This definitive guide to baby gear was a collaboration of more than 1, 200 moms who shared with us the brands and products they love, or don't (and why); hundreds of volunteer Mom Testers who tried out products with their own families, in their own homes; and Parenting's editors (parents as well!) who make a full-time job of knowing what matters to moms.
Parenting magazine's Baby Must-Haves makes the whole process of of gearing up for your baby simpler, more streamlined, and more fun.
Next, get a sneak peek at some of the products we've deemed absolute must-haves.
Plus: Purchase the book at Amazon!
Product recall alert! The Oeuf Infant Bouncer, featured on page 123 of Baby Must-Haves, has been recalled. [pagebreak]
Baby Must-Haves: Pacifiers
Babies are hardwired to suck -- and not just in order to eat. It soothes them, which is why so many pair a pacifier or thumb with a blankie or other lovey: The combo is comforting. Not all babies take to a pacifier, and those who do are often quite picky about their "plug"; they'll only accept a certain kind. So don't worry about getting your baby to take a pacifier or choosing the "right" one if she does. If you offer her a few, most likely she'll pick the one she likes -- or spit them all right out of her mouth.
That said, there's plenty of variety among pacifiers. Some features you'll find:
- Nipple material Pacifier nipples are made of either silicone or latex.
- Nipple shape Many pacifiers claim to be "orthodontic, " meaning they won't interfere with the proper growth and development of a baby's mouth, teeth, or jaw. Gerber's NUK pacifiers ($4 for two) are a popular orthodontic paci.
- Nipple size Most pacifiers will be labeled according to age (for babies 0 to 6 month, 6 months and up, and so on.)
- Ventilation To cut down on irritation around the mouth (where saliva can gather under the sides of the pacifier), many feature holes or other openings.
- Style Pacifiers come in all sorts of colors and designs. One fun option: The fancy-looking Munchkin Bling pacifier ($5, above).
- Hospital "grade" The plain-Jane Soothie paci given to newborns in the hospital has something of cult following: Some babies won't take anything else ($5).
- Cover Some pacifiers come with a little plastic case, but we love the Keep-It-Kleen pacifier, which has shields that close over the nipple when it leaves the baby's mouth ($5).
Mom Tip! "I bought a dozen of my son's favorite pacifier (the NUK) and kept them everywhere -- in the diaper bag and the stroller, in every room of the house, in coat pockets, etc. That way I could always get my hands on one in a hurry."[pagebreak]
Baby Must-Haves: High Chairs
This is one topic the moms in our survey had especially strong opinions about -- and for good reason: As one respondent says, your child will be in their high chair at least three times a day, so it's best not to skimp on quality. Beyond that, you'll want to make sure the seating you choose has the right bells and whistles for you both. The Fisher-Price Space Saver High Chair ($50, featured below) is an excellent option if space is an issue.
Several features to consider when shopping for a high chair:
- Ability to recline A chair that can be tilted back in one or more positions can make it a great place to keep a young baby who's not yet eating but may be able to hold her own bottle: She can snack on that or take a nap in the kitchen while you cook. A chair that's labeled "from birth to 45 pounds" (or so) will last you for quite some time -- at least until your child refuses to sit in it any longer.
- Height adjustability You can raise or lower the chair to the perfect height for spoon feeding, or to the same level as everyone else at the table.
- Wheels In our survey, high chairs with wheels got yays - and those that didn't got nays. It's easy to see why: Wheels let you move the chair from spot to spot. Look for wheels or casters that swivel, and make sure they have a locking mechanism.
- Simplicity If you want a high chair that's, well, just a high chair, check out the ultra-plain Antilop by IKEA ($19, featured below). It's made of white plastic with metal legs and doesn't even come with a tray; you must buy that separately ($5). Note that the chair does have a seatbelt, but it just goes across the lap, making it not an ideal restraint for very young babies or for those old enough to try to climb out. Also consider a simple, old-fashioned wooden chair, but keep in mind that it won't be comfortable without some sort of padding (which you'll have to launder often) and may not feature a good restraining system. Eddie Bauer makes a number of wooden models -- one mom described hers as "inexpensive, easy to clean, and attractive."
- Washable seat pad A vinyl one can be cleaned easily with a disinfecting wipe; be sure you can get between the pad and the actual seat of the chair as well -- bits of food like to get trapped under there.
- Appearance You can find more and more chairs in solid colors and simple, sophisticated designs that may look more like they belong in the dining room than in the nursery.
"I spread out an old plastic shower curtain under my baby's high chair to catch all the dollops of food that would otherwise land on the floor."
Baby Must-Haves: Strollers
First, consider where you live and the local terrain. A stroller that's going to be used on city streets will need different features than one that'll primarily see action in a suburban mall or on well-maintained sidewalks; and a stroller that will be used in a rural area will require yet another set of criteria if it's going to hold up over time. Because where you'll be using your stroller really drives what you need, our book gives an in-depth features list based on locale. Here, a few points to consider if you're a city dweller:
In urban areas, you'll need to scale curbs, maneuver over sidewalk cracks and potholes, and fit between narrow store aisles, juggle your stroller and baby in and out of public transportation, perhaps lug them both up and down flights of stairs, and more. Fans of the high-end Bugaboo Cameleon Stroller ($700, featured below, left) say its rugged wheels can take both bumpy sidewalks or off-road terrain. Your stroller should:
- Be super-sturdy. Not only is there the repeated jarring of broken sidewalks and such, there's some serious wear and tear due to the fact that urbanites do a lot of walking. In general, a steel frame will hold up much better than an aluminum one, but it'll be heavier -- not so great if you live in a walk-up apartment building or use public transportation a lot. Your best bet: Find the lightest steel frame stroller that you can.
- Sport rugged wheels. You might consider a stroller that has air-filled tires, which give more easily on rough surfaces (and make for a smoother ride for little passengers). You'll also have an easier time bumping them up and down stairs. The downside is that they do need to be filled; so you might want to look for one that comes with a pump, or consider investing in a small pump.
- Fold compactly. The stroller will need to fit inside the trunk of a taxicab as well as on public transportation. Lots of city moms in our survey swear by their lightweight, compact-fold Maclaren strollers, which come in several styles (click on the comparison chart at maclarenbaby.com to size each one up), ranging in price from around $110 to $250. Another urban fave: The Inglesina Zippy ($250, featured right). "We live in downtown Chicago and have limited space. The Zippy folds up smaller than a bag of golf clubs!" raves one of our survey respondents.
- Have ample storage space. Since your stroller will serve as your baby's main means of transportation, make sure there's room in the basket for all his stuff as well as for shopping bags and such. Also check to see that you have easy access to the basket if the seat back is reclined. (This is important wherever you live.)
"My baby was a big car napper, so having an infant seat/carrier/stroller combo was the key to uninterrupted naps."
Baby Must-Haves: Safety Gear
Childproofing your home isn't just essential for safeguarding your baby: It's important to your own peace of mind. The safer your child's surroundings and the more familiar you are with potential household dangers and how to prevent them, the easier it will be to relax and enjoy your time with your family.
That said, all the outlet covers and cabinet locks in the world can't replace vigilance, so consider these items as tools to help make your home safe -- not replacements for your watchful eye.
- Smoke and carbon monoxide detectors There should be one in or near each bedroom, and one near the kitchen. One family-friendly idea: the Vocal Smoke Alarm ($30) lets you record a message, which alternates with a siren. (Research shows that Mom's voice is more effective than traditional alarms.) You can also find combo smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. Whatever model you choose, be sure to replace batteries every six months.
- Fire extinguisher Besides a regular extinguisher, it's a good idea to keep a compact, one-time use version in the kitchen, like First Alert's Tundra Fire Suppressant ($20). It'll put out small household fires, including cooking oil flare-ups.
- Lower cabinet and drawer locks (ideally, move any dangerous items, like knives or cleaners, to higher storage). We especially like the KidCo Adhesive Mount Magnet Lock Starter Set ($16) for its easy installation (no tools needed!); a magnetic key gives you - but not your child - easy access to cabinets and drawers.
- Stove knob covers (to prevent little hands from turning on a burner). Also remember to cook on the rear burners and turn pot handles toward the back so that your child can't reach them.
- Oven lock
- Toilet seat locks
- Tub spout cover (set your hot water heater to 120 degrees, or buy anti-scald devices -- for around $100 -- and install on faucets). One cute option: a turtle-shaped Spout Protector ($5; above).
- Corner and edge bumpers These are a must on coffee table corners and raised fireplace hearths. Your child might try to pull them off, but give them a try.
Baby Must-Haves: Cribs
Your baby's crib should be a safe haven -- a place where she can sleep or play comfortably, without any danger of getting hurt. When choosing a crib, be sure to look for:
- Screws, brackets, and joints that are tightly in place and intact. (Obviously, if you assemble the crib yourself, make sure you screw and tighten all the parts correctly.)
- A mattress that fits snugly, so your baby can't slip down between it and the crib frame and become trapped. Note that most mattresses are sold separately from the crib.
- Slats that are no more than 2 3/8 inches apart. If you can slip a soda can between the slats, they're wide enough for your baby's head to fit through and get stuck.
- Corner posts that don't extend more than 1/16 inch, so that your child's clothing can't get snagged on them.
- A headboard and footboard without decorative cut-outs that your baby could trap her head in.
- Adjustable mattress levels so that as your baby learns how to sit, stand, and then climb, you can lower the mattress. (Most cribs can be adjusted to at least two different mattress levels.)
- Rolling casters , to make it easier to move the crib around the nursery.
- At least one drop side , so that it's easier to put your newborn down on the mattress. Two drop sides make for more flexible positioning in the nursery. The drop side should have a locking mechanism so that the baby can't release it.
NOTE: Make sure that any new crib you're considering is approved by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). Log on to cpsc.gov to search for products recalls and find out about product safety standards.
Gizmos & Gadgets Teething rails are strips of soft rubber that clip or adhere onto the top horizontal rail of a crib -- often viewed as a delicacy by teething babies looking for something hard to chew on. They aren't necessary -- gnawing on her crib won't hurt your baby, but she might enjoy the "chewier" surface of the rubber, and once a few of her chompers are in, the rail might help protect the crib's finish from toothmarks, especially if it's painted. One option: Gummi Crib Rails ($14; OneStepAhead): At 50 inches long, they can be cut to size if necessary.
"If you're going for an inexpensive crib, white painted wood looks better than a cheap wood finish."