When I registered at Babies “R” Us during my first pregnancy, I was a little trigger-happy with the registry scanner gun. I registered for everything I thought was cute, like baby towels and baby washcloths, and everything I thought I would need, like tons of baby clothes. I had no idea what I was doing. My registry today would look a lot different if I had to do it all over again. After bringing two babies into the world and seeing them through toddlerhood, I have a much better handle on the things I used and didn’t use, and how to save space and money.
Here are my lists of must-haves and don’t-needs for baby.
1. Pack ‘n Play. Get something like the Graco Pack 'n Play with Newborn Napper Station. If you get something like this, you don’t need a bassinet in addition to a crib. You can use this Pack ‘n Play as your travel crib, your bassinet, and your play area when your baby is little. If you don’t have the money for a crib before baby comes, you still have about four months before you need one, especially if you have a girl. Chances are your baby can sleep comfortably in the Pack ‘n Play newborn area for about four months. After that, she can sleep in the bottom/main area of the Pack ‘n Play for a little longer. Also, you will likely keep baby in your room with you for the first few months because she'll wake up so frequently.
2. Baby swing. Babies love this, and both of mine slept comfortably in one throughout the day for about three to four months, if not longer. I liked the My Little Lamb Cradle 'n Swing. Keep in mind that the swing forces the baby to stay on the back of his or her head, so use it sparingly.
3. Pacifiers. Unless you’re against using pacifiers, I would get a couple of brands, both Avent and Nuk, in all different sizes, from 0-18 months. My girls each preferred a different brand. If you’re not registering, just get enough of each for the first stage, either 0-6 months or 0-3 months. If you care, Avent has the cuter designs.
4. Bottles. For both girls, I used Dr. Brown's. After trying a few different brands with my first daughter, I found that she maneuvered Dr. Brown’s more easily and that, because of its internal vent system, these bottles were easier on her tummy. I would use the plastic, not the glass, version, as the glass is heavier for the baby to hold. Also, if you’re having a girl, they come in pink. Even if you’re planning on breastfeeding, I would still get a starter pack of the bottles. You may end up supplementing with formula, breastfeeding may be more difficult for you than you imagined, or you may bring breast milk along that you pumped to use when you’re out somewhere.
5. A big diaper bag. What takes up the most space in the diaper bag are the diapers. All of the little compartments that some diaper bags have are somewhat helpful, but you only need a few, not 10. The most important thing is that it has enough space for diapers; wipes (which, if you don’t take some out and put them in a separate container, come in a large pack); a blanket; a change of clothes for baby; and some pre-made, to-go formula. If you’re nursing, you also might want space for your gear, like your extra nipple pads and your nursing cover. If you have an older child, you’ll need room for a few things for him as well, like snacks, a juice box, extra clothes, and bug spray. You might consider one that has straps long enough to fit over the handles of your stroller so that you don’t have to lug it around on your shoulders all of the time.
6. Diapers and wipes. If I were having a baby shower, I would ask people to bring diapers and wipes. This is what you will spend the most money on as a parent. Even if you’re using cloth diapers, the upfront cost of all of those diapers and the items you need to clean the diapers can be expensive, so I would ask people to skip the clothes and baby books and buy you diapers and wipes, and maybe some of the other essentials I list.
7. A bottle warmer. This is something I actually never bought for either of my kids, but it definitely would’ve been helpful. I got both of them hooked on warm milk once they switched from formula to milk, so being out of the house for several hours became challenging. Milk goes bad in a short amount of time, so if I had to buy some milk from a store or a restaurant while I was out, it was obviously cold, and my girls wouldn’t drink it. If I had it to do over, I’d buy a warmer for the house and a portable one for the car.
8. Cheap, white cloth diapers. I bought packs of these from Babies “R” Us or Target, and I used them as burp cloths, diaper-changing pads, and makeshift blankets when I had forgotten to pack an actual blanket. They are washable, don’t take up much space in your bag, and are helpful to have on hand.
9. Cheap, white onesies. These are helpful at about six months of age, when your baby starts eating. Babies make a huge mess when they start eating, and their clothes are frequently stained, so if you buy the cheapest onesies you can find, you won’t mind discarding them or just putting them back on your baby, stains and all, for the next feeding. I’d wait to get these, though, so that you can get them in the right size.
10. Pajamas or onesies. Because they are comfortable and easy to access for diaper changes, and because your baby will spend the first four months sleeping so much of the time, you'll want a lot of these. Depending on the season, you’ll want more of either the onesies or the pajamas.
11. Baby leg warmers. These help protect baby’s knees when she starts crawling.
12. A good stroller (but you can use the Snap N' Go while baby is still using an infant car seat/carrier if you want to save money). If you are going to be alone with baby most of the time, a jogging stroller might be helpful. They have better tires and you can run and bring baby along. If you have lots of help, either from your husband or family, I would just skip it and go out running by yourself. That way, you can start running before baby is the requisite four months old or holding his or her head up, which is necessary if you want to use a jogging stroller. Plus, you can get a break away from the house. The most important thing is that you have a stroller with the option to recline (so baby can sleep when you’re out) and a shade (babies hate sun in their eyes and wind in their face). A Snap N’ Go is cheap, lightweight, easy to use, and the best for quick trips to the store. Your infant car seat snaps right into it. If you want a high-quality stroller that you can go hiking, walking, and jogging with, and that is easy to use, clean, and will last you until your baby is five, I recommend the Bob Revolution SE.
13. Good socks. The best that I found are the plain, white socks from Baby Gap. They have tighter (but comfortable) elastic bands that prevent the socks from slipping off the way other socks do.
14. Invest in a good infant car seat. Do some research online for the safest options available. Go to your local fire department to have it installed in your car properly (this is a free service).
15. A baby monitor. This is optional and something you only need once the baby moves into his or her own room, so it can wait if you’d rather spend the money on other things at first. Read reviews. I bought two that stopped working after a couple of uses. They didn’t have a far enough range to pick up the signal.
16. Baby bathtub. Some people go without, but I think it’s easiest to contain a soapy baby in one of these.
17. For you: If you’re planning on nursing, you’ll need nursing pads (I like the washable ones), a nursing cover, freezer storage bags for pumped milk, a good pump (the ones you can rent from the hospital do the best job and, depending on how long you end up nursing, can be the most cost-effective). If you have the space in your garage or are able to save money on other expensive baby items, invest in an extra refrigerator, even if it’s not full size. Getting to the store every time you need to with a baby can be tricky, so make your trips count and store up on extra supplies.
1. Baby food maker. When your baby starts eating food, at about six months of age, start preparing soft, easy-to-digest versions of what you are already eating (but ask your pediatrician about foods to avoid for potential allergic reactions). Make it easier on yourself, and get baby used to a lot of different flavors and textures (as opposed to everything just being a puree). Allowing the baby to manipulate his food himself and control what goes into his mouth (as opposed to you spoon-feeding him and deciding how much goes in) is a great introduction to food and eating food mindfully. Look up baby-led weaning (which does not mean weaning off of formula or breast milk, as the name suggests).
2. A lot of clothes. You need, maybe, five outfits when baby is first born, and these five outfits include what he or she comes home from the hospital in. It’s just enough for visits from family and friends and pictures. I kept my newborns at home for a long time anyway because I couldn’t risk a baby that small getting sick. When we went out, because they slept so much during the day (and not at night), I kept them in their pajamas and/or onesies. A great place for newborn outfits is your local consignment store. Newborn clothes stay perfectly intact because newborns are not eating food yet or doing anything that would stain their clothes. Also, because babies grow out of clothes so quickly, consignment stores are full of newborn gear. For baby showers, people tend to buy things for your baby that are the wrong season anyway, so baby never ends up wearing half of the items you get.
3. A mobile. This can be a safety hazard.
4. A crib bumper. This makes your crib look nice, but is also a safety hazard.
5. A diaper-changing station that comes with your diaper bag. Just use a baby blanket.
6. Shoes. Your baby can just wear socks until he or she is walking. Even when he does start walking, it's best for his development and balance that he go barefoot or, if need be, walk in flexible-soled shoes, like the kind they sell at Stride Rite.
7. Baby towels and washcloths. Just use your towels and washcloths. Baby doesn’t know the difference and doesn’t care. Do get some baby wash, though, so you have soap that won't sting baby's eyes. I like California Baby or Burt's Bees because they are gentler on baby's skin. Almost all brands come in a body wash/shampoo, so you only need one bottle.
8. Toys. Babies don’t really play with toys anyway when they’re really young. When they do start playing, they prefer things you’d rather they didn’t play with, like your TV remote or your cell phone. Instead, invest in only a handful of toys, and don’t buy anything that has too many lights or sound effects. The more the toy does, the less your baby discovers on his or her own. A lot of the time, you can give baby regular household items, like silicone coasters or stainless steel bowls, to play with. A simple toy Janet Lansbury recommends is the Green Sprouts Snack Cup. Baby can practice taking the lid off and putting it back on.
9. Diaper Genie. Just put dirty diapers in a plastic bag from the grocery store and throw them out. The Diaper Genie starts to stink after a while anyway.
10. Books. I love books, and I want my daughters to value reading, but the fact of the matter is, you only need two or three books starting out, with either fabric or cardboard pages so that baby can play with the books and put them in his or her mouth without ruining them. If space or money is tight, when your child is two and past the stage of ripping or balling up paper, start taking her to the library and allow her to discover a new book on her own (without the commitment).
11. What to Expect the First Year. Look up milestones online and find a pediatrician who will take the time to answer your questions. You need information that is specific to your baby anyway.
12. Baby playmats/gyms, jumpers, and walkers. These aren’t necessary and, in fact, can inhibit your baby’s natural development. Put a blanket on the floor and interact with the baby yourself or else sit back and observe him or her. Baby will learn to walk and crawl on her own.
13. Nursery chair/rocker. This is a luxury, not a need. You can always just nurse or bottle-feed your baby from your bed when he or she is a newborn. When baby moves to her own room, you can bring her out to the living room for feedings.
14. Shopping cart cover. You can either put the baby carrier directly into the shopping cart, or you can use a blanket to cover the shopping cart seat. If all else fails, use the antibacterial wipes provided by the grocery store.
15. High chair. I used one for both of my kids, but if you want to avoid buying one, you could invest in a lap tray table and a plastic mat to protect your floor. Get something for the floor that is large and easy to wipe clean. The baby might actually enjoy it more than a high chair because baby can keep his feet on the floor, which will make him feel more secure and less anxious, thus making eating a more pleasant experience.
Most of the items in the must-have list can be found in consignment stores. A lot of the consignment stores tend to be pretty choosy, so these items are likely in perfect condition.
Special thanks to the smart moms in my life, Kristin W., Kathryn Z., Mary Z., Hadar G., and Anna A., who all, in one way or another, contributed to this list.
If you’re an experienced mom with cost-saving and space-saving tips of your own, feel free to chime in.