Of course, the opposite list exists as well - those things I found unnecessary or wish I hadn't wasted money on or things I would've chosen differently if I could do it again. The amount of stuff we've bought in the last year and a half has been staggering. But as always, we'll focus on the positives.
- Sling (Hotslings) Definitely my #1 couldn't-live-without item. I was mad at myself for waiting three weeks after the boy was born to order one. It does take some time to get the hang of it, but it never failed me. If the boy wasn't settling down, I'd put him in the sling, and he'd instantly calm and eventually fall asleep. I then got skilled at taking him out without waking him up. Absolutely the best baby item I own. (I still use it occasionally for the quick trip into a store.)
- Boppy We had two - one for upstairs and one for downstairs. I don't know how any mom would do without one of these. Pillows just don't cut it. Also extremely helpful to use to promote tummy-time. My boy hated tummy-time, but he did better propped up a bit in a boppy.
- Bouncer (This is like the one we had, but obviously there are many many styles) The boy spent most of his early days in the bouncer, happy as can be. Sleeping, waking, watching Mom do dishes…
- Costco Membership We save enough on diapers alone to cover the cost of membership.
- Playmat (Tiny Love Gymini is what we had, but again, there are other styles.) The giraffe is the first thing that made the boy belly-laugh.
- Breastpump (Medela) Having a good double pump enabled me to continue breastfeeding after I went back to work. (Even if you're not working, having a pump is helpful to keep up supply and to keep a stockpile of breastmilk for when you need to be away.) It was an extra bonus that the Medela bottles also fit the simple Gerber bottles the boy liked.
- Ultimate crib sheets are so so handy!
- Soft activity book, such as this one. We got a similar one as a gift, and the boy still adores it.
- Fisher Price Booster Seat Still use this every day at home, and it's also easy to take with us anywhere. It went with us to Grandma's house this weekend in fact. Easy to clean, too. (Although admittedly, mine's not especially clean at the moment.)
- Puzzle Mat We got the numbers and letters and made a play area in our living room and used the rest in a play area by the kitchen. Great to have a little space to play, especially when they're learning to roll, and it's still great now.
- Food Mill (Manual or Electric Food Mill) I have both of these. As we moved from baby food to table foods, these food mills became indispensable. Chop up some strawberries and peaches, grind them up, and voila! Breakfast! Super easy, and the manual one is great to take to restaurants to turn your food into food they'll enjoy.
- These Outlet Covers They're expensive and a little higher-maintenance to put on than the ones you just stick in, but they're so great to have. We just bought a few to put in high-traffic outlets - the ones you tend to use for plugging in the vacuum cleaner, for example - and outlets that are in use.
- Learn 'n Groove Musical Table Perfect for when they start to pull themselves up to encourage standing. Surprisingly, the sounds and music are not annoying at all - they're actually pretty fun!
- Car Seat Cover - Especially nice for me, having a winter baby in New England. This kept the boy nice and cozy in his car seat, whether in the car or in the Snap 'N Go.
UPDATE: The best baby item I don't own: an exercise ball. Babies don't like (at least my baby didn't like) to be rocked so much as bounced, and it's exhausting walking around the house bouncing a baby. Gently bouncing on an exercise ball is so much easier, and the few times I did this, it put the boy right to sleep!
I definitely have favorites from the second year, too, so I'll share those too, when the time is right.