As my youngest sister prepares for the birth of her first children (she’s having twins), she’s busy gathering an airplane hangar’s worth of stuff that Babies R Us has convinced her she needs. No judgment here—I did the same thing when I was in her shoes, fretting that I couldn’t possibly bring my son home without a My Brest Friend pillow at the house. That would be insane!

But what’s really insane is the amount of stuff we accumulate for a little person about the size of a pumpkin. As my mom likes to remind me, our parents’ generation had a quarter of the stuff we have today, and most of us survived in tact. My husband’s uncle actually slept in a drawer when he came home from the hospital back in the ’40s, and of course, who could forget these darling baby-friendly cages, popular in 1937 London.

There are a few essential items that every parent needs—a crib, a car seat and diapers, for starters. But what about the rest? The best way to determine what you really need is to ask other parents who’ve already real-world tested the bouncy seats, strollers and bottles on the market. To get you started on your baby-gear list, I’ll share with you my absolute favorite baby items.

Snap-N-Go Stroller: When you start researching strollers, you may be shocked to find that some cost more than a mortgage payment, while others require a degree in engineering from MIT to fold them. The single best stroller for the first year (or for as long as your child is in an infant-carrier seat) is the frame stroller. Snap-N-Go is the original maker of this style of stroller, but there are now more competitors on the market. Why do I love these? Let me count the ways:

1. They are light. When you are juggling a car seat, shopping bags, etc., the last thing you want to do is lug a heavy stroller in and out of your house or car trunk.

2. They are easy to push. The old-school stroller systems parents used to rely on are so darn cumbersome, they can be like steering the Titanic.

3. The infant carrier slips in and out of it like a breeze. No threat of waking a sleeping baby.

4. They’re so easy to fold up, a 4-year-old can do it.

5.  You can get one for less than $100 new.

6. They take up little space in your car or house.

Swaddle blankets: You will probably be up to your eyeballs in blankets when your child is first born—seriously, everyone you know will buy you a blanket. While the handmade ones are lovely keepsakes, for practical everyday use during those first few weeks, I loved the Summer Infant SwaddleMe blankets, which basically turns your baby into a cozy burrito. There are a number of swaddlers on the market these days, but the Summer Infant brand was the only option I had 5 years ago. These contraptions take the challenge out of folding a traditional blanket into a snug sleeper hold, and when you’re operating on three hours of sleep, anything that makes your life easier is a blessing.

Vulli-Sophie-the-Giraffe-TeetherSophie the Giraffe: To this day, my mother mocks me for buying this $20 chew toy, but when my kids were first teething, Sophie was one of the only things that kept them content (well, that and Motrin). There is some scientific rationale as to why babies love this French toy, and my kids latched on to this little guy so much, it became part of our family. When we lost it, my husband and I became as deranged as Parker Posey and Michael Hitchcock searching for “busy bee” in Best in Show.

Bouncy seat: Some people swear by swings, but my kids hated them. What they did enjoy, was the a bouncy seat, especially ones that vibrated. Bouncy seats gave my arms a few minutes of freedom during the day, and when they were ready for solids, I used these seats to feed them. I didn’t have the super fancy ones with all the glowing bells and whistles—I always felt too much going on overstimulated a baby.

Ikea Antilop High Chair: This high chair had to be designed by a parent sick and tired of cleaning the cracks and crevices of traditional padded high chairs. The plastic bare-bones seat is so easy to clean, and if you live in a small space, the legs snap in and out, making it easy to store (or transport). For a few dollars more you can buy a support pillow, which is machine washable, and a tray. And it’s about $20.

Baby backpack: I never had much luck with the front baby carriers. Some mom’s swear by them, but it was never a right fit for our family. What did become a life saver around month seven was the baby backpack. Many of the backpacks are designed for hiking and such, but we used ours around the house to complete every day chores when the baby got cranky. They loved sitting high above the world, watching everything from a new perspective, and we loved having our hands free to get stuff done. The frames tend to be extremely light and durable, and most can handle toddler weight. The only downside is that my kids loved to pull my hair while I was carrying, so a low pony tail was a must.

What are some things you couldn’t live without?


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