Parents and caregivers are the primary influences on children’s physical, cognitive and emotional development. When infants attach to their parents and caregivers, they feel loved, accepted and safe which is critical for healthy development.
Newborns will need a crib, and choose one that meets the latest safety standards. Babies will also need diapers, and a changing pad that can be wiped clean.
1. Car Seat
Whether you’re a first-time parent or are buying a second car seat for an older child, the right car seat can protect your little one in case of a crash. Car seats are specially designed to reduce infant and toddler injuries, especially neck and spinal cord injuries.
An improperly secured or worn car seat can make even a slight bump in the road potentially fatal to your baby or toddler. Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions and vehicle owner’s manual to install the seat securely, including lower anchors and tether (if available). Also ensure that the harness straps are above your child’s shoulders and chest clip is at armpit level.
An infant safety seat, or infant bucket seat, snaps into a base and can be used alone or clicked into strollers for transport. Many models detach right from the base to save you time. Some seats “convert” from rear-facing to forward-facing to booster with a harness and buckle.
As your baby grows, you’ll find yourself taking longer walks or daytrips that require the use of a stroller. The best strollers have lots of storage space for a well-stocked diaper bag, extra clothing, snacks, bottles and toys. Many strollers have a bassinet attachment that doubles as a mini crib for newborns, making them perfect for those early sleep-deprived new mom days.
You’ll also appreciate a stroller that has a large canopy to shield your child from the sun. Some even have a built-in fan that will circulate the air to help keep your infant cool.
If you plan to travel with your baby often, consider a travel system that has a car seat attached to the stroller. This will save you the hassle of having to switch from the car to the stroller and back again. Typically, these types of products are more expensive than non-travel systems. However, if you plan on traveling a lot with your newborn, the investment is well worth it.
3. Baby Carrier
A baby carrier or sling is great for when you want to keep your little one close to you but don’t need the extra space of a stroller. Choose a soft structured carrier that is easy to put on and take off and that can grow with your baby from newborn to toddler years. Look for padded straps that evenly distribute weight and multiple lumbar support options.
A stretchy wrap or woven wrap is a long piece of cloth that you can tie around your body to hold your infant. They’re typically used for newborns and require a bit of a learning curve but they are incredibly comfortable. Pouches and ring slings are pieces of fabric worn over one shoulder like a sash with an opening where you place your infant.
A hybrid style such as the Ergobaby Embrace is an ideal middle ground that you can use with a newborn and beyond. It’s easily adjustable and comes with a hood that snaps onto the shoulder pieces so you can nurse in it. Studies show that babies who are carried cry less.
4. Baby Blanket
Whether you’re shopping for your own baby or buying baby shower gifts, you probably want to stock up on blankets. From receiving blankets to muslin and oversized sleep sacs, there are so many ways you’ll find yourself using these cozy essentials.
The best blankets for newborn babies are made with soft, breathable materials that let your little one regulate their temperature (3). A muslin or cotton blanket will work well, but you can also invest in a polar fleece blanket or one made of soft cashmere or angora wool for cold weather (4).
For older kids, blanket loveys can be helpful sleep aids or even help teach them to self-soothe if they become anxious or upset. Just make sure to avoid swaddling your child in anything but a blanket, quilt or a wearable blanket until they are mobile and able to roll both ways and push away objects from their face (around 18 months) to prevent any potential SIDS risks (5).
5. Baby Swing
A baby swing can be a lifesaver when it comes to soothing fussy babies and giving their parents a break. But parents should keep in mind that it isn’t meant to be used as a place for your child to sleep, since long periods of time spent in a swing can cause flattening of the head. Make sure to also know what time you should be switching to size 2 nipples if your baby is formula-fed.
If you do plan to use a swing, choose one that can grow with your infant. Some have convertible frames that can be converted into gliders, rockers, and even a bouncer for older babies. Others, such as the 4moms MamaRoo Multi-Motion, feature multiple motion settings to mimic your baby’s natural movements and have a number of songs and soothing sounds to entertain your little one.
Also, make sure you avoid a used or recalled swing as these may not meet current safety standards. And be aware that some swings have toys hanging from the top of the frame that can pose a risk if your child pulls on them.
6. Baby Bjorn Bouncer
Bouncers and jumpers are popular baby gear items that help parents catch a breath in between tummy time, diaper changes, and feedings. They can also keep babies occupied so they don’t wiggle too much and cause SIDS.
The top-ranked baby bouncers offer a range of features that can keep infants entertained and engaged. Some of them have removable toy bars that help keep them interested, and some can even recline to create a comfortable place for them to sit.
If your baby’s bouncer gets dirty, it’s easy to wash. Simply unloop the elastic loops at the back of the fabric and toss it in the washing machine (the manufacturer recommends line drying, but we’ve successfully put it in the dryer on low). Releasing the elastic and re-looping the hooks is simple enough for an older child. The cover is also machine-washable and dries quickly. Once your baby outgrows the bouncer, you can convert it to a chair by flipping the fabric over and then reversing the straps.
7. Baby Gym
A baby gym helps stimulate your newborn’s visual and motor development. It features dangling toys that make sounds and have different colors and shapes, and regular use improves your baby’s sight. It also encourages tummy time, an important exercise that strengthens back and neck muscles. You should consider a model that has extra padding to protect your baby, as well as washable covers to keep it clean.
Newborns have a limited field of vision and see best when objects are bright and high-contrast (black and white). Toys that swing and change colors help them follow moving objects with their eyes.
This eco-friendly play mat was designed by child development experts to focus your baby’s attention. It includes a few removable toys, including a high-contrast Montessori ball, a wooden batting ring, and a teether, as well as image cards that show black and white pictures of faces, daily objects, and other images.
8. Baby Play Mat
A baby play mat or gym is one of the simplest toys available, but they have a lot to offer when it comes to physical development. They help babies build muscle strength and coordination. They also promote visual perception, hearing and speech skills.
Newborns can use a play mat as early as their first month, especially during tummy time. This helps strengthen neck, back and shoulder muscles to prevent flat head syndrome. A textured or patterned mat can also stimulate the senses and provide an interesting environment for your little one.
For a mat that grows with your kiddo, opt for this House of Noa Little Nomad play mat with interlocking foam floor tiles that create a padded surface safe for rolling and jumping. It’s a bit pricier than other styles, but the sophisticated style will look beautiful in any room of your home. Plus, it can be folded and easily carried for on-the-go activities.
9. Baby Monitor
Once your baby starts sleeping in their own room (see our Sudden Infant Death Syndrome prevention guidelines for more info on this), a monitor can help ease parental anxiety by letting you hear them when they need you. Many can also transmit video, giving you the peace of mind that comes with knowing what’s happening in your little one’s crib without risking disturbing their sleep.
Audio monitors are the most affordable option, and work by sending a signal to a receiver that stays near your child’s crib. They can pick up noise from the room or even outside, but look for ones that filter out background noise and are activated by sound or voice activation so you only get alerted when there’s a cry.
For a slightly more advanced monitor, look for options with night vision and remote pan, tilt, and zoom capabilities. Some can even notify you if your child moves out of range, while others offer movement and breathing analytics to better understand your kid’s sleep patterns.