Kelsey Miller and her baby Margot

Having a baby is, among other things, one of the most…

…expensive things I’ve ever done. Don’t get me wrong — my daughter Margot (who just turned nine months) is awesome, and parenthood is frankly, a lot more fun than I thought it would be. Really got my money’s worth. But the fact remains that keeping a rapidly growing human alive and clothed and fed and entertained is pricey. I spent a fair amount of my pregnancy Googling “baby products you don’t actually need.” That’s how I avoided a lot of nonsense purchases like wipe warmers (they just dry out the wipes, and then all you have are stiff, thick tissues!). But some products really are worth shelling out for — not just for your baby, but for you. The truth is babies themselves don’t “need,” say, pajamas with zippers, rather than snaps. But when you’re standing in the dark after a 3am diaper change, desperately fumbling with the 200 snaps on their tiny pajamas, praying they don’t fully wake up — you will realize that zippers are worth their weight in gold. Along with zipped PJs, here are some other items that have made my first year of parenthood (pandemic and all) a heck of a lot easier…

Baby Bum Brush
When I first saw this item on a list of “must have” baby items, I rolled my eyes so hard it hurt. I mean, really? A spatula for putting on diaper cream, so you don’t have to touch your own baby’s bottom? Ridiculous. Here, I would like to apologize to the fine people of Bumco, because reader, I was wrong. The bum brush was the best $7 I’d ever spent. Anyone who’s ever spent 20 minutes furiously scrubbing at a dab of diaper cream like Lady Macbeth knows why. Diaper cream is thick, drying and irremovable — which is why it’s so great on your baby’s damp bottom. But it will ravage your cuticles, get stuck under your nails, and live forever on every fabric surface you touch if you don’t scrub (not wash, scrub) your hands after every diaper change. With the bum brush, you apply a small dab to the applicator, swipe and you’re done.

Weleda Diaper Cream
While we’re on the subject, I’ve got to give a shout-out to this stuff. I was a Weleda die-hard long before Margot, thanks to their iconic Skin Food — the only hand cream worth buying, in my opinion. I now feel the exact same way about their Calendula Diaper Cream. I started using it as soon as we got home from the hospital (just a dab, every few changes) and never saw so much as a hint of irritation, let alone diaper rash. It was a few bucks more than old-school brands like Desitin, but a little went a very long way. The tube seemed to last forever — which is probably why I forgot to buy more recently, and wound up using another brand (a very chic, very popular, celebrity-owned brand), which did nothing except leave my kid with a greasy red butt. It was an uncomfortable few days, but once my new tube of Weleda came in, that cream cleared things up in a matter of hours. Don’t mess around with the chic diaper creams. Just get this stuff.

If you’re a skin-care junkie like I am, you’re probably already familiar with the multi-purpose wonder that is Aquaphor. For babies, it’s even more useful. When Margot’s skin feels a little parched from cold weather, dry heat or too long in the tub — one dab of Aquaphor does the job. When she scratches her face with her tiny baby talons, we clean it up, put on some Aquaphor, and it vanishes. When I freaked out over the mysterious rashes suddenly appearing on her cheeks in the evening, the pediatrician calmly asked if she ever ate berries or other acidic fruits in the afternoon. (Answer: Yup.) She told us to smear a little Aquaphor on her face before feeding her, to prevent the fruit acids from irritating her skin. Worked like a charm. But the real magic of Aquaphor is that it never, ever runs out. Margot is nine months old, and I’m still using the same seven-ounce tube I bought before she was born. And I’m not just using it on her (works great on my cuticles, too.)

The NoseFrida
Okay, fair warning: This thing is disgusting and your kid will hate it. But trust me, when the time comes, you are going to be so grateful for this gross baby torture device. Without getting too graphic, the NoseFrida is a filtered tube-like device that lets you suck excess mucus out of your baby’s nose, with your mouth. (Huh, I guess there actually is no way to describe it without getting graphic.) Yes, the process itself is no fun, but it is infinitely preferable to lying awake all night listening to your frustrated, snuffling little baby struggle to breathe. I prefer to just suck out the snot and then lie awake fantasizing about the party I’ll throw the day Margot finally learns how to blow her own nose.

Little Earth Baby Sleep Sack
In our house, we call this The Magic Sleep Sack — not to be confused with the famous Merlin Magic Sleepsuit. This sleep sack has no gimmicks or unusual features; it’s just really, really good. In fact, though we have dozens of other hand-me-down sleep sacks (including the Merlin), this is the only one we use. My cousin Abby sent it to us as a baby gift, and from the second we put it on Margot, she was enamored. I watched on the monitor as she dozed off gently squeezing the soft fabric in her little hand, and my heart melted as I realized it had become her first lovey. I was even more thrilled because, unlike literally every other item of clothing she owns, this is one she won’t quickly outgrow! Little Earth Baby sacks can be worn from birth onward (until at least age two or longer). They’re made from bamboo fabric, and are thicker than most sacks but not at all heavy. They’re also “all season,” designed to work in rooms between 55 and 81 degrees. And despite their cloud-soft feel, they are incredibly durable, and can withstand apparently limitless washes (as well as the jaws of my teething baby who now gnaws it all night long).

Ubbi Steel Diaper Pail
This was another one of those “must have” items we initially decided to skip. We thought, why bother? Who needed a whole other trash can just for diapers? “You do,” my friend Lesley (who has a four year old of her own) told me. “You really, really, really do.” I wasn’t convinced, but Lesley offered to give me her old Ubbi Diaper Pail, so I said sure. Now I know that what I should have said was, “THANK YOU SO MUCH, WHAT THE HELL WAS I THINKING?” I’m sure there are some folks for whom a diaper pail is not a biggie. But for anyone who lives in a small space (say, a New York City apartment), then it is, if not a must-have then a REALLY-great-to-have. People say baby poop doesn’t smell, but there’s a difference between one freshly dirtied diaper and a day or two’s worth of them, sitting in a regular trash can without a lid that seals. Just listen to me, and my wise friend Lesley, and consider the diaper pail. Don’t be afraid to get a hand-me-down either. I can’t speak to other brands, but the Ubbi that Lesley gave me is now almost five years old and still in shockingly good condition for something that’s been stuffed with, oh, a thousand dirty diapers. (PS: They also sell special liners for these pails, but our regular trash bags work perfectly.)

Ashtonbee Baby Fruit Feeders
When Margot started teething, our pediatrician said the only thing that really helps are “those little silicone fruit holders with the holes in them.” After a little comparison shopping, I went with these, primarily because of the handle. Margot was only four months old, but she was able to hold and feed herself easily with these. I also liked the teeny tiny holes (which allow only teeny tiny bits of fruit to come through), and the fact that none of the reviews mentioned the silicone tearing. I stuffed my freezer with bags of frozen fruit and whenever she seemed to need soothing, I could just grab a few berries and pop them in the feeder, no chopping necessary. Though her motor skills (and food-chewing skills) are much more advanced now, these things are still a lifesaver for her on days when her gums are bugging her. Aaaaand frankly, they’re a lifesaver for me on some days, too. It’s about 400 times less messy to give her a chunk of banana in the feeder, than to give her an actual banana. Her throwing skills are pretty advanced, too.

This Random Foam Mat
This was another pandemic-panic purchase. I knew we’d be stuck inside for a while, and between learning to sit, learning to crawl and learning to walk, I knew we could expect a certain amount of tipping over and head-bonking. I didn’t want a fancy one — just a plain, inexpensive play mat that was foldable, and padded, and that I wouldn’t hate looking at on my living room floor every day. But that’s not a thing, apparently. After an hour of aggressive Googling, all I found were cheap but hideous play mats, or plain play mats that cost $200. That’s more than what I paid for my desk. Where I work. To make money. To buy things for that little spidermonkey.

Then, lo and behold, this one appeared about five pages deep into my Amazon search. It’s foldable, has an anti-skid surface, and the pattern is actually kind of cute. At $57 bucks, it still costs more than I think a piece of foam should be, but that random piece of foam probably saved us some urgent-care co-pays — and even more stress. And let’s be real: New parenthood is stressful enough. If I find something that might spare me from some of it — even if it is an overpriced chunk of foam — fine. I say it’s worth the investment. Even as I watch Margot chomp on the corner of her play mat, I think to myself, worth it.

Now, please, do tell: What made your life easier as a parent or caregiver? I’m about to have a walking, talking toddler on my hands. Help?

P.S. What to register for your baby, and do your eyes light up when you see your child? Also, Kelsey talks about body image during pregnancy.

Note: If you buy something through our links, we may earn an affiliate commission, at no cost to you. We recommend only products we genuinely like. Thank you so much.