Three, whopping years ago I wrote an article for you friends about registering for a baby. The gist of it was “this is what you should actually register for or buy” and “don’t worry about all this other stuff they’re trying to sell you.” Good stuff, but three years and 2.5 kids later I have an updated opinion on the matter. Instead of telling you what to get and not get, I’m listing things you’ll hear a lot about by priority. There are the essentials (yes, get them from somewhere), the serious helpers (get them if you can), the luxuries (if you want them, sure, go for it), and the items that did not work for us. Disclaimer: having multiple kids has taught me that every child is truly different and what may be a helpful tool for one can easily be the equivalent of junk to another. So here is what I have found based on my experience thus far.
Car seat: The question here is infant or convertible. Infant is great to have because it’s portable and you can fit it into strollers, making strollers work for your baby as soon as (s)he comes home. Even though it’s optional, I would recommend everyone get an infant car seat unless you plan to wear your baby via carrier all the time (no stroller action until a few months in).
Click here to see some of the best-rated infant car seats.
Baby bath tub: Ok, you can technically do without this (if you take a bath with baby in your arms or attempt the sink bath), but with their slippery little bodies and weak little necks, it’s not the easiest way to go long-term. Do I travel with a baby bath tub? No. Do I love owning one, YES. If you’re tight on space, there are small tub options (click here to check some of those out), but they don’t last as long because they are just that, small. If you have the space for it, I recommend the classic little blue tubs because they are cheap and last until your baby is ready to take a big kid bath.
Crib: You may choose to start small with a bassinet and then graduate to a crib, but eventually you will need a crib. You can go all fancy with your bad self, but I highly recommend checking VarageSale or Craigslist and getting a second-hand crib for way less moneys. As for bassinets, we borrowed one for the first two months of our first child’s life because we lived in a TINY 1-bedroom apartment and literally didn’t have space for a crib (she slept in the living room/kitchen, which was all one room, if that gives you an idea of the size). What I liked about the bassinet: it was small and kind of cave-like with a hood on it (like a car seat), which I believe helped Little Girl sleep better. Since she was in the living room, the hood made it possible to block part of her vision out of the crib for daytime naps. What I don’t like about bassinets: the transition from crib to bassinet was tough. Going from a cave-like bed to an open crib was a big change and babies are aware enough to know the difference after a month. Bassinets are only useful for a few months, so if you want one, I recommend borrowing. Many moms feel weird about putting their tiny babies in a big crib from the beginning, but there’s no harm to baby if you want to go for it. I do not recommend regular co-sleeping (having baby in your bed) for a variety of reasons, but that’s your prerogative. If you’re not ready for the big crib and want something for that transitional time, here are some good options: a rock n’ play (I tried not to let my kids rely on this for nighttime sleeping, but would use it if their wakeups were unusually frequent), a pack n’ play with an infant attachment, and a portable bassinet. Note: If you decide to go the crib route, grab a crib mattress, 2-3 fitted crib sheets, and 1-2 waterproof mattress liners.
Diapers: Ok, duh you need these (and of course, don’t forget the wipes). But here is the thing: it’s important to question what your values are here. If eco-friendly is a priority, go for cloth diapering! We had every intention of doing so, but when we moved to Birmingham, we found the cost of water here is insane, so we opted out. If you’re going disposable, some brands are more eco-friendly than others. Other things to consider: cost, skin sensitivity, fit. Here is how I recommend doing this: start with the cheapest brand of diapers you can find and try them out. If baby gets a rash or if they tend to leak, try the next brand up. It’s simple. I seriously order hilariously cheap diapers on Amazon from a brand no one has heard of and I love them. I don’t recommend starting with Pampers or a high-end brand until you have a good reason to spend that much on diapers. Like I said, consider what’s important to you. Obviously one of our top priorities has been cost.
Breast pump (if nursing) and bottles: So far, I have been a stay-at-home, breastfeeding mom who almost never uses childcare with the exception of an hour I spend at the gym daily. Even I needed some bottles. If you don’t plan on using them regularly, consider some of these likely scenarios in which they might be helpful: emergencies, doctor appointments, when you need a hands-free break, if you’re in a situation you’re uncomfortable nursing (confidence nursing in public varies a lot from person-to-person, but one example is on an airplane seated between strangers), date night, when you’re sick, etc. No one is going to force you to use bottles, but do consider whether they might be helpful or not, because many babies won’t take a bottle in an emergency if they have not been introduced to them before. If you’re interested in the occasional bottle use, I recommend introducing the bottle around the 3 or 4-week mark and offering one a day (having your partner feed baby once a day can be a realllly nice break in my experience). Insurance should cover a quality breast pump. As for which bottles to use, that depends. Here are some things to consider: how often will baby be drinking out of a bottle, do you have the energy to clean and space to store lots of bottle parts, and does your baby have gas issues. It might be helpful to start with a variety pack and figure out what works for you and baby, but you can totally borrow bottles from friends (just boil them before using) to get a feel for what you need.
Click here for more on bottles.
Clothes: When you first come home from the hospital, you will be waiting for the umbilical stump to fall off on its own and doing your best not to have anything brush against it. This alters your clothing needs for a week or so. You’ll want to avoid onesies until the stump is off, so a shirt and diaper or shirt and pants is ideal. Kimono tops are awesome for newborns because they don’t irritate the umbilical stump and if you’re a first-timer, it’s one less outfit you have to pull over your newborn’s head (something that takes getting used to).
Leg warmers: these look hilariously racy to me, but they’re awesome for diaper changes because you don’t have to make your baby cold by removing pants to change the frequent poops of the early days.
Onesies/body suits: How many you need depends on how often you do laundry and how prone baby is to big spit ups and blow outs. Some days you might only need one and some you may feel like you fly through your entire supply. I recommend starting out with 7-10 onesies. Onesies have a way of growing on things once people find out you’re pregnant. I have a feeling that you’ll have no problem getting 7 of them.
Pants: Only necessary if it’s cold. They’re kind of trouble to deal with when it comes to brand new babies, in my opinion. An alternative is using leg warmers, depending on how cold it is.
Socks: Babies lose socks. It’s a thing. They just take them off or kick them off or plot about places to hide them where you’ll never find them. But cold feet are so sad. So do find some socks that you won’t cry about losing. I recommend 5-7 pairs.
Shoes: The only purpose shoes serve in babies that are not walking is warmth. So those baby sandals that provide no warmth have as much practical value as jewelry. Start with socks and if it’s super cold, layer the socks with little boots. I recommend staying away from shoes that only go to the ankle unless they have some serious elastic to keep them in place (like Robeez).
Cotton mittens: Not for warmth—to keep your baby from scratching his or her face. Both of our kids really benefited from these, especially Little Girl. We’re talking bloody scratches all around her eyes (imagine a baby rubbing its eyes in sleepiness with long, sharp nails and poor motor skills) until we discovered these things. Go get some. 2-3 pairs should do you.
Footie pajamas: Despite the weather outside, it’s likely that baby (since we don’t do blankets in the crib until baby is much older) will need some warm footie pajamas. I cannot stress enough how much better pajamas with zippers are than snaps. Sleep-deprived, diaper-changing you will thank me for this later. Avoid the snaps and get the zippers! Sleep gowns also make for easy diaper changes, but often end up hiked up around the belly (remember the sad, cold feet we talked about?).
Coats and Outerwear: To be honest, this hasn’t been a huge need of ours since we’ve lived in fairly mild climates (California and Alabama) while parenting, but at least one good, warm coat is very helpful, especially when your babies get that neck control and a little more independence. Before then, we just made due with layering on the blankets and keeping them in footie pajamas. Just make sure that you take off the coat before buckling them in the car seat. The safety of your car seat goes WAY down if your baby is wearing a puffy layer like a coat.
Not sure where to shop for baby clothes? This article is super helpful, just scroll down to the bottom for a list of stores and what moms have to say about them.
Stroller: This totally depends on your needs. Running strollers are awesome if you plan on running or walking a lot with your baby. This is the only kind we have and we have zero regrets. I use it when running the neighborhood or inside a store. If you go to a gym with childcare, this may not be a practical purchase, though. Stroller frames are neat because they weight about 5 pounds and allow you to plop your infant car seat directly on them. A travel system consists of a stroller and car seat that go together, which can potentially save you money as a 2-in-1 deal. I recommend getting a stroller used.
Blankets: If you’re not using a SwaddleMe, then I highly recommend a few muslin blankets to swaddle baby in. We were also gifted with a Little Giraffe blanket (very soft and very warm) that is still used to this day (she’s 4). Having 1-2 warm blankets is preeeetty helpful.
Diaper cream: When that little bottom turns red and rashy, have something on hand to coat it with. I have zero brand loyalty here, but I highly recommend getting something with 20% zinc oxide– very effective.
Breast pads: TMI warning: I leaked a lot while nursing (for the first 6 months at least), so these were an absolute necessity. I found the reusable, cloth pads to be much more comfortable, but they offered less protection. Disposable pads were more reliable as long as I didn’t buy the extra thin kind (pay attention to labels). I ended up using disposable pads when I was the leakiest (the first few months, and always at night), and cloth pads during the day.
Rectal thermometer: I know, it’s weird, but it’s accurate and you need to know for sure, so just do it.
Diaper bag: You need something to put diapers/bottles/baby gear in, but an actual “diaper bag” is not necessary. You could throw your stuff in a grocery bag and live. That being said, the reason diaper bags are such a thing is all the compartments and pockets! When your baby starts crying, a part of your rational brain has a tendency to shut off, making searching through an unorganized bag a stressful experience. Having a pocket for everything is extremely helpful. I personally recommend a book bag-style diaper bag. The weight distribution is ergonomic and the bag isn’t going to slide off your shoulder (and take out a toddler… true story).
Baby carrier: Choosing to wear your baby is a lifestyle decision. I knew I wanted to try this out before we had our first child, but now that we’re on baby #3, I can say I don’t know how to live without these for the first 18 months of my kids’ lives. But this is so different from person-to-person, so I’ve put it under the helper category instead of necessary. I have owned two different carriers: the Bjorn and the Ergo. Bjorn: hurt my back even when the baby was little. Ergo: I have a relationship with this thing and has lasted through several children (still going strong on baby #3). To decide if this is for you, consider where you spend your time: could you easily navigate it with a stroller? Try bringing a stroller there before you have your baby (I’m not joking) and seeing if it’s stressful to navigate the wheels there. I found crowds really tough with a stroller (farmers market, festivals, etc). Another perk: studies show that babies cry less if they are worn. If you’re not 100% sure on which carrier you want, try Babywearing International. When you attend their meetings, you can practice putting on each kind of carrier and if you’re a member (which is not expensive), you can essentially rent different carriers.
Monitor: Only really necessary if your baby is sleeping in another room (which I recommend if you have the option). We used a sound monitor for the first 9 months of Little Girl’s life, and it worked beautifully. We upgraded to a video monitor, which has major perks: for the quiet babies, you can see if they’re awake and just silently sitting in their crib; when they get to be toddlers, you can see if they’re out of their bed playing during nap time. They can be pricey, but used is an excellent option and I have found a video monitor to be one of my favorite helpers (though not necessary when baby’s tiny and very vocal).
Nursing cover: In no way is my suggesting a cover condemning anyone who nurses au naturale or anyone who doesn’t feel comfortable nursing in public at all. It’s a touchy subject, I get it. But if you’re nursing in public and you don’t feel great about revealing your breasts in front of strangers, your options include using some kind of cover or blanket or learning to discretely nurse with the right clothing. Nursing with a blanket feels a lot like balancing on a beam to me — it’s fine as long as the wind doesn’t blow. And I never had the coordination or wardrobe to support discrete nursing. Nursing covers are just super handy, fold up small, and double as a cover for the car seat when baby falls asleep while out and about. I recommend looking for one with wiring to hold open the top so that you can see baby and provide a little air flow.
Swaddles: Newborns are little Houdinis when it comes to getting out of swaddled blanketes. No matter how good your swaddling skills, they always seem to come free and wake up sad about it. This is why I love the SwaddleMe. It’s basically a burrito-style blanket for baby with Velcro to hold everything in place. It’s wonderful. Grab a 2-pack.
Diaper Pale: On my first publishing of this article I regarded these are pointless. Spoken like a mom of a breastfed-only baby. When nursing only, baby’s diapers really don’t smell all that bad (though there are many of them). Initially I recommended just taking the poop diapers to the outside trash once baby is making smellier diapers since they will be pooping less frequently then. But here’s the issue there: if/when you have multiple children, aint nobody got time for that. Choosing to toss the soiled diaper of an older child (say, a two-year-old who refuses to potty train, to be purely hypothetical) in the trash may seem like an innocent idea until the next time you open the door to said room and start gagging. So these days I recommend investing in a good diaper pale (good reviews and, if possible, metal, as plastic absorbs smell) at some point in time. It’s not necessary at first, but if you’re going to get one anyway, might as well have it from the beginning.
Exersaucer/activity center: I know, I know. You’re thinking, “nope, that ugly thing will never enter my house.” And you’re entitled to make that decision. To be entirely honest, we haven’t owned one of these, but have enjoyed them at grandma’s house and the nursery at the gym and they have been nothing short of amazing. We’re talking long term entertainment/engagement for a baby in the latter half of the first year (5-12 months?). You don’t need to buy one immediately, but I highly recommend these if you have the space.
Changing pad: These are normally put on changing tables, but they work just as well on top of a dresser. The pad technically could slide off, I suppose, but the cardinal rule of changing diapers is to never leave the baby unattended, so I can’t imagine that happening.
5-10 burp cloths: Burp cloths are a glorified (and absorbent) rag for wiping up spit up. That being said, you will need something because baby’s going to spit up. Whether you buy adorable patterned burp cloths (which you can usually find in my shop, hehe) or use cut up recycled t-shirts, just have something ready in the diaper bag, living room, and nursery (or wherever it is baby’s spending most of his or her time).
Night light: Great for midnight feeds and diaper changes without being so bright as to add any additional stimulation to your baby. Also very helpful once your kiddo hits the scared-of-the-dark phase (4, in the case of Little Girl).
Noise maker: Keeping a noise maker in the nursery for nap time and bed time not only drowns out noises that might wake baby, but it also is an easy way to recreate the home feeling when traveling. Like a transitional object, you can bring a noise maker with you anywhere.
Pacifier Leash: If you decide to use a pacifier (neither of our girls were into them), save yourself the frequent drop to the floor with a pacifier leash. It’s just one of those things that makes life a lot easier.
Baby shampoo: There is probably a wide selection of adult shampoos that are fine for baby (particularly products that are all natural or have a short ingredient list), but babies tend to have very sensitive skin and typically haven’t mastered how to not get soap in their eyes until they are… well, my 4-year-old hasn’t gotten it yet, so for quite a while. Baby shampoos are typically gentler on the skin and eyes, especially unscented. I recommend.
Aquaphor: This healing ointment is the answer to a variety of skin issues. When my oldest got eczema at a few months old (something I have had since I was fourteen), I asked the doctor if she thought it would go away without the use of steroid cream. She said no. Before filling the prescription, I applied Aquaphor to the eczema and watched it disappear and never return. I realize this isn’t scientific research, but what can I say; I’m a believer. This multifunctional balm is also good for burns, diaper rash, and itchy skin. It’s kind of my Windex.
Nursing bra: Nursing, particularly at first, can be a fumbly, awkward experience, particularly if you’re in public. Nursing bras provide easier access and make the process go more smoothly. They are not necessary, but if you plan to nurse without bottles for an entire year, do yourself a favor and get a couple. I liked the soft/non-cup kind for the first few months because they allow for a change of size throughout the day. As things got less tender and I fluctuated in size less, I began to prefer the cupped kind. Nursing camis are also available. I lived in mine for the first month, but I am not sure I have worn it since.
Boobie balm/nursing mama cream: Nursing goes differently for everyone, but for many of us, even if it’s not the first time around, it can be physically very difficult to adjust to at first. Getting in the swing of things with my second was way more difficult than my first, for some reason. Fortunately, this painful experience led to the lactation consultant sharing with me the recipe to her ointment for nipple soreness. This stuff is pure gold (way better than lanolin) and I recommend at least having the ingredients at home and ready to go before baby’s even born. You can find the recipe for this magical cream by clicking here.
Bouncers and swings: I know these are made out to be the most necessary items ever, but they’re really just nice little helpers in my opinion. We didn’t use one at all with our first child (we borrowed one for a week and said, nah, not for us) and with our second we got a Rock N Play, which was helpful (also, not exactly a bouncer or a swing). I like the rock n play because it kind of hugs your child, which seems to sooth them more easily than a crib/bassinet. It also props them up just a little, so they can see what’s going on if it’s not nap time. Rock N Plays fold up fairly flat, which is fantastic (small house dwellers say whaaaat). And since they’re lifted off the ground (they have straps, don’t worry), it’s easier to reach baby than a low-down seat (and also more difficult for toddlers and dogs to mess with baby). If you’re not interested or you’re on a budget, some ideas: you can sit your baby in an infant car seat for a propped up seating option, letting baby nap in a full-sized crib is a great option that requires just a bit of training, and baby wearing is another daytime solution for where to put baby during the waking hours of the day.
Nursing pillow: Not necessary, but given how much a nursing mom nurses, making it comfortable makes a lot of sense. An alternative would be using a regular pillow to support the baby in the early months of nursing. Once baby gets a little older and bigger, he or she can sit on your lap to nurse, but for the first few months, that’s a no-go. While this is by no means necessary, I have loved having a nursing pillow (although I will say, I have never used the expensive brand and have been totally pleased).
NoseFrida: Ie the “Snot Sucker.” This is that absurd device you’ve seen in the baby aisle that looks like a straw with which you suck out your child’s boogers. Here’s the deal: newborns breath through their nose. If they can’t breathe well through them (like when they have a cold), it’s all tears and no sleep. Having a booger-free baby is synonymous with peace. The NoseFrida uses the suction from your mouth the draw out mucus from your child, but it is not routed into your mouth, so you’re not actually sucking up boogers. Do you have to buy one of these to clear your babe’s nose? No. The hospital will send you home with a bulb syringe, which will work. But the NoseFrida seems to work more effectively.
A crib bumper: Here’s the deal with bumpers: The big, fluffy ones (most bumpers) are actually a bit of a hazard for suffocation. But they make mesh bumpers that are not hideous that will do the job of keeping those tiny arms and legs from getting ensnared between the crib slats.
Waterproof changing pad liner: If baby pees while getting a diaper changed, you can throw the liner in the wash instead of having to wash the whole pad. For the first few months, I found these quite valuable.
Baby brush: You know those tiny, soft brushes that couldn’t detangle anything to save their lives? Well they’re actually really useful for cleaning baby’s scaly, cradle cap head. Apply a little shampoo or oil and brush the scalp with this gentle brush and rinse.
Not Helpful (For Our Kids)
Doorway jumpers: I wanted these to work for us, but the truth is that our kids haven’t liked them. I love how compact they are. The bottom line for our family was this: when they were in the jumper, they cried.
Play gym: These are the those soft mats your baby lies on with different items of interest suspended above them. So far all of our kids have not found these particularly special. The sheer fact that so many of my mom friends use these tells me that some babies love them, just not my babies.
Stroller toys: The plush, shiny, rattling, vibrating stroller toys you can hook to your infant car seat or stroller always seemed to be the last thing that interested my kiddos, with everyday objects (such as keys, a drink lid, etc.) proving infinitely more attractive.
Baby lotion: I’m not sure why you would use this except maybe for bonding with your child? They just don’t need lotion. If they get a dry, eczema-like patch of skin, Aquaphor is kind of miracle balm. Don’t waste your time on lotion.
Baby powder: If there’s an issue with the diaper area, diaper cream works beautifully and is significantly less likely to be inhaled. If baby powder has talc in it, it is actually dangerous for that brand new respiratory system.
Glider or rocking chair: We got a glider once our girls were finished nursing and found it really fun to rock sick kids or read stories, but when your child is small enough to be nursing, that rocking movement tends to put them to sleep, which is usually not what you want when you’re nursing them. I loved having a futon in the room with baby this last go round so that I could nursing lying down if I was facing the pure exhaustion of a 3am feed.
Sleep sacks: I know people who use these, but I don’t understand why. They don’t give baby the secure feeling of a swaddle and they’re usually really lightweight, which doesn’t provide much warmth. I think the idea is that it’s a blanket that has no risk of going over baby’s head and that baby cannot lose. Someone help me understand here.
*UPDATE* After posting this article, I have had some awesome feedback about the sleep sacks. What I’m hearing is that those of you who love these use them while transitioning your kids from the swaddle to just a blanket and that they offer a sense of security to baby. So first timers who are considering what to get: this one goes either way. I had some mamas who said these were crucial for them.
Wipe warmer: If my children didn’t like the cold wipes on their bums, they got over it quickly. That discomfort never proved enough of a problem for us to want a wipe warmer.
Car seat pillows: These are the U-shaped pillows made to add support for baby in the car. I see why this would look like a good idea, but a) they’re technically not safe (I think they’re just not tested in car seat ratings, so there’s no way to know how they will influence the outcome of your child in an accident) and b) my little babies’ heads will just flop down onto their chest regardless of the pillow. Maybe these would be awesome for a bigger kid (1+) on a car trip?
Crib mobiles: These serve no purpose except aesthetics. Given how expensive they can be, don’t feel like you need one to complete your nursery. If you want one for decorating, have at it.
Baby laundry detergent: We just used a free & clear detergent for the whole family and have zero complaints. I would treat this like the diapers: if what you have isn’t working for you (say, baby’s getting a rash everywhere his or her clothes are touching skin), go from there, but I wouldn’t stress about having special baby products otherwise.
This completes the second edition of the Minimalist’s Guide to Making a Baby Registry. I hope you’ve enjoyed it and gleaned some helpful information. Leave your comments about what gear you can’t live without and what talked up items proved worthless for your family. Can’t wait to hear from you!