Clothing and Accessories
- A handful (5-6) of newborn-sized outfits. Make sure these feel soft and comfy; infant skin is just so delicate that I promise, you will not want to put anything too fussy on yours! In fact, most of the newborn clothing that you buy should be sleepers. Of course, you will want to have something cute to put on your baby to show him/her off to visitors, but don't go overboard on newborn "outfits." You just won't use them, and babies are lightning-fast growing out of this size clothing.
- A few more (8-10) outfits/sleepers in the 0-3 months size. Have these washed and ready to go, for one day you will realize that your baby just can't squeeze into newborn size anymore and you won't want to wait until that moment to launder everything in the next size up!
- You can start getting more and more items as your baby grows into the higher sizes. I noticed that Will stayed in his 3-6 months clothes longer, and his 6-9 months clothes longer than that. Stock up on sizes ahead of your baby's growth; one of the best places to shop is TJ Maxx, which carries nice name-brand merchandise at greatly discounted prices.
- A hamper. You will want to place this right next to the changing table. And don't be alarmed how fast your baby goes through clothes! Between spit-up and diaper blow-outs and even breastmilk leaks from mama, your baby may sport several outfits a day.
- Shout stain spray or some other stain remover. I've used several brands and I recommend the very large orange can of Shout above all others (for example, Dreft stain remover smells better but just doesn't do the job as well). I really began to use this more often when our son started eating baby food, because bibs just don't catch everything!
- A good supply of socks and at least one pair of crib shoes. My favorite brand of crib shoes are Robeez, but you can get a cheaper version of these at Target. Babies don't need shoes necessarily, but if you have a sock-grabbing baby like I do, shoes will keep those little pigs nice and warm and covered at all times, especially if you're out and about.
- Bibs. If you're breastfeeding, you won't really need bibs for the first couple of months at least. Bottle-feeding can be messier, but you can always use a cloth diaper or washcloth under the neck for this purpose. However, babies can start teething as early as 3 months, and with teething comes lots of slobber and drool. Without a bib, your baby can soak a shirt very quickly! Make sure you have several sizes of bibs, too. I always make sure I can get a couple of fingers between the bib and my baby's neck before I let him wear it. When your baby starts eating baby food, you'll want a decent stack of very large bibs that are sturdy in the wash.
- Don't go crazy on other accessories. People often will gift you very cute items, like an infant swimsuit and sunglasses, or a baby bathrobe. These are adorable but just not practical. You may end up using them just once or twice if you're lucky. However, there are certain items not to skimp on. If you have a summer baby and plan on taking him/her out in the stroller or baby carrier, pick up a little hat. Or if you have a winter baby, get a snowsuit with hood or infant-seat zip-up blanket attachment. You won't want a sunburnt baby, nor do you want to rely on piles of baby quilts on a chilly day.
- Crib set. Usually you can get a crib set that comes with a sheet, bumper pad, and crib skirt, and sometimes a set will include a comforter as well. DO NOT use the comforter in the crib; this item is much better used as wall decoration or as a play-time cushion. Comforters are just too heavy for use on infants, and small babies should be swaddled for sleep without any extraneous blankets in the cradle or crib with them.
- Extra sheets. I would buy at least 2-3 extra sheets for those quick bed changes in the middle of the night (diaper leak or spit-up), but if you plan on using your crib as a toddler bed, go ahead and buy a couple more.
- Swaddler blankets. I can't recommend this product more highly: Swaddle Designs blankets. They come in very cute colors and patterns and are the perfect size for swaddling infants. Later on, these ultra-soft light flannel blankets can be used as regular crib bedding (my son still sleeps with one every night).
- Towels and washcloths (at least 2-3 hooded towels and at least 6-8 washcloths; depends on how often you do laundry). I received a very nice set of thick terry towels and washcloths at a baby shower, and we have used these every night of Will's life. Because you will put your baby towels and washcloths through so much wear and tear, I recommend getting a set that feels thick and durable.
- Changing pad covers. We bought and were gifted about 7-8 changing pad covers, and you could probably get away with fewer, but I would recommend at least this many, especially if you're having a baby boy (those little showers seem to happen just when you're switching out the diaper and before you've had a chance to strategically place a washcloth to prevent them!), in which case you will go through a couple per day sometimes.
- Extra blankets. I keep a medium-sized basket in the nursery filled with extra blankets that we use for a variety of purposes (lap blankets for on the go, play-time, cuddling while reading books, etc).
- Breast pump and bottles (nursing). Even though I breastfed my son for the first 6 months of his life, we invested in a breast pump and bottles so that I could build up a supply so that others could feed my son while I napped or showered or just needed to take a break. My best friend recommended Medela products to me, and I was not disappointed. We purchased the Medela "Swing" pump because that particular model best suited our purposes. We also bought about 8 bottles and coordinating accessories, such as the microwavable sterilization bags.
- Bottle warmer. Before I had my son, this item seemed wholly unnecessary to me, but after a few nights of my husband trying to soothe a very hungry, very upset baby while also trying to warm up a bottle under a stream of hot tap water, suddenly this little appliance made a world of sense. We bought the Avent model because I'd already decided to buy Avent bottles for formula when we decided to start supplementing my milk and transition Will from the breast. Anyway, we love the Avent bottle warmer because it's so handy and convenient, and even better, it's goof-proof: you won't end up feeding a too-hot or too-cool bottle to your baby.
- Bottles for formula. Like I said above, we decided to go with the Avent bottles. I actually utilized no logic making this decision, other than I preferred the "look and feel" of them. I'm sure other bottle brands work just as well, but these have really worked well for us.
- Formula. When we first started supplementing with formula, Will was having difficulties with acid reflux, so we bought the Enfamil formula recommended to decrease spit-up (in the red and gold can). When that issue resolved, we started using Enfamil Premium (in the yellow and gold can). We actually tried a formulation of Similac early on, but Will just refused to take that brand. Regardless of which brand you choose, this is not the area to "go cheap." We're talking about your baby's nutrition here!
- Sterilizer. I have to admit, we're not absolute Nazis on sterilizing our bottles because we use super-hot soapy water and a bottle brush to scrub Will's bottles. But, we do use the sterilizer as often as time permits, which is probably about 75% of the time. We got an inexpensive model that uses steam in the microwave to sterilize bottles and pacifiers and what-have-you. This really comes in handy for peace of mind when you have a sick baby -- you just want to eradicate all germs from all items that go near your baby's mouth when he/she is sick!
- Bottle brushes. I learned this one the hard way: do NOT get a model that features a wire wand between the handle and the brush because this will snap/break almost immediately. There are several brands that have a thick wand; they might be a dollar or so more, but this is a much better buy.
- Boppy pillow (nursing). If you are planning to breastfeed, this pillow will be a lifesaver. When you're utterly sleep-deprived and up to feed the baby for the umpteenth time that night, you can't exactly trust your arms to be 100% steady and secure, and this is where you can really trust the Boppy pillow. It's a perfect fit to anyone's body and the baby lays very comfortably while he/she feeds, plus you can fit it to any height on your body so that your baby is close to the breast. My husband also likes to use the Boppy when rocking our son for long periods of time; it just really eases back and shoulder tension. (Also, don't forget to buy a couple of extra Boppy pillow covers, because if you're like me, you'll leak!)
- Breast pads (nursing). This is a total personal preference, but I simply refuse to use disposable breast pads because they itch and just feel "plastic-y" against your skin. YUCK. I vastly prefer washable breast pads because they're cotton and just as absorbent and much more comfortable.
- Changing pad. Usually you can nail these into the wall or the back of a piece of furniture, and I recommend doing so. If you ever have to walk away from the baby, USE the safety latch across the waist. Will started to roll one time while I was just a few steps from him, and the latch held him quite securely in place even though he was almost off the changing pad altogether!
- Wipes warmer. This might seem to be a more "fluff" item, but I always put myself in my baby's place when considering a baby purchase. Would I want my diaper changed in the middle of the night and feel a cold wet wipe on my bottom? Or would I prefer a warm wipe? And there you have it.
- Diaper Genie or some kind of diaper pail with a closeable lid. We like the Diaper Genie Elite but be very careful with it and follow the instructions. I accidentally broke one when I took a bag out the wrong way. In any case, unless you want every trash can in your house stinking up the place, use a diaper pail that seals off the diaper so that odors are controlled.
- Diapers, of course. Some people have better luck with different brands, but we absolutely love Pampers and wouldn't think of using anything else (and I tried a couple other brands that I was gifted). For teeny-tiny babies, definitely use the Pampers Swaddlers. The diaper is so soft and cloud-like, it feels like spun cotton! We used the Swaddlers until Will grew out of them, and now we use just regular Pampers, although I'm sure we're coming around the bend to using the Cruisers. Two notes: 1) There's currently a trend of using cloth diapers. I have no experience with these, but one time while I was pregnant and shopping with my Mom, I showed her the aisle of the cloth diapers and asked her about it. She looked at me with surprise and said, "We HAD to use cloth diapers back in the day, who would want the inconvenience of them now that they have such great disposables?" I couldn't agree with her more. Though if you go with cloth, more power to you! 2) There's also a trend of using "environmentally friendly" diapers. Trust me on this one: Don't buy these. I was gifted a bag and opened it to check them out, and was absolutely dismayed that anyone would consider putting a sandpaper-like diaper on their precious baby's skin. If you are crazy about saving the environment, consider other ways of doing so. Don't sacrifice your baby's comfort.
- Desitin. I vastly prefer this to Boudreaux's Butt Paste, which I think stinks to high heaven. Desitin has a bit of a medicine smell to it, but it's quite mild in comparison. Just remember when using Desitin that a little goes a very long way!
- Baby powder. Don't go for all the neat scents, just get plain old cornstarch baby powder, which has a finer texture and covers better.
- Hand sanitizer. I always, always, always scrub some on my hands after a poopy diaper, even if I have the opportunity to wash my hands immediately (and sometimes you won't!). You can't be too careful, in my opinion!
Bathing/Personal Care/Medical Needs
- Infant bathtub. We were gifted a baby bath chair that we used after Will outgrew sink baths (this is the easiest way to bathe a newborn -- on top of a towel submerged in a bathroom sink; it prevents slipping and the water temperature and water level are very controllable) until he was about 3 months old, when he realized he could move around on the chair (the possibility of him slipping off scared me to pieces). We immediately went out and bought an actual baby bathtub, which has a removable riser to support the baby until he/she can sit up without assistance. Will can recline and play with toys while I wash his hair and body, and he's protected on all sides from slipping out. It even has a hook so you can hang it up on the shower curtain rod after use, so cleanup/hideaway is easy.
- Soap/lotion. I prefer the Johnson's brand to all others, but as long as you have a gentle, dual-purpose (hair and body) wash, you should be set for bathing. I also like to use lotion on Will after his bath, even though I've heard babies don't need lotion. Oh well, it makes me feel better (again, I wouldn't skip lotion on myself) and he smells so good afterwards!
- Infant nail clippers. I really like the Safety 1st nail clippers that came in this hygiene set. Cutting your baby's nails for the first time is really an exercise in bravery, but you will get used to it! My mom's best tip: when holding the baby's finger, pull the skin back away from the nail as much as possible to provide extra clearance for clipping.
- Alcohol wipes or bottle of rubbing alcohol, Q-tips/cotton balls, Vaseline, and gauze pads. You will need the alcohol and Q-tips for cord care during the first week or two after baby comes home from the hospital (of course, you'll also need the Q-tips for cleaning out those little ears when wax starts appearing). You will need the Vaseline and gauze pads if you're having a baby boy and you plan on having him circumcised. A nurse will probably show you this in the hospital, but you will need to dollop a generous, quarter-sized amount of Vaseline on a gauze pad and place it in a teepee shape over the red and sore area of the penis. You will need to change the gauze pad at every diaper change until the circumcision has healed.
- Pacifier thermometer. I think we received no less than 3 thermometers as gifts, and because I didn't know which we'd prefer, we kept them all. However, at the first sign of fever in Will, I couldn't get the ear thermometer to work well (I kept getting sketchy temperatures of 94.3 and the like) and there was no way I was going to use a thermometer in his little bottom (again, would YOU want that???). I ended up not liking/trusting any of the thermometers, so we looked at other options, and I was immediately attracted to the pacifier thermometer because my son has taken a soothie/paci with no problem from the hour of his birth. I got excellent participation from him (kept the paci in the whole time until it beeped) and I got excellent, trustworthy results. I highly recommend a pacifier thermometer!
- Infant Tylenol. When you do get a temperature reading indicating fever, whip out your Infant Tylenol. DO NOT wait on this because temperatures in babies are fickle things and can rise (and fall) very quickly. The one thing that is frustrating about Infant Tylenol is the dosage indication on the bottle (or lack thereof); our pediatrician told us that for babies 6 months and under, use a dose of 0.6 (but you may want to ask your own pediatrician for your specific child's needs).
Furniture and Baby Gear
- First of all, there's the obvious: crib, changing table, and dresser/closet/clothes storage. These are absolute must-haves, but you don't have to buy these pieces per se. For example, I've seen old desks used as changing tables with the drawers filled with diapers and supplies -- very cute. Instead of a closet, I use an armoire because we have limited closet storage and I really like the look of armoires filled with baby clothes. However, don't compromise on the crib. I would really hesitate to use an antique one or a crib picked up at a yard sale or inherited from Great-Grandma because there are so many safety concerns with old paint and drop-side cribs now. Again, not an area to "go cheap."
- Crib mattress. When buying one, you will want to consider if you'll be using the crib as a toddler bed (if your crib is convertible). Because we plan on using Will's crib until he graduates to a "big-boy" bed, we opted for a more high-end mattress.
- Cradle/portable crib/bassinet. I would have to say that this is definitely an option and not a must-have, but most people prefer to keep baby in their bedroom with them for the first few weeks at least. Knowing myself, I was convinced I would be one of these people and I was right! It was reassuring to just look over and watch his little chest rise and fall, rather than having to tiptoe into his nursery to check. Of all these options, I chose a lovely wooden cradle because of its classic look and heirloom potential. Will only slept there for the first 8 weeks, but I loved seeing him in a cradle and I can't wait to see Lucy sleeping in it, too. We also have a portable crib (ie, Pack-and-Play) with diaper changer attachment, but only used it in our last apartment to avoid running up a flight of stairs for each diaper change (we lived on 3 levels then). Now that we have a loft apartment (1 level), we never use it. However, a portable crib is a great option for a "day nursery" if you do live in a multi-storied home.
- A baby monitor. This is definitely a must-have piece for the nursery. We have this Sony baby monitor and the only problem I have with it is that sometimes it works too well! It's very sensitive to noise and sometimes it turns on to alert us when Will changes position or moves his blanket!
- Swing. We have this Fisher Price swing and I just love it. Will has sadly outgrown it but we could almost always rely on the swing in those early months to soothe him to sleep.
- Bouncy seat. We had much less success with a bouncy seat for soothing purposes, although I've heard many parents swear by them. I would think you could opt for a swing OR bouncy seat, actually.
- Exersaucer. You won't need this until your baby is about 4-5 months old, so this is not a high-priority item. However, they can be lifesavers when you need to clean the kitchen or run some laundry -- you know that your baby is safe and secure and entertained (at least for a few minutes!).
- Highchair. Again, not a high-priority item as you won't need it for 5-6 months.
- Bumbo seat. This is a great tool for helping your baby learn to sit upright and it's even a good piece for transitioning baby from lying down to drink a bottle to sitting upright for the first bowl of rice cereal. Not a necessity, though.
- A travel system. We bought this Chicco Cortina travel system after a saleslady patiently showed me many, many brands and models and recommended this one the highest for its safety rating and ease of use. I have to admit, the stroller is probably my favorite baby purchase because we use it all the time and it's so easy to unfold and then re-fold and stow. We bought the KeyFit 30 (as opposed to the 22) just in case Will went higher than 22 pounds before his first birthday (when kiddos need to be in an upright, forward-facing carseat). Sure enough, this was a great decision because at 8 months, Will is already over 20 pounds. The only thing is, you really can't find the KeyFit 30 models in stores, so you'll have to order online, which is what we did. (NOTE: don't forget to buy an extra base so you can use the carseat in more than one car!)
- A diaper bag or backpack. I learned a valuable lesson from my bestie on this one: get a bag with long, wide handles that can hang on the back of your stroller. At first, I was using a cute little diaper bag and trying to stuff it in the bottom "storage area" of the stroller where, of course, it was in the worst place possible for quick item retrieval. So I bought a backpack and we hang it on the stroller handles, where I can easily unzip it and retrieve a pacifier or baby wipe or toy when Will gets fussy.
- Diaper bag accessories: 1) fold-up/portable plastic changing pad (you really don't want to lay your baby on those public bathroom fold-outs without having a barrier in place from icky germs!); 2) formula dispenser; 3) portable wipes case (these sometimes come free with a package of wipes!); 4) travel-size baby powder; 5) travel-size hand sanitizer; 6) stash of diapers and clean bottles (and spoons and buckets of baby food when your child reaches that age). You will find that you need other items, like favorite toys and pacifiers, but these are the basics. Also try to think of all contingencies; I usually pack a spare outfit and socks (in case of blowout), a bottle of Tylenol, and a jacket or blanket in case the weather turns.
- A small thermos. This is also for your diaper bag. You can carry a thermos of hot water and a bottle of cold or room-temperature water and mix the waters until you have perfect bottle-temperature water with which to mix formula. Trust me, you get to be an expert at feeling for the perfect temperature of bottle water!
- Baby Bjorn. This item is not cheap and is definitely one of those "nice to have" not "need to have" pieces. However, if you are registering for gifts, I'd absolutely scan one of these. They are great for casual strolling in the mall or even around the house (I've "worn" Will in his Baby Bjorn while working at my computer). One note: I've seen the popularity of baby slings and while they seem to be another great option, I read a frightening article here. If you do opt to use a sling, please understand how to use them properly. I would also say that Baby Bjorns are rather foolproof in this way and offer the proper support that your baby needs (so you don't have to worry about it).
- I've found that the best toys are usually the cheapest. See, there is a silver lining to all this spending! Will vastly prefers colorful blocks and balls and snap-beads and linking rings to any kind of fussy, complex toy. Look for anything that is easily grasped by a baby's small hands. Toys with different textures are also fun; for example, Will likes anything that makes a crinkling sound. Again, this is NOT an area in which to splurge; it's just not necessary. Babies are far more easily entertained than Toys-R-Us would have you believe. A bathroom mirror and a goofy parent can provide hours of entertainment!
- Play gym/mat. We were gifted a great playmat that Will used up until a couple months ago, when he finally got bored with lying on his back to play. The best type of playmat/gym features an arch of some kind that holds toys on fabric loops or rings, so even from the time that they're tiny, babies can "bat" at the toys and then finally grasp and hold and pull them.
- I would be remiss if I didn't encourage books, books, books. The best books for babies are board books that they can handle and "help you" turn pages. Babies can be rough with these books and they don't show any wear and tear (again, TJ Maxx is one of the best places to buy brand-new but cheap board books). Of course, we also have some great keepsake-type anthologies; Marty's favorite to read to Will are the classic Pooh stories. And my favorite from childhood are the Little Golden books, which are also very inexpensive.
- TV programs. Of course you don't want to saturate your baby with TV, but a show or cartoon now and then is vastly entertaining and will give you a much-needed break (I hope I don't sound like a bad parent here). My favorites in the morning are the PBS Kids series, featuring Clifford, Curious George, SuperWhy, and Dinosaur Train -- all of them fun and educational. In the afternoon, good choices on Nick Jr. include Max & Ruby, Little Bear, and Dora the Explorer (Dora actually got Will to clap for the first time!). Will really seems to enjoy some relaxing/down-time, because usually he is very much on-the-go and involved in his toys. Variety is the spice of life!!!
- A good baby care and development/first aid reference manual. Right now my go-to book is Dr. Miriam Stoppard's Complete Baby and Childcare. It features great pictures and illustrations. However, it isn't as comprehensive as I'd like it to be, so I'm on the lookout for a better book of this type (and open to suggestions!).
- An excellent pediatrician. Don't settle for just anyone. You have every right to shop around until you find a pediatrician with whom you have a good rapport and you feel you can trust partnering with in making your baby's medical decisions.
- An excellent nanny/babysitter. Again, another area where you should feel free to be as picky as you like. Hopefully you won't need too much "outside" help and can rely on family and friends for the vast majority of your childcare help, but if you're in our position (we live far from all family and friends), you'll need to seek that outside help. A friend recommended that we use SitterCity.com, and we had great success using this site because we found Jessie, our fabulous nanny. The good candidates on this site will have completed their background checks and will offer several contacts as references. Jessie's profile was comprehensive and complete with pictures of her babysitting other kids, who obviously adored her. THIS is what you're looking for in a nanny/babysitter. You can trust the judgment of children when it comes to a nanny!
- A good camera/camcorder. We decided to invest in good quality pieces because we feel a great responsibility to capture memories for our children.
Whew! That post took on a life of its own! I kept thinking how I wished I had a list like this before I had my first baby, and I so want someone to be able to benefit from what I've learned along the way. I know other things work for other people, and I welcome any and all moms to contribute to this list via the comments feature (please?). Also, I'm still learning baby care, day by day. It's a never-ending process, but the learning helps you grow more and more confidence as a mom, so always trust your instincts first and foremost and take or leave advice as you see fit. That's the best tip I can give!
One final note: I realize this list might seem very overwhelming. I hope I've pointed out items that you can get by without, and items that you don't need to buy right away. Marty and I would have been bankrupt if we'd tried to tackle this list all at once. This is exactly why God gives you 9 months! Take your time and pace yourself and stock up as you can. Be grateful for every shower gift because these generous offerings from friends and family really do lighten the financial load. Save up for the big-tag items and buy boxes of diapers when you can squeeze it into your grocery budget.