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Planning to bring home a new baby is like planning for a tiny cyclone to live in your house. You’re not sure when it will arrive or how much bedlam will come with it. All you can do is stock up on supplies and batten down the hatches. And when it comes to babies, there are so, so many supplies, from the obvious (diapers, a crib) to the unexpected (snot suckers, no-scratch mittens). Fortunately, babies need very little in the way of gadgets, but the devices you do need in your nursery have to be reliable, simple to use, and effective. Here’s a collection of items that proved themselves useful — and in some cases essential — when I brought home premature twins. Plus, a few favorite toys for good measure.
Owlet smart sock
Bringing home a new infant is both surreal and nerve-wracking, especially when you have almost no experience with babies (*raises hand*). Because my twins were NICU graduates, there was no question that we wanted a monitor at home that could reproduce the stats we were used to seeing in the hospital. Owlet’s smart sock is the only infant wearable that measures heart rate, pulse ox and breathing rate. That information is displayed in an app that graphs your child’s data and tracks their sleep patterns as well. If your child’s readings rise or dip outside normal levels, you’ll be alerted through an alarm on your phone and the Owlet base station.
I’ve used both the second- and third-generation sock for the twins until they hit the weight limit. Strapping the sock onto a wriggly baby is not always easy, and a poor fit can cause heart-stopping false alerts. However, checking the Owlet’s readings frequently in those early days was reassuring to me, and over time I felt more comfortable as I got a sense for their typical stats. The sock measurements also helped me understand their sleep habits by reporting back on when they were sleeping and when they were very much not sleeping. The amount of information and support was especially helpful when I found myself worrying, as I could simply pull up their data on the app for reassurance. Additionally, Owlet makes a camera that can tie into the system to provide video and audio feeds and sound/motion alerts, so you can get a quick peek at your little one.
Buy smart sock at Owlet – $299
Nanit Pro baby monitor
Once you finally get your newborn to sleep, you’re going to want to check on them roughly every two and a half minutes until you pass out on the couch watching Hulu. Regardless, there is no bigger transgression than waking a sleeping baby, so you’ll need a quality monitor to help keep tabs on your new addition without disturbing them. There are a lot of good monitors on the market, but the Nanit became a favorite thanks to its clear video and extensive features. The Nanit camera offers a bird’s-eye view of your child’s crib, and because it’s positioned over the crib you won’t need to worry about adjusting the angle. It needs to be either wall mounted or set up on its stand, but I found the latter setup wobbly and fragile, so I’d recommend the stand, for sure.
The 1080p video stream is clear, day and night, and it can be shared with multiple caretakers. Nanit is tied to an app so you’ll access the feed from your phone; there’s no need to charge or keep track of a separate display. It also offers noise and sound alerts, which made it easy to get a heads-up when one of the twins was stirring, though I had to minimize the sensitivity of these in the app because they occurred frequently. It collects snippets of your child’s night time activities for your reference, and tracks sleep data. Nanit also offers a Breathing Band wearable if you’d also like to track your baby’s breaths per minute.
Buy Nanit Pro at Amazon – $300
Munchkin 59s pacifier sterilizer
It wasn’t until I had babies that I realized how completely filthy everything in my home was. Although I have used the Wabi steam sanitizer for the last year or so in order to deep clean the majority of the kids’ cutlery, bottles and cups, it’s overkill to haul that thing out for pacifiers alone. Munchkin makes a cute 4.1 ounce UV-C cube that can sterilize a single pacifier in under a minute. It’s straightforward to use and easy to tote around, thanks to the silicone wrist strap.
You’ll have to first wipe down any pacifiers that are covered in hair, crumbs or other toddler detritus, but after that all you need to do is pop the binky into the cube and hit the button. The 59S lights up in a blue hue that fascinates my kids while it kills 99 percent of household germs — and that may include coronavirus, which the FDA says could be rendered inactive from the UV-C. The combination of pacifier wipes and the 59S came in handy during a recent trip where my kids were in a variety of different environments; I didn’t have to worry at all knowing that I could quickly cleanse their pacifiers without having to run to a sink every time they threw a binky on the ground, outside their sleeping area, into a pool or directly into someone’s cup of coffee.
Buy Munchkin 59s sterilizer at Amazon – $20
Willow wearable breast pump
Establishing a pumping and breastfeeding routine is an exhausting challenge, so any shortcuts that save you time or energy are basically essential. Wearing a breast pump instead of being tethered to my Spectra was a tremendous relief. I could pump while doing laundry, working, soothing a cranky baby or even practicing yoga. Willow makes wearable breast pumps that are spill-proof (I tested it in downward dog) and comfortable to use. However, they weigh 12.5 ounces each and I felt pretty self-conscious wearing them around because they made my silhouette look like an exaggerated comic book character.
Willow’s system contains all the parts in an egg-shaped pump that you slip into a bra. The wearer can control intensity either on the pump itself or via the smartphone app, which also tracks a session and how much you’ve pumped. I particularly like that Willow gives users two options for milk collection: a reusable container or a disposable bag, though only the bag option is spill-proof. It’s fairly quiet but I still skipped wearing it outside for longer than it took to grab the mail. Although the Bluetooth connection to the app was inconsistent, it didn’t hinder my ability to use the hardware — or my gratitude in being able to move freely while pumping.
Buy Willow breast pump at Amazon – $500
My love for the Hatch Rest is well established; I’ve written multiple times how I use it daily, and how it’s been useful as a night light, white noise machine and sleep trainer. I’ve recommended it to friends and I even packed it when my family was being evacuated from a forest fire. In case you missed those previous references, here’s the scoop: The Hatch Rest and Rest+ are minimally designed, fully-functional smart home devices that can be programmed to play a variety of sounds and colors. There are 10 available colors, or you can create a custom one, and 11 sounds including rain storms and lullabies. You can control it either from your phone or from the physical buttons and touch ring on the device itself.
The Rest+ is more expensive at $90 but brings a few additional features like battery power, two-way audio, a dimmable clock, voice control with Alexa, and access for multiple users. If you can do without those, the $60 Rest should suffice. Hatch also makes an adult model, the Restore, and recently released the Rest Mini, which offers a subscription to stories, lullabies and more kid-friendly content.
Buy Hatch Rest at Amazon – $60 Buy Hatch Rest+ at Amazon – $90
4moms mamaroo4 infant seat
An infant swing can be helpful to entertain your babe while you do other tasks or to help them gently fall asleep while being gently rocked. The 4moms mamaroo4 is a smart swing that not only mimics the actions that parents use when soothing babies, but can also be fully controlled from your phone. It is also blessedly simple to set up; the instructions are well-explained and I was able to get the whole thing up and running in under 10 minutes while my twins were distracted with teething crackers and Flappy the Elephant. It offers five movement options (car ride, kangaroo, rock a bye, tree swing and wave), five speed options and four built-in sounds (rain, fan, ocean, heart). You can also connect an MP3 player to it to play your own lullabies and tunes.
The speakers on the mamaRoo4 aren’t exactly bangers, though, so if you connect an MP3 player or streaming device don’t expect it to sound amazing. It will do the job for kid’s lullabies or classical tracks, but it doesn’t get very loud and isn’t built to be a speaker system. The swing itself isn’t exactly silent as it moves either, though in no way is it annoying or distracting. It does muffle the built-in sounds a bit so it’s hard to distinguish between them. The swings movements seem subtle at times, but my daughter seemed to enjoy them. It is pricier than most standard swings and will work up to six months or 25 pounds, but it might be worth it to be able to start, pause, change movement all from your phone as your baby settles down.
Withings Thermo smart thermometer
Do you really need a $100 smart thermometer for your new baby? Technically, no. But y’all, let me tell you it only took a single use of the Withings Thermo to win me over. Here’s why: Withing’s smart temporal thermometer uses an artery in the head to measure temperatures. Which means instead of trying to keep a standard thermometer correctly positioned in the armpit of a wriggly, crying infant for an interminable time to get a reading you hope is accurate, all you have to do is gently swipe the Thermo wand across their forehead. You don’t even have to make direct contact with the skin since Thermo can still measure when held a half-inch away. It’s easy enough that I found myself taking my kid’s temperature more regularly because it was no longer a fight.
Thermo then displays the result on the LED display (which, for what it’s worth, really intrigued my twins) and you can press a button to save the reading. Because it’s tied to an app, Thermo not only saves previous readings so you can track temps, but it also lets you add multiple family members and assign a temperature to the correct individual. As a mom of twins, that’s the feature I was most interested in and it was simple and easy to scroll through profiles using a swipe next to the display. The app also helps you get Thermo set up. I will admit it took two attempts before I could complete this process but it wasn’t complicated; it just initially seemed to get stuck on the setup screen. Also, it’s worth noting that the Thermo started to take temperatures immediately, so I had a few results come in just as I was holding it in my hand and pointing it at a wall but these ambient readings are easy to dismiss.
Buy Withings Thermo at Amazon – $99
Baby Brezza Safe + Smart bottle warmer
A good bottle warmer should be efficient, minimal and easy to clean. Baby Brezza’s version is a good option because it has a slim profile, which makes it convenient to stash on a countertop, along with intuitive buttons and controls. It can heat either formula or breast milk using two warming settings (a steady warm water bath or a quick steam warm), as well as defrost frozen milk. The bottle tray fits most types, too — I can confirm it worked fine with the three different types that I had in my house. I was able to figure out how to work it without consulting the instructions too much, and I was pleased at how the bottles came out at an ideal temperature.
However, the noteworthy feature of the Safe + Smart is the Bluetooth connection that allows the warmer to be controlled through an app on your phone. You can select things like warming speed and the bottle’s starting temperature before starting a warming session all from within the app. It will also alert you when the bottle is ready to go.
While it sounds like a niche device, it proved particularly useful in certain situations. I was able to prepare a bottle, start my kid’s baths and use the app to start warming a bottle so it would be ready right as they were. I could also start a bottle, then text my partner to bring it upstairs as I read bedtime stories. And the alarm meant I could avoid walking up and down stairs several times to check on the warmer as I usually do. It’s a neat feature, but because you’ll still need to add water to the warmer each time, it works best if you plan ahead to use it.
Buy Baby Brezza bottle warmer at Amazon – $70
Infants experience the world around them through their senses, so they’ll be drawn to toys with a lot of colors, sounds and textures. Look for toys they can grab, twist, crinkle, chew, shake and spin. For example, this activity ball is ideal because it has several interactive elements: a mirror, a spinning ball, beads in a tube and a squeaky button, among others. My kids really enjoyed exploring each element here as their skills progressed. Sensory soft toys like this elephant reproduce a similar experience with rattles, gum massagers, pockets and rings, and are easy to hang in a car seat as well. For toys that teach physical skills, try wrist rattles and foot finder socks, which have bells and crinkles to help babies identify their hands and feet; or this crinkly cloth book with a mirror to encourage tummy time.
Buy activity ball at Amazon – $11 Buy elephant sensory toy at Amazon – $15 Buy wrist rattles/foot finder socks at Amazon – $9 Buy cloth book at Amazon – $17