EDIT: This post as been updated after several years (and a few more children). Click here to see the second edition.
One of the first thoughts to enter my mind after seeing our positive pregnancy test back in August of 2012 was, “Do we have to have baby paraphernalia all over our house?” and then “Can we even afford to have that paraphernalia?” The answer is no and yes, if you want to.
New parents make great targets for marketing campaigns. We’re scared, confused, and naive. We don’t know what you need to take care of another human, and if baby needs it, of course we can find the money to buy that. Psh. We’re like wounded antelope just waiting to be pounced on. The truth is, you don’t need that much (financially or physically). And what one person finds indispensable for their child, may not be helpful to you. One of the best policies we followed was waiting until after Little Girl was born to determine what we wanted to purchase (aside from a few items that we needed ready, like clothing and a place for her to sleep). There were times where I felt like the only parent around who didn’t have a certain baby accessory, but as my mother-in-law would say, you have to get a little “third world” sometimes. Remember that this is America in the 21st century and people have been having babies since the history of man (duh). There is a difference between items that make life easier and those that are absolutely necessary. I’m open to questions and would love to hear what has worked for you. I have made bold the items I would recommend having ready before the baby is born. The rest, in my opinion, can wait. I highly recommend getting most things lightly used– consignment events were awesome for this. Thrift stores and Craigslist were helpful as well. If an item is linked, you can click through to see one of my favorite examples of said item (example: “blankets” will link you to Little Giraffe’s website–I adore the luxurious blanket we were gifted for Little Girl).
People love giving clothes as a gift, so while you will need clothes, you probably will not need to register for any. I give the amount we found necessary for each item, but you really just need enough to get you from one laundry cycle to the next. As far as sizing goes, some babies skip the newborn size altogether. Little Girl was in it for a month and then size 0-3 for the next three months. This may sound obvious, but consider what season it will be when your child is most likely wearing certain outfits. You may find an adorable 6 month romper at the thrift store, but if your baby is predicted to be in that size during winter, it likely won’t get much use.
- 8 onesies
- 8 pajamas — PJs that zip make for easier diaper changes.
- 4-8 pairs of pants — We didn’t use pants until November (when Little Girl was 7 months old).
- 4-8 pairs of socks — Even if the weather is warm, socks are helpful in overly air conditioned settings (the South has a way of doing that in particular).
- 1-3 hats — Beanies are great for newborns. We also loved having a hat to shade Little Girl’s face from the sun for outdoor excursions.
- 1-4 special occasion outfits — Depends on how often you want to dress your little bundle up.
- 1-2 mittens — Little babies rub their faces a lot, but with poor hand control they often scratch their cheeks and eye area. We found these very helpful, particularly at night.
- Crib, bassinet, etc. — We borrowed a bassinet for the first 2 months of Little Girl’s life and loved it (she slept better in it than she did in a crib), but they are pretty expensive and only useful for a short period of time, so I recommend a crib. There is no reason you cannot put a newborn in one. There are a lot of important regulations to watch out for if you are buying one used. One friend of mine uses a pack-n-play only so that her daughter sleeps well even when they travel.
- Mattress (if using a crib)
- 2-3 fitted sheets (if using a crib)
- Crib bumper (if using a crib) — This keeps your baby’s arms from getting stuck between the slats and if cushy will protect from head bumps too. They are not recommended since there is a suffocation risk. We ended up getting a mesh (read breathable) one.
- Blankets — A lot of people gave us receiving blankets, but we almost never used them. At night we swaddled Little Girl with a SwaddleMe, and if it was cold, we put a heavier blanket on top of that. It’s nice (but not necessary) to have a few light blankets that are easy to wash, but I recommend registering for a heavier blanket. When it’s chilly, you can dress your baby in warmer clothes, but if it’s really cold, you will want a heavy blanket.
- 2 SwaddleMe wraps — These make swaddling easy for you and make escaping more difficult for your baby (ie helps them sleep). I believe they come in 2 sizes. I highly recommend getting a pack of the larger ones. We didn’t find the smaller size very helpful, because Little Girl didn’t have trouble falling asleep as a newborn, though some people find them crucial from the beginning.
- 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.
- 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.
- Night light — Great for midnight feeds and diaper changes without being so bright as to add any additional stimulation to your baby.
- Noise maker — Keeping a noise maker in the nursery for nap 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.
- Diaper Cream — Boudreax’s Butt Paste gets a lot of attention, but I really like Burt’s Bees. It seems to last longer. If Little Girl’s rashes are really intense, I use an off-brand with 20% zinc oxide. Works like a charm.
- A portable changing pad or diaper bag — Diaper bags are like big purses with a vast and strategic assortment of pockets. They’re nice, but not necessary, and to get a cute one only costs extra cash. I recommend putting a portable changing pad in an oversized purse. I found it so helpful to be able to whip out a pad anywhere for a diaper change (and not worry about soiling someone’s carpet or that random bag of cat food in Walmart… just saying, it was an emergency).
- Unscented baby wipes and diapers — If you are cloth diapering, register for those pricey suckers. When it comes to disposable, Pampers is the Mercedes Benz of diaper brands, but we haven’t found a reason for the price difference. I recommend starting with the cheapest brand and if you don’t like it, try the next one up. Diapers with wetness indicating strips are helpful in the beginning when your little one is only peeing a teaspoon. I highly recommend ordering diapers online. Amazon Mom is one great option if you’re an Amazon Prime member. Aldi has a pretty competitive diaper price as well. When it comes to wipes, it’s all about the thickness. Pampers sensitive wipes are as good as it gets. I really love the Walmart brand, Parent’s Choice–the price is right and they’re nice and strong. The last thing you want when wiping a poop bottom is for your wipe to tear, literally covering your fingers with feces. No thank you.
- Baby nail clippers — You will use these maybe once a week for the first few months. Nail files are a safer, but less efficient option. That being said, I have cut Little Girl’s finger twice and it is an awful thing to hurt your own child.
- 2 pacifiers — If you decide to go the pacifier route at any point, I recommend Soothies–it’s the only kind either of my girls would take.
- Pacifier Wipes — Totally unnecessary, but kind of nice to have. These clean pacifiers without using harsh chemicals. Helpful when a pacifier gets dropped on the grocery store floor.
- Pacifier leash — Don’t know the official name for this, but it ties to the pacifier and has a clip on the other end. Helpful if you don’t want to constantly use pacifier wipes.
- 5-10 burp cloths — The amount totally depends on how often your baby spits up. You can buy Germber trifold cloth diapers for fairly cheap and use them as burp cloths. Or you could repurpose an old t-shirt. Their purpose is to absorb spit up, y’all. Don’t spend a lot on these.
- Nursing cover — If you are nursing, these are great. Get one with good wiring on the top (mine is by Bebe au lait). It took a while before I was comfortable to nurse in public, simply because it took a while before I was comfortable nursing at all, so I didn’t use my cover much until about a month in.
- Baby bath tub — Very helpful until they can sit up on their own. They make a lot of varieties, but we use the classic blue tub and it has worked well for us. In the times I’ve been without it, I have just taken a bath with Little Girl (a task that would be easier with 3 or 4 hands). The downside of the blue tub is that it doesn’t store well (bulky, awkward).
- Baby shampoo — Burt’s Bees makes a scent-free shampoo that is awesome if you are the proud parent of a child with sensitive skin.
- Baby lotion — Not sure if anyone really needs this, but it is helpful if you want to try your hand at baby massage (they can apparently help with pain management, teething, colds, etc).
- Aquaphor — If baby has eczema-like patches of dry skin, this stuff is like a magic cream. We were able to take care of Little Girl’s eczema with this and avoid steroids altogether.
- 4-8 small wash cloths
- 4 hooded towels — Ok, the hooded towel is not necessary, but it does keep their adorable little heads warm after bath time.
- Baby brush — This sounds ridiculous, but it’s actually helpful for removing cradle crap and other goodies (like handfuls of mashed green peas) from their hair during bath time. We were given ours by the hospital.
- Breast pump — This totally depends on what your plan is for feeding. Assuming you are nursing, a pump is very helpful. I used a hand pump a few times a week (yielding one bottle per pump), which we used if Mr. P was going to feed Little Girl, or if I was going to feed her during a car trip (while Mr. P drove, of course). If you’re going to be working, an electric pump might meet your needs better. It is more efficient, and therefore better if you’re baby will be going through more than a bottle a day. Buying electric pumps can really break your wallet, so you might consider renting. I recommend having a pump ready when you come home from the hospital, because when you’re milk comes in, engorgement can follow (looks like implants, feels uncomfortable/painful like a full bladder), which is alleviated by pumping. If you do not intend on using a pump at all, hand expression can relieve engorgement (though less efficiently).
- Bottles — The amount of bottles you will need depends on how frequently your baby will be drinking from a bottle (go figure). If strictly bottle feeding, you may want 10-16. We gave Little Girl a bottle a day, so having 3 suited us well. If your baby has problems with reflex (spitting up a lot) or gas, Dr. Brown’s bottles are great. We began with small, wide-neck bottles to limit nipple confusion (slow flow). Then when (2 or 3 months) we were ready for bigger bottles (and I felt like Little Girl was unlikely to experience nipple confusion), we switched to standard neck side (you can pump directly into standard sized, which is awesome) (fast flow).
- Milk storage bags — I have never used these, but if you’re doing a lot of bottle feeding, these may be helpful.
- Nursing pillow — Not necessary, but I found this very helpful for the first 4 months, especially when feedings were extra long in the beginning. I recommend borrowing one if you’re unsure if you want to have this. I didn’t find it helpful to bring to the hospital because sitting up normally was uncomfortable until I had recovered more from childbirth.
- Bottle brush — These are very helpful for bottle cleaning. They often have a nipple brush that screws out of the handle.
- Nipple shields — I have never used these, but many women have raved about how much these help with nipple soreness in the first few weeks of nursing. I will most definitely be getting some of these if we have any more kiddos.
- 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 leakiest (the first few months, and always at night), and cloth pads during the day.
- Baby thermometer — Rectal is the most accurate and surprisingly not hard to use. We have an ear thermometer and it can be difficult to use if Little Girl turns her head a lot.
- Baby Tylenol — Nice to have on hand for fevers
- NoseFrida Nasal Aspirator — Unlike a bulb syringe, these actually get the job done. Boogers may not seem like a big deal pre-baby, but a baby who cannot breath well is an unhappy baby. While you do use your suction to get the mucus out of baby’s nose, don’t worry, the boogers never actually enter your mouth.
- Infant car seat — The two options with car seats are infant or convertible. Convertible can be used the entire time baby is in a car seat (it can be rear-facing when baby is young, and forward facing after a year or so–whenever baby meets the height and weight requirements). What is nice about infant car seats is that they are made to be taken in and out of the car (the base stays in the car, but the car seat clicks in and out of the base). This is great for toting around a sleeping baby or even for having a place for baby to sit at home. Whether you want convertible or infant, this is the one item you do not want to get used (unless you know and trust the person well) because if a seat has ever been in a car accident or even dropped, it may have hidden damage that can compromise safety.
- 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. If you go to a gym with childcare, this may not be a practical purchase. 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.
- Baby carrier — Not everyone wants to wear their baby, but I have really enjoyed it. I borrowed a friend’s bjorn for a while. One of the nice features of the bjorn is that baby can face inward or outward, but after short amounts of time, the bjorn hurt my back. The ErgoBaby is what we use now (thank you family!) and it is designed with your back in mind. It’s expensive, but we have gotten a lot of mileage out of ours. It can hold a lot of weight and has an infant insert for newborns, so it has a long life. While the baby can only be inward facing, you can wear the carrier on your front, back, or side. I love ours. There are many other brands I have not tried (Moby, for example). I have one friend who made her own and loves it. Wearing your baby is convenient when you need your hands and your baby wants to close. It’s also helpful when you’re in a crowd that a stroller navigates poorly (the farmer’s market, for example). I have found it to be a grocery store necessity (I can push the cart and fill it with a week’s worth of food while I wear Little Girl).
- Lanolin — There is nothing to prepare your body for the abuse that can come with nursing. It’s not terrible, but having some nipple cream on hand makes it soooo much better. Bring this to the hospital.
- 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 actually 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.
- 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 Ada’s life, and it worked beautifully. We upgraded to a video monitor, which has its perks (I can see if Little Girl is awake and playing in her crib or if she’s unswaddled herself).
- Bulb syringe – This sucks boogers out of your baby’s nose (their primary way of breathing) and is very helpful. Our hospital gave us one.
- Pack n play – A travel crib and playard. You could cosleep with your baby while traveling instead of using a pack n play, but I was afraid I would accidentally smother Little Girl. We found our pack n play for $20 on Craigslist.
- Sound machine – We use Mr.P’s from college. Having white noise near the crib helps Little Girl not wake up to irregular sounds in other rooms (like us hanging out or laughing in the living room). This is not a necessary item, but we’ve enjoyed it.A Few Things for Later:
- Bumbo – This little chair is helpful when they’re new to sitting and when you start feeding them solids. It’s easy to clean and impossible to break. Love ours. The tray is an indispensable accessory for us.
- A doorway jumper or play saucer – A play saucer may be more interesting to baby, but it takes up valuable real estate and costs more. Little Girl liked the doorway jumper before she could crawl, because it allowed her to see what was going on in the room (helpful while cooking dinner). We didn’t use ours for a long time, but for a short period it was extremely helpful—a good reason to look for one used.
- A few toys – Something for teething, something for cuddling (a lovie is great), and something that rattles.
- Pack of baby spoons
- Sippy cups
- Bibs – I used to do 1 per feeding, but we would run through them so fast. Now I use 1 a day and just let it get dirtier and dirtier and then after bath time, I toss it in the tub to soak before putting it in the dirty clothes.
Things I Didn’t Find Helpful (That People Told Me I Would):
- Baby powder – Unnecessary and most have talc in them, which is dangerous for baby respiratory systems.
- A swing/bouncer/sleeper – They’re nice, but when we borrowed a swing, we hardly ever used it. If Little Girl fell asleep, we put her in her bassinet/crib. If I needed my hands, I set her in her car seat or laid her on a blanket. Many people love these, though.
- A glider/rocking chair – Rocking seems to put babies to sleep and when you’re nursing, that typically is not what you want, so I didn’t find it helpful.
- Pants – Unless it’s cold, they just kind of get in the way of the diaper changes, particularly at first when there are SO many diaper changes.
- Sleep sacks – Little Girl rarely falls asleep now without being swaddled, so this was not so great for us.
- A second stroller – Many people told us that we would want a second stroller. We got a used BOB stroller (nice running stroller) and it has been awesome. The only downside is that it can be a little bulky (I can’t fit in a crowded elevator and shopping in tight aisles can be difficult), but those scenarios are so rare that they haven’t merited buying a smaller/lighter stroller.
- Diaper pail – Breastfed babies don’t have very smelly poops. By the time baby poop stinks, they are pooping less frequently (once or twice a day usually?), so it’s not a big deal to take the diaper to the outside trash can. If you do get a diaper pail, you can often use normal trash bags in them.
- Baby hangers – The only clothes we hang are dresses. Obviously this depends totally on how you plan on storing your baby items, but I ended up returning a lot of hangers.
- Bottle drying rack – Maybe if we went through more bottles we would find this helpful?
- Wipe warmer
- Car seat pillows – They are in a U-shape and are for head support. I learned in a car seat class that these are technically not safe to have in your car seat.
- Crib mobiles – So expensive. I’ve seen a lot of people make really neat ones, though. I have a friend in the Bahamas who is making one out of sea glass.
- Baby laundry detergent – We just use a “free and clear” detergent for the whole family.
I also found Lucie’s List very helpful!
Alright mamas, what did you find helpful? Indispensable? Overrated?