat handle before he was born, and then one day, we went out for a stroll and I realized he was just staring at them. The New York skyline didn't impress him, and he found views of the Hudson a little lacking, but these toys? It was like they were the most amazing thing he'd ever seen.
25An Undervalued Essential
My sleeper pick for baby essentials has to be these textured, colorful, plastic links. They're the sort of thing you can never have too much of, which is good since you'll probably lose them all the time. (Or was that just me? Hmm.) Use them to attach toys to car seats, strollers, activity centers and more, or just play with them on their own. I like to connect them in rainbow-ombré order, which my sons never fully appreciated, but it made me happy, so...it's the little things.
26An Easy Way To Clean
Between bottles, pacifiers, and chewable, plastic toys, that's a lot of things for Mom to keep clean. Yes, you can certainly fill a pot with 800 gallons of water, wait 10 years for it to boil, and try to take the items out without scalding yourself, or you can just buy a box of these sterilizing bags. Simply drop the items you need cleaned, add in a splash of water, microwave, and voila, you're done. Each bag can be reused up to 20 times, which should at least get you through the first day or two of motherhood.
27A Baby Tub
Like many baby items, an infant tub isn't technically necessary — you could just use the sink like your mom probably did with you. That said, it certainly makes life much easier, which I'm all about these days. Do whatever works for you, though, because at the end of the day, don't we all just want to make sure our babies are happy, healthy and (relatively) clean?
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