Marianne is a mother from Scotland who is passionate about providing accurate information about breastfeeding and parenting.
Before I had my baby, I was clueless about what I should buy him. I remember looking online and in shops at all the toys and feeling panicked. What should I get? What do I need? How do I play with my baby? However, the good news is that you really don't need very much. Your baby won't notice whether you have spent $5 or $200. This is a guide to buying toys for a baby under 6 months on a budget.
Your Baby Needs You
Before you get carried away buying toys, remember that the most important "toys" for your baby are you and his other caregivers. A baby that has all the toys in the world and no interaction will not thrive. A baby that has no toys and lots of attention and chances to play games with his mother/father/other caregivers will be fine.
Singing songs, talking, tickling, copying and just hanging out with your baby is great. Show your baby interesting things with different textures, smells and colours in the house and out and about on a walk. Your baby is just learning, so nearly everything about the world is interesting to him. Although remember that when your baby is one month old, he won't be able to see much further than your face (20–30 cm or 8–15 inches), but this will gradually improve over time.
Play Peekaboo with your baby. Use your hands or a blanket or towel to hide from your baby, say "Where's mummy?" and jump out saying "Boo". Or hide your baby under a towel and say "Where's Charlie?", remove the towel, give him a big smile and say "There's Charlie". My baby was confused by this at first, but he loved it. He has now learnt to hide and reappear from under the towel himself with a big smile.
With a Newborn Baby, Don't Worry About Toys
A newborn baby will not notice toys. The main things a newborn wants is to be close to you (or other people) and fed, warm and comfy. At around 6 weeks, a baby starts to notice more of what is going on around them, but the main things she will be interested in are faces. Don't worry too much about buying toys before baby is born.
Black and White and High Contrast
If you decide you really want to get something, look for black and white and high contrast colours. Very small babies can't see very clearly yet, so they can only see high contrast. For example, there are a lot of nice black and white baby books around. You can improvise, too. Show your baby random leaflets or pages from a magazine with high contrast images. The good thing about a very small baby is that they haven't learnt to grab and put things like leaflets in their mouth yet, so it is easier to safely show them stuff.
However, from about 2 months onwards, toys start to be useful and of more interest to your baby.
Get Preloved Toys
The best way to get toys is secondhand. If you have family or friends with slightly older children, they will often be happy to pass on some of their toys. Otherwise, take a look on local selling pages, charity shops, Facebook marketplace or local baby sale events. It is easy to find lots of preloved toys in excellent condition for not very much money.
One of the few ways I managed to get my baby to amuse himself was by placing a mobile over his head that went round and round. He was fascinated by it at about 3 months. I could finally do some housework for ten minutes without him crying!
I bought one of these mobile arm brackets. They are great as you can place any mobile on them, but if your baby seems bored, you can swap it for a random toy. A creative friend of mine even made her own mobile toys for it. It comes with a music box that plays "You Are My Sunshine". Now that my baby is bigger, he isn't entranced by the mobile so much, but he always noticeably calms down and smiles when the song plays.
2. Baby Gym
A baby gym is a playmat with arches above it where you can attach different toys. The idea is that the baby will develop hand eye coordination and eyesight. Our baby started showing an interest in his baby gym at around 9 or 10 weeks.
There are lots of options on the market. Choose a gym with bright contrasting colours, and different toys- although remember you can swap round the toys- we used a lot of pram toys in the gym. One with a machine washable mat is a good idea as you can shove it in the washing machine in the event of accidents! Alternatively you could get a wooden arch, or just anything interesting with contrasting colours you can string up above the baby to reach out for.
This is one of the few "big ticket" toys I would recommend for your baby. They can be expensive new, but I've seen lots of preloved ones on Facebook marketplace in good condition for about £10 ($13). We got ours passed down from a friend. It's not worth spending too much as babies normally grow out of their gyms in a few months (or play with them in a destructive and not safe way) when they start to be able to pull themselves up (usually about 6 months old).
3. Cuddly Toys
I like cuddly toys and there are lots of lovely ones for babies. If you get any, check whether they are suitable from birth (you want ones without small parts or pile that a small baby could choke on, because your baby will put it in their mouth). However, to be honest, my baby never seemed that interested in cuddly toys before 6 months.
Some babies enjoy feeling the different textures of a toy, though, and they can help some babies soothe themselves to sleep (although it is recommended not to let your baby sleep with cuddly toys for safety reasons). Some babies start becoming attached to specific toys as they become more socially aware, although this is more often after 6 months.
4. Pram or Car Seat Toys
It is a good idea to get some toys that you can hang to occupy your baby in the pram, or in the car. The one that captured my baby's interest most strongly was the Lamaze Freddie the Firefly. It is great for babies as it has high contrast bright colours and black and white bits, a little mirror, different textures and pieces to pull. I also met a lot of other mums with the same toy - its a classic. We used it and other Lamaze pram toys in our baby gym too.
5. Rattles and Other Musical Instruments
Music and rhythm are very important for your baby's development. Get your baby a rattle or two. Maracas are great for babies - you can show them how to shake to begin with, watch them learn how to hold it themselves until finally they master grasping and shaking it themselves. The beginning of an exciting journey learning cause and effect and how they can influence it.
I recommend these musical toys. They are simple, well made and possible for small hands to grasp. I discovered them at some baby classes I went to with my baby, he loved them so I got some for him at home. (If you are in the UK they are sold under the brand Halilat)
6. Teething Toys
Babies love exploring objects with their mouths. When they are teething it can also help them to have something to chew on. On average babies get their first tooth at 6 months, but some come earlier and others later, and it can be a long process. My poor baby started teething at about 4 months, but his tooth only broke through at 5 months. I had various teething toys, but he found most of them too difficult to hold and a bit large to get his mouth around. Friends recommended the matchstick monkey to me, which was a lot better as it was easy for him to hold and small enough to fit in his mouth. If I could only ever buy one teething toy, I would get one of these.
7. A Toothbrush
Our dentist recommended giving our baby a toothbrush to play with, before he even had teeth. It's a good way of getting your baby used to the idea of brushing their teeth. It also seems like one of the "toys" our baby will sit and chew for the longest. Our baby is always excited to see his toothbrush! It also signals to him that it will soon be time for sleep.
8. Baby Books
Reading is an excellent way to bond and share with your baby. It is definitely worth investing in some baby books and starting to read to them young. Even if they don't know what is going on, babies will enjoy listening to your voice. Features to look for are high contrast colours, texture and rhythm, rhyme and repetition. I would get:
- a crinkly cloth book with bits that baby can pull on
- a baby bath book to play with at bath time
- lots of touchy feely books for baby to explore texture
- books with flaps that baby can lift up and view pictures underneath (felt flaps are excellent as easier for small hands to pull)
- books with poems, rhyme and rhythm you can read to your baby
9. A Wooden Spoon
When I took my baby to a baby class full of loads of fun, exciting toys, guess what he chose to hold onto and chew for most of the class? A wooden spoon. Just make sure you find one that won't splinter! As well as chewing, wooden spoons are also great for bashing. Pair a wooden spoon with a colander or pan to make a drum. Your baby probably won't get the hang of this until after 6 months, but mine definitely was interested when I showed him how to do this!
What Do You Recommend?
These are my recommendations. What are yours? Comment below with your recommendations of baby toys for 0 to 6-month-olds.
Liz Westwood from UK on December 06, 2019:
Our grand daughter likes the firefly/butterfly toy. She also has a similar caterpillar toy (both were passed down from her older brother). Baby gyms are really useful. They have developed a lot since we first bought one over 30 years ago. Quite expensive, but well worth it for the next stage (6months+) has been the jumparoo. There must be pre-loved ones available.