Lord but I’m having some trouble finding both my creative mojo and time to exercise it to write blog posts. In the shower a couple weeks ago, though, I started reflecting on all the stuff we’ve found useful and/or entertaining over the course of the last year, and I thought, Hey! That might actually make a great blog post! And being that it is December, and I’m totally addicted to online holiday gift guides (even though I almost never find anything in them to buy), it seemed like that might be a good format to share my thoughts.
*NOTE: Most of the links below are Amazon Associate links. So if you buy something from Amazon using one of the links below I might get whole PENNIES credited to my Amazon account. I don’t usually bother with the special links, but this is a LOT of links, and frankly I spend so damn much money on Amazon that I deserve some kickbacks! :)
Breastfeeding and Feeding
- Tommee Tippee Closer to Nature bottles: These are designed for breastfeeding babies to be more like the breast. I dunno, but M. never had any trouble taking a bottle. And they’re chunky, so she figured out how to hold them for herself pretty easily once she was old enough for that.
- Medela Pump in Style breast pump (the tote, not the backpack): Most breastfeeding moms will need a pump, and a double electric one is imperative for working moms. This thing was a workhorse for me, and easy to carry around. I used it for over a year (still use it about once a week when I have to leave my house before M. wakes up – she still nurses when she wakes up every morning, but we’ve weaned from all other feedings), and it traveled to Chicago, Indianapolis, and Seattle with me for work. Other moms advised me to get the tote, not the backpack – I heeded their advice and am passing it along to you. Pro tip: Lubricate BEFORE you pump with olive oil or coconut oil or something safe for baby to ingest but lubricate-y (and apply nipple cream after pumping) and your nipples will thank you.
- Extra set of pump parts: Another essential for working moms – keep a set at work and a set at home so you don’t ever forget a key element and realize you need to pump when one of your parts is in the place you are not.
- Bottle drying rack: ESSENTIAL for saving your counter space. We dried bottles and pump parts on dish towels on the counter for weeks before I caved, and I instantly loved it. This particular one is not as cute, but it can hold a crapton of stuff and is durable and easy to clean. A lot of the cuter ones are not nearly as functional (though I did get a cute one for my office because I didn’t need to hold as much). As we get away from bottles, I can see this still being useful for sippy cups, etc. If you work, get an extra one for work to dry your pump parts.
- Lansinoh breast milk storage bags: I tried some of the other milk storage bags as well, but I liked Lansinoh the best because they freeze the flattest. I tried the Medela bags, which can actually attach straight to your pump in the place of the bottles, but I only did that once – it was annoying and I spilled milk detaching the bag from the pump. Pro tip: Freeze as much extra milk as you possibly can. You never know when you might need it. Freeze it lying flat in the freezer, and then use a soda can case (the long cardboard box) to store it all upright with the date at the top, in order by the date (early to late). We’ve been using up the last of my freezer milk during weaning – mixing it with cow’s milk to ease her into drinking that – and it’s been awesome (not to mention that it was crucial during my work travel and was really nice to have when kind parents offered to feed her in the middle of the night so I could sleep…).
- Micro-steam bags and pump cleaning wipes: Crucial if you’re a traveling mama. Ask for a microwave and a fridge in your hotel room and sterilize your pump parts easily (especially after gross airport travel and when you don’t have time between meetings for a thorough cleaning). For the cleaning wipes, they are the only way to pump in an airport, which is a miserable experience anyway. These make clean up a lot easier, and God knows you will deserve SOMETHING about that experience to be easy.
- Motherlove nipple cream: There are many nipple creams and ointments. Lots of people swear by Lansinoh’s lanolin, but I hated it. It was sticky and messy, hard to squeeze out and apply and wash off your hands and it gets all over your nursing pads…just no. My friend Kath turned me on to the Motherlove cream, which is FABULOUS. Yes, it’s $10 an ounce, but it lasts a while – a couple months at least. And your nipples are way worth it.
- Bamboobies: I used Lansinoh’s disposable nursing pads for a while, but I felt guilty about it. It seemed wasteful, and they were also kind of bulky and uncomfortable. But I needed something, especially at night, because there was all kinds of leaking going on for the first few months. I read about Bamboobies, ordered a single pair as a test run, and never looked back. They are SO soft and comfy, and absorbent enough for most people. If you’re a heavy leaker, try the overnight ones. If you’re small-chested, they may bunch up on you, though – they’re pretty big, area-wise.
- Boppy: If you know anyone with a baby and you haven’t heard of the Boppy, you probably live on another planet. Or at least in another country. The Boppy pillow was essential for getting M. positioned properly for breastfeeding for at least the first 6 months. I think I used it for several months after that, until she was big enough that it was actually less comfortable for me to use it. Dave used it in his lap to bottle feed her when she was tiny, too. We used it to sort of prop her up so she could see things when we weren’t holding her before she could sit. And we used it as a cushion around her when she was learning to sit, so that when she inevitably fell over, her fall was cushioned. I have a friend who used it to sit on when she first came home from the hospital after giving birth (I used regular pillows so that I could use Boppy to feed, but it would have been great for that too!). I suspect if I were to haul it down from the top of her bookshelf now, she’d enjoy it as a toy. Bottom line, it’s really versatile and easy to clean. Get a couple of extra covers for it while you’re at it, so you have backups while one cover is in the laundry.
- Small Glad containers for baby food: My best friend gave us some of these, and they were fantastic for storing and freezing pureed food. Making baby food was crazy easy – just boil or roast your veggies and use a blender, food processor, or stick blender to smoosh it up – but figuring out how to portion it out and store it was harder. Covered ice cube trays were okay, but they didn’t hold enough for a whole meal. These 4 oz containers were better, and cheap!
- Fisher Price strap-on high chair: They call it a booster seat, but it has a tray that snaps on and totally functions as a high chair that straps onto a regular chair. It’s cheap, it’s super-easy to clean, it could be portable, it doesn’t take much room – it’s all we’ve ever had as a high chair, and it’s perfect.
- Munchkin Travel Booster Seat: A friend sent me this for absolutely no reason at all, and it’s been fantastic for travel! It is actually just a booster seat – no tray to strap on. But it has little feet that fold out to make it higher – strap it on a chair in a restaurant and your baby can use the table as a tray. Fold the feet up when they get bigger and need less height. And it all folds up and buckles in on itself with a carrying strap so it’s super-portable, AND there’s a storage compartment. SOLD.
- PJs without footies: My child inherited the tall-and-thin gene from Dave. At her 1-year checkup, she was in about the 20th percentile for weight and the 95th for height. She outgrows footie pajamas before you can blink an eye – usually long before the rest of her body has outgrown them. So I can either put her in footies that are too short and scrunch her little feet up, or footies that fit her length but that she’s swimming in, width-wise. I’ve come to adore pajamas without feet, because if they’re a little high-watery as she gets taller, who cares? They’re PJs! In particular, we have completely fallen in love with Leveret’s pajamas, because they don’t cost a fortune, they’re adorable, and they’re super-soft. Easy to get on/off and wonderful to snuggle up to. I actually want a pair for myself…
- Halo swaddle sleep sacks and regular sleep sacks: There are nine million kinds of swaddles out there, and people who prefer to swaddle with special ninja blanket folding moves, and people who poo-poo the swaddle altogether. Our kid would not sleep without either a swaddle or someone actively cuddling her for months, and we were either too uncoordinated or too sleep-deprived to be any good with the blanket origami, so we preferred the easy-peasy velcro swaddle gadgets. Halo was our favorite – they are soft and cozy, but the velcro cannot be undone and does not wear out. Once she outgrew the swaddle, we continued using the regular sleep sacks because they give her the warmth of a blanket at night, but she can’t pull it off or get tangled in it or whatever. We do not go anywhere without a sleep sack.
- Robeez: I’m sure you’ve seen these adorable little leather crib shoes somewhere. We’ve been using them as M.’s shoes since she was wee – they’re so easy to get on and off, and they’re very cute and super-durable. They are a bit of an investment, but you can usually find them in good shape at consignment sales and second-hand shops if you don’t want to buy them new. She’s rarely ever worn any other shoes.
- Trumpette socks: FAVORITE. BABY SOCKS. EVER. I’ve heard people claim they’re overpriced, but seriously – they are SO adorable (she actually wears them instead of shoes a LOT), and most importantly, they STAY ON. Nary a lost sock. Gymboree socks are also pretty good at staying on our kid, for the record.
- No-scratch mittens: Our kid would have flayed all of the skin from her head with her fingernails in her first couple of months but for these tiny little mittens. They look kind of ridiculous, but in our case, they prevented self-mutilation. We stopped using them once she figured out how to pull them off by herself, but that was long enough for her to develop a modicum of control to realize that scratching herself hurt and she should stop.
Bath Time and Hygiene
- Spongey bath cradle: Has a temperature-sensing disk in the center that turns white if the water is too hot, and it can be used in a variety ways. When M. was brand-new, before her umbilical cord stump fell off and we were supposed to just give her sponge baths, we put this in the bathroom sink and ran a tiny bit of water in it to use with the washcloth. Then we had a big plastic tub that she was too small for, but this cradle helped her fit comfortably and safely. Once she moved up to the big tub with no smaller tub to sit in, we sat her down on the cradle to help keep her from sliding around on the bottom of the tub. Word to the wise, though – don’t sit this on the water first and then go undress/fetch the baby. The water will soak up to the top and be cold by the time you get back! Just put the sponge on the water right before you lay the baby on top of it.
- Burt’s Bees Baby Bee Shampoo and Wash: I like this so much better than the standard Johnson & Johnson baby shampoo. It can be used as shampoo or a body wash, and it smells fantastic – much less like chemicals than J&J (more like an oatmeal cookie!). I like the lotion, too.
- Good, thick hooded towels: There are thin hooded towels too, but the thick ones are a lot more absorbent. Plus my kid gets cold in the bath – partly because she refuses to sit in the water, but I think any kid would be cold when getting out of the water, and the thick towels are way better for getting snuggly warm again.
- Diaper sampler pack: If the parents are planning to cloth diaper, a small package of newborn or size 1 eco-friendly diapers (like the ones from the Honest Company or Seventh Generation) can still be useful, and the eco-friendliness will be appreciated by most cloth-diapering parents. Outside of cloth diapers, though, new parents have NO CLUE that different brands of diapers fit differently – and since babies are all different shapes and sizes, you will have no idea what brand fits your kid best without some trial and error. I think these diaper sampler packs are GENIUS. I’d get size 1 in case their newborn is on the larger side – most kids are out of newborn size diapers pretty quickly.
- Honest Company Healing Balm (diaper cream): I absolutely adore this balm as a diaper cream. I have never seen anything heal a small touch of diaper rash so fast. Plus it’s all-natural and eco-friendly. It ain’t cheap, but it is (in my opinion) well worth the cost. I tried the Burt’s Bees kind too, which is a lot cheaper, but I hated it – I could barely squeeze it out of the tube! I like the Honest Company’s way better.
General Baby Gear
- Ruby Love baby book: I spent an obscene amount of money on a baby book for M. I know some people find them kind of cheesy, but I really appreciate the prompts and spaces to record her big moments. I couldn’t find a less-expensive one that I really liked, though. The Ruby Love books have the right prompts, are beautifully designed, and are easily customizable if you order additional pages you can add in (it’s a binder-type book so you can add pages or move them around). By the time I had customized the book with all of the pages and accessories I wanted for it, I spent almost $100 – but I have not regretted it for a minute, particularly since M.’s likely the only kid we’ll have. I see they have a school-years album now too, that goes from pre-K through 12th grade; I may well get one of those when she reaches the right age!
- MAM pacifiers: These were (and still are) M.’s favorite pacifiers. She took to them like no others. And the glow-in-the-dark ones were AMAZING when she would wake up and cry if her paci fell out of her mouth, but she couldn’t put it back in her own mouth (because she was swaddled or because she just hadn’t figured out how to do it yet) – it was so easy to find at 3 am when I was barely awake and just pop back into her mouth.
- MAM pacifier clips: Even if your kid doesn’t like the MAM pacifiers, these clips are fabulous. A friend gave us a baggie of her used ones, and we adore them. They snap on the MAM pacifiers perfectly, but they also work for other pacifiers with either roundish knobs or with handles or holes that you can thread the velcro part through – the round snap-on part actually comes off the end if you need it to so that you can just use a simple velcro loop. Don’t boil these to sterilize them with your bottles and pacifiers, though – the plastic won’t stand up to boiling heat. Just wash them in hot soapy water.
- Jumperoo: My cousin was kind enough to let us borrow one of these when M. was about 5 or 6 months old, and for 3 months, it was her favorite thing ever. One of my cousin’s children stayed in it almost constantly for well over a year. There’s just so much to do here, and they’re ready for it right when they’re finally ready to start playing with toys.
- Fisher Price Cradle ‘N Swing: This thing was a LIFESAVER for us. It was the only way M. would sleep for 5 months. Naps and nighttime both she spent strapped into this thing. We figured out how to strap her in even though she was swaddled. We were weaning her off of it anyway when the motor wore out, so that ended that – though FP was amazing about sending us a new motor, which was very easy to replace, so we were able to pass it on to another family when we were done with it.
- White noise machine: Some people hate these things, but I think they’re amazing. They were especially helpful when we lived in a condo with loud neighbors, but even in our new house where most of the noise she could hear is made by Dave and me, it mostly helps her stay asleep. Frankly, the sound of it through the monitor helps me sleep, too!
- Fisher Price Soother Penguin: Another item our kid loves at bedtime. It’s got two sound buttons – nature sounds or classical music – and you can either play them by themselves or couple them with a light projection show (which you can change – there are 3 different inserts that project different pictures). She’s big enough now that sometimes she stands up in her crib and pushes the button herself when she wants it, and then lays back down and watches the light projections.
- Baby Baby Baby by Marilyn Janovitz: M. picked this one out in the book store herself when she was about 8 months old, and it continues to be a favorite. Cute rhymes, cute illustrations, and as she gets older she starts to do some of the motions that I do for the book with me.
- All the BabyLit books: Being that we are both English lit nerds, this line of classic novels re-imagined as board books to teach numbers, colors, shapes, and more is right up our alley. M. loves the bright colors and fun designs; we love the distilling of classic tales. We have Alice in Wonderland, Jabberwocky, Dracula, and A Christmas Carol. We want ALL OF THE OTHERS, though.
- B is for Bear by Roger Priddy: This is an alphabet book with touch-and-feel pages – feel the puppy’s fur, the seeds on the strawberry, etc. M. is in love with it, particularly the “Y is for You” page because it has a mirror on it.
- A Starfish: A Shapes Book by Bernette Ford and Britta Teckentrup: Simple, bright colors that teach shapes. Really, this is just good design in a simple board book – nothing ground-breaking, but M. loves it.
- The Going to Bed Book by Sandra Boynton: We read this every. single. night. M. totes it around the house with her. It’s a fun, silly bedtime story. All of Boynton’s books are great – classic board books – but this is one that we may have to re-buy because she’s going to wear it out before long.
- Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown and Clement Hurd: Another classic, one that we revisit frequently. I like to point to the items in the pictures that we’re saying goodnight to as I read the book, in the hopes that she’s picking up on what the names of those things are. She totes this one around the house a lot, too.
- Bright Starts Rings/Links: The simplest, cheapest, most amazing toy ever. These were the first toys she paid any attention to, and they are super-handy for hanging toys from car seats, strollers, etc. She still loves playing with them, though now she’s more interested in how they link together and their different textures.
- Fisher Price Laugh & Learn Camera: She’s less enthralled with this now, but she thought it was the most amazing thing ever for months. Push a button and it talks or sings! WHOA!
- Fisher Price Laugh & Learn Home: A friend passed this along to us when her son outgrew it. It took a little time for her to figure out all of the working parts, but she seems to figure out something new that it does every couple of weeks. There are just so many activities she can explore, and it plays lots of music, which is her favorite. She currently likes to hit the “radio” buttons on the back and dance to the music.
- Fisher Price Stride to Ride Puppy: My parents got her this for her birthday. The puppy is her new best friend. In theory, she could push it while she learns to walk, and later she’ll be able to sit on it and drive herself around on it. For now, she likes the puppy’s face most of all, though, so she just sits there and pushes his nose and music buttons, clapping and laughing and dancing. She also really likes feeding the puppy the plastic shapes he came with. I see this being a favorite for a long time.
- Wooden puzzles: Any wooden puzzles (we also have a Melissa & Doug fruit one she likes), but the one I linked to is one my sister gave M. for her birthday, and she lurrrrrves it. (Sorry for the weird link on that one – apparently you can’t buy that one anymore, but M. loves it so much…) She makes a beeline for it every time she re-emerges from her room to play. Unfortunately, the dogs ALSO love it – they’ve almost destroyed one piece already when we weren’t looking, and we’ve fussed at them to leave it alone (and taken pieces away from them) more times than I can count in just the 6 weeks we’ve had the dang thing.
- Angel Dear Pink Poodle Lovie: Known in our house as Pinky, this is her lovie, though she’s more attached to her books than to any stuffed animal or blanky type things. It’s a good size, and it looks kind of like a pink version of our Delia dog (her best bud), so it works for us.
Disclaimer on this category – we are TOTALLY those people who let our kid play games on our phones and watch television. If you’re not one of those people, feel free to skip this section. Also, we are an iPhone family, so I know all of these are available on iOS, but I can’t speak to other platforms.
- Fisher Price apps: There are a ton of these, and they’re all FREE. Her favorites are Animal Sounds, Baby Monkey, and all of the Storybook Rhymes (there are 5, but we only have the 3 free ones).
- Monkey Drum: My father-in-law found this one – she can bang on the monkey and jungle instruments, and the monkey plays back what she played. She can also feed the monkey bananas, and she can compose her own songs to play on an infinite loop. And again, it’s free!
- Elmo Calls: Not free, but worth it if you have an Elmo lover on your hands. It’s $1 for the app, but then another $5 to buy all of the calls you can have with Elmo (the $1 comes with just 5 or 6). So you push a button, and you can Facetime with Elmo. Play peek-a-boo with Elmo. Sing with Elmo. Play pretend with Elmo. And it’s got context specific calls – like for bath time and brushing teeth and visiting the doctor – and you can schedule them so that Elmo calls for your kid at the right time, maybe right before tooth-brushing time. It’s pretty cool. She likes it now, but I think she’ll like it even better as she understands what he’s saying more.
- NameGames: This lets you put in pictures of people baby knows and record their names, so they play a game where they touch bubbles and the bubbles have pictures of their loved ones and says their names. It’s pretty cool, but you only get 2 profiles of people for free. If you have more than 2 people you want to put in, you’ll have to pay for the full version.
- Peekaboo HD: M. adores this game. There are a bunch of barnyard animals, and they hide behind a haystack one at a time but make a noise (moo or bray or bark or whatever), and when she touches they haystack, they’re revealed. A voice says what they are (“cow”) and then they make their noise again and then it’s time for the next animal. There are also jungle and safari versions you can buy, and you can make it do the animals in Spanish.
- WebMD Baby: There are expensive apps for tracking feedings, diaper changes, etc., but this one is free. It has the added benefit of reminding you to take a picture of the baby every week, giving lots of helpful information and articles, giving you a spot to record growth (which I fill in right in the doctor’s office as they measure her), and so much more. And did I mention free? I think it’s an amazing bargain.
- Netflix: Dear God, we could not get by in our house without Netflix. We have it on our phones, and we use it sometimes, but mainly I’m talking about how we use Netflix instead of cable. Because we haven’t had cable for years, so we just have a computer hooked up to the TV permanently that we don’t use for anything except streaming entertainment. And Netflix has a fabulous kids’ section. We watch a ridiculous amount of Sesame Street, as well as the occasional Curious George and My Little Pony. We used to watch Yo Gabba Gabba, but they took it off of Netflix (sadface). She watches maybe 30 minutes of TV a day, but for those 30 minutes, it is amazing to have all of Sesame Street at your fingertips.