A Minimalist’s Baby Gear Review

baby with hug book

I’ve been composing this post in my head since Will was about 3 weeks old and I’ve realized something in the meantime: we are really not big consumers of baby gear.

Don’t get me wrong, Will has plenty of toys and blankets.  He has so many onesies from generous friends and grandparents that we can’t fit them all in his drawers. It’s just that there are truly a mind-boggling number of baby products on the market…and we don’t have many of them.

It’s not necessarily that we tried to keep our baby gear to the absolute minimum, that’s just sort of how it worked out for us living overseas, far away from the ability to make impulse purchases at Target or score a great deal on something off of Craigslist.  Everything we buy has to be shipped in and it can take up to a month for things to reach us.  Knowing that our kid might out-grow the need for whatever we order before it can actually get to us has a way regulating one’s spending.

So, Will has a swing that we brought back from the States, but we’ve used it maybe a dozen times, he’s never once fallen asleep in it.  He has two sleep sacks that we end up washing constantly instead of just buying an extra one.  It took us 5 months to realize that maybe, just maybe, a pacifier leash would be helpful when are out and about in the world (Spoiler alert: it is!).

Will doesn’t have a playpen or a exer-saucer or any other entertaining baby containment devices besides a booster chair that also doubles as our “high chair.” I thought about getting Will a co-sleeper before he was born but decided instead to just shove his crib up against my side of the bed (Another spoiler alert: perhaps the co-sleeper would have been a wise investment).  We stopped using an infant bathtub when Will was about 6 weeks old.  He’s been taking baths in the big tub with one of us in the tub with him since he was 5 months old, before that we gave him sponge baths on his changing pad.

In short, if you are looking for a comprehensive list of everything you need for your newborn baby, this post will probably not be very helpful.

On the other hand, Chris and I did a lot of research on the products we did buy and, for the most part, we are thrilled with them.  And when we are thrilled with something, we tend to get downright evangelical about it.

I’m only writing here about things we’ve really liked rather than everything we’ve ever used, so what follows is the most random list of baby gear you’ll ever find.  We love all of it and we’d totally buy all of this stuff again if we had to.

Carrying and Transporting Baby Stuff:

1. Britax Marathon Car seat.

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We only drive about once a week here in Chengdu, and so we reasoned that we probably wouldn’t get a lot of use out of an infant car seat.  Instead, we decided to spend our money on a really high-quality car seat that could take Will from birth to 75 pounds, or his 14th birthday, or whatever the recommendations are these days.  According to the new seat/weight recommendations, I could theoretically have been nearly 8 years old and still sitting in a rear-facing car seat when I was a kid.  That just seems a bit unrealistic but what do I know?

Anyways.  We love our Britax.  It’s a beast and a half of a seat, but it is super easy to install, easy to adjust, and Will seems really comfortable in it.  To adjust the height of the straps, all you have to do is pull on a lever at the top, there’s a similarly easy maneuver to adjust the clasp at the bottom.  The cover is very plush and machine-washable.  It’s also really solid, it just feels safe.  And it will last Will until he’s 80 pounds or old enough to see a PG-13 movie in the theaters, whichever comes first.

Whenever we have a second kid, I think we will probably get an infant car seat, since Will will likely still be in the Britax at that time, and an infant seat is nice to have for taking cabs or cars without seat-belts (aka, every single car in China that isn’t ours).

There are only 2 downsides to the Britax:

a) its huge so it won’t fit in a standard airplane seat (there is some debate as to whether it will fit on some of the bigger jets, it might)

b) its huge and convertible, so if your baby is really bitty at first, you’ll need some sort of insert to keep them secure for the first few months which brings us to…

2. The Snuzzler!

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Perhaps because my husband and his sister were both big babies, I expected to give birth to a giant 10 pound baby and bought much of our baby gear accordingly.  Why get a baby bjorn or a co-sleeper or an infant car seat when our kid will obviously be so huge he will outgrow them all within the first 2 months?

As it turns out, Will was, and still is, a tiny kid.  He popped out at a whopping 6 pounds, 5 oz and he’s just hit 16 pounds, 7 and a half months later.  Don’t let those absurdly chubby cheeks in the pictures fool you, he’s kind of wee.  The upshot of having a tiny baby when we planned on having a big one is that our car seat and stroller were not really safe for him during those first few months without some extra padding.

Chris googled our car seat and stroller and was bombarded with search results urging us to buy something called, absurdly enough, “The Snuzzler.”  The Snuzzler is remarkably exactly what it sounds like: a baby-shaped cushion of padding and fluffy fleece meant to secure a baby’s head and provide extra bulk behind their back, arms, and legs.  It will set you back 20 bucks and, while I have my doubts as to exactly what it would do in case of an accident, there is no doubt it kept Will much more securely restrained in his car seat and stroller when he was really tiny.

We used ours in our car seat until Will was about 3 months old.  We used it in our stroller with Will back in the States, back when we used his stroller regularly.

tiny baby in snuzzler

Will at about 1 week old…look how tiny!!!

3. CityMini Stroller-an endorsement-sort of…

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This is a great stroller if you are the sort of person who is often pulling a stroller in and out of a car.  Even when Will was just 3 weeks old, I could haul this stroller in and out of the trunk one-handed with Will in my other arm.  The one-handed set up and take down is the best feature.  The price isn’t too bad either.  It’s not cheap, but this stroller won’t cost you what a designer stroller will.

On the downside, the brake broke on our trip to China and there is no replacement part…Baby Jogger tells you to just buy a brand new stroller.  Yea, not happening.  Luckily, we don’t use our stroller much here and even luckier, a friend gave us their old jogging stroller so we won’t be totally brake-less or stroller-less in D.C. this summer.

Honestly though, living overseas, I don’t forsee us using our stroller a ton. In fact, at this point, I think an inexpensive, little umbrella stroller will probably serve us better in the future than our City Mini so I’m just so glad we didn’t spring for anything fancier!

4. Ergo Sport

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I love me some Ergo.  Granted, we couldn’t use our Ergo until Will was nearly 6 months old (see the bit about having a tiny baby when you’ve planned on a big one) but now that he’s big enough for it, we love it.  I can put it on all by myself and its comfortable to wear all day.  The “sport” version definitely seems a lot cooler for Will than the original, which is nice since we are headed into a DC summer and a New Delhi August right after that.

The only downside to the Ergo is that it can be sort of a pain to carry bags while wearing it since the straps are so bulky.  Since I don’t drive here, I definitely get a work out going grocery shopping with Will in the Ergo.  Between him and a few heavy bags of groceries perched precariously over my shoulders, I’m usually huffing and puffing a little by the time I get home.  At least for me though, I’ll take the workout over the hassle of getting a stroller up and down stairs, over bumps and through the throngs of grandmotherly-types.

I should also warn anyone buying an Ergo: you don’t know it yet, but you are entering a sort of international-travelling, baby-wearing tribe.  I swear I’ve had like 7 people spontaneously shout “Ergo!” at me while passing through airports like O’Hare and Beijing.  I don’t know why, it’s a thing?

5. Moby Wrap

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There was a time when I thought paying $40 for a giant piece of fabric was ridiculous.  That thought process lasted until Will was about 3 days old and I sent Chris to Target to spend $150 in 15 minutes on all of the stuff we said “wasn’t really necessary.”

There are cons to the Moby: its nearly impossible to put it on without parts of it dragging on the ground and that’s really, really not good here in the less-than-pristine-conditions we have here in Chengdu.  I always put it on at home, never when we are out.  It can also get hot for baby and its sometimes hard to adjust it for maximum baby comfort.

On the plus side though, when it works, it works.  It keeps Will warm and tucked in close to me.  As an added bonus, ours is black and so, if I wear a black t-shirt underneath, it looks like it could be part of my outfit as a sort of lumpy but elegant wrap, perhaps?  At least that’s what I tell myself.

We don’t use our Moby anymore now that Will fits in the Ergo but I’m still glad we bought it and we’ll definitely use it with the next baby.


1. Bum Genius Diapers

Yup, we still cloth diaper and we still love our Bum Genius dipes.  They have held up remarkably well considering the abuse they take both from Will and the washing machine.  Don’t tell Cotton Babies, but I use a little bleach on them in nearly every cycle and then rinse them 2 or 3 times.  I also put them in the dryer more often than not.  They seem no worse for wear.

We bought diapers with snaps versus velcro because the interwebs said they lasted longer and that kids had a harder time taking them off.  So true.  Snaps were a good call.  They also seem a little more comfortable for Will, the band of velcro on one of his diapers just seems to cut into his tummy a lot.

I won’t go through everything I love about our cloth-diapering gear because not much has changed since I wrote my epic novel all about it way back when Will was just 8 weeks old.  Instead, I’ll just highlight a few new things we like that might be useful whether you use cloth or disposable diapers.

2. Planet Wise Wet Bag

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Ostensibly, we bought this bag to use when we are out and about with Will changing cloth diapers.  Instead, we find ourselves using it not just for dirty cloth diapers but also for dirty clothes, dirty disposable diapers when we can’t find a trash can, and even wet swimsuits–though obviously we don’t combine swimsuits and diapers.  That would be kind of gross.  When we are traveling and using disposables, we always bring this bag for dirty laundry, its handy like that.

The point is, you don’t even know you need a bag like this until you have one, then suddenly the possibilities are endless.  I’m considering buying a few more for camping and the beach.

3. Wool Covers from Etsy

Old photo from back when Will’s wool cover was wayy too big for him.

You want to know what my absolute least favorite part of parenting is?

It’s waking up in the middle of the night to the sound of Will doing his tell-tale “leaky diaper” whine.  There is nothing I like less than stripping sheets, changing clothes, and cursing the fact that we own only 2 sleep sacks and now they are both dirty.

For the first two weeks we were in Chengdu with Will, before I figured out how to wash our cloth diapers properly in our absurdly hard water, this was the story of my life.  Then I figured out how to get our cloth diapers to stop leaking and life was wonderful again.  Its a lot easier to wake up 6 times a night when neither you nor your kid is drenched in pee.

But then Will got bigger and started peeing more.  He also started sleeping on his side.  Disposables are no match for a heavy-wetter who sleeps on his side, we’ve tried.  Cloth diapers do work better, but when he’s on his side, they might still leak a little after 6+ hours.  We needed something that would keep little leaks around the edge of his diaper from soaking his clothes and sheets and waking him up.

Enter the wool cover.  Wool can absorb up to 30% of its weight in liquid and its naturally antimicrobial so it doesn’t have to be washed every time its used.  There are lots of people on Etsy selling wool covers made out of old sweaters and they have changed everything for us.

Before, little leaks always turned into a big leaks which always turned 3am sheet-changing debacles.  Now, we put Will in an extra-stuffed diaper and put either a pair of wool shorts or wool pants on top.  We put a long sleeve onesie (a few sizes too big) over the top of the wool cover and 99% of the time, Will wakes up in the morning perfectly dry and comfortable, no matter how heavy his diaper is.

Wool covers need to be “lanolized” in order to work most efficiently, but that’s just a fancy way of saying “fill your sink with warm water, squeeze in some leftover lanolin from your early breastfeeding days, add the wool cover and let soak for 30 minutes.”  Once you wring it out and dry it (I dry ours in the dryer on very low heat to save time) you’ve got a nearly waterproof diaper cover that’s all natural and upcycled.

If you are having leakage issues and you’ve already tried every disposable and cloth diaper on the market, try putting a wool cover over the top of whatever works best for you, it might change your life.

4. Cooshee Changing Pad

I said I loved it before and I’ll say it again: totally worth the extra money.  Baby boys really do pee everywhere and at the most inopportune times.  It’s nice to have a changing pad that doesn’t absorb pee and wipes clean, especially since we are sometimes cleaning up bathroom messes on the changing pad multiple times a day.

It’s also really, really great for “sponge baths.”  When Will was really little we’d take his changing pad into the bathroom, run the shower to get things nice and warm and then fill his changing pad with just an inch or so of water to wash him down.  Until he was able to sit up well, this was a much more relaxing way to bathe him for both him and us.

Now there are a lot of people who say they never use their changing pad, they always change their kid on the floor on a blanket wherever they happen to be playing.  If you live in a suburban-style house with stairs and more room, I could easily see how this would be true and I probably wouldn’t recommend buying this thing unless you just happen to have extra money to burn.  For us though, living in fairly compact apartments overseas, we’re never more than a few steps from Will’s room and his changing pad so it make sense to centralize everything.  To each his own though on this one, probably.

Random Other Stuff:

1. Lionheart Bebe Pod Plus Chair

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Before Will was born, I was on a mission to find as many multi-tasking and/or long-lasting baby items as possible.  This chair really fits the bill.  Will started practicing sitting up in it around 3 months and, once he got good at it, I started attaching it to a chair in our kitchen so he could hang out with me while I cooked dinner.

We also use this as his “high chair,” either by strapping it to a chair or simply setting it on the table (we are always within arms reach).  For now, it works really, really well.

At some point we will have to get a real high-chair or transition to a big-kid booster seat.  This chair isn’t meant to fit a kid much bigger than 12 months old, even a kid as tiny as Will.  Its not as snug a fit as the Bumbo chair so there is not quite as much support in it for really early sitters.  This wasn’t a big deal for us but if you’re looking for something to get your kid sitting up as early as possible, the Bumbo might be a better choice.  On the downside, Will is already almost too big for a Bumbo and he’s still got plenty of room in his Bebe Pod.

2. BabyLegs legwarmers

baby legwarmers

A wonderful friend sent us a few pairs of these after WIll was born and, I’ll admit, I was skeptical.  Does a baby really need leg warmers?  Really?

Yes they do, especially if you are wearing your baby instead of using a stroller.  We buy them for every new baby we know now.

As promised, they make diaper changes a cinch and they are great for keeping little legs warm around the house when its not quite cold enough to require pants but not warm enough for just a onesie either.

But the real reason we have so many pairs now is that they are practically a necessity when we carry Will around in his Ergo.

Baby carriers always make baby pants ride up, exposing their bare legs to the elements and to Sichuanese grandmothers, horrified to see bare skin after the 1st of October.  It’s not always cold enough here to warrant a full snowsuit for Will so we use these a lot to make sure there are no gaps between his pants and his booties when we are out and about.  Since Will is in his Ergo nearly everyday, we use these A LOT.

They are also great for layering.  I’ve absorbed a certain level of Sichuanese paranoia about cooler temperatures so I sometimes use these to add an extra layer of warmth under Will’s pants and “bear suits” when we go out on especially cold days.

You don’t necessarily need to purchase the BabyLegs brand.  Etsy is full of shops selling really cute baby leg warmers.  We’ve since purchased quite a few pairs that way.

4. Munchkin Pacifier Wipes and Johnson & Johnson Face & Hand Antibacterial Wipes

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Travelling internationally these items are both a must for us; and yes, we carry both.  Pacifier Wipes are great for anything Will is going to gum on and we use antibacterial wipes for his hands and face after lots of people touch him.  We also use them for toys that get dropped on the ground briefly when there is not soap and water around.  I never thought I’d be one to use products like this (the waste, the antibacterial-super-bug thing) but they make traveling so much less stressful.

5. Ikea Baby Smocks

Will likes solid foods, but only if he’s the one wielding the spoon or cut up piece of squash or crust of bread.  As you might imagine, mealtime has become an absurdly messy affair around here, with bits of food splattered on the floor, the walls, and my shirt.  As for Will?  Sometimes it looks more like he’s trying to bathe in his food than eat it.  His spoon-wielding strategies are no match for our Baby Bjorn bibs, truly they are useless.

We ruined a lot of clothes before we picked up a few smocks from Ikea but, thankfully, I think those days are mostly behind us.  The smocks cover Will’s shirts completely and after he’s done eating, I just rinse them off and hang them up to dry, no scrubbing required.

6. Baby Yoda Hat (and all hats with ears)

Were I to ever take Will outside in Chengdu between the months of October and April without a hat on, I shudder to think at what kind of verbal beating I would be in for from the well-meaning grandmothers at the market.

So hats!  They are necessary and they are so cute!  I recommend many!

I think that’s about it!  I’m out of baby gear recommendations!  Now, if I can make this long post even longer I’ll make a quick list of:

Things I wish we would have bought but didn’t:

1. A sound machine or an iPod dock.  We have a teddy bear with a sound machine in it but the recordings only last 20 minutes, just long enough for Will to fall asleep and wake up startled when the sound stops.  The batteries also die absurdly fast, but that might just be because they are Chinese batteries.

2. A Miracle Blanket or other such swaddle device.  We love our Target-version (cheaper) Aden & Anais Swaddles, but I sometimes wonder if something with a bit more holding power would have helped us in the beginning.  Then again, Will hated having his arms swaddled no matter what we did so perhaps, in this case, hindsight is not 20-20, but simply wishful thinking.

3. An activity mat.  I don’t know why I didn’t see the point of these things when I was pregnant but oh are they worth the $50+ they cost!  One of our neighbors generously gave us their old activity mat and Will loved it, despite the fact that there were only two hanging toys left on it by the time we got it.  Sometimes I wonder how much longer he could have stayed entertained had we hung more toys on it.  Next baby is getting a brand new one with all the bells and whistles!

4. A co-sleeper.  Before Will was born, I assumed that shoving our crib up against my side of the bed would yield essentially the same convenience and closeness as an expensive co-sleeper.  I was sort of right.  It’s pretty easy to haul Will in and out of his crib without ever getting out of bed.  On the other hand, those crib rails seem to make a big difference to Will and we are working right now on getting him back in his crib all night.  Maybe a co-sleeper would have allowed Will to feel close to me without actually having to be in our bed?

5. A crib mobile.  We actually did end up buying Will a mobile but, by the time we got it when he was 4.5 months old, I think it was just too much of a novelty to be of much use helping to lull him to sleep.  Perhaps if we had started out with one at the beginning it might have proved more useful.

What are your favorite baby products?  Anything you never purchased and wish you had?


5 thoughts on “A Minimalist’s Baby Gear Review

  1. oooh what’s a johnny-jump-up?? See what I mean? I have nooo clue as to half of the baby stuff in the world! Darn you Western China and your lack of safe baby gear stores! 🙂

  2. Pingback: Black Mountain Products Resistance Band Set with Door Anchor, Ankle Strap, Exercise Chart, and Resistance Band Carrying Case » Glivens

  3. I love this list!

    Baby girls pee everywhere, too (just not up, up and away). It was several months before there wasn’t pee EVERYWHERE for every diaper change. I’m still wondering if my baby girl is weird, because everyone only talks about the boys peeing everywhere (maybe because they pee in your mouth and on the wall). We have an inflatable IKEA changing pad that also wipes clean (6.95), but usually put a receiving blanket on top of it to stop pee from spreading everywhere.

    We love the miracle blanket, use an old iPhone (no dock) as a sleep machine, and I made a mobile. The mobile looks cute, seems unnecessary but the miracle blanket and sleep app on the iPhone made our lives much easier.

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