First Year Essentials: Really, Though

Throughout the first year of life, we document all the milestones our babies hit. We watch in awe as they learn to smile, hold up their heads, reach and grasp, sleep in longer stretches, push up, roll over, sit up, crawl, pull-up, point, cruise, walk, and even talk. We celebrate each event and look forward to the next one. We compare timelines to our friends’ babies, to strangers’ babies, and to our own milestone achievements as infants.

In the first year of our babies’ lives we leave behind who we were as individuals and develop who we are going to be as families. We spend countless hours researching the why’s, how’s, what’s, and when’s of infants. We worry. We learn. We lose sleep. And we fall so deeply in love that our hearts are changed forever.

As we celebrate Baby ASM on her first birthday, I find myself reflecting on how far we have come. Thinking back to when we were preparing for her arrival, and how naïve we were, makes me laugh. The things we thought we needed, and the ideas we had about what it would be like, are all changed now. Babies do that. They change everything. They change us.

As we were changing and growing together over the past twelve months, we learned a lot. Some things are pretty obvious like babies put everything in their mouths. But seriously. Babies put everything in their mouths, including poop (true story). Then there are the not so obvious things that you learn, like putting rubber bands around the latch on the door to the baby’s room allows you to open and close the door silently.

Starting out on this journey into parenthood, there were so many things we thought we needed and never used, or that we never thought we would need, but ended up not being able to live without. We wasted money on products that didn’t work (anyone else buy the baby shusher?) and could have used that money to buy more of the things we needed that did work. There are many lists out there telling you about all of the products you need for baby. This is not that. This is a list of the things Mr. ASM, Baby ASM and I could not have survived without over the last year. Here they are in no particular order. The absolute necessities. The things that were worth our hard-earned money.

Boppy Pillow – We used our Boppy from the day we brought Baby ASM home from the hospital. It was perfect for helping hold her up while I was learning how to get her to latch during nursing. But it doesn’t stop at nursing. The best thing about this pillow is that it grows with baby. At about 3 months you can use it to help prop your baby up, at 6 months you can use it for tummy time, at around 9 months you can use it to help baby learn to sit. At 12 months, we still pull it out and use it as a toy. I took the picture on the right today!

We bought the Luxe edition and were not disappointed. It comes with a soft velvety fabric on one side, and a cotton fabric on the other. There are plenty of less expensive options as well.

Philips Avent Bottles (9 oz) and the Philips Avent My Bendy Straw Cup - We have a whole big bunch of these bottles. Our first couple of Avent bottles were given to us as a hand-me-down. The rest we bought because we really liked them. We have a bunch of the smaller 4-ounce ones and a bunch of the bigger 9 ouncers. Here's the thing, if you buy the bigger bottles, when your baby gets older and starts drinking more than a few ounces at a time, you already have bottles big enough to meet his needs. If you start off with the smaller ones, eventually you will have to upgrade to the bigger ones. So my theory, now that I've lived through it, is just buy the big bottles and use them all the way through. What's even cooler about the Avent bottles is when Baby grows into sippy cups, the tops from the sippy fit right onto the bottle bottom, so you always have extra bottoms lying around.

Baby Gate - You definitely already know this, but at some point in your baby-raising career, you will need a baby gate. Whether it's to help contain baby in a single room, or to keep her from accidentally falling down the stairs, a baby gate is a must. There are a lot of baby gates on the market, and they can go for hundreds of dollars. If you are closing off just a standard-sized doorway, you don't need to spend a whole lot of money. The gate on the left cost us just $14.99 before tax. We prefer the pressure-mounted ones because we don't want to have to patch holes in the wall when Baby ASM grows out of them, but there are reasonably priced gates that are wall-mounted as well.

Banana Teether - We've purchased probably between 10-15 different teething toys and for some reason, this is Baby ASM's favorite. She can grip it really well, and it is able to reach a bit further back in her mouth than some of the other ones. Although, even when her front teeth were coming in, this was her go-to.

High Chair - You are going to need a high chair as soon as Baby starts eating solid foods. It's good to get them used to eating in their chairs early so you don't end up with a baby that walks around while eating. We have the Chicco Polly High Chair. We like that it adjusts taller and shorter, so we can pull Baby ASM right up to the table and slide her legs under. It comes with a tray that can slide on and off, a footrest that can be removed, and a leg rest that can be straightened or bent. This high chair folds so it can be stored away, although it doesn't really save that much space when it's folded.

When shopping for a high chair, think about the space you have, both to use it, and to store it (these things can be pretty big when they're in use). Also think about whether you want the chair to grow with your baby, or if you are going to want to upgrade as baby grows. Finally, think about whether you want Baby to have their own tray, or if you want them to eat at the table with you.

Pack-N-Play - We bought the Chicco Lullaby Playard which was perfect because it was another one of those products that grew with Baby ASM. When we first brought her home from the hospital, we started her off sleeping in the bassinet, then when she outgrew the 15-pound weight limit, we moved her to the playard for sleeping. Once we moved her to her crib full time, we put the payard in our living room and the baby uses it while I'm getting ready to go to work in the morning, or any time I need her to be safe and contained for a couple of minutes. We also use the playard as her sleeping area when we're traveling. It's super easy to fold up and take with you, although it can be a bit heavy. We use this nearly every day so this is definitely a product that we've gotten our money's worth.

Car Seat / Stroller Travel System - Unless you live in a city and do not ever drive, a car seat is a must-have. You will also definitely need a stroller. There are hundreds to choose from and it can be overwhelming trying to decide. So here is my recommendation: make sure to get a travel system. A travel system allows you to move baby from the car to the stroller without having to take her out of the car seat. All you do is click her out of the car and click her into the stroller. These systems just make life easier when you have a small baby. Yes, you will eventually have to buy a bigger car seat, but believe me, the convenience of not having to disturb your sleeping baby to get her out of the car is worth every penny.

Infant Tub - Technically, it would have been possible to survive without our infant tub, but it absolutely, hands down made bath time 100 times easier. When you have a newborn baby who can't hold up his own head or follow directions of any kind, bath time can be a terrifying ordeal. Using an infant tub takes some of the worry out because the sling (which adjusts as baby grows) keeps baby in one place and supports his head and body while you are bathing him.

Noise Machine - A noise machine might be the most inexpensive, but best product on your shopping list. The phrase, "sleeping like a baby" is nonsense. I've forgotten to turn the noise machine on, and woken up Baby ASM just by walking past her room and hitting a squeaky floorboard (I am not joking). You need a noise machine. Any kind of noise machine will do. We bought the Big Red Rooster. It comes with 6 sounds, a volume control, and a timer. It's not fancy, but we could not survive without it.

So there you have it - my list of must-haves. But this is just my list. When you have a baby, you hear the phrase, “every baby is different,” nearly 10,000 times before their first birthday. But seriously; Every. Baby. Is. Different. If you are just beginning on this journey and trying to figure it all out, first, congratulations, and second, don't worry, you’ll eventually figure out what works best for you. And if you, like myself, have been at this a little while, then congratulations to you too. You kept another human being alive for a year, maybe more, and that is amazing.

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