As our little one has reached the age of constantly looking for fun things to do, we’re doing our research on the “essential” toys for the baby. Judging from our friends who have been through this once or twice already, the toys below seem to be the consensus as the “must haves.” Judging from the pricing of these items, it seems like it’s a good idea to open a baby merchandise store!

The list below is to give new parents a general idea of what’s out there and what can be useful in keeping the little one active/busy.  The prices that I listed below are the retail cost but most can be purchased used for about half the price.

1. Swing

Rabun hangs outThis one takes number one as the most essential toy/item for a newborn/infant. The swing helps the baby get to sleep or calm them down if they are fussy. Even though they are a bit expensive, they are well worth it for the sanity that it can provide.

Cost: $150-$200

2. Playpen

play yard!A playpen is a contraption that allows a safe spot to place a baby while your doing other things. I’m assuming that the playpen will become especially useful when the little one learns how to walk! We find that the playpen is a great second bed for sleep overs at the grandparents house. For us, the criteria for a good playpen was it has to be sturdy but portable.

Cost: $80-$250

3. Baby Carrier

Baby Bjorn

A baby carrier, like the Baby Bjorn, allows you to carry your infant without using your hands! As you can imagine, this provides many advantages as the parent can finally use both hands to do chores, run errands. The Baby Bjorn is quite expensive, but I’ve seen alternative brands that cost less and essentially do the same thing. We purchased ours “previously loved” for less than half of the retail price.

Cost: $120

4. Bouncer

Bouncer chair

The bouncer acts kinda like the bumbo (see below) where it gives the baby a place to sit/lie down in a semi inverted position. We purchased one of these as it can be easily moved around the house to wherever we are. I wouldn’t say that this item is “essential” but it can be quite convenient at times.

Cost: $50-$80

5. Play Mat

Trying to roll over

This is another item that we purchased on sale at Toys R Us. It helps develop the infants motor/hand skills through grabbing the dangling toys as indicated in the picture. Great thing about these play mats is that they can fold up and extremely portable. Most importantly, it keeps the baby busy for a few minutes before getting bored again.

Cost: $40-$80

6. Jolly Jumper

jolly jumper

This is a recent purchase of ours as we’ve noticed that our child likes to jump when we hold her upright and we heard that it can provide hours of entertainment. There are two kinds of jumpers that can be purchased, one that hangs off the door frame, and the other that has it’s own supporting frame. It seems that the one with it’s own supporting frame is more popular these days.

Cost: $30 for basic door hanging version, $80 for the self stand version.

7. Exersaucer

Exersaucer IIOur little one really enjoys being upright and grabbing things. The people who invented the Exersaucer certainly thought it through as the device allows the child to securely stand, rotate and play with the toys attached. The downside is that new Exersaucers are quite expensive where they start at $60+.

Cost: $60-$130

8. Bumbo

my little pea

The Bumbo has taken the baby world by storm. It allows a baby the ability to sit upright which is especially great when they can’t sit up on their own yet. The caveat being that the baby must be able to hold their own head up before using the Bumbo. Our little one loved the Bumbo that we tested out, but decided against purchasing it as our baby is sitting up without help already.

Cost: $60 + $15 for optional tray

So if you’re a new parent looking to purchase all of the items above new, then you can expect to pay around $600 + tax. However, if you don’t object to some wear and tear, most of the items above can be purchased used at garage sales, online classifieds etc at a significant discount.

I’m going to say right now that when I was an infant, I didn’t have anything like toys listed above, and I turned out alright (or so I’d like to think). However, I believe nowadays, parents are willing to spend whatever to give their kids an edge, or perhaps anything to keep them quiet. :)

Those parents out there, what are your thoughts? Are the toys listed above a waste of money or well worth it?

photo credits: Becky and Randy Post, Stéphane Delbecque,squant,Lucy Crosbie,Jessica Lynn,edenpictures,CorbettKorea,Mindful One


  1. Four Pillars on September 22, 2008 at 9:55 am

    You forgot to mention the 9th essential – a huge house to keep all this baby stuff in! :)

    A comment on the swing – not all kids like them so it might be an idea to do a test drive if you can before buying.

    We bought a playmat and I thought it was a complete waste of money. Newborns just don’t need them and as soon as they get mobile, they won’t stay in it.

    We found the bumbo useful for the bath since it will hold the baby up for you.

    I would say the ‘exersaucer’ was one of our essentials.

  2. R.J. on September 22, 2008 at 10:40 am

    The Baby Bjorn thing is quite awful in my opinion. I never tried it as it sort of makes you look like a kangaroo. :-)

    My wife on the other hand tried it once and besides giving her back pain, she didn’t much care for it either.

    One thing that I’m shocked at how well they works are sticker books. My kids once they hit over a year of age could sit there for an hour on the couch and play with them, putting them in the right places, etc. Very interactive I guess.

    You can get them cheap at Costco.

  3. LBanks on September 22, 2008 at 10:48 am

    I would do some further investigation into the Bumbo seat, or user common sense….

    The CPSC has received 28 reports of babies falling out of the seat — including three skull fractures! — when the chairs were placed on tables. It can’t be long before Canada follows suit and extends its own recall.

  4. guinness416 on September 22, 2008 at 10:51 am

    I was just on the phone to my mother when I was looking at this post, and I asked her what I played with the most when I was a year old. Her response was “saucepans”.

  5. Chuck on September 22, 2008 at 11:38 am

    A lot depends on the child. We have not bought all of them:

    Swing – is great, it was one of the few things that could stop my son’s incessant crying

    Playpen – is good especially if you travel a lot

    Baby Bjorn – we used ours a couple of times with each kid and neither liked it.

    Bouncer – we never used it.

    Play mat. Both kids loved it. My daughter even more. She was 4 when we brought it out of retirement for her brother to use, and she was very excited showing him “how to play with it”

    Jolly Jumper – never used it

    Exersaucer – daughter loved it, son hated it. (my son was a grumpy child the first 10 months)

    bumbo – my son hated it. My daughter (then 4) loved it)

    All depends on how you’re kids are. My son didn’t like anything that restrained him, and generally no toy could console him. He was teething since birth and had 4 teeth by 2 months, consequently the constant grumpiness.

  6. BigWings on September 22, 2008 at 11:42 am

    Aren’t we straying a bit too far from finance as of late?

  7. Amber Jones on September 22, 2008 at 11:45 am

    A word to the wise, I believe that somewhere on the Bumbo, or at least on the box or something, it says to not use it in the bathtub.

    We had one, but our baby never liked it – waste of money!

    We had a swing, and it was a lifesaver for our first, but the second didn’t care for it.

    Playpen, we have one. But it was mostly used for those nights that the boys couldn’t stand being in the room alone. Or when we would travel and they couldn’t sleep in the beds at the hotels yet because they would most likely fall off.

    Baby Bjorm, never cared much to have one.

    Bouncer – eh, they used it some. Would give me like, maybe 5-10 minutes of peace.

    Play mat – waste of money. Get a towel or or blanket or something. Better yet, just keep your floor clean and you shouldn’t need anything.

    Jumper – essential to me with #1, but #2 never spent much time in it.

    Exersaucer – never had one.

    And bumbo, had one for the second, and like I said, he didn’t really care much for it.

  8. cannon_fodder on September 22, 2008 at 11:50 am


    Did you mean that the Jolly Jumper was a great source of entertainment for the child or the adult? Personally, I’ve always gotten a good laugh watching kids in this contraption.

  9. Marianne O. on September 22, 2008 at 11:50 am

    I’d modify the “Baby Bjorn” entry to a more general “baby carrier” entry.

    We’ve used all types (Bjorn-style, sling, backpack) and each has its uses. If the parents’ goal is to get chores done, then a back carrier is often far superior to a front carrier as it keeps little hands and feet safely out of the way. I found it hard to do much with a baby dangling in front.

    I find it disappointing that the Bjorn-style carrier has a virtual monopoly. There are so many better options out there — we got a lot of questions and compliments when we took our kids out in the alternative carriers! I took to carrying the equivalent of business cards since so many people wanted to know where we bought them.

  10. Four Pillars on September 22, 2008 at 12:00 pm

    Regarding the bumbo – there are lots of warnings not to use it the bathtub. This is likely because if you have enough water in the tub, it will tip over (there is a hollow spot underneath where air gets trapped). We still use it but only put a bit of water in the tub and stay right with the baby at all times. I think the warning is for parents who think it’s ok to leave the baby unattended in the tub if they are in the bumbo.

    Also – we paid $65 for ours (used gift certificates) – it is a rip-off for a piece of shaped foam. Although we got some use out of it, I would recommend against buying one – you just don’t need it.

    It’s highly unlikely that one family will buy everything on FT’s list – it makes more sense to just buy things as you need them. Spending money to get them to be quiet is never a waste… :)

  11. Tom on September 22, 2008 at 12:16 pm

    We purchased a swing, my daughter never took to it. Good advice to test drive one.

    Playpen is essential if you travel with the family.

    My wife used the baby bjorn quite a bit, for a while my daughter wouldn’t nap unless being carried around in it.

    Someone lent us a bumbo, we used it a fair bit but I wouldn’t buy one.

    Jolly Jumper is fantastic. $30 and she loves it.

  12. Canadian Capitalist on September 22, 2008 at 12:50 pm

    We got so much use out of the swing but the kids never took to the other toys (I’ve never heard about some on this list). I agree with other commenters who suggest test driving toys first.

  13. nobleea on September 22, 2008 at 12:53 pm

    I thought I had read something that the Jolly jumper could be bad for their small developing spines.

    Though I guess everything will hurt you nowadays.

  14. Hank on September 22, 2008 at 1:37 pm

    For our five kids, we’ve used the following:
    – Jolly Jumper, the exersaucer, baby gym (like the mat without the mat), baby swing
    – playpen (I wouldn’t recommend buying anything that has to do with safety used *but* this one was from a neighbor who had a day home and used it lightly for less than a year and it had a recall executed against it so it had upgrades that fixed it’s deficiencies) – awesome for sleeping arrangements when traveling.

    Some of the kids liked things more/less than their siblings so as always YMMV.

  15. sundae1888 on September 22, 2008 at 1:51 pm

    Hm.. I would call almost all of the items “non-essential”, at least until I move from a small condo to a “proper-size” house.

    Of all the items on the list, I only bought the playard which comes with bassinet, changing table, and mobile. We’ll probably buy a baby carrier when spring comes.

    A word of caution on playard/playpen bassinet — a friend of mine had his newborn sleeping in the bassinet of the playard when a public nurse paid them a visit. The nurse immediately scolded them for letting the baby sleep in the playard, citing a higher percentage of SIDS happened in a playard than in crib (lowest) or co-sleeping.

  16. Canadian Dream on September 22, 2008 at 3:54 pm

    Essential?!?!? FT when did you get sucked into marketing?

    The playpen can be useful is you travel a lot. We have used our A LOT for both kids. Other than that we typically don’t use it at home.

    We also have a playmat that both boys seemed to like, but that was a gift.

    Everything else is completely optional. If your kid likes it and you can get it cheap. Fine go buy it, otherwise the stuff is just taking up space.


  17. mel on September 22, 2008 at 4:14 pm

    we primarily borrowed or were given the items on this list. I would only consider the baby carrier (the bjorn) essential. Everything else depends entirely on your child.

    I agree with Marianne O., we have two baby carriers and neither are the bjorn. There’s a whole world of carriers out there, something for everyone. I keep one in the diaper bag, and it comes in handy.

    My son LOVED his play mat. He still plays with some of the detachable toys even though he’s too old for the mat.

  18. Len on September 22, 2008 at 8:31 pm

    We had 4 kids – I agree you can buy a lot of very expensive kid paraphenelia you will regret later. I would stick with portable playpen and a baby carrier (or stroller). By the 2nd or 3rd kid you have no problems at all buying all this stuff at garage sales…

  19. paul s on September 22, 2008 at 10:35 pm

    Great list FT. We got them all four our kids. I thought it worked well when we were able to use a great variety of things to keep it fresh for our kids on any given day. We did burn lots of batteries in the swing above all though. We borrowed most of our stuff.

    Never heard of the “Bumbo”. I would get one based on the name alone…

  20. SM on September 23, 2008 at 11:41 am

    The Bumbo is great – but only for a very short period of time, that is, after they are able to support their own head, and beofre they are able to sit on their own, at which point they will detest it. Still, I found ours useful and it can double as a feeding seat while away from home. It says clearly on it not to use it ona table. A great piece to get secondhand as they stay clean and free of wear & tear, then you can turn around and sell it again, likely for pretty close to what you paid for it.

    My son loved the swing, but my daughter hated it. Still worth the $100 to have a few hours of peace. Just a warning – these things burn through batteries like you would not believe – so additional costs in batteries, or do what we did (this one is actually a baby/kid essential) invest in a good battery charger and rechargeable batteries.

    Exersaucer – a must have

    Jolly Jumper – will usually work for only 10 minutes, but for me it was the 10 minutes required to take a shower, and I hung it in the bathroom door so I could watch the baby.

    We have all of these things and I would say that for us, all have been worthwhile, especially considering some were hand-me-downs, some purchased new, and some purchased used. Also don’t forget that most have decent residual value and can be sold when you are done with them.

  21. Geo on September 23, 2008 at 12:47 pm

    The Bumbo is fantastic – in addition to being no problem in the bathtub, it was doubled as a high chair when we brought the little man to the cottage. Obviously $75 is highway robbery for this piece of foam – we got it for $50 from Target in the States (for the chair and tray).

    I would skip the big playpen – it’s useless. Babies need more room to explore and play (and you’ve got your bouncer or Bumbo to put him in while you’re ‘busy doing other things.’ If you’re travelling and baby needs a place to sleep, I’d opt for Baby Bjorn’s Travel Crib Light which is much more portable and compact.

    All of Baby Bjorn’s carriers are overrated. After the baby is 18 or so pounds, you won’t be able tolerate the pains in your shoulders for more than 15 minutes (unless you’re ripped like MDJ). The Mama Kangaroo baby carrier on the other hand is extremely comfortable for both parent and baby and you can wear it for longer periods of time – my wife wears it for 1 hour at a time with no problem at all. In addition, it’s much easier to pack in a diaper bag as well. (and it’s a Canadian company, which makes me feel slightly better for having bought 99% of our goods for much less $ from the States!)
    Jolly Jumper is awesome!!
    Check Mom-2-Mom sales and Kijiji for great deals on all of your essentials.

  22. Paolo on September 23, 2008 at 2:36 pm

    Our playpen doubles as a large basinet. The base elevates, and she has been sleeping in there since she was 2 months. We also has a stand alone basinet, which we realized we didn’t need when we she outgrew it and moved to the playpen.

    She also loves the bouncer. She kicks her leg and howls as she goes up and down.

    In lieu of a carrier you may also want to consider a sling.

  23. vilkri on September 24, 2008 at 11:27 pm

    Let me recommend a book that helped us save some money. “Baby Bargains,” 7th Edition: Secrets to Saving 20% to 50% on baby furniture, gear, clothes, toys, maternity wear and much more! by Denise Fields.

  24. Rady on March 30, 2009 at 2:30 pm

    Prefer Baby Bjorn carriers…

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