I'm not going to presume to know what is right for you or your family. But we have had three children and I think I am getting pretty good at this 'baby thing'. All of our kids have been different in their needs, demeanor and their parents experience.
So here is my list of must-haves. It is from the experience of living in a suburban life-style with three young children in a small house with little storage. We have purchase more things than are on this list, but those items became broken, were inefficient and/or were quickly discarded. The items below are the tried and true items of our house, the items we are willing to store in our not-so-big house for long periods between babies.
Avent Isis Breast Pump - I have used this breast pump for all three children; during a short period of 6-weeks when I worked full time, when I go on vacation without the children, and as a Stay-at-home-mom who needs a bit of time away from the baby. I recommend buying two of these pumps so you don't have to do dishes quite so often.
Medela Pump In Style - I don't own this pump. But every woman I know who has pumped and nursed while working for an extended period of time swears by it. They can't all be wrong.
Boppy - I don't know. I am kind of on the fence with this one. I don't use it for nursing. I think any small pillow, or even a bed pillow will work just fine for supporting your arms while nursing. However, as the baby begins to learn to sit on his own I regularly prop him in the middle to keep him from falling over or prop him in a laying position so he can see better. I use it as baby gear rather than nursing gear. I bought the original and have only washed it once. It fit in the washing machine just fine, but I can see the benefit of removing the cover. Unfortunately this version of the product was not on the market when we had our first child.
Tiny Love Gymini - I was on the fence when I first purchased this product, but it has been invaluable. It fold flat for storage or travel. We have taken this toy across the country and back when my daughter was 3 months old. Then when my son was born we took it to Oregon. It is machine washable for spit up. I take it out of storage when the baby is about 6 weeks old, just for something to look at. Then the baby continues to use at he learns to reach and grab. Now that my son is 5 months old and sitting I prop him in the boppy or bumbo and he reaches forward to put the toys in his mouth. He will be using this toy for many more months. I have splurges on the accessory toys over the years so I will exchange the elephant for the mokey or add the wind chimes. I love that there are so many holes and options for where to put the toys. I can also take the toys and attach them directly to the stroller or carseat for on the go fun.
Tiny Love Shapes Mobile - All of my children have loved this mobile. They lay in bed and coo and 'talk' to their 'friends'. I couldn't be happier with it.
Pack N Play - We have two, the evenflo and the graco. There are lots of bells and whistles but we use ours as a changing table for the first 3-4 months and then as a bed when we travel and take road trips. I prefer the Graco, it is easier to use and seems sturdier. Our existing playpen is similar to the Graco Mystic, however, if I were to do it over again I think I would buy the Central Park. I like how the diaper station is off set so you can still use most of the bassinet area for sleeping. A friend has the Baby Einstein Playpen and it was AWFUL. She ended up returning it.
Travel swing - Much better than a full size swing since it is more compaact for storage. We have the Aquarium Take Along swing. And to be completely honest the sound has broken. It is obvious that the speaker has the defect as it screeches instead of playing a nice melody. The swing mechnism and the lights still work. And it looks brand new. I like that the seat is washable. This toy too has been on many roadtrips; Oregon, Carlsbad, cross-country and back. I recommend having an open top like the Rainforest Swing.
Bouncer - We purchased the Fisher-Price Kick n Play bouncer. It is unique since the child's own kicking movements cause the light bar to light up and play music. It also vibrates and that feature is indespensible. My children spend the first few weeks sleeping in the bouncer. It looks like the newest version of this product is the Bobblin' Band Bouncer. The vibrate mechanism did fail after 2 1/2 years. It sort of worked for my 3rd child. I would have to strike the vibrate mechanism to get it to work correctly. We will be buying a new bouncer for our next child.
Healthy Care High Chair - We have the highchair in the picture that the child is seated in. At the time it was one of the cheapest high chairs. But as time has gone on the have come out with themed high chairs like the Rainforest and Aquarium high chair. These seem to be just as functional but have the added theme and therefore the added cost. The best part of this product is how easy it is to clean. We have used it for 3 children and one child who wasn't ours. It still looks really new, except for the faded plastic. But it comes with a dishwasher safe insert and you can even buy more of them here.
Maclaren Techno XT - the XT is imperative. The extra large wheels and shocks are great for off-roading at county fairs. This is an expensive item, but has held up well over 3 years and 3 children. It mostly sees traffic at the mall since we live is suburbia. If you live in the city, like jogging or other outdoor activities a different choice would need to be made. But we frequent Disneyland and the local indoor mall. It has worked fantastically for us. In addition, Maclaren has recently come out with a less-expensive line available at Target and Costco. They, as other manufacturers have recently done, are coming out with many other color choices as well.
Britax Companion (or the Graco Safe Seat) - I know that Consumer Reports just came out (February 2007) with a new report that says the Britax Companion has failed the side-impact crash test. However, it was the #1 rated infant car seat in 2006. I still feel this is the best carseat. It is easy to use and therefore has low user error and therefore safer. We bought this seat new for our third child and cannot be happier that we threw away the old Evenflo travel system. I highly recommend buying a new car seat for each child. Improvements are made each year and the safety requirements change each year as proven by the new tests that Consumer Reports did in 2007.
Britax Roundabout and Marathon - we love them all www.Britaxusa.net My favorite feature is that you can buy different fabrics for the car seats which enables you to personalize them for your child and his/her personality. We have installed these seats numerous times, washed them and cleaned them, even after a bout of carsickness. They lok like new still.
Graco Metrolite stroller works well with the Britax Companion although it is not made for it. I use it for the first few months of life then switch to the Maclaren which is a bit smaller when folded and lighter weight. It steers well, folds nicely and gives a good amount of support to the baby. It is also universal enough that the Britax Companion clips in easily enough although its not made for it.
Bassinet or other infant bed - We were given a Kolcraft bassinet as a gift. It works well. I like the vibrate, light, music and mobile feature. It is very nice looking and sturdy. It also rocks or locks into place and it can be rolled as well. But if I were to do it over again I would get a co-sleeper. The co-sleeper can be used for other purposes, like a play yard and folds smaller for storage. We only use this item for about 3-4 months and then must store it for 2 years. I would really like to find an infant bed that stores smaller - the Kolcraft one is quite large.
Exersaucer - a must have. I swear it taught my daughter to walk and William is already doing a better job sitting after practicing in this for just 2 weeks. Sure, your child will walk eventually, but this toy will entertain my child for hours, but only 30 minutes at a time. But that's just enough time to make dinner or take a shower. He loves it; he coos, talks and squeals while he spins himself around. He has learned how to control his trunk which has translated into sitting. I can't wait until he cruises.
Bath sponge - This is much better than a bathtub for the first few weeks and you can just throw it away when you are done with it. When the baby begins to sit I use a bath ring that is no longer available. A similar one is the Thermobaby Bath Ring. It is also great for playing in the pool during the summer.
I love Fisher-Price for just about all of their baby gear. It really holds up over the years.
This is a draft and will be updated often. Please check back.