Baby Stuff to Buy (or Not)
Reviews, information, etc. about baby gear:
www.lucieslist.com - great guidebook to baby stuff, including outlining the various options and why you should consider them
www.babygearlab.com - lots of hands-on testing, similar to Consumer Reports
www.thenightlight.com - comprehensive reviews in the style of the Wirecutter/Sweethome, although as of 2016 they're a bit out of date
thewirecutter.com/baby-kid - Wirecutter itself didn't do baby/kid reviews until 2017 (so it was less helpful when Adam was a baby), but it's now a great site for comprehensive product reviews
You Don't "Need" Much
The Baby Industrial Complex can be overwhelming, but remember that people have been successfully raising babies around the world for thousands of years without all this stuff. The following is probably the bare minimum:
Diapers - see the Diaper Page for more ...although if you do "elimination communication" you don't even need these
Swaddle blankets - having lots of cheap blankets is nice since they'll inevitably get dirty (see below for details)
A Baby Carrier - not "necessary" but ~essential to free up your hands and avoid back pain...also if you're like us you might not want/need a stroller if you have one of these (see below for details)
Car seat - required by law if you're ever riding in car...if you live in a handful of cities with comprehensive, 24-hour transit maybe you wouldn't need it?
...everything else is pretty much optional/nice-to-have. Strollers, cribs, nurseries, etc. are not necessary, especially early on. You might need bottles/pumps depending on your work/feeding situation.
"The Best Stuff" we found:
Most of the following is in this Google Shopping Shortlist
"Structured" Baby Carrier: ErgoBaby 360 Cool Air - easy-to-use, versatile (wear front or inward facing, or even as a backpack), and comfortable; the "Cool Air" version solves most problems with the older 360...needs infant insert if you use before ~4-5 months or while 7-12 pounds (Amazon, Google Shopping)
we were still using this with Adam even at around ~2 years old (although as he got bigger it was mostly practical in "backpack mode", not in the front)
Wirecutter agrees that this is the best carrier for older kids, but recommends the Beco Gemini for smaller adults/kids
Bottles: Pura Kiki - the only bottle that has no plastic whatsoever, harder to break than the glass bottles, easy-to-clean wide mouth, and the silicone nipple can be changed out with other brands if you don't like Pura's (Amazon, Google Shopping)...wirecutter breaks down some of the better plastic options
not much of an issue anymore but if you see these used, avoid the old painted version (the paint chips off), get the newer 2016+ ones with silicone sleeves
...although honestly Adam never did that well with any bottles and eventually went to sippy cups (see solid food page for recommendations)...although we also used the Puras as a "sippy cup" by just changing out the nipples --> we still used the same bottles as a "sippy cups" when he was 4+
Breastpump: Spectra S1 - closed system pump that is supposedly as good or better than "hospital grade" pumps like the Medela Symphony, which costs over 10x more...the only thing people don't like is the flanges, which you can change out [with some adapters/hacks] for Medela ones, or you can use Pumpin' Pals inside their flanges [that's what we did]; also make sure you have the right size for the nipple, and if necessary lube up with some coconut oil...depending on your work pumping situation, you might prefer another brand [Medela is much more common]...also some might prefer a manual pump, which is way cheaper but a bit more work (Amazon, Google Shopping)...Wirecutter's pick
Breast flange: Pumpin' Pals Super Shields - moms online rave about these, and they did indeed seem to make pumping more comfortable...they don't officially work with the Spectra but we used them just fine (Amazon, Google Shopping)
Breastmilk storage: Milkies Trays - we looked in vain for a good system that would work without plastic, but these ice cube trays make it easy for us to freeze milk to store in ziplock freezer bags...you could just use a normal ice cube tray, too, but these freeze the milk in convenient 1-ounce sticks (Amazon, Google Shopping)
Bottle warmer: Kiinde Kozii - highly recommended by various websites because it doesn't over-heat the milk; we generally liked it (and found it was much better than trying to warm milk under the tap while carrying a screaming baby) (Amazon, Google Shopping)
Nail Clippers: Safety First "Sleepy Baby" - easy to hold and with a built-in flashlight, these make clipping nails much easier (which you have to do almost once a week!), rec'd the Nightlight (Amazon,Google Shopping)
Co-sleeper: SnuggleMe Organic - this was recommended by our midwife, and we found it useful both as a co-sleeper to safely/comfortably share our bed, as well as as a portable sleeper, for example for naps on the living room floor
Blackout Curtains - see the baby sleep tips for more details
Dohm White Noise Machine - most people will probably prefer a smartphone app, but if you want a stand-alone unit this is the gold standard; more on the sleep tips page
Diaper Bag - just use a backpack! It's better ergonomically and it's one less baby-specific thing you need to buy. If you want a new backpack, check out the popular Swedish hipster Kånken. The Wirecutter has some other ideas if you don't have a normal backpack already. Here's what we put inside:
Portable Changing Pad: Skip Hop Pronto - this makes changing easy (even on park benches or tiny restrooms) and has pockets for wipes, sanitizers, etc.
Wet/Dry Bag (for cloth diapers): Planet Wise - they make a bunch of diaper pail liners and wet/dry bags that can go straight in the wash; the wet/dry bag stores both clean diapers and ones that need washing (Amazon, Google Shopping)
...the rest is on the diaper page
Other stuff you should get but don't stress out about brands:
Baby clothes - even if you don't inherit a bunch of clothes from friends like we did, you'll probably get gifted a bunch of stuff anyway. (Also when he was newborn, we mostly kept our baby in just a diaper & blankets, unless he left the house.) It's super-cute, but also super-wasteful to spend a lot of money on this, at least at first! A few options to consider:
Used/thrift clothes - if you don't have hand-me-downs from family/friends, lots of places sell used clothes. Some Goodwill/Salvation Army places have baby/child sections, and some stores specialize in it (e.g. Chloe's Closet and other stores in SF, or Swap.com online)
You can get cheap (organic cotton!) onesies on Amazon for $2-3 a piece
If you want to get a bit fancier, we loved Pact's cozy, organic onesies and pants.
Bombas "gripper" socks - a bit expensive (although occasionally on sale) but are less slippery...and their customer service is *outstanding* (I wrote them about a problem on the weekend, and within 15 minutes they shipped me a replacement!).
Hannah Anderson - pretty well-made organic toddler PJs/clothes
Target - various good deals, especially on shoes
Native Shoes - more expensive shoes, but very comfortable & easy to wash (good for going to the beach, etc)
Swaddle blankets - we used a bunch of these, and you can never have enough (since they inevitably get milk/spit/pee on them).
Aden & Anais is a popular brand
Ellie Funday swaddles are beautiful but expensive
...but it doesn't really matter what brand you get...and the most useful swaddles were the ones my mom made from flannel at the fabric store
Car seat - we don't own a car but if you ever want to ride in one with your baby (or if you have a hospital birth, even if you walk to the hospital), you need one of these
Alternative (lasts longer): get a single "convertible" rear-facing seat that will last from newborn to when they're ~3-4 (infant car seats can't be used once the baby's head is within 1" of the top) ...we ended up eventually getting the Evenflo SureRide (aka "DLX", Amazon, Google Shopping) because it's light and relatively easy to install with a seatbelt; more options listed on Lucie's List and Wirecutter (if you like the SureRide, also consider the very similar Cosco Scenera NEXT, also cheap/light)...in theory we could have started with the SureRide at birth, but it's pretty big/bulky and doesn't attach to strollers.
Manual Breast Pump - these are useful for on-the-go/travel, and eventually Lizzie exclusively used this (she preferred having more control; your mileage may vary)...various models are out there, including Medela, Philips Avent, etc...ours was a Lansinoh that we inherited from a friend but Wirecutter likes the Medela Harmony
Yoga ball - these are useful for childbirth and for bouncing the baby to sleep; there are dozens of brands that as far as we can tell are all alike; we got one as a gift
Some friends of ours rave about the Fisher-Price My Little Snugapuppy Deluxe Newborn Rock 'N Play Sleeper
Stuff that we bought but eventually didn't use much:
"Wrap-Style" Baby Carrier: Solly Baby or K’Tan Breeze - the latter is easier to put on/off, but we got the former since it is more hippie/granola and it's the favorite of the folks at Natural Resources...it's also super-soft/comfy
Update: we only used this for the first ~3 months, since the ErgoBaby was a lot more, well, ergonomic; we've also heard good things about the San Francisco-made Nesting Days newborn carrier. Maybe if we had it to do over again we might have tried that or just used an infant insert in the ErgoBaby. Still, Adam loved the Solly Baby when he was a newborn...
Nursing Pillow: Blessed Nest or My Breast Friend - the latter is very popular, much more so than the "Boppy" pillow, but we went with the former, which is made with organic buckwheat harvested by virgins or something like that
Update: Lizzie ended up not using this all that much, especially once Adam learned side-lying position (see breastfeeding tips); still, one of Adam's grandpas loves to use this when holding him.
Alternative bottle: Comotomo - we ended up also getting one of these high-rated bottles, which is all-silicone and has a more breast-like shape that was easier for our baby to latch onto...be careful with these when filling—they tip over easily --> update: as of ~4-5 months we stopped using this and went back to just Pura Kikis
Baby Monitor: Philips Avent DECT SCD570/10 - we inherited one of these from a friend but didn't use it much (our house is small enough that could hear our baby cry without trouble). The rechargeable batteries died on us, and rather than get an expensive battery pack, we just used two normal rechargeable batteries with a small piece of aluminum foil, which worked great! Rec'd byLucie's List, Baby Gear Lab (although they both also like the VTech DM221). Wirecutter and Baby Gear Lab have other ideas for video monitors.
Bouncy seat - my parents ended up getting us the Baby Bjorn one, but there are lots of great brands out there --> note our baby projectile vomited a couple times after vigorous bouncing, so be gentle with these!
What you DON'T need
Nursery - by all means indulge your nesting instincts all you want, you don't need a separate room just for the baby; most newborns end up sleeping in the same room as the parents at first, since it's easier on everyone (see other sleep tips)
Changing table - chances are you can use an existing table/bed, and once they get above a certain size you'll change them on the floor anyway
Wipe warmers - universally acknowledged as useless
OK, two of my Navy friends tell me they love theirs...but another friend told me "No baby I know cared about the wipes being warm/cold" and another said she didn't want her baby getting used to warm wipes since they won't be warm when you're on the road. Adam hasn't cared his wipes are cold, so I'm with the latter camp, but your mileage may vary.
Pee Pee Teepee - supposed to protect you against baby boys' spray...and apparently useless.
Eventually needed but not for newborns:
Crib/Mattress/Play-yard - this can be useful later, but early on your baby doesn't need a "baby jail" (see the sleep page for more tips)...that being said, people like the Graco Pack n’ Play (e.g.Lucie's List)—my parents got one for their house when they babysit, and we occasionally used one as a travel crib. For cribs, we eventually got one from Ikea that our friends had/liked (the Gulliver, but they have various other ones that look similar).
we ended up getting a Mamas & Papas Armadillo stroller, which is similar to the Britax B-Agile and City Mini but seemed sturdier and easier to use (City Mini is Wirecutter's favorite stroller)
...by 1 year old, we still ended up not using our stroller that much due to its weight & size (and because it was almost always easier to use a baby carrier); it's nice to have it as an option but budget-minded city dwellers should be OK to never buy a stroller (or never get an infant stroller and go straight to a compact toddler "umbrella" stroller)
...by 2-3 years old we exclusively used the UppaBaby G-Lite (which Lucie's List calls "the Macbook Air of umbrella strollers", which is appropriate since it's small/light and well-designed but not a lot of features; Wirecutter has ideas for slightly heavier umbrella and travel strollers)
High chair/booster seat - not safe until they can sit up on their own, and not necessary until weaned/eating solid foods (6+ months). See Solid Food notes for more.
Sophie the Giraffe - has magic powers to soothe babies when they teethe...but that won't be for at least a few months
Knowledge Is Power
You don't need an instruction manual for your baby—and some books (like the "What to Expect..." series) probably cause more harm than good for many parents by freaking them out. Nevertheless, we found the following to be useful:
Sleep Advice --> see our Sleep Tips Page for more details
Happiest Baby on the Block DVD - secrets of making the "fourth trimester" comfortable for a baby; apparently the DVD has most of the important stuff from the book
Priscilla Dunstan's Baby Language on Oprah - watch this Oprah segment to help decode your baby's cries...our baby didn't do all of these but we still found it to be useful