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Baby Gear Must-Haves (and Must-NOT-Haves) for Apartment Dwellers & City Families

May 2, 2017

Contributor and new, apartment-dwelling mom, Holly Ellis Spiegel shares her do’s and don’ts when it comes to all that baby gear that everyone thinks you need the minute you find out you’re pregnant. 

For more of Holly’s work, check out her articles, including a Hamilton History Road Trip, Improving Doctor’s Breastfeeding Literacy, and Mementos of Motherhood


As soon as the world knows you’re expecting, it wants to sell you stuff. Just one online search for baby registries almost guarantees you a Facebook feed full of ads for a dizzying array of devices and gear. Soon you’ll be thinking “my child will never love me if I don’t wrap him in organic cotton swaddles!” and “if I don’t feed her with locally-sourced bananas, blended by hand, I might as well sign my kid up for military school now.” The plethora of giant contraptions and frilly accouterments can be especially overwhelming if your home is a space-challenged urban apartment.

If this is your first (baby) rodeo, it’s easy to be seduced by slogans promising easy fixes and peace of mind. Having just made it through the first 6 months of parenthood by the skin of my teeth, and having conferred with several other Brooklyn-based parents, I feel it is my duty to provide this list of stuff you definitely want and definitely want to avoid:

DON’T get a clutter-prone white noise machine; DO download a free white noise app on the phone you’re already carrying around everywhere. You’ll have less clutter, and more soothing rain-on-a-car-roof sounds to lull your little one off to dreamland, no matter where you are.

DON’T get a changing table; DO get a dresser for all of those onesies and perch the changing pad on top. Hint: don’t forget to order a waterproof cover for that changing pad (make that 6, to cut down on trips to the laundromat). You’ll be able to keep using the dresser once baby’s out of diapers, too.

DON’T get suckered into a breastfeeding pillow. Use whatever pillows you already have on your couch and bed. DO get your hands on an occupational therapy “grabber” tool. It’s handy for picking up dropped binkies and burp cloths while you recover from delivery, and it’ll save you from feeling moored on a desert island when you’re pinned to the couch by a cluster-feeder.

DON’T bother with an overpriced (and over-designed) diaper bag. DO use whatever bag you already know and love. Keep it lightweight and easy to carry, especially since you’ll often be carrying it AND the baby at the same time.

DON’T pave your living room in those space-sucking, rubber play tiles. DO roll out your yoga mat when your little one is starting to sit-up, crawl or any other behavior that invites the opportunity for a faceplant.

DON’T bother registering for blankets (people are going to give you more than you could ever use anyway); DO get a baby-wearing coat, or an insert that fits into your existing jacket. Mine also works in my husband’s winter coat, and we’re constantly getting stopped on the street by parents looking for an easy way to shelter their baby from the winter wind – and go hands-free.

DON’T worry about getting more than one stroller to start with. DO find a sturdy baby carrier or sling. Make sure it fits both you and your partner, and is also easy to get off and on. Almost all the moms I talked to said their babies virtually lived in the carrier for the first few months. Once I got the hang of mine, I was able to nurse my baby while making dinner, catching up on emails, doing laundry, sitting in on conference calls…In other words: feeling like a badass, multi-tasking mama.

Some additional tips to keep in mind:

You’ll want some safe space to put your baby down when your arms need a break. This can be a bouncy seat, a rocking sleeper, a bassinet or even just a blanket on the floor (before the baby starts rolling). Before you make the investment, take into consideration how much room the item takes up (look at the base, not just the seat – the base is usually bigger!), how easy it is to relocate to other rooms (like the bathroom when you want – i.e. NEED – a shower), how expensive it is versus how long you’ll actually use it (most are outgrown within the first few months), and see if you can get it second (or third) hand.

If you haven’t already had one, and you’re the type of person who doesn’t need to have everything planned in advance, consider asking friends and family to throw you a baby shower AFTER your baby has been born. All you really need for the first month is onesies, wipes and a huge stash of diapers. Register for everything else as you learn what will work best for you and your baby. Also, emphasize how helpful gift cards will be as a gift, even if they’re not as much fun to give. They allow you to buy what you need, when you need it, thereby limiting how much gear you allow into your living space at once.

Don’t scoff at hand-me-downs. Most baby gear is built to last and yet barely used by the time it’s outgrown. If you have friends with toddlers and older, they may be eager to pass on some of the gear taking up precious storage space. Ask them what you can take off their hands. Just be sure you look up the model and make info to be sure the gear wasn’t discontinued or recalled for any reason. As long as it’s safe, it is sure to make your life easier!


Holly Ellis Spiegel is a writer and freelance film and video producer based in Brooklyn. She’s produced four feature films including the Sundance-selected Prairie Love and countless videos for parents and families on CafeMom and other outlets. She is also a new mom. See her work at www.hollylynnellis.com.