I should start by saying that, sadly, this post is entirely unsponsored. No, these are simply a list of the gadgets and thingummyjigs that I’ve found useful in the last few months, which may help a new mumma to either save some dosh or persuade a reluctant partner to splash the cash in the right place! Most of the time I’ll just be recommending the type of item rather than suggesting a specific brand.
Of course, the essential items change as your baby grows and develops. That is one reason why sometimes an item is unjustly considered useless, because perhaps it was bought that bit too late and baby only used it for a matter or days or a couple of weeks. Or perhaps it was bought early and sat around being ignored for months. However, I’ve found that certain items are worth every penny, even if they are only used for a short period. In those few weeks, you really do need them.
Disclaimer before I begin The List… every baby (if you hadn’t noticed) is different. And I say that from the perspective of a parent whose baby never sleeps, who gets to bitterly watch other parents with peacefully slumbering infants while mine grins gormlessly at lightbulbs and passing cats. Since each child is unique, they will respond differently to a range of baby gadgets. For this reason, I’d recommend borrowing bigger items from friends and family with older babies, or making use of second hand baby stuff sites, so you don’t waste money.
1. A Moulded Baby Bath
This type of bath is a lifesaver – the old type meant that you would at all times have to support the baby’s weight with one arm while washing him with the other. This new style comes with a sloped back and a plastic bump that the baby basically straddles while in the bath. Obviously baby will still require your complete attention and constant supervision, but the shaped bath does allow you both hands free. We found our boy became too splashy and exciteable for this size bath before he actually physically outgrew it. Then he moved onto…
2. A Bath Support ‘Chair’
This gizmo is definitely not necessary until baby’s a fairly confident sitter. For us, that was around six months. It sticks to the bath base with plastic suckers and baby has a small back support and the front bar you see in the picture. There isn’t enough support for a floppy baby, but it offers a little extra safety for babies who can sit but occasionally list over! I don’t see this being needed for a very long time, but having it now is amazing.
3. A Bouncing Chair
We used my nephew’s bouncer as he’d outgrown it and it still had life in it, but I would happily go back in time and spend the £30-50 this type of chair costs. Personally I don’t think a super fancy one is necessary; this chair comes with an activity bar across the top and a vibrate function. The day our boy learnt to pull the owl to make it hoot was ridiculously exciting! These chairs are useful because they’re multi-use. If your baby is a ‘sleeper’ then he can nap in it now and then, he can play in it, batting the dangling toys, and he can also be briefly entertained while you (shock!) attempt to wash/poop/brush your neglected teeth.
In this photo I am in the bath and my boy is happily playing away! Don’t get me wrong, you’re not in for a luxurious twenty minute soak in bubbles, but you might have time to wash your hair… that’s certainly worth £30! It’s ideal as you can see baby and easily reach him, but you’re also allowed a few minutes of freedom to achieve a short task.
4. Lights and Music
Now, I wouldn’t be too fussy about the format the lights/music take, but I would definitely invest in some sort of musical and/or light machine. Pictured above is a lovely rotating light show that this photo doesn’t really do justice to. Below is a lullaby mat with lights that is designed to be tied to a crib but we always just used flat on our bed as I don’t personally like attaching bits and bobs to the baby’s bed.
Now, our lad is not a sleeper (did I mention that already?!) so we were never in a position where we would leave a lullaby playing and he’d drift dreamily off to sleep. Hah. Maybe one day. But this does happen for some! And what the music and lights did do for us was to create a peaceful distraction while baby was winding down. Or it would buy me another 15 mins in bed in the mornings. Or keep him amused at a cranky time of day when food wasn’t quite ready or it was too early for bed.
The gadget my son is chewing above is a sweet little lullaby machine with a few little lights that twinkle on and off. It has a velcro strap to tie to the crib or in our case a drawer handle near the crib.
So, lights and/or music for distraction, amusement and (if you’re lucky!) sleep.
5. A Play Gym
This play gym is another hand-me-down from baby’s cousin, but again I would happily spend the necessary as it’s been one of the more longer lasting and adaptable items of baby equipment. From very early on our boy enjoyed laying on it and staring at the dangling toys. As he got older, we used the raised cushion to support tummy time. Once he could grab the toys, he loved pulling them to his mouth and shaking them around to hear the jingles and jangles. Now he’s sitting, I rarely use the play gym except as another way of distracting him while I hop in the shower or load the dishwasher. So it’s still a useful tool in my armoury of distractions! At seven months he’s pretty much past it, but it’s done serious duty in the last few months.
6. A Play Saucer
I can’t recommend our Baby Einsten ‘Rhythm of the Reef’ activity saucer enough. It costs around £50-60 new, but they are sometimes available on second hand sites. Ours was yet another cousinly gift, but I would splash the cash in a second for this.
When we started to think about something more challenging than the play gym that would encourage standing, I knew I didn’t want the popular Jumparoo. Without being too dramatic about it, I’d read that it’s not the best option in terms of baby’s development. Plus, my sister in law’s lad was bored by the lack of activites included on the Jumparoo and she ended up buying a saucer just like ours which he loved!
The main advantages are:
-Baby can turn a full 360 so he can access different attached activities and so he can keep an eye on mummy and daddy if he so wishes!
-Baby is practising standing but has the support of a material seat should he feel tired or need a bit of help. He is NOT dangling by his poor little crotch as with some activity centres and bouncers. This is why he’s standing on a cushion in the above photo, because he was a leeeeetle too short for the saucer but enjoyed it all the same.
-There is a super range of attached toys, that make all sorts of different sounds and movements for your little one to develop fine motor skills and just amuse himself. You can attach his favourite toys if you so wish.
-Adjustable height setting as littl’un grows.
-Interesting and fun for a range of ages – see baby and his cousin below!
So all in all, seriously worth the money (and space!). I use it first thing when I’m making breakfast, then later in the day if I need to throw some laundry in the washing machine.
7. Sling or Baby Carrier
This wraparound sling was lovely when baby was very new. Babies love to feel cuddled and secure, and being pressed up against mummy is ideal! It leaves both hands free (which is a rarity in those early days) and baby may well drop off to sleep.
As baby got a little larger, we invested in this baby carrier. I did some research as I wanted a carrier that wouldn’t put too much pressure on baby’s hips/crotch and would be comfortable for both my tall husband (excuse his beard in the photo above) and average height me. The Boba 4g was recommended so we splashed out almost £100 for it. I would say it is well on the way to earning its keep! It’s perfect for quick trips to the shop or GP when a pram is a pain, and on longer walks I throw it in the pram basket for when my boy gets fidgety and wants to look around. One advantage of this carrier over the sling is that my husband was reluctant to wear the sling, whereas he happily dons this grey carrier.
My main advice is, spend some time in front of a mirror and maybe with another pair of hands around, to make sure you and baby are comfortable. There isn’t too much fiddling to do but you want to get it right. This carrier should last us quite a long time as it adjusts well and there are little foot stirrups for older children. It comes with a raincover and newborn cushion insert.
Look around for sling ‘libraries’ where you can borrow and try different styles without wasting money. And ask around, as many mums of older children will have a carrier or sling stashed away somewhere. Just be aware that certain brands and styles have a reputation for offering poor posture so without being too paranoid, do your research!
8. Floor Mat
Any sort of floor covering that is clean and comfortable for your baby is useful, especially if you have wooden floors and/or pets – as we do. This could be as inexpensive as a spare blanket or duvet, or you may wish to buy a baby mat like the one pictured. Ours was another cousinly hand-me-down, but if we hadn’t had it I would have just dedicated a quilt or blanket for baby’s exclusive use.
The quilt pictured above was made by my clever MIL, and while baby’s bed was too small to use it at first, we used it as a useful mat to pad our rug. On it, baby can have tummy time, practise rolling and patiently play while you make a cup of tea! It’s just nice to know baby isn’t rolling around in cat hair (which other pet owners will know is impossible to keep control of!) and provides a comfy surface.
9. A Rocker
Confession time: when my MIL first bought us this rocking bed, I was sceptical about its usefulness. I felt like we were being taken over by beds, as we already had two moses baskets and a cot. However, it turned out to be an absolute lifesaver! It has an adjustable recline function so baby can be (almost) flat, or tilted up. Now, official advice is for baby to sleep completely flat, but any mum who’s had a baby who’s prone to sickness, reflux or colds will know that tilting them a little can make all the difference.
We started off just using the rocker for naps, and baby would sometimes lie in it batting at the dangling toys. Then when nights were a particular struggle at one point (perhaps a cold? Or a grumpy ‘storm’ phase? I can’t remember) he started sleeping in it at night for a few hours when things kicked off. Then eventually we just put him straight in for the whole night. I must admit that we kept him in it longer than we probably should have, but he was so comfy and when we tried the big cot he really resisted. He was never impressed with the moses baskets! He is now in his big boy cot, but for months this rocker was his bed of choice.
Here you see the rocker (at an angle as it’s daytime) with its optional toy attachment. Baby LOVED staring at, then batting, the dangling toys from a really young age, and it was my first experience of being able to leave him alone and make myself some lunch!
This particular rocker is a Graco Little Lounger, which I think cost about £80 new but can often be found on sale for closer to £5o. I had more than one Health Visitor and Midwife comment on how lovely it was, and they mentioned the aerated sides which they felt would be good for baby’s temperature control.
The rocker doesn’t have to rock, I should add; you can click a bit of plastic which holds it steady. There is a vibrate function, which baby found very soothing when he was little. He even spent a night in his rocker a few days ago when his eczema was troubling him as well as a runny nose and he just needed to feel snuggled and squished! At seven months he is much too big really, but one night won’t hurt.
Of course, you must consult your own conscience regarding whether you feel comfortable letting baby sleep overnight in a not-completely-flat bed. In hindsight I would have practised more co-sleeping and possibly tried a baby bed that attaches to the adults’ bed but you live and learn!
10. Various Toys
Featured above are a selection of our boy’s favourite and most-used toys. These include:
Highchair spinning toy: This Winnie the Pooh toy spins and whizzes round in different directions, so baby really enjoys controlling and exploring what he can do with it. Designed to attach to a high chair tray, it has a sucker on the bottom which we also use to attach it to tables or a hardback book. Baby has always loved this toy, reaching for it and staring intently at the way it moves.
Stacking cups: A teaching colleague bought our boy these lovely numbered stacking cups, joking that she felt obliged to support his maths development! As it happens, they are one of his absolute favourite things to play with. He knocks over any towers I build, grabs two cups and bashes them together, plays with them in the bath, and enjoys the loud sound of them hitting our wooden floor from a height! From my point of view, they’re ideal as they are so safe and so easy to throw in the dishwasher.
Taggy: My sister made baby this gorgeous taggy blanky, a small square of material with lots of silky labels to feel – and suck! Baby’s always enjoyed chewing the tags, but is now starting to enjoy having something in his cot to snuggle when he wakes in the night or experiences a light phase of sleep. I’m not keen on the more brutal methods of sleep training, so it’s important to me that baby has some comfort objects available.
Books: Specifically, cardboard books with lovely thick pages he can turn himself and chew. Feely patches are a bonus. When he was very new, he enjoyed black and white images in particular as he could see the contrast even when his eyesight was still undeveloped.
Sophie la girafe: Great shape for baby to handle, lovely to chew, nice squeak, face perfect to fit in baby’s mouth! It’s easy to give her a quick clean with a Milton’s antibacterial wipe if she spends too long on the floor or the cats show an interest!
Pram toy: Anything that attaches to the pram or car seat is great to amuse baby during walks or car trips. This hungry caterpillar is a favourite, as it has lots of different textures and shapes.
Mirrors: Baby loves nothing more than staring at his own gorgeous reflection! Not that he knows it’s himself yet of course. Babies all love to smile and chatter at the friendly baby they see in the mirror. He won’t know it’s him until he’s over a year old!
11. The Snoozeshade
When the sunshine started to make itself known this spring, I went to buy a parasol for the pram. However, when I looked into it and spoke to some baby friends I gathered that parasols can be a bit of a pain. Constant readjustment and awkward fitting was the consensus.
What I ended up buying was a Snoozeshade, which is basically a shade that stretches across the pram or car seat and attaches with velcro strips. The paperwork stated that it protects baby from 99% of UVA and UVB rays. Although it appears to be a solid black, the material is sort of perforated in such a way that it’s very breathable and light.
It was particularly suitable for our boy as he’s such a reluctant sleeper that if I take him for a walk in the hope that he’ll drop off, I’m usually sadly disappointed! There is too much to look at, so popping the Snoozeshade over his pram after a few minutes of stare time helps him to drift off. There’s a zipper to peek at baby every now and then, and the velcro strips allow you to freestyle in the way you attach the shade.
Here in the car, I’ve attached the shade to the back seat headrest so that baby isn’t being blinded by sunshine but isn’t completely covered either.
Here, I’ve actually attached the shade sideways so I could get complete coverage for a day I was really battling baby to take a nap in the sunshine!
The most useful function of the Snoozeshade for me is when baby falls asleep in the car and I want to take the car seat out and attach it to the pram base to go round the shops. This would normally wake him as he gets brought out into the sunshine, but with the Snoozeshade I can loosely drape it over the car seat while I take it out the car, then when he’s clicked into the pram base I can attach the shade properly and off we go. I soon know when he’s woken as I see his little feet kicking away and I peel back the shade to see the little smiler pictured above!
12. Activity Table
Pictured is baby’s big cousin, making the most of our lovely activity table. I can’t remember the exact brand, as it was a gift from a relative, but there are lots of this sort of thing available. From my point of view, it’s a great tool to encourage baby’s standing. From his point of view, it has loads of lovely activities to keep him entertained. Yes, as with many baby toys it does make a lot of noise which can grate after a while! But turning the sound off will still leave lots to do.
Before baby could stand at all, we took off the table legs and he could access the activities that way or sat on our laps. Now he can stand (with an adult propping him up of course!), he can enjoy the table more. I am confident he’ll play with this for a long time to come, as visiting children as old as three have made a beeline for it. Throwing the plastic balls down the central bowl and waiting to see which table leg the ball will come out from is good fun!
13. Baby Walker
I bought this VTech walker through a secondhand Facebook page for around £8, although they sell new for £25. I wasn’t sure how much use we’d get from it so I didn’t want to waste money on a new one. Our boy already loves it! There are lots of sounds and activities on the front panel (which is removable), including an appealing telephone, and of course it’s great practise for babies to hold onto and walk along. At the moment, our boy loves to grab (and chew) the handle, and with help he stands and enjoys pushing it along. His big cousin loves turning it upside down and pretending it’s a boat or an aeroplane!
The front panel is really easy to unclip, and I’ll sometimes pop it in his cot with him so I can nip to the loo or brush my teeth! I’d really recommend something like this when baby reaches about six months.
14. Screen Time
Now, this is a tricky subject for some! I wanted to include it on my list of useful baby bits because now and then a TV show, Youtube clip or DVD will just buy you those few precious minutes you need. I must have mentioned it a million times in this post, but finding those few minutes to get clean, finish housework and (dare I say it) make and drink a cup of tea is not easy. Anything that stimulates and interests baby for a few minutes is invaluable.
I’m not keen on sitting children in front of TVs for hours at a time, that is a different issue! But using a favourite TV show or some nursery rhymes to entertain baby is absolutely fine. If you don’t have jobs to do, sitting with baby and singing along or talking about what you’re watching is a lovely activity. We live in a world of technology, and it’s no bad thing for babies to experience that from the start.
Our first bit of baby tech was a free app called ‘Mommy Saver’, that plays an entrancing visual alongside classical music. When the screen is touched, the visual changes – perhaps changing colour, breaking apart or zooming off-screen. As you can see above, baby was very interested in this app from a young age. Let’s be real: it’s NOT going to send baby to sleep or keep him busy for very long. But it can buy you a few minutes, or just make a nice change. You spend so many hours with your lovely baby, that certain activities can become rather a bore! It’s nice to mix it up a bit.
Our lad’s favourites include In the Night Garden, as well as various nursery rhymes on Youtube. Sometimes it’s enough to turn a grumpy morning into a happy one!
If you’ve made it this far, congratulations! I was not expecting this post to be so long, but I feel really strongly that I would have loved to have had more tips about useful gadgets to keep baby amused. So I hope some of this is of some help or interest. I’ve mainly focussed this time on baby distraction and playtime, so I can imagine that I’ll need to follow this up with some more essentials as I remember them!
What baby items have you found really useful? How do you keep your little one entertained? Is independent play possible for your baby now and then?