The road to parenthood is paved with endless anxiety and preparation. You have countless choices to make, and in the heat of the moment, they all seem like life-and-death decisions. That makes would-be parents an easy target for the baby-gear industry, which is expected to surpass $100 billion by 2025. If you thought buying a new phone or laptop was hard, just wait until you're confronted with countless "smart" baby gadgets that promise to prevent SIDs, track every bowel movement and make sure your child isn't screwed up for life.
That's basically the life I've been living for the past year. But now that my daughter Sophia is nearly six months old, I have a better sense of the gear she actually wants to use and what's a waste of money.
Doona Car Seat & Stroller
First, there's the stroller. My wife and I agonized over choosing one for months: We read every baby blog, review site and Wirecutter recommendation we could find. Ultimately, we settled on the Doona, a relatively new entry that has one killer feature: At the touch of a button, the wheels fold down and it doubles as a car seat. Many parents end up buying a seat for their cars and a stroller separately, but that didn't make sense for my family. We live in Brooklyn, don't have a car and wanted to bring the baby on the subway regularly -- but we also wanted to easily hop into a cab.
The Doona ended up being the perfect solution for us. It's compact, so it doesn't overwhelm sidewalks and store aisles like so many other strollers. Our baby fits in it snugly, and she doesn't have any trouble sleeping in it. The Doona is also lightweight at 14.3 pounds, and it's easy to lift one-handed, which is a huge help when going up and down subway stairs.
Another plus? It's incredibly simple to travel with. There's a base you can install in your car that it snaps into, or you can secure it with a regular seatbelt, which is the method we've relied on mostly in cabs. The Doona is also approved for use on planes, allowing you to simply roll down the jetway and into your seats. It's not perfect, but as I've come to realize, few baby products are. At $500, the Doona is more than double the price of mainstream strollers. But let's be honest, there are plenty of fashionable models that cost much more and are a lot less functional.
After we settled on our stroller, we started to plan out our nursery gear, which was an entirely new level of parent hell. To make things simple, we focused on the must-haves first: a baby monitor and a soothing device. We knew from the start that we didn't want a WiFi smart monitor: They're prone to security risks, and we're mainly interested in keeping an eye on the baby in the house. At first, we settled on the tried and true Infant Optics DXR-8. It worked well, but I grew to hate staring at the low-resolution monitor screen night after night.
Eufy Space View
Then, Eufy released the Space View, which was an improvement in almost every way. It has a sleeker monitor with a gorgeous HD screen and 15 hours of battery life. The Space View also boasts a much longer range than the Infant Optics' as well as a camera that can pan up to 330 degrees. The only real downsides are that the camera takes a bit of work to mount and the monitor's kickstand feels a bit flimsy. Otherwise, it was exactly what I was looking for: a truly modern spin on a classic.
Baby Einstein Sea Dreams Soother
On the opposite end of the tech spectrum is the Baby Einstein Sea Dreams Soother. It's a huge plastic toy that lights up with colorful characters and plays music. That's it. But it turns out that's the perfect combination to distract a shrieking infant. It was invaluable during our first month with Sophia, when seemingly every diaper change led to a crying fit. At first, she was entranced by the soother. But as time went on, Sophia started interacting with the characters -- almost like they were the stars of a TV show. She also loves hitting the huge button on the front of the soother, which turns it on and off. Early on, she would hit it for fun, but now she has a ball controlling the show on her own.
Even though the Sea Dreams Soother is pretty low tech and has been around forever, there's a reason it's still popular: It works. Just be sure to keep plenty of C batteries on hand or get some rechargeables: The soother needs four of them, and it chews through them like candy.
Hatch Baby Grow
As we built out our nursery, my wife and I also knew we wanted some sort of digital baby scale around. It might seem like a luxury, but we heard from plenty of friends that they're useful for keeping track of baby weight early on, when it's hard to measure how much breast milk they're drinking. We settled on the Hatch Baby Grow, one of the more expensive options out there but also one of the most useful. It can measure a baby's weight in a few seconds, and it had no trouble dealing with our squirmy infant. The Grow is also a great surface as a changing pad: It's soft and cleans easily, and it didn't get too cold during winter nights.
We also grew to love Hatch's mobile app for tracking feedings, diaper changes and sleep. Few people tell you this ahead of time, but you'll be doing a lot of data tracking as a new parent, and you'll get really invested in counting poopy diapers. Hatch's app is easy to use and does a great job of laying out trends, so you can easily tell if your baby is eating less than usual. The app is also completely free -- you don't have to shell out for the Grow to use it. That's a smart move by Hatch, since it's another way to coax new parents into its ecosystem, which also includes the Rest nightlight and sound machine.
Something like that is less of a necessity, though, especially if you have a smart speaker. That's why I also recommend picking up an Amazon Echo for your nursery. It's built for hands-free use and voice commands, which makes it perfect for when you're elbow deep in diapers or trying to rock a fussy baby to sleep. The sound quality is good enough for piping in some tunes or a podcast when you're nursing. And you can also use it to control smart lights in your nursery: It's ideal for dimming the room as you're trying to put your baby to sleep.
Perhaps most important, you can tap into a huge ecosystem of Alexa apps, which includes Hatch Baby's. Instead of logging feedings and diaper changes by hand, I just have to say, "Alexa, log a wet diaper" and it instantly gets added to Sophia's profile. It might not sound like much, but this feature has been life changing for my wife and me. Now we rarely miss logging anything.
SmartNoggin NogginStik Light-up Rattle
My final recommendation is something I stumbled across by accident: the SmartNoggin NogginStik Light-up Rattle. At first, I figured we'd pick up any old rattle, but a saleswoman at a baby store in Brooklyn sold us on this one. In addition to making noise, it lights up, which helps to keep Sophia's attention when she's having a crying fit. Its eyes and goofy expression also help newborns learn to recognize faces early on. Finally, it has a ridged handle, which makes it easy for babies to grab early on, and there's a mirror at the bottom, so they can learn to recognize themselves.
Basically, it's a rattle that does the work of several toys, and for the first few months, we couldn't leave home without it. At this point, it's also become an automatic gift for any of my new parent friends.
One thing you'll need to remember when buying any baby gear: Every kid is different. You'll definitely have your own must-have gadgets after you learn what your baby actually likes. But I'm hoping my list can at least get you started.