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Child development experts share the best gifts for babies — plus, more of our top picks

The best presents stimulate their senses and can withstand a good layer of drool.
Kara Birnbaum / TODAY
/ Source: TODAY

The best gifts for babies stimulate their senses. 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.

The best baby toys engage them, 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,” says Tovah Klein, director of the Barnard College Center for Toddler Development and author of “How Toddlers Thrive.” She cites the classic baby rattle as a good example.

Babies also explore with their mouth, so look for toys that aren’t choking hazards (obviously) and might be interesting to a tiny tongue. Most importantly, 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,” says Marie Conti, head of The Wetherill School in Gladwyne, Pennsylvania, and a board member of the American Montessori Society.

These are the best gifts for baby boys and girls, according to child development experts.

Rattles and sensory toys | Teething toys | Activity toys | Unique gifts | Play gyms, mats and tables | Gift sets | Books | Luxury baby gifts | Meet the experts

Bestselling baby gifts

Best rattles and sensory toys for babies

Genuine Fred Buff Baby Dumbbell Baby Rattle

Baby can hit the gym (sort of) with this cute rattle. This “dumbbell” is made from BPA- and phthalate-free materials and only weighs about two ounces.

Oball Rollin' Rainstick Rattle

Good for babies three months and older, the 30 holes in this spherical rattle make it easy for tiny hands to grab.

Hape Wobbling Melody Penguin

Perfect for tummy time play, this cute lil’ wobbler is musical and shakes and waddles when babies swipe at it.

Melissa & Doug Multi-Sensory Pineapple Soft Stacker

A classic stacking toy like this tropical find from Melissa & Doug gets a friendly and tropical new look, with different textures to explore and sounds that react to their touch as they grab, shake and stack.

Manhattan Toy Classic Baby Beads

Colorful beads like this Manhattan Toy Company compilation can be twisted, turned and gummed for extra interest.

Edushape Sensory Balls

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

SmartNoggin NogginStik Developmental Light-Up Rattle

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

Gund My Little Food Truck Plush Playset

Perfect for budding little foodies, Gund's food truck-themed playset with 11,000+ verified five-star Amazon ratings introduces sensory stimulation through recognizable takeout staples like a burger, taco and boba tea.

The Learning Lovey

Babies and toddlers love to feel different textures, so “taggies” toys or blankets with tags sewn around them are perfect, Conti says. These beribboned sensory blankets have different textures and crinkle sounds, and a portion of proceeds go to Starlight Children’s Foundation, a nonprofit for seriously ill children.

Best teething toys for babies

BPA-Free Calmies Teether for Babies

Babies put just about everything in their mouth, but you won't mind when they chew on this. The teething toy is made from sustainable, natural rubber without BPA.

Skip Hop Bandana Buddies Stroller Toy

Crinkly textures and teething spots on this adorable toy were made for tiny gums.

Sophie La Giraffe Teething Toy

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

Best activity toys for infants

Baby Einstein Take-Along Musical Toy

Give baby their own boom box with this little bestselling musical toy that can travel with them.

Hape Elephant Wooden Pull Toy

As baby starts to crawl and then walk, a pull toy encourages mobility and interaction. The hollow center allows little fingers to easily grasp it.

Manhattan Toy Skwish Classic Rattle

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

Lovevery Montessori Rolling Rattle

This Montessori-style rattle comes from an expert-designed toy line, developed to improve coordination while exploring different senses.

Wee Gallery Art Cards for Baby

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

Fat Brain Toys Wooden Personalized Name Puzzle

Get your little one their own custom name puzzle that they can enjoy for years to come. Not only can it help with logic, fine motor skills and letter recognition, according to the brand, but it can also serve as a cute piece of decor for their playroom or bedroom.

Munchkin Mozart Magic Cube

Babies can make all the sounds of a symphony by hitting just a few buttons on this toy. It's also earned raves from countless parents for how giftable it is.

Fat Brain Toys Tobbles Neo

These "frustration-free" stacking orbs from Fat Brain Toys work whether they are in the “right” order or not.

Green Toys Shape Sorter Dump Truck

This dump truck and shape-sorter is great for older infants and all kinds of play for years to come.

Follies The Baby Bauhaus Set

These soft blocks are great for stacking, throwing and falling since they're made from soft materials, without any sharp edges. The set also includes a mirror that’s especially great for improving recognition skills during tummy time.

Granpa Penn Rainbow Stackers

Bright colors are great for babies' eyes, and easy stacking toys like this rainbow one from Etsy help develop motor skills as they grow.

Unique baby gifts for boys and girls

Caden Lane Personalized Nickname Bodysuit

Capture all the nicknames you call your baby with this personalized onesie made with super comfy fabrics.

Lalo The Bib

Mealtime can be high-key messy when it comes to babies, but these BPA-free, heavy-duty silicone bibs are sure to catch all kinds of food, spills and drool. Plus, Shop TODAY editorial director Adrianna Brach personally recommends them!

Mori Wooden Rainbow Mobile

This beautiful mobile will give little ones something colorful to investigate while in the crib or on the changing table.

Loulou Lollipop Hooded Towel Set

Bathing Baby may bring a little bit of anxiety, but you'll put them at ease once wrapping them in this absorbent towel made with skin-friendly terry cloth. Beyond keeping them warm thanks to the hood and pockets, they'll also look super cute being gently cocooned in a sea of adorable patterns (20 to choose from!).

Baby Merlin's Magic Sleepsuit

Thousands of verified Amazon reviewers can attest how "truly magical" this one-piece is. Made with a patented non-weighted material, the sleepwear is made with three comfy layers and a double zipper design for impromptu diaper swaps and generally easy changing. Just take it from one converted fan who recently snatched this up for their infant: "He’s escaped almost every swaddle we’ve tried and has always seemed frustrated with the fact that swaddling is a reality when you’re a newborn. Enter this sleep suit — he loved it from the first wear!"

Slumberkins Otter Snuggler

It's never too early to build meaningful connections. Slumberkins specializes in promoting early emotional learning in kids of all ages and help parents and guardians "facilitate meaningful moments of connection that allow children to feel seen, valued, and loved at the deepest level."

Cuddle + Kind Avery The Lamb

Every child needs a friend to snuggle, and the adorable hand-knit Cuddle + Kind dolls also give back by providing 10 meals to children in need with every purchase.

Artifact Uprising Baby Book

This photo baby book gives parents spots to write down small milestones, precious memories and other firsts.

Best play gyms, mats and tables for babies

Skip Hop Explore & More Activity Table

With squeaky, spinning and rolling elements, this activity table provides two stages of play (for babies and toddlers) and starts out on the floor before the legs pull out to raise it up for when baby begins to stand.

Fisher-Price Kick & Play Piano

Put your baby down on the mat for tummy time and let them tickle the musical buttons with their toes.

Aden + Anais Play and Discovery Gym

Baby can grab on to rings and toys and watch themself in the mirror hanging above. (There’s nothing cuter to see!)

Gift sets for babies

Petit Collage Little Elephant Gift Set

Perfect for the eco-conscious family looking to incorporate thoughtfully made items into their baby's life, this gift set features a trio of new parent essentials: a rustic teether, a burp cloth made with organic cotton and a wild board book.

KiwiCo Panda Crate

Learning can start at day one, at least when it comes to KiwiCo. The brand recently expanded the age range for their bestselling bi-monthly subscription from 0 all the way up to 36 months, delivering "child-tested and approved" activities and toys that encourage physical and mental developmental growth. They'll have plenty of essential life skills under their belt (erm, diaper) by the time they enter school!

Literati Gift Box

The subscription book box lets you sign up for a monthly subscription, a gift certificate or a themed box like this one, perfect for the new baby in your life.

Lovevery The Looker Play Kit

Lovevery ships new toy kits as your kiddo grows and develops, starting with the “looker” kit that offers high-contrast images that babies can see, a mobile to hang overhead, and black-and-white sensory mittens to create body awareness.

Camp Bedtime Essentials Gift Set

This curated gift set from the inventive "family experience" store Camp includes a blanket, rattle, footed pajamas and a hat, all wrapped in an adorable, reusable felt basket.

Hanna Andersson Baby 8-Piece Gift Set

Never underestimate how frequently babies need to be changed. This curated newborn set from Hanna Andersson comes with eight pieces of sensitive skin-friendly sleepwear, socks, booties and more.

Best books for babies

“Chicka Chicka Boom Boom,” by Bill Martin Jr. and John Archambault

Give them an early introduction to their ABCs with this classic board book. Perfect for story time, it features tons of fun rhymes that many parents will remember from their own childhood.

"Indestructibles: Baby Faces," by Amy Pixton and Kate Merritt

Babies love looking at faces, and the material of these books allows them to withstand chewing, ripping and whatever other havoc only a baby could create.

"Global Baby Bedtimes," by Maya Ajmera

“Babies love looking at faces of other babies,” says 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.”

“Strut, Baby, Strut,” by Amika Kroll and Ebony Glenn

Baby might not be strutting just yet, but this illustrated read celebrates every shimmy and wobble they’ll make on their way.

“Babies Love Outer Space,” by Susanne König

This accordion-style book is designed especially for tummy time, according to the brand, with high contrast black-and-white images that engage a developing brain.

“I’m Up,” by Antoinette Portis

The sun is up and so is the baby in this book. (Unfortunately, for tired moms and dads, they're also up when the moon appears in the companion book, “I’m Still Up.”)

“Baby Hippo: Finger Puppet Book,” by Yu-Hsuan Huang

Part of the series "Baby Animal Finger Puppets," this novelty book is a fun, interactive way to introduce young ones to new concepts and play puppeteering.

“Tickle Tickle, Little Tum,” by Ashlyn Anstee

The world is full of tummies ripe for tickling, whether they’re furry or smooth, like baby’s. This book invites them to get in on the fun.

“Nom Nom Nom,” by Jeffrey Burton and Sarah Hwang

This "lift the flap" book lets kids help hungry critters decide what to eat, while introducing different foods and animals. Exclaiming “Nom Nom Nom” is just a bonus.

"Dear Baby: A Love Letter to Little Ones," by Paris Rosenthal and Holly Hatam

This love letter to a baby encourages little ones to be curious, brave and empathetic.

“I Am!: A Book of Reminders” by Juana Medina

A series of affirmations help make sure those early days of self discovery are full of positivity and love.

“You’re Loved,” by Liz Climo

“So simple yet so powerful,” said one Amazon reviewer about Climo’s funny yet heartfelt read. “I bought this book for a friend who just had a baby, and from now on I’ll be ordering it for every new parent I know. [The story] definitely pulls on those heart strings. I wish this book existed when my son was born because it’s so touching.”

“Goodnight Moon,” by Margaret Wise Brown and Clement Hurd

The bedtime story that has lulled generations to sleep gets a new slipcase hardcover edition, featuring a keepsake art print and an afterword by Clement Hurd's son.

Luxury baby gifts

Kahlmi Complete Baby Massager

Babies aren’t known for having the calmest sleep patterns, but this “Theragun for babies” aims to help. Complete with three low-level settings, the silicone, anti-microbial massager is great for youngsters’ digestive issues, according to the brand.

Hatch Rest+ Baby & Kids Sound Machine

Help them drift off soundly to sleep with this gadget, which features sounds like white noise, wind, rain and lullabies and doubles as a night light. It's Wi-Fi-enabled so parents can control it from anywhere.

AU Baby The Popcorn Blanket

This merino wool blanket — the brainchild of a mom who worked in the fashion industry — is gentle on sensitive and eczema-prone skin, according to the brand. With all products made at a woman-owned factory in Los Angeles, the company also donates a portion of each purchase to benefit Black maternal health.

Munchkin Bluetooth-Enabled Baby Swing

Rock-a-bye-ing just got a little bit easier, courtesy of Munchkin. The brand's infant swing (good for babies up to 20 pounds) gives the new parents a bit of an arm break thanks to the five levels of natural-feeling range of motions and programmable timer. Other features like its compactable design and preloaded soothing noises and tunes makes this a worthy investment for anyone celebrating new parenthood.

Meet the experts

  • Marie Conti is Director of Regional Community Relations for American Montessori Society. She was the former head of The Wetherill School in Gladwyne, Pennsylvania. Conti is based in Greater Philadelphia.
  • Tovah P. Klein, Ph.D., is Director of the Barnard College Center for Toddler Development in New York, as well as the author of “How Toddlers Thrive." She focuses on young children's social and emotional development, as well as parents' experiences raising them. Klein is also an adjunct associate professor and teaches a year-long course on toddler development.