23 unique baby gifts 2018, according to development experts

Babies might not look like they’re doing much besides eating and sleeping, but the first year of life is full of seismic shifts in development. And even before they can hold a toy, babies are ready to play.

If you're looking for the best baby gifts, the best baby toys stimulate their senses, focusing on the contrast they are able to see or the sounds and movements they can make themselves.

“Infants are really learning about their place in the world, so the best toys give them some sense of feedback,” said Tovah Klein, director of the Barnard College Center for Toddler Development and author of “How Toddlers Thrive,” citing the classic baby rattle. “'I hit this and it moves’ is the beginning of having a sense of their place in the world.”

Babies also explore with their mouths, so look for toys that aren’t choking hazards (obviously) and might be interesting to a tiny tongue. And keep it simple.

“We tend to shy away from toys that are technological or lighting up and flashing, just because of the overstimulation that they provide,” said Marie Conti, the head of the The Wetherill School in Gladwyne, Pennsylvania, and a board member of the American Montessori Society.

These are the best baby girl gifts and baby boy gifts, according to child development experts.

When we release our 2018 gift guides, we make sure all prices are current. But, prices change frequently (yay, deals!), so there’s a chance the prices are now different than they were the day of publication.

Best toys for babies

  • 1. Manhattan Toy Skwish Classic Rattle, $16, Amazon

Also available for $10 at Buy Buy Baby and for $16 at Target.

This rattle is easy to hold, responds to baby’s movement and uses the primary colors they see best.

  • 2. HABA Ring Around Wooden Clutching Toy, $12, Amazon

This simple wood toy is a rattle and teether, in Baby's favorite bright colors.

  • 3. Sophie La Giraffe Teething Toy, $25, Nordstrom

Also available for $25 at Target.

Sophie is pliant, she squeaks and she’s easy to wash. She’s also universally delicious to babies.

  • 4. Skip Hop Bandana Buddies Stroller Toy, $15, Target

Also available for $18 at Walmart.

Crinkly textures and teething spots were made for tiny gums.

  • 5. Wee Gallery Art Cards for Baby, $16, Amazon

Infant eyes are best at seeing contrast and love symmetry (like the human face), so black-and-white patterns are great for stimulating their senses.

  • 6. Grimm's Rainbow Stacker, $40, Amazon

Bright colors are also great for baby eyes, and easy stacking toys help develop motor skills.

  • 7. Oball Rollin' Rainstick Rattle, $10, Amazon

Also available at Walmart.

The holes in this rattle make it easy for tiny hands to grab.

  • 8. Edushape Sensory Balls, $15, Amazon

These are easy to grab, in bright colors and spiky shapes that feel great on the hands or tongue.

  • 9. Infantino Discover And Play Activity Mirror, $13 (usually $20), Amazon

Also available for $15 at Buy Buy Baby and Walmart.

At around 6 months, babies love to look at themselves, even though they don’t know who it is in the mirror. A baby-safe mirror is a fun way to explore.

  • 10. Manhattan Toy Wimmer-Ferguson Infant Stim Mobile, $25 (usually $30), Amazon

Also available for $28 at Bed Bath & Beyond.

This mobile uses black and white patterns and is designed to be seen from below, unlike many mobiles that look great from the side.

  • 11. Green Toys My First Stacker, $10 (usually $15), Amazon

Also available at Walmart.

These stacking toys work whether they are in the “right” order or not.

  • 12. Tiny Love Into The Forest Classic Mobile, $45, Amazon

Also available for $45 at Target.

This mobile takes the black and white pattern and adds movement and music, which older babies especially appreciate, said educational toys expert Lauren Leisk.

  • 13. Skip Hop Farmstand Activity Gym, $80, Amazon

Also available for $80 at Target.

Baby’s ready to hit the gym, with little toys that she can kick, pull and rattle herself.

  • 14. Taggies Little Leaf Elephant Lovey Soft Toy, $18 (usually $20), Amazon

Also available at Walmart and Jet.

Babies and toddlers love to feel different textures, so “taggies” toys or blankets with tags sewn around them are perfect, Conti said.

  • 15. SmartNoggin NogginStik Developmental Light-up Rattle, $21 (usually $23), Amazon

Also available for $23 at Walmart and Barnes & Noble.

This rattle responds to baby’s movements by lighting up in three different colors.

  • 16. Fisher-Price Kick & Play Piano, $16 (usually $25), Walmart

Also available at Target.

Tie this to the side of the crib and let baby tickle the ivories with his toes.

  • 17. Munchkin Mozart Magic Cube, $25, Amazon

Also available for $25 at Target.

Baby can make all the sounds of a symphony by hitting a few buttons.

  • 18. Baby Tree Blocks, $31, Amazon

Also available for $23 at Fat Brain Toys.

Conti loves these baby versions of the tree blocks older kids use in Montessori school.

Best books for babies

  • 1. "The Very Hungry Caterpillar," Eric Carle, $15, Amazon

The beloved children's classic celebrates 50 years with a special edition.

  • 2. "Sometimes You Fly," by Katherine Applegate, $16 (originally $18), Amazon

The pages aren't drool-proof, but the simple, empowering message about persistence gives plenty for a parent and baby to chew on.

  • 3. "But Not the Armadillo," by Sandra Boynton, $5, Amazon

Sandra Boynton, the queen of board books, is back with a long-awaited follow-up to "But Not the Hippopotamus" about going your own way.

  • 4. "Global Baby Bedtimes" by Maya Ajmera, $7, Amazon

Also available for at Walmart and Barnes & Noble.

“Babies love looking at faces of other babies,” said Nina Lindsay, president of the Association for Library Service to Children, adding that it’s particularly important to look for diverse faces because kids learn bias from a very young age. “It’s really important for all children to see children like themselves and different from themselves in books on a regular basis.”

  • 5. “The I Love You Book” by Todd Parr, $6, Amazon

Also available at Walmart and Barnes & Noble.

“Babies are still developing their color sight, so pictures with really high contrast and even black and white are really helpful,” Lindsay said.

  • 6. "Princesses Save the World" by Savannah G. and Allison Oppenheim, $18, NBC Store

There's no such thing as too young to learn about the power of girls and women!

Finding the perfect present can be a challenge, but Shop TODAY's up to the task. No matter who you're looking for, we've got gift guides for everyone on your list, including:

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