Once your baby reaches new milestones, you’ll need to keep up with their development by upgrading their toys and play areas. With our baby, we did not want to purchase or have all kinds of baby gear lying around or in storage (for the sake of wanting to maximize our living and storage spaces). We carefully chose a select few essential items (toys, play areas, sleeping gear, etc) for each milestone that were age appropriate, compact, functional, could be easily stored, cost efficient, and kept our baby amused and content for long periods of time.
This blog post covers most of the bigger baby gear you will be wanting or needing – I will do a separate post on strollers soon!
I did a ton of research on all kinds of baby products before and after we had our first baby to find out exactly what we needed, and what to pass on. Here’s a spoiler: you probably won’t need everything you think 🙂 Here are three easy tips to consider when you’re looking into getting baby gear:
1. Don’t buy new! Always check online buy and sell shops like Facebook Marketplace for gear before you purchase brand new (with the exception of cribs and car seats – to make sure they are not past or close to the expired warranty date).
2. Borrow from mama friends with older babies. This will get the gear off that mama’s hands if she’s no longer using it, and lets you try before you buy to see what baby likes or doesn’t like.
3. Think about the three S’s: Size, Storage, and Simplicity. Is it going to fit in your space without taking up too much room? Is it something baby will be using now, or in a few months? How long will baby use it for? Do you have room to store it once baby doesn’t use it anymore? Will you want to store it once it’s not being used anymore? Is it simple to assemble and potentially travel with? Make sure these are checked off your list before you purchase.
Read below for how to maximize your baby’s space and upgrade your own baby gear during months 0-12+:
cribs / pack and plays / bassinets
We live in a 1 bedroom apartment, which meant we would all be sleeping in the same bedroom. Even if you live in a 3 bedroom house, you’ll most likely be keeping your little one in your bedroom for the first several months. Might as well maximize on space and cost until then! I don’t know if you’ve compared the sizes of mini cribs to full size cribs, but with a mini crib you’ll be saving on nearly a foot of length and width space compared to a full sized crib (which is a lot if you’re living in a small apartment)! Babies don’t need a ton of room, so something compact will be perfect for them until they’re 12-18 months old.
WHAT TO BUY: Convertible mini crib (we have this one) OR a pack and play to act as the crib/changing table/diaper storage area all in one.
WHAT TO PASS ON: Full-sized crib and a bassinet/Pack and Play. We decided to not get one for the sake of saving on space and storage. They’re convenient if you’ll be traveling a lot, but when we’ve gone overnight or on a weekend getaway (which I can count on one hand in the last year), we’ve been fortunate enough to borrow our friend’s pack and plays!
WHEN TO UPGRADE: When baby is 1 – 1.5 years old, move into a full-sized crib.
activity gym / mobiles / foam play mats
We purchased an activity gym that was a grow-with-me one, where we could “upgrade” it as our baby developed. We used it for Izzy until she was crawling, and then switched it out for an enclosed play yard when Izzy turned 7 months old.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR: Multi functional activity gym with a plush pad. Make sure it comes with mirrors, rattles, pull strings, and sensory areas like crinkle paper, lights, and/or music. You’ll want to provide a fun tummy time experience for baby – and having a mat with interactive and colorful things to look at is the best way to get baby excited and curious about play! Here are my top picks for activity gyms:
1. 5 in 1 Baby Einstein Activity Mat
2. Up For Adventure Activity Mat by Skip Hop
3. 5 in 1 Ball Play Activity Gym by Bright Starts
4. Finding Nemo Ocean Lights Activity Gym by Disney Baby
WHAT TO PASS ON: Crib mobile and foam play mats. We opted to not get a crib mobile for our little one, because research says that they become unsafe by 5 months (or whenever baby can push up on their hands and knees). Plus mobiles are designed more to decorate baby’s crib than aid in their development – although there are some really cute ones out there! We figured if we had to take it down by 5-6 months, we would just pass on it and save the fun room decorating for when she’s in her older toddler years.
Unless you have hardwood floors all over your house (which we do), you don’t necessarily need a foam play mat. They are nice to have to protect baby’s squishy knees from getting bruised and cute head from getting bonked if they fall over on a hard surface – but if you have a rug over your baby’s play area or if your home is carpeted, you already have a built in play mat! We grabbed this one from Yay Mats to use on our wood floors, and in her Regalo Play Yard.
The (regalo) play yard
We LOVE this play yard! It’s the one and only enclosed play area we invested in. Not even pack and plays are this good, in my opinion. We have the 8 panel one, which sells for $40 off retail price on Amazon and works for kiddos up to age 2 🙂 I can’t find any cons about this play yard, and we’ve had it for several months now. It’s super spacious, is indoor and outdoor, the fabric/mesh is machine washable (just let it hang dry), and it can be put up/taken down in seconds. It also stores super compact! I just can’t say enough good things about it. Izzy has kept herself entertained in it for hours at a time.
I will be doing a blog post soon on how we use the Regalo for Izzy’s main play area, as well as the toys we have for her inside it – so make sure you SUBSCRIBE to the blog to stay on the lookout for that post in the next 2 weeks!
swings / rockers
We were blessed to test out a handful of baby swings and walkers with Izzy when she was a baby to see which one(s) she loved the most! We wanted to make sure she was comfortable and actually enjoyed the rocker or swing we got for her, before we registered/purchased one. I highly recommend going this route (borrow from another mama first) so you don’t end up with a plethora of baby swings and rockers that take up space, and are ones your baby might not even enjoy being in.
It’s also good to think about what you will be using it for, such as: is it for baby to sleep/nap in, is it for baby to hangout in while you make dinner, is it to help with reflux, is it to entertain baby, etc.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR: A swing/rocker that vibrates and sways with various settings. Your little one will want to feel like they’re back in the womb, so make sure your swing hits the necessary marks. Music is not needed, but it is a plus. The two that worked the best for us are:
1. This type of soothing swing (we had a similar one, with the same functions as this one). Only downside is this takes up quite a bit of space, and is only good for babies up to 5 months. Izzy became too long for it so we upgraded her to the rocker below:
2. This rocker by Fisher Price. This is a great option for nap time! The music and sounds are perfect for lullabies to sleep, and it folds super compact which is great for storage.
WHAT TO PASS ON: Expensive designer swings with all the bells and whistles. You’re only going to be using the swing (if at all, some babies hate them and never get to use them) for a few shorts months before baby outgrows it or decides they don’t like it anymore. Instead, go with trusted brands that offer quality and comfort for a less expensive price tag like Graco and Fisher Price.
swaddles / sleep attire
WHAT TO BUY: Basic baby jammies and soft swaddle blankets. 1-2 packs of side snap tees, 1 pack of mittens, 3-6 pairs of socks, and 3-5 swaddle blankets. Our little one was born in the heat of summer, on July 7th. So all she wore for her first few weeks of lounging around the house and to bed were side snap tees (a husband-approved favorite registry item), short sleeved onesies, and diapers. We did have mittens for her to not scratch her face, but they always ended up falling off. Newborns and infants aren’t going to be fond of wearing clothes or sleep suits at first, so a simple swaddle will do just fine for keeping them cozy and comforted.
WHAT TO PASS ON: Sleep sacks and sleep suits, lined booties, thick socks. Unless your baby is born in the middle of winter, you won’t need a lot of layers for them at nighttime or during the day for play. The most we layered Izzy was in a basic long sleeved onesie with cozy leggins and socks. Having a fan on or using in-room AC helps to regulate the room temperature at night so baby can be the most comfortable – always gauge what to dress them in by what you’re wearing PLUS a layer.
Each baby has their own preference, some like sleep suits/sacks and some don’t. We tried the magic Merlin sleep suit, but Izzy freaked out each time I put it on her because of how constricted it is. She also didn’t enjoy her sleep sack when we tried that method. I would suggest sticking to onesies or side-snap tees (socks optional) with a swaddle blanket for nighttime. But seriously side snap tees are the best invention…my husband LOVED using these on Izzy because they are so easy to put on and off.
As your baby grows, you’ll start to notice their little preferences for how they like to do things – sleep is one you will find out early on. So though sleep suits didn’t work for us, they might work for you!
Changing pad / dressers / diaper bins
WHAT TO BUY: Changing pad and cover. This is all you really need for changing diapers – we decided to maximize space and our budget we would skip the changing pad/dresser/crib combo to maximize on space. Plus, once they get older it will be harder to keep them on the changing table up on the dresser.
We moved our changing pad from the dresser to the bed/floor/couch/wherever we were changing her at the moment at 6 months, so in case she tried to roll or sit up we weren’t worried she would potentially fall off the dresser…yikes! We have a 3-sided changing pad similar to this one, and a similar cover to this pad cover.
WHAT TO PASS ON: Diaper pails and bins. We thought about putting one on our registry but decided against it – and we have no regrets! Instead, we use a super cute mint green wire basket (that I found in Target’s dollar section) lined with scented trash can liners and it works like a charm. We’ve been doing this from the weird-poop newborn days, to the what-in-the-world-did-you-eat solid food days 6 months and on, and even now that she’s 13 months and only eating solids! We’ve never had to deal with bad smells, odors, or taking out heavy diaper-laden trash bags.
Plus, this option looks even cuter and more discrete than a metal diaper pail and saves on space. It can be easily moved from the living room to the bedroom, and we simply empty it into our regular trash can when we take out the trash.
WHAT TO BUY: Space saver high chair, or a bumbo chair. Your little one won’t need an actual high chair until at least 7 months old, when they are on a regular schedule of eating real solids. We grabbed this space saver high chair to maximize our dining area space. It securely attaches to one of our dining chairs, is super easy to clean, and I love that the 2-in-1 tray has different compartments for food and a cup holder.
We started with a mamas and papas chair at 5 months, to help with assisted sitting up and used it when we began BLW at 6 months. This one by Bumbo is a great option too! And guess what – we got ours off Facebook Marketplace for $5!!!! And it was in great condition -the mom who sold it to me just didn’t have room for it anymore.
WHAT TO PASS ON: High chairs that take up a lot of floor space. Since baby won’t be actively using it for 3 meals a day until 9+ months, opt for a space-efficient high chair that can be easily stored or tucked away when not in use. Save taking out the high chair until baby is old enough to self feed and/or take full advantage of their high chair several times a day to get the most use out of it.
Hope you enjoyed these tips and my buy-this-not-that lists! They’re great for any size house, whether you’re in a small apartment or in a bigger house. Coming from someone who really wanted to maximize their living space and stretch their budget, I’ve found that following these guidelines for buying baby gear worked the best! ❤ What is one baby gear essential you’re deciding to purchase or pass on? Drop a comment below!