News flash: parenting isn't easy. Between the lack of sleep, the never-ending to-do list, and—oh, yeah—attempting to teach a baby how to be a fully functioning human being...it's a lot.
Though cute baby clothes and books are always welcome, if you know someone who just became a parent, the best gift is something that's going to actually make their life easier. So if you're looking to pick something up for the new mom or dad in your life, here are the products we think will make those crazy early days just a little more bearable.
1. A sippy cup that won't leak everywhere
By my estimation my wife and I have used 14,000 sippy cups with our daughter since she was born—and I have wanted to hurl 13,999 of them into the sun. The only one that has passed muster? The Oxo Tot Transitions Straw Cup, winner of our roundup of the best sippy cups.
It's easy to clean, easy to hold, has a lid that closes for travel, it's made of baby-safe materials, and it just plain refuses to leak. It passed all of our drop tests with flying colors, and the most I've ever seen it leak was a couple of drops of milk. It even has a soft spout top you can add if your baby isn't quite ready for a straw.
Trust me: buy at least two of these and some backup straws. Once you have one, you'll dread having to use any other cup.
2. A roll-up bib with an easy-clean pocket
Bibs with pockets on the bottom for catching dropped food are nothing new, but the Oxo Tot Roll-up Bib is by far the best that I've used. The main pocket material is simple to clean and it has a little notch so the whole thing can roll up and easily be stored in a diaper bag.
3. An amazing quick-folding stroller
The Baby Jogger City Mini walked away with our award for the best stroller. It's among the lightest standard size strollers we tested, it is easy to maneuver, and it only costs a little over $200 on sale.
Best of all? It folds up with one pull of the handle on the seat. It's so easy I can hold my daughter in one arm, fold it with the other, and swing it into the trunk of our car.
4. An excellent all-around baby carrier
For our roundup of the best baby carriers we went all-out, testing 12 of the top models on the market. The best? The Lillebaby Complete. Costing just over $100, it's more affordable than many popular carriers but it's soft, comfortable, works for babies as small as 7 lbs (no infant insert required), and it has loads of excellent reviews.
Trust me: whether at the grocery store or just at home cleaning, sometimes you just need both hands free. Even if you're not a carrier person, this one could change your mind.
5. Sanitizing microwave bags
Though usually a basic cleaning is sufficient, actually sanitizing baby stuff can be a real chore. These bags let you easily sanitize stuff in your microwave, removing the need to boil a bunch of water. These bags from Munchkin are good for up to 30 uses per bag and they're very well-reviewed online. Though we haven't tested them yet, I know enough people who swear by them to feel good about giving them a recommendation
One pro tip: make sure you let your microwave air dry (or wipe it down with a paper towel) when you're done, as the condensation can cause some bacteria or mold to build up if you leave it trapped inside.
6. A compact, affordable travel booster seat
While most restaurants have high chairs, they don't tend to be the cleanest. Though it's easy enough to wipe down the hard surfaces, most of these seats have buckles with all kinds of gross stuff caked in them.
Having a fold-up booster seat is a great go-anywhere alternative that lets you strap your kid into just about any regular chair (once they're big enough to sit on their own). I own this seat from The First Years and we liked it so much it totally replaced our baby's high-chair at home.
7. A great video baby monitor
Though audio baby monitors are effective and cheap, a great video baby monitor makes things much easier. Our daughter makes all kind of noise when she's rolling around trying to fall asleep, and it's great to be able to tell when she's just getting comfortable and when she's pulled all her stuffed animals into her crib for a midnight party.
This Philips model is the best value in our roundup of the best video baby monitors and for good reason: it has excellent range, battery life, and all the features you could want. The video quality isn't the best of what we've tested, but it's more than good enough and better than anything else in the price range.
8. A pacifier that's tough to lose
My daughter simply would not hold onto her pacifiers when she was little, and the only one we had real success with were the cute Wubba-nubs you'll see everywhere. Though pricier than basic pacifiers, the attached stuffed animals made it much easier for our daughter to hold onto her pacifier—and much easier for her to find them in the middle of the night, letting her soothe herself back to sleep.
Now that she is outgrowing her pacifiers (or biting through them), we've also found we can just cut off the pacifier part, giving her a small stuffed animal to keep.
9. A sound machine to soothe your baby
Not every baby needs a sound machine to fall asleep—and lots of monitors come with options for playing music–but I've used this one with my daughter and it's great. It replaced a smaller battery-operated one that croaked out on us and it's held up for nearly two years. It's easy to use, has multiple soothing sounds like a babbling brook or heartbeat, and it works on a sleep timer so it isn't running all night.
10. A cube tray for making your own baby food
When my daughter was just starting on solid foods, we made most of her food at home. We steam a lot of vegetables for dinner anyway, so it was usually just a matter of tossing some leftover carrots or spinach in our food processor with some soft fruits and a little water.
It was shockingly easy and much more cost-effective than I thought (we've even tested the best baby food makers, if you don't have anything on hand to steam with). Once the food is pureed, though, you'll need to store it. This silicone tray lets you freeze perfect little portions that you can microwave and mix with a little baby oatmeal for a quick and easy meal.
11. A bottle warmer that safely warms up milk for midnight feedings
Do you really need a bottle warmer? No, of course not. But they can make your life easier. Nothing makes you feel like The Best Parent Ever than getting a screaming baby changed, fed, and back to sleep in 10 minutes flat—letting you go right back to sleep as well.
We recently tested all the top bottle warmers in our labs and found the Dr. Brown's Deluxe to be the best bottle warmer you can buy. It's not much faster than swishing a bottle under a warm tap, but the directions are easy enough to follow when sleep-deprived and it frees you up to handle diaper duty while the milk warms up.
12. A stylish, functional diaper bag for all the little things
The Ju-Ju-Be Legacy Collection B.F.F. Convertible Diaper Bag is our top pick in our roundup of the best diaper bag, and for good reason: it just works. It is beautifully designed, providing immediate access to everything you need, a memory foam changing pad, and both messenger and backpack straps (both are detachable).
Though you can get a decent diaper bag for much less (our former best overall bag—tbe Skip Hop Duo—is under $60 on sale), the Ju-Ju-Be features much higher quality construction, a better design, better zippers, and a limited lifetime warranty in case anything goes wrong.
13. A diaper pail that keeps stink to a minimum
We've tested all the top diaper pails on the market, and the Diaper Genie Complete is the best diaper pail we've seen. It has the best design, it does the best job at controlling odors, and unlike most diaper pails you don't have to squish any nasty diapers into it. Just drop diapers into the top, close the lid, and away they go.
It's not perfect (refills will add to the cost over time and it doesn't hold as many diapers as the old design), but it's by far the best we've tested. I've used three different diaper pails with my kids and this is the only one I'd buy if we had another one.