So your friend/sibling/neighbor just had a baby, or is having a baby soon. Huzzah!
Now you’re trying to figure out what to get them for the holidays … and, well, it can get a bit overwhelming. There’s so much stuff for babies and new parents, all marketed in a way that makes it all seem absolutely crucial. It is, of course, mostly not.
For this gift guide, I tried to focus on stuff that is truly useful, doesn’t exist solely to freak new parents out and is tough enough to last multiple years/kids.
Step one? Ask the parents what they need — everyone’s situation is different, and they’ll absolutely know best. If they’re running short on ideas, though, here are some things they’ll probably really appreciate.
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When you’ve suddenly got this precious thing in your life requiring 99.9% of your brain bandwidth, it can be hard to remember where anything else is. Particularly on the go, when — especially for those first few months — you’re probably toting around about 3x the amount of stuff as you were pre-kid. Your wallet … did you drop it, or just leave it at home? Did the diaper bag fall out of the bottom of the stroller, or is it back in the car? Wait, where did I even park the car?
Apple’s AirTags are only a few months old and didn’t exist when we first had our kid, but oh how I wish they did. These little puck-shaped discs can be tucked anywhere, allowing you to track an item’s (read: bags/strollers/etc., not the baby’s) location anywhere there’s an iPhone nearby — any iPhone, not just yours. The battery lasts a surprisingly long time and is easily user replaceable, and you can make an AirTag beep if you need help triangulating exactly where something is in the house.
One catch: These things are only for iOS users.
Price: 1 for $30, or 4 for $100
It’s a $1,600 robo bassinet that detects when baby is crying and tries to automatically rock/shush them back to sleep.
Does that sound a little ridiculous? I agree! But it also rules, and I’m convinced it’s a big part of why my kid, now 3, is still a really, really good sleeper. It also helps you track your baby’s wake/sleep patterns, and uses special “Snoo Sacks” to ensure baby stays on their back while they sleep (as is recommended by the NIH.)
The Snoo will only work until a baby is about six months old — but it’s very, very easy to pass on to another kid. We split the purchase with friends because their kid would outgrow it right as ours needed it; it’s since been handed down four more times, with minimal maintenance required beyond a deep cleaning.
I fully did not understand why we’d spend $130 on a changing pad. A zillion diaper changes later… I get it. The Peanut is designed to keep baby from rolling off the table during a diaper change (though, of course, you still need to stay close), is way more comfy for baby than a hard wooden table and is, crucially, super stain resistant. When my kid finally did manage to stain it permanently (beets, it’s always beets) the company had a replacement shipped out immediately.
Price: $130 from buybuyBaby
Skip Hop Pronto
The downside of the Peanut? It’s not portable. Babies poop a lot, and they don’t care if there’s a convenient changing table nearby.
Skip Hop’s Pronto portable changing station folds up into a tiny little package, is super easy to keep clean, and has a storage pouch big enough for a backup diaper or two and a slim box of wipes. This thing saved the day more times than I can count, and it’s the first thing I check for when someone sends us their baby registry.
Price: $28 from Amazon
A really, really good phone case
Phones light up and make fun noises. Babies like things that light up and make fun noises. Babies also like to throw things.
Add those things together and you’ve got the recipe for a broken phone screen. If your new parent friend is the type that likes to forego the case in favor of a slim device, maaaaaybe try to convince them to pop a case on for at least a year or two. Otterbox’s commuter case saved our phones probably a dozen times, and is relatively slim for the amount of protection it provides.
Price: $40 from Otterbox
Ubbi Diaper Pail
Ubbi’s steel diaper pail does a damned good job of keeping the stink locked in, while a simple safety system keeps curious little ones out. It uses standard trashbags, instead of expensive bespoke “cartridges” or whatever. While our kid is potty trained now, this thing still hangs around his room as a way over-qualified trash can. It’s also had about a thousand toy trucks hurled at it from across the room and somehow still looks brand new.
Price: $70 from Amazon
As I noted in our under-$100 gift guide, smart light bulbs are slowly taking over my house. Nothing did a better job of convincing me to go all in on smart bulbs than having a kid.
Waking up every two hours and the light switch is across the room? Smart bulbs! Want red lighting instead of blue/white for those 2 a.m. wake-ups, so as to maybe not screw up everyone’s circadian rhythms? Smart bulbs! Working on teaching a toddler to stay in bed and want a “stoplight” that goes from red to green when it’s okay to get up? Smart bulbs!
There are lots of great smart bulb options out there, but I’m a big fan of the Philips Hue line. It’s not the cheapest option, but the interface is great, it works with your various Alexa/Google/Homekit ecosystems and I’ve had literally zero issues with them after years of use.
Price: $30-$50 each on Amazon, depending on quantity
Pairing well with the smart bulbs, but also good for plenty of their own reasons, are smart speakers.
When my son was tiny and spent more time in my arms than not, I’d use my voice to start up songs without having to fiddle with my phone. We use it to control those aforementioned smart bulbs, and for white noise (“Hey Google, play rain sounds”) when he’s having a tough time sleeping. He recently figured out how to ask Google to make fart sounds, which consistently makes him laugh so hard he falls over.
Amazon/Google/Apple all have their own contenders that each have their pros/cons, so the best one is really whichever one is built for the ecosystem your friend uses most — Echo for Amazon, Nest Mini or Nest Hub for Google or Homepod for Apple.
Price: Varies, but generally $25-$100. Nest Mini, pictured above, is $25 from Google
Collapsible Radio Flyer Wagon
Someone bought us one of these for his first birthday, and I honestly can’t believe how much use it’s gotten. When he was still in a stroller, we’d use it to lug everything out onto the beach. Now that he’s far too big for a stroller, he’ll gladly hop in this for long rides around the neighborhood or trips to the zoo.
It folds up enough to fit in the trunk, and two zipper pulls convert it into a bench for snack time anywhere. Radio Flyer’s warranty is also pretty great; when I busted one of the wheels at no one’s fault but my own, they had a new one out to me within days.
Price: Varies based on options, but we use the $200 push/pull model pictured above
Chicco Caddy Hook On Chair
Most restaurants have one or two high chairs. Sometimes more than one or two babies show up. Or they only have one highchair and it has no buckles and wobbles when you look at it funny.
We bought one of these in a pinch while visiting friends, and it traveled with us for ages thereafter. Unfold it, clamp it in place, twist the locks, and bam — anywhere you’ve got an appropriately sturdy table (be sure to read the instructions, there), you’ve got a highchair. Done? Unclamp, fold it up, toss it in the trunk. Got a messy eater? The cover slips off easily and washes up well. My kid has outgrown it now, but it still gets regular use when our friends bring their littlest ones over.
Price: $50 on Amazon