Baby Gear: What You Actually Need 

Answers and product recommendations from Baby Gear: What You Actually Need, a Spright workshop with Ariel Gold held on July 26, 2016

Hi, Ariel!

A little bit of background — I’ve been teaching workshops on choosing baby gear since 2012, and I was previously the product expert for DayOne Baby in San Francisco.

I received a rock n play, 4 moms Mamaroo, bouncer and swing between hand-me-downs and shower. Plus I have a bassinet. Any reason to keep all? Which do experts recommend is best?

I would say you can slim it down to one or two of the bouncer/swing options. A couple of things to consider when deciding which to keep: Think about holding on to something that can last longer than 3 months (not sure which bouncer you have, but something like the Baby Bjorn Balance can last until your child is 2). And, think about something that will help your baby learn to fall asleep while still — something that moves independent of a motor.

One tricky thing is that it’s tough to know what your baby will like ahead of time! I have generally had good luck with the Bjorn Balance bouncer I mentioned above. It’s expensive, but it’s a safe place to put a newborn, is self-propelled and will react to the happy kicks of a 6-month-old, and can be used as a seat until your child is 2. It is easy to wash and folds flat for simple storage.

If you’re in the opposite position and are trying to decide what to buy, and you aren’t sure if you want to invest yet, then wait! You can always pick something up once the baby is here.

We often hear questions around what parents actually need to have on hand when they first bring baby home. What are the absolute must-haves?

Honestly, not a ton! I recommend having: a carseat, diapers, a place for your baby to sleep, and swaddles. If you’re breastfeeding, have nipple cream and breast pads.

Some other things I put on my nursery must-have list: a crib, a changing area (often the dresser is used in lieu of a changing station), a baby carrier, and a bath.

Is it better to go with an infant car seat or buy a convertible straight away because it can be used for a longer period of time?

As long as your baby is in a properly fitting car seat, it is completely your choice! However, something to think about: Most babies fall asleep in the car, so to avoid waking your sleeping baby while out and about, an infant carseat is the most practical option.

You can also attach your infant carseat to most strollers, making navigating those first outings much easier. Be sure to know whether you need an adaptor to get your seat onto your stroller.

What should you look for when test driving a stroller?

Check out how easy it is to maneuver — make sure to do it one-handed! How does it collapse? You want to make sure you feel comfortable collapsing the stroller. Can you do it one-handed for those moments your baby wants to be held?

Think about your lifestyle. How much storage do you need while out and about? Are you navigating rougher terrain such as unpaved trails or broken cement due to tree roots? Do you want a stroller that can eventually recline for napping toddlers? The list goes on! Don't pay attention to what "everyone else has” — think about making the right decision for you and your lifestyle.

What should one look for when choosing a crib (from a safety perspective)?

For cribs, I recommend looking for hard wood and avoiding anything avoiding anything with a high volume of "wood products," which usually refers to MDF or composite board. Look for water-soluble glues or stains.

Any cost effective cribs you'd recommend that meet those criteria?

There are so many options out there, from Ikea to Baby Appleseed. I tend to start my search by looking at Greenguard.org to find those brands with Green Guard certification, then finding something in your price range.

That being said, cribs are an investment, so if cost is an issue, consider how long you are going to use it. Picking a crib that can be converted into a toddler bed means you can use it and the mattress for up to 5 years. Picking a cheaper crib that only lasts 2 years means a "big kid bed" is in the near future, and those mattresses get pricey.

The DaVinci Meadow crib is a 4-in-1, Green Guard Gold certified, and under $400. Check that one out as a starting point!

Is there a good cosleeper or bassinet option for twins? The Graco one that is most often recommended has horrible safety reviews.

I’d check out the Arm’s Reach — either the Mini Arc or Ideal are fine. With twins I would recommend laying them down perpendicular to the edge of the bed so they both fit side by side. You will graduate from this around 3 months or when they first start making motions to roll over.

A couple of other interesting co-sleepers and small crib options — check out The Baby Bunk, which is solid wood. The Alma Mini is a mini crib and has wonderful safety reviews and a coconut husk mattress. It folds up or can be rolled into other rooms with ease.

Are there good resources for finding green products?

The EWG and Healthy Child Healthy World are some other great resources if you’re looking into eco-friendly products. Skin Deep is another resource for products coming in direct contact with your skin, such as lotions and shampoo.

Which product categories are generally worth more investment?

Besides the crib, I’d think about the dresser (which can also be used as a changing station), baby carrier, stroller, car seat, and (eventually!) high chair.

Baby carriers: How do you know which one will be best for you and your baby?

You don't truly know until you try baby in it. But, if you’re registering in advance, I recommend trying carriers on at a store first — or have your partner do so. The product experts in the store can show you the proper way to adjust the carrier so it is safe and comfortable for both you and your baby.

And, keep your receipts! If you don't feel comfortable using a particular carrier once baby is here, you can take it to the store and have the salespeople show you the best option for your family.

What about bathtime? Any products that can make bathing a newborn easier?

The Puj Tub fits into any standard bathroom sink and props your baby up. Because it is in the sink, you don't have to bend down as far while still recovering from delivery. I also recommend bathtubs that offer an infant insert or have a support for your newborn but that can be used beyond just the newborn phase — like the Stokke Flexi Bath, which is good for 0-4 years.

How soon do you have to think about baby proofing?

I usually recommend doing do when your baby starts rolling over but before crawling. You need to find baby-proofing products that best fit your home, plus allow time to install them.

If you’re thinking ahead to baby-proofing, green cleaning products are one way of baby proofing from the start, and they can make nesting safer for you and your child.

A few closing thoughts…

Every family is different — and, as I'm sure you've already realized, people feel VERY strongly about certain products. Think about your lifestyle and stay true to that. If your gut says, "I don't think I need this" then you probably don’t, or you can put off getting it until later