Essential Baby Items: Baby’s Essential 6

There’s nothing like a positive pregnancy test to get the credit card warmed up and ready for the registry. After all, baby can’t even leave the hospital without being strapped into his first car seat—likely an infant car seat that’s part of a larger travel system to help you tote and roll him around. Here’s the essential baby items.

Then he needs a place to sleep—a crib or bassinet. Co-sleeping is a no-no based on the continued piling up of research that shows the increased risks to baby when sharing a soft, squishy surface with sleepy parents. Bath time will be easier with a tub made just for his little, wiggly body and of course you’ll need a monitor and safety gates once all of that scooting and rolling becomes crawling and walking.

With an ever-increasing number of recalls on baby products, though, how can a skeptical parent buy products with both safety and function in mind? We’ve assembled the best advice from leading experts on essential baby items what we call “Baby’s Essential 6”—the 6 (but not all!)—products you’re likely to need and use the most in baby’s first few years of life. This certainly isn’t all that you should consider but it’s a good healthy start.

1. Crib or Bassinet

Research shows that a crib is the safest place for your baby to sleep. Have baby sleep in a crib in your room during her first year of life to provide bonding, attachment, nursing and nighttime care. If you’re looking for a drop-side crib, you should know that they’ve been banned since 2011. Buy the safest crib possible with these tips from the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and Consumer Reports:

  • Buy a crib—there are no federal standards on other types of infant sleepers; the CPSC released the first federal standards in September 2013 to make bassinets safer
  • Buy a basic crib with straight rails and finishes, without fancy woodwork or cutouts, which increase baby’s entrapment risks
  • Buy new—the CPSC greatly revamped crib standards in 2011 and 2012; used cribs are likely to be dangerous cribs by today’s standards
  • Buy a crib certified by the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association (JPMA)
  • Buy a mattress the exact size specified by the manufacturer for the crib purchased; the mattress should fit tightly into the crib
  • Buy sheets the same way as the mattress; they should fit tightly and tuck evenly down around all sides. Toss the bumpers, pillows and other decorative items that may come with the sheets.
  • The only safe sleep surface for baby is a proper crib, mattress, fitted sheet and nothing else

SEE ALSO: Buying The Right Crib For Baby7 and 15 Safe Sleep Tips for Baby

2. Car Seat

The biggest change in recent advice is to keep your baby/toddler in a rear-facing car seat for as long as possible. All infants should ride rear-facing for at least 1 year, and now the AAP is recommending through age 2+. Infant car seats are made to be rear-facing but won’t likely fit your child through his or her second birthday. A convertible car seat typically has a heavier weight limit and your child can continue to ride rear-facing as long as his body and weight are appropriate for the seat. The CDC estimates that keeping babies and toddlers rear-facing would eliminate as many as half of infant and toddler deaths in car crashes. Find the right seat and size for your child at Buy a car seat that:

  • Fits your child’s appropriate age, weight, height
  • Fits your car—test it in your car before buying or save the receipt for a return if testing isn’t an option
  • Passes inspection. Get your installed seat inspected at a certified car seat inspection station; find one near you at

SEE ALSO: The Car Seat Challenge

3. Bath Tub

With so many baby bathtub choices, it’s important to know what to buy—and not to buy. First the “don’ts”: Skip the inflatable tubs, say the CPSC. They’re associated with a significant number of infant deaths and accidents. Also avoid tubs with continuously running sprayers or hoses; your baby could be injured by a sudden change in water temperature or risk drowning in a stream of water. Do look for the following features, says Consumer Reports:

  • A sturdy tub that won’t slip around in your bath tub
  • A sloped inner support for baby, similar in angle to her car seat
  • Foam liners that keep baby from slipping around in the tub
  • Mesh support (not rods) on any slings or hammocks that help hold newborns in the bath tub
  • Stability and non-slip features in portable or flexible tubs meant to be used in the kitchen or other large sinks
  • Storage pockets with drains to keep baby’s toys, cleansers and wash cloth at fingertip reach so that you never leave a baby unattended in a tub for even a moment

SEE ALSO: Splish, Splash in a Safe Baby Bath and Bathing Your Baby

4. Safety Gates

Safety gates are essential even in the first 6 months of baby’s life, and a must-have once baby starts to move around either rolling, scooting or crawling. Experts say it’s generally safer to “gate” a baby out of a room, such as a bathroom, rather than depend on childproofing devices, which can fail or break. To gate off stairs and other hazards, buy baby gates with these features:

  • Certification by the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association
  • Wall-mounting hardware, instead of pressure mounting. Never use pressure mounted gates at the tops of stairs
  • Straight slats and frame to prevent entanglement. Rails should be tightly fitted into the frame and close enough together to keep arms and legs out, but wide enough to keep fingers free
  • Fine mesh panels rather than wider mesh, which can actually provide toe and finger holds for little climbers
  • Through-bolted hardware out of baby’s reach

5. Carrier or Sling

Front or parent-facing baby carriers are generally considered safer than slings as they don’t have the same suffocation risks of slings when used improperly. Some carriers come with infant inserts to help baby until she can hold her own head up, generally around 6 months. Most experts recommend:

  • Wait until baby is born and then “borrow” a carrier from other parents before you “buy” to determine the best kind of carrier for you and baby
  • Hinges and straps should be away from baby’s hands and legs to avoid pinching or entrapment
  • Wider straps to help distribute the weight load on your body
  • If you opt for a sling, wait until baby is 4 months old to reduce suffocation risks; and have a friend help you when you’re learning to use it according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Slings require ongoing adjustment.
  • Avoid any carrier or sling where baby’s head rests with his chin upon his chest blocking his airway

SEE ALSO: Carrying Your Baby Safely In A Sling

6. Stroller

Babies can become entrapped, have fingers pinched or cut, or get injured when strollers topple over. For these reasons, the AAP recommends finding the following in any stroller you buy:

  • Wide wheelbase
  • Easy-to-operate brakes, and without a brake release anywhere near baby’s reach
  • Brakes that lock at least 2 wheels are preferred to brakes on 1 wheel
  • Seat that fits baby yet keeps his hands and feet away from wheels
  • A seat belt and harness
  • A single foot rest spanning both seats in side-by-side twin strollers to prevent a baby’s feet from entrapment between single foot rests


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The Association of Women's Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses (AWHONN) promotes the health of women and newborns.

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