When you’re expecting, the first time you walk into Buy Buy Baby can cause a panic attack. You’re suddenly on your phone, Googling the differences between glass and plastic bottles, structured carriers and baby wraps, sleep sacks and swaddles.
Everyone from your mother to strangers on the CTA has an opinion about what you need to parent correctly. But according to Jamie Grayson, a baby gear expert known as The Baby Guy, the key to keeping your sanity when shopping for baby gear is to remember that you can get by without all the bells and whistles.
“A baby really only needs something to poop in, a place to sleep and a place to hang out,” he says with a laugh.
So what’s really necessary? To get those essential picks, we talked to Grayson and Jenny LeFlore, aka Mama Fresh, who created a motherhood community dedicated to the idea of being a city mom on the go.
With city living, space is often a concern, so LeFlore and Grayson say to pick a high chair with a small footprint.
Grayson likes the Nomi ($379.95) and the Lemo ($299.95) for easy assembly and adjustment. LeFlore says her go-to is either the Stokke ($259) for its sleek design that doesn’t stick out from your other furniture or the Inglesina ($69), which clips right to a table or island for simplicity’s sake.
When it comes to strollers in Chicago, Grayson and LeFlore are of the same mind: You need something that’s both portable for public transit and durable to handle tricky terrain (the ice and snow of Chicago winters). Grayson recommended options like the Babyzen YOYO ($499 — Buy on Amazon) or Ergobaby Metro ($299 — Buy on Amazon). LeFlore says everyone knows the Uppababy Vista ($719.99+ —Buy on Amazon), but she recently fell in love with its smaller counterpart, the Minu ($399.99 — Buy on Amazon).
“I love a lightweight stroller that you can really take around the city,” she says. “It’s under 15 pounds. What I truly love about it’s one-hand collapsible. With one hand you can break it down, and it has a shoulder strap so you can throw it over your shoulder. It’s awesome.”
For an infant car seat, the priority is safety and then ease of installation. Grayson suggested the Nuna Pipa ($395.99 — Buy on Amazon) or the Clek Liing ($399.99 — Buy on Amazon), both of which he loves for having the bonus of being lightweight. LeFlore likes the Doona ($499 — Buy on Amazon), a car seat with integrated wheels that can convert into a stroller within seconds.
Things get a little trickier once baby outgrows the infant seat and needs a convertible car seat. LeFlore says she likes the Graco 4-in-1 ($299.99) because it grows with a toddler and will be the only seat you ever need once you get to the convertible stage.
Grayson points out the difficulty of making a convertible car seat work in a city, when families sometimes have to take cabs or ride shares. To work around this issue, he suggests IMMI GO ($234), which can fold up for easy storage and then quick install in a cab so your child doesn’t go without support when traveling.
For women who plan to breastfeed, pumping is often the biggest hurdle. LeFlore notes that many women use the Medela In Style ($299.99 — Buy on Amazon), which is covered by many insurance plans, but she also suggests looking into two up-and-coming pumps designed with moms’ needs in mind: the Willow ($499.99) and the Elvie ($499). Both fit in your bra for quiet, hands-free pumping and are controlled by an app that keeps track of when and how much you pump.
Without having to plug into the wall, moms can pump on the go, which LeFlore called a “game-changer.”
Grayson and LeFlore agree that finding the perfect baby carrier is a different experience for everyone. “They’re kind of like jeans in that you have to see what fits better,” Grayson says.
Both he and LeFlore spotlight the Baby K’Tan ($49.95 — Buy on Amazon), a soft carrier that’s less confusing than the long strip of fabric of the traditional baby wrap. Grayson jokingly calls it the “baby wrap for dummies.” Once they get bigger, LeFlore likes to move to a structured carrier.
“I go with the Ergobaby 360 ($160 — Buy on Amazon),” she says. “It’s machine washable. It’s durable. It got me through festival season. I could wear it on top of my big coat. It’s adjustable so dads and moms of all sizes can wear it.”
Above all, Grayson recommended focusing on true needs to avoid feeling overwhelmed. Skip things like wipe warmers and car seat accessories, he says. And don’t be wooed by designer diapers or skin care brands.
“Costco is your friend,” he says. “Target is your friend.”
This article originally appeared in the May 2019 issue of Chicago Parent. Read the rest of the issue.