All The Gear, No Idea is a regular series from HuffPost Finds where we feature product recommendations for parents, by parents. Whether you’re shopping for a car seat for the first time or don’t know what tech to buy your teen, we’ve got you covered with shopping guides, reviews and the latest deals.
We all know that becoming a parent for the first time means a whole new shopping experience - from car seats to prams to cots and Moses baskets. But what about the stuff you didn’t even realise you needed?
My friends and I have a useful list that we send round to each other, each time someone announces they’re pregnant. It’s full of ‘never knew I needed that’ items; acting both as a guide to the most obscure parenting essentials. I couldn’t have got through the early years of parenthood without it.
And I’m here to make your life as a parent easier too, by imparting what I learned on the job. Forget gadgets and gimmicks: here’s what you really, really need.
I had no idea of the true importance of Sophie when a close friend gave me one as a ‘new baby’ present. I smiled at it, thought, “oh, that’s sweet”, noted that it squeaked quite loudly, and casually placed it on top of the growing pile. What I should have done is carefully sat Sophie on a plush velvet cushion, bowed to her and hung diamonds around her neck - for Sophie is a queen. Seriously. Once you know how good she is, there’s no way you can fail to notice her ubiquitous presence. Sophie, made in France, is the teether to beat all other teethers. She’s soft and flexible and 100% natural rubber. Your baby will love chewing her to pieces. End of story. You can also buy a teething ring version with two handles your baby can grip easily. We had both.
If there’s one truism about babies, it’s that they cannot - they simply cannot - keep their socks on. You’ll put on a pair, turn around for half a second to grab something, and one or both socks will have been wriggled off and disappeared. This goes for babies who have only just learned to crawl, babies who can walk, and babies who can’t do anything but lay down in one place and gurgle contentedly at the ceiling. If you’re out and about with your baby in a pram or baby carrier, forget it. You’ll be coming home sock-less. It’s just a fact. Until... Sock Ons. All hail the magic of a Sock On - they’re cheap, stretchy, made of nylon and elastane and fit over the baby’s foot to keep their socks firmly in place. Never lose a sock - or your sanity - again. You’re welcome.
What’s the one thing every new parent needs? That’s right. Coffee. But if you want to be able to carry your precious cargo (and yes - we mean baby and a flat white) safely at the same time, you’re going to need one of these: a universal cup holder, that clips to the handles of your pram or pushchair. I’ve lost far too many good coffees sloshing over the plastic lid while steering one-handed - and this solves that problem perfectly. Many individual pram and pushchair brands do their own versions, such as the Bugaboo Cup Holder, but for one that suits all pushchairs, give the Universal Cup Holder a try.
I had no idea how much I would come to rely on a car mirror when my children were small and still in rear-facing car seats. If you’re driving alone, it can be pretty anxiety-inducing not to know whether they’re okay back there. You can’t see their faces in your windscreen mirror, and I found myself having to pull over several times during a long car journey just to check if they were asleep and still breathing. Until a friend who has four children gave me one of these: a car mirror for rear-facing seats. Hallelujah! It straps to the headrest of the back seat, and you can angle it so it gives you a clear picture of your baby’s face when you look in your own mirror. And once baby grows into a toddler and moves into a forward-facing car seat, you can strap the mirror to the seat in front of them, so they can watch themselves while you drive. Better than TV.
One thing I swiftly learned when I became a parent: you will do anything for a few minutes of peace and a sit down with a cup of tea. Anything. Even having an enormous plastic rainforest bouncer toy in the middle of your living room. The Jumperoo isn’t cheap (so keep an eye on local ‘sell and swap’ Facebook community groups, which is where I got mine), but it’s a worthy investment. It’s suitable from 6 months - as long as your baby can lift its head up unassisted - up to a weight of 11.3kg (25lbs). The manufacturers advise an upper limit of 20 minutes per session, which is a solid 20 minutes of sitting-down time. Don’t you dare do anything boring, like the washing up. Just sit and relax and watch your baby go wild. You’ve earned it.
Babies can’t blow their nose when they have a cold. Worse still, if they’re breast or bottle fed exclusively, it becomes very difficult for them to feed when their little noses are blocked. Cue: a hungry, ill baby who cannot settle or sleep. It might be one of the grossest realities of parenting, but you will suck out your child’s snot when this happens. You will be so desperate for sleep that if there’s anything stopping your baby from closing their eyes - even bogeys - you will take them on. That’s not to say this isn’t divisive, of course. I’ve had full-scale wars with other parents who think this is going too far. But hear me out: you don’t have to suck bogeys directly with your mouth. I mean, you can, but I use one of these – a nasal aspirator. It has a little plastic tube you suck, with the other end placed at your child’s nostril. A piece of foam stops the snot from going into your mouth and down your throat. If a better or more satisfying invention exists, I do not know what it is. It will change your life.
A friend bought one of these for my daughter when she was a baby... she’s now turning eight, and she’s STILL USING IT. Every single night, when she turns her light off to go to sleep, she puts her star on. I have one for my son, too - he’s three and the same rules apply. Each star has a five or ten minute playback setting, and projects a cute scene of flowers and bugs and rainbows up onto the ceiling. When we go away on holiday or to see relatives, we take them with us. I would never have dreamed that one small baby gift would give us years (literally) of use, but this has. I couldn’t parent without it.
With my first baby I used a Moses basket - I liked the ‘traditional’ look and feel of it and loved the way it stood on a stand in my bedroom. Until... I realised my daughter didn’t really like to sleep much. I would find myself feeding or rocking her for 45 minutes until she closed her eyes, but every time I put her down in the Moses basket she would wake straight back up again. Then a friend recommended a co-sleeper: a special cot that straps to the side of the bed, with a detachable side separating your baby’s sleeping space from your own. It meant I could pull my daughter towards me to breastfeed her, and then pop her back into her own safe space, all without waking her. It changed everything, because it gave me the confidence to let myself go and get a good night’s sleep. And when I had my son a few years later, I did the same with him, too.
I tried all sorts of bath seats: from a ‘Tummy Tub’ (top tip: for a cheaper version, try a standard £1 plastic bucket from Halfords or B&Q) to a plain Ikea baby bath - but the Hardenberg Angelcare soft-touch seat was the best of the bunch for my children. It feels really safe and sturdy, and the textured angled seating area is soft and comfortable. It also has a water level indicator for optimal safety in the bath. I liked it so much that I passed it on to relatives - my children’s cousins have both used it (and loved it), too.
It’s important to be able to move your baby around so he or she doesn’t get bored, so I used to have a little routine going - ‘tummy time’ on a play mat on the floor, then a bounce in the Jumperoo, then some time in the bouncer chair, and (hopefully) a nap, before we’d begin the routine all over again. If you get one like this, with a gentle vibrating function, it might even send your baby off to sleep while they’re in it - which means you are sorted. This has a removable toy-bar, with two hanging toys included. Hours of fun (and a little rest for mummy or daddy). I also found a bouncer chair the perfect solution for keeping an eye on my baby while I took a shower, because you can bring it into the bathroom with you and keep baby safe - but occupied. The only element to be aware of is when they start getting bigger, or more mobile (and trying to escape). After the age of six or seven months, mine began pitching themselves forward and could have fallen headfirst out of it. But until then, it was a lifesaver.
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This article originally appeared on HuffPost.