Personal Finance

Essential Baby Items

When a parent is describing a toy/item they bought for the child and they say it is “essential” or a “life saver” – what they really mean is that it worked well for them and their child.  While it’s good to hear positive reviews, don’t assume you will get the same results.

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Another item to consider is real estate – a lot of these baby devices take up a lot of space, so if you live in a smaller house with smaller rooms, you have to make hard choices about what stuff to get.

On with the list

Swing – This is one of the items that is often most highly praised by new parents – I know several who said it was best thing they had for keeping the kid occupied/quiet for a while.  However – not all kids like the swing.  Our son for example, wasn’t that keen on it – we had borrowed one from friends and tried him out on it several times, but in the end we decided to give it back.

Playpen/Pack’n’Play – I would say these are essential for travel, assuming your child can sleep on their own.  They fold up into a relatively small package and are easy to set up.  Some people use them to keep the kid contained, but we found the exersaucer was a better device for that purpose.

Baby carrier – This is another item where different baby carriers and different babies can make all the difference.  Our son liked being carried as a newborn, but his parents were never that comfortable with using a carrier, so he mostly rode in a stroller.  Our second child refused to be in a stroller for the first 4 months, so she got carried in a Snugli carrier which worked out well.  We also tried a baby Buddha carrier, but our daughter didn’t like it very much.

Playmat – I’m not too keen on these at all.  We purchased one for $70 for our son and  he didn’t really like it.  The fact is that a newborn is happy just looking at normal items and doesn’t need a “special” learning mat for development.  We have a small living room and the mat takes up a lot of space.  Another problem now is that it is hard to use the mat with our daughter because my son (2) is running around a lot and is a danger to anyone (ie my daughter) on the playmat.

Jolly Jumper – We had one of these, but never even bothered to set it up.  I’ve seen babies use them and it can be very entertaining!

Exersaucer – We found this quite useful for our kids since they were both entertained by it.  It’s great for containing the child if the parent is busy for a few minutes.  This device has a limited time period – you can’t put the kid in if they are too young and once they start crawling around/walking they will be a lot less interested in being trapped in the exersaucer.

Bumbo – This is the biggest ripoff since pet rocks.  $65 for a piece of shaped foam?  We bought one of course and although we did get some use out of it – I would recommend not buying one unless you can get a used one very cheap.  We were able to sell it for $30, so it wasn’t a total loss.

Booster seat – This is the seat you strap onto a chair and the baby sits in it.   We found these to be awesome because they take up a lot less space than a high-chair.  The baby needs to able to hold their head up by themselves before using.

Check out my baby expense section for more baby articles.

Do you have any “must have” or “must not have” baby items you’d like to share?

18 replies on “Essential Baby Items”

LOL, the bumbo does look like a bit of a gimmick. From my experience thus far, our essentials are very similar to yours. The only exception probably being the swing. Our baby would have trouble napping without it.

Thanks for mentioning my article.


The best thing we bought was a portable, clip-on highchair. You can pack it up and bring it camping, bring it to restaurants, bring it to friends’ houses, use it at home instead of a bulky high-chair. We buy them as gifts for all the new parents we know.

With our baby of 7 weeks, the most essential item so far isn’t neccessary for a baby. We would be lost with out our exercise ball. When ever the kid starts to cry we simply sit on the ball and ‘bounce’ while holding him. It settles him down every time. And another plus is that we get a mini workout.

One of our essentials was Grandma and Granny, they both can get that cranky baby to sleep in two seconds flat! But they aren’t around all the time and not everyone has relatives close. We originally had a Graco swing that was just ok, but then tried a friends Fisher Price swing out, and it worked miracles. It can swing sideways and forward and back, and has distracting fish and lights to distract him now he is older. He still goes in it once in awhile even though he is getting very big (20lbs) and it calms him down immediately.

Wooly – Grandparents are the most essential item of all! However you can’t buy them (or even rent them) which is why I didn’t put them on the list.

CanadianFinance – congrats! Be sure to check out my baby series – it’s worth the read (I think).

The only items I consider “baby essentials” for us are a car seat, stroller, exersaucer (for about 5-6 months only so definitely shop second-hand) and a decent diaper bag – that doesn’t actually look like a diaper bag 🙂 We did try out other things like a bouncy chair, sling, etc. but could survive well without them.

I would add the cloth book with “crinkly” pages. Our book had a mirror on one of the pages. (Babies are oddly narsissictic and like looking at themselves in mirrors.) Kept my daughter entertained for hours in her high chair.

For the packnplay crib, we went with the larger square one. A bit more $ but equally as portable as the smaller ones and usable for that much longer as the baby starts crawling around.

Also most of this stuff can be had second hand, either thru craigslist or swap meets. Our bumbo chair was $10 or something like that and it rarely gets used. We will likely sell it for $10 again. Depreciation = zero.

+1 for the portable clip on high chair.

An old pillow he can’t live without. Just like Linus in Peanuts.

I have to plug this one… Sorry FP. Here’s a little video all parents should appreciate. Put the volume on, the music (in French) is fun. You tell me what is essential there. I say lots of space to explore.

CanadianFinance: Great for you both. FP’s posts are great but I’d have to add that reader’s input is also greatly instructive.

Kika – yes the car seat is mandatory which is why I didn’t include it – kind of like diapers.

Jesse – second hand is the best way to go for baby junk.

Nicolas – great video – thanks for sharing.

A few of us are trying to set up a Rent a Granny network in our little town – for moms without relatives nearby. It is in its infancy (haha) but we have some interest from some older volunteers. So maybe they can be rented? In a most respectful way possible- after all, our goal is to match older people who would love to have grandchildren nearby with moms who would love to have a grandparent nearby, and to develop long-term relationships 🙂

Well, yes, car seats are mandatory if you ride in a car or taxi but there are car seats and then there are car seats. In our family we currently have 3 car seats (2 of which can be converted into a type of booster seat) and 2 new boosters (the kind with a removable back). These are for my 6 yo daughter, and 4 and almost 2 yo granddaughters.

Of the 3 car seats, one has an awkwardly placed adjustment that makes it difficult to adjust the straps to fit different sized kids (or kids in coats vs. ones not in coats) without practically strangling the child but the bottom part of the fastening works well and the cover on the seat comes off easily for washing (one of the kids has been sick many times in the car). I don’t think it can be converted to a highbacked booster.

One adjusts well but has an annoying clasp that goes between the legs. Two pieces have to fit together like a jigsaw puzzle, then slide together into the other piece. It’s pretty well impossible to do one-handed or quickly. This car seat’s cover is also much harder to remove and the straps are very tricky to replace. It has guides for where you use the regular shoulder harness when the child reaches booster seat size.

The 3rd is identical to the 2nd one except for the material of the cover (which is merely an aesthetic difference) and the clasp between the legs. This one uses the much better clasp of the first seat.

Far too often new parents pick the seat using a criteria as non-vital as the material or by merely looking at the price tag. Instead, you should really check it out. How easy is it to adjust? To remove the cover? To move the straps to the next set of slots? To fasten or adjust with one hand?

This applies to some of the other major purchases as well, such as strollers. Can you push it with one hand? Fold it or unfold it with one hand? How does it turn with a heavy child sitting in it? Is the handle the right height for you? This last may seem trivial now. It won’t seem trivial when you’ve been pushing the stroller for an hour and your back is killing you.

Frankly, a few things that other parents raved about never interested me (swings, infant bouncy seats, giant pillows like the Bumbo). I prefer to keep my babies in arms or on a flat surface (floor or bed) except when I have to walk any distance. Short distances are why I have a hip. Anything longer kills my back and I love a large stroller that folds flat, reclines fully and has plenty of space to tote shopping bags, coats, etc.

I am ever so glad you didn’t add a stroller to that list. Those were just a nightmare! What I found useful was the car seat, a great diaper bag, a dimmer light, monitor, and a great babysitter. (Child experts insist that parents need to get away from baby regularly – usually once a week, even if it’s just a couple hours.)

Essential often are determined by space. We lived in a 5th wheel when we have our first three little kids. For me, essentials were few.
1. a place for the baby to sleep (we used a small playpen like a Pack n Play,
2. a hook-on high chair, (as recommended), but of course, not til the child was eating, and
3. I used a back pack carrier. The stroller isn’t necessary if you have the backpack.
4. car seat (of course!).

Clothes, receiving blankets, diapers (I used both cloth and disposable at different times on my children————-I had 5.)

When we moved to a different country and I had a baby, we had nothing special for her. We used a cardboard box and lined it with blankets and then as she grew bigger, gave her a bigger box until we got a playpen for her to sleep in.

I’m looking for a lamp dimmer. When my oldest was a babe, there was this FABULOUS little Grayco gadget that you plugged your baby lamp into (with an ordinary bulb). One tap, the light came on, two taps, the light dimmed, three taps…it continued to dim over 15 minutes and she was asleep. It was the best gift I ever got. Does ANYONE know of something similar I can give as a gift nowadays???

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