I’m a product research NUT. Everything I buy, I spend at least three days combing the interwebs, gleaning every bit of information I can to make an informed purchase I feel good about. Maybe it’s in part due to me being so frugal, but I just feel like if I spend my hard-earned dough on something, I want to love it, and I want it to last.
A lot of that has to do with this eco-conscious mindset we’re in around here. We generally try to avoid plastics, and seek out products as often as we can that are made ethically or in the US. It’s a tricky process, and more often than not, we wind up having to make some compromises, but we always trying to land on the best possible product for our buck.
When we had our son, my biggest concern was making sure to limit cancer-causing chemicals and plastics from what we bought for him – no easy feat with a child. As a working from home mom, I also needed something that was going to do the job, and do it well – I’ve got zero time to replace things over and over again, so I put in the hours of research once, bought it, and was done.
So without further ado, here are my top picks for getting started with your little one – from the farthest reaches of the internet, tested and used by yours truly.
The Best Baby Carrier for Newborns
When your baby is first born, and for a looooong time thereafter, they are going to literally want to be right against you most of the day. It’s totally normal, and part of what you’ll find out is called the fourth trimester. During these exhausting first few months, I decided I needed to learn how to use a baby carrier, right then and there, and tried out a few options.
The thing is, newborns have very little head and neck control, so you need something that pretty much just mushes them up against you, while still allowing their face free airflow for safe breathing. I initially tried a Baby K’tan, and while it was really easy to put on, it was a sized carrier, and I found the medium I ordered was just a tiny bit too tight, and felt like my baby was uncomfortable – there just wasn’t much wiggle room with it, it either fits or it doesn’t.
From there I tried a Moby Wrap, with was great because it was completely adjustable, but had to be wrapped on every time you wanted to wear baby. This meant my son lay screaming before me while this inexperienced babywearer frantically tried to wrap the fabric just so so I could put him in it – it was entirely too nerve wracking. Eventually I got to where I would just put the Moby on in the mornings and wear it all day, baby inside or not, but it got hot, and I started to feel a little exasperated with all of that extra fabric on me all the time.
I landed on the Maya Ring Sling eventually, and that wound up being my favorite newborn babywearing choice. The size was very forgiving and adjustable (I used a medium), and was quick and easy to put on, once you had the fabric properly threaded, which you only needed to do as it got pushed out of place over the course of the week. I usually waited til nap time to pick mine up and rethread the fabric.
There are a lot of really nice and fancy ring slings out there, but I just picked this one up at my neighborhood Once Upon a Child – you can snag one new from around $70 on Amazon, depending on which color you get. The shoulder is lightly padded, so as long as you have it on right, this is a great carrier.
The Best Buckle Carrier
Eventually, I got a buckle carrier – though less ‘womb-like’, this carrier was great for hiking, and even now with him being 25 pounds and almost two years old, I feel completely comfortable wearing him in our LILLEbaby. If you’re going to get a buckle carrier, this is the one to get. I wouldn’t even waste your time with those bulky pack frame carriers. Not only are they not ergonomic for baby, but man, talk about bulky. My LILLEbaby is tough enough for the woods, but portable enough for grocery shopping.
What I really love about this carrier is that it has a multitude of options for colors – if you have a macho man in your life that doesn’t want to appear too effeminate when doing the most attractive thing on the planet a man can do – wearing a baby – then there’s a variety of colors to keep you both happy.
This one does work for newborns (no insert required), and goes all the way up to 45 lbs, and they also have a toddler version for bigger kids. The reason I got this carrier was that it’s one of the very few carriers out there that ergonomically allows front facing out. As long as your baby has good head control and a strong neck, they can front face out in this carrier (the recommended age is 6 months and up).
You can get the LILLEbaby carrier here on Amazon.
I also like my Beco Gemini buckle carrier, and consider it a great summer time carrier. It’s not as heavy duty and durable as my LILLEbaby, so it’s not my first choice, but I have this cute conversion wrap pattern, and I kind of love it for photos and quick jaunts in town. Like the LILLEbaby, it lets you ergonomically front face out your baby, and had an adjustable headrest. There is no lumbar support though, and overall, this carrier just isn’t quite as comfortable to wear.
You can get the Beco Gemini here.
Cheap (High Quality) Cloth Diapers
We’ve been cloth diapering since our son was born – a decision we’ve never once looked back on. They save you a tremendous amount of money in the long run (you can even re-sell them later), are free from scary mystery chemicals, and of course, don’t fill up our landfills.
Modern cloth diapers are a far cry from their vintage ancestors – parents these days have it easy compared to those that were doing the job with diaper pins and rubber pants. Nowadays, diapers are snap on and velcro, with interchangeable inserts, soft and comfy waterproof covers, and a variety of eco-friendly, natural fiber options.
I won’t get into the various ins and outs of cloth diapering here, because it is a HUGE topic, with all of the options available today, but I will recommend some diapers that have served us well these past couple of years, and that were very easy on our wallets.
Most diapers run in the range of $10 – $20 apiece in the cloth world, which sounds like a lot, but you only really need 20 or so to get you started, depending on how much your baby ‘goes’, and how often you intend to wash them.
Even still, getting started can be a bit of an expense, so I was on the hunt for an affordable option that I could stick on our baby registry to get us started.
Originally we registered for these Besto Baby diapers, which have been amazing, but unfortunately are no longer available, and I can’t seem to find them anywhere anymore. They were a great price, and have lasted so well, despite obviously being what folks call ‘China cheapies’. The elastics are still good, the PUL is still waterproof, and they’re very adjustable, so they still fit our son.
The next best affordable alternative I can wholeheartedly recommend are Imagine diapers – they’re well priced, at around $10-$14 per diaper, and fit extremely well. We were able to get a couple of the Imagine Newborn AIO Bamboo diapers, and they were by far the most absorbant and form-fitting diapers in our collection. They’re a great option for heavy wetters, and are perfect for overnights.
Imagine diapers come in all in one designs, pockets, shells that you can use with prefolds, swim, pull ups – you name it. I love this brand, and I definitely recommend all of their diapers. They hold up extremely well, and are just really amazing for the price.
You can shop Imagine cloth diapers on Amazon here.
The Best Bottles and Sippy Cups
I’m a sippy cup nut around here. Once again, through a process of trial and error, I went through some sippy cup and bottle research. My son never did wind up taking a bottle until we night weaned at 18 months, but once that happened, we suddenly had a need for a great bottle he would take.
My all time favorite sippy cup we’ve bought him so far, which you can actually buy bottle nipples for too, is the Pura Kiki Stainless Steel Sippy Cup.
Like the photo above suggests, I was always turned off by Life Factory and Kleen Kanteen products because of the plastic pieces on them. They seem like great water bottles, but I feel like if plastic is going to be anywhere on something, the part that your mouth touches is probably the last place that you want it.
The Pura Kiki Cups are the only sippy cup I’ve found with absolutely no plastic parts. They’re super versatile too – you can buy the soft sippy cup spouts, the bottle nipples, there’s a sports bottle straw…lots of different options. They each come with a silicon sleeve, and are only 4 parts in total – the bottle, the sleeve, the nipple, and the ring. It’s a very easy to clean design, and it looks damned fine too.
You can get these in smaller 5 ounce sizes too, great for little ones that may not be up for grappling with the full size 11 ounce version. You can get the 5 ounce stainless steel Pura Kiki bottle
Introducing Cups to Toddlers
We started our son out pretty young on ‘real’ cups, without spouts, but we still bounce back and forth between sippy cups and bottles – whatever strikes his fancy.
The thing is, he’s always been a big time thrower, so I wasn’t comfortable with giving him any kind of glass, no matter how thick it was. A lot of Montessori-style parents recommend the thick glass shot glasses, but it only took him a few days to chip one.
Instead, I got him this set of stainless steel shot glasses, and they have been so amazing. They’re non-toxic, easy to wash, teach him how to use a cup without overwhelming him with a big cup, and most importantly, do not break!
Plastic-Free Toddler Toothbrushes
Oh man, this was a hard one. I mean, toothbrushes actually go in your mouth – the last thing I wanted was some plastic something spending time in my child’s highly corrosive saliva (because toothbrushing always leads to a solid ten minutes to gnawing).
After the delicate gums phase, I was on the hunt for the perfect toothbrush, and came across these bamboo toothbrushes. They’re really cheap, at just $10 for 3, and almost 100% biodegradable, except for the bristles. There is no plastic in the packaging, and the bristles themselves are actually infused with bacteria-fighting charcoal, which I thought was cool.
They do make 100% biodegradable toothbrushes, but apparently they shed the bristles very quickly, and to me, it just didn’t seem like a pleasant (or gentle) way to brush a toddler’s teeth. Compromises, right?
You can get these awesome Bmbu Children’s bamboo and charcoal toothbrushes here.
Baby and Toddler Seating
I desperately wanted a wooden high chair, but couldn’t find any antique ones that didn’t need a ton of work, or scare the bejeesus out of me, so I made a compromise and got this Summer Infant Wood High Chair, and I loved it.
The cover was super easy to clean (though it did slide around a bit, I just added a couple more ties to it), the tray came apart easily for cleaning, and the espresso stain looked so much nicer than all of that white aluminum and plastic we’re so used to seeing.
One thing I really liked about this was that there was a flat insert on top of the tray, so as long as your little wasn’t insanely messy at meal time (hey, it happens), then you could just pop that piece off and clean it, instead of washing the whole tray.
A few months after we started using a high chair though, our little guy was displaying an interest in eating in a chair like us. I had read about encouraging independence with tiny tables and chairs, and though he could sit up on his own, he was still a little unstable.
To help him make the transition between high chair and full on toddler chair, we got him the 7″ Steffy wooden chair. It’s a little spendy, but so worth it – he hauls this thing all over the house! It’s easy to sit in, doesn’t tip easily, and is good for wobbly little ones that still need a little help keeping their balance for long periods of time.
You can get the Steffy chair (in varying heights) here.
A lot of my friends take the Montessori approach to child care, and really recommended the Tripp Trapp chair. I’m sure it’s great, but ultimately the design just kind of freaked me out. It’s a great chair if you want to avoid buying more than one like I did though – here.
Sleep – The Best Cribs and Portable Sleep Solutions
I’m not even going to lie – I bought this really nice convertible bassinet-crib-toddler bed and used it all of three times before I gave in and just coslept. But hey, when I did use it, it was super nice. The changing pad on the bassinet topper was so handy, and the bassinet was just perfect for little ones. Our little bumblebee had some reflux issues in his early years, so I put a folded up blanket under the mattress pad in the bassinet, and it worked really well. Of course, it was no substitute to laying right next to mommy.
Unfortunately, the exact one I have is almost impossible to find these days. I originally bought it on Amazon, but it looks like they’re no longer carrying it. The closest thing I can find to it is the DaVinci 4-in-1 Crib, and it doesn’t have a bassinet stage (you go from crib, to toddler bed, to day bed, to a full size sleigh bed.
You can get the DaVinci Crib here.
Now, I’m a bedsharing mom, so don’t take this the wrong way when I post a link to a cosleeper – you sleep however you and your baby need to sleep, okay? But I’ve heard really great things from my mommy tribe about this co-sleeper that’s designed to sit right next to your bed – sort of the next generation in bassinets.
We originally started out with an infant seat that clicks in and out of a base, and it was nice, but it bothered me a bit that something designed to protect my child in an accident was only made out of plastic. I did some more research, and came across the Diono Rainier convertible car seat.
What really sold me on these car seats is the aluminum frame in them – it’s not just a hunk of plastic. These car seats are double crash-tested, and last for 10 years. They comfortable rear-face children from 5-50 lbs, and then can forward face up to 120 lbs.
This car seat is without a doubt the toughest, longest-lasting car seat money can buy, and I promise, it is worth that price tag. Our son HATED the car seat when he was little, with a fiery passion. When we switched to this Diono convertible seat, he immediately fell in love with riding in the car, and now when he gets stressed out, he frantically shouts, “Ride truck! Ride truck!”.
Yea, it’s pretty funny.
If you want to check out the Diono car seats, they’re all pretty amazing. They have a variety of models, and a couple that are designed to fit three-across in cars with lots of littles to keep safe.
You can get the Diono Rainier (and check out other models) here.
Alternatives to Formula and Breastmilk
I was really lucky – I never had many problems breastfeeding, aside from a son that was forever attached to me nursing, and a bit of an over-supply issue in the beginning. Breastfeeding is hard though, and a lot of mothers feel their options outside of breastmilk are pretty unappealing.
I for one was never a fan of soy formula – I never had to use it, but in the back of my mind, I was always worried about one day not having enough breastmilk for my son, and what we would use when that happened.
Whatever your feeding situation is with your little one, we all do the best we can for our babies, and that means tons and tons of research on the best things to feed them.
Aside from breastmilk, in my reading I discovered that goat’s milk was actually the most comparable to human breastmilk, and many babies do very well on it, even with sensitive stomachs. Of course, those little cartons of goats milk in the store don’t last very long, and at $5 each, they get expensive quickly.
I found this alternative on Amazon, and it’s proven to be quite the hit in our house. At less than $10 per canister, it shakes out to be around $6 per gallon – way cheaper than buying by the quart. And of course, it’s powder, so it’s shelf-stable, and can be mixed with warm filtered water as needed.
You can buy the Meyenburg whole powdered goat milk here.
This is a tiny list of the products that save my sanity on a daily basis as a working mom. I know what it’s like to be confronted with every option in the known world, and just have absolutely no idea where to begin, so as one of the pickiest moms on the planet – I hope my list helps you.
I’ll be putting together a much more comprehensive breakdown of the snacks, products, and baby gear we use in the future, but for now, these are the must-haves in our home.
Do you have any favorite baby products you can’t live without? Let me know in the comments below!
And yes, these links are affiliate links, so I get a kickback for anything you buy with them! If you decide to make a purchase on Amazon, I’d love you for doing it through one of the product links above!