When I was pregnant with my first child, friends offered a heap of advice on all the baby gear I absolutely had to have. I ended up creating not one, not two, not three, but five different registries to account for all those “necessary” items.
Of course, no one ever sets out to be that excessive. But with the wave of parenthood (and panic) approaching, I wanted to cover all my bases. When it comes to our kids, even the most rational and levelheaded among us can succumb to that nagging fear: If I just buy X, then I’ll win at parenting . . . or at least not mess up so badly.
It doesn’t have to be like that. Before you go wandering glassy-eyed through the aisles of Babies “R” Us, check out this list of 20 must-haves — built from hard-won wisdom and experience in the child-rearing trenches.
1. Car seat: Car seats are mandatory by federal law, and the hospital won’t let you take baby home without one. Baby car seats, or “infant buckets,” snap into a base and have a carry handle. There are numerous brands available to fit your budget and style.
2. Soft carrier: When you can’t put your newborn down but want to move around with your hands free, soft carriers are lifesavers. Styles range from sling to wrap to front-to-back convertible, so talk to a friend, try a few out and keep your receipts!
3. Stroller: We have four strollers in our garage, but you only need one to start. If you’ve already chosen your primary stroller, see if it has an adapter available for your baby car seat model. Otherwise look for frame strollers, which are exactly what they sound like: a frame with wheels that you can snap your infant car seat into — done and done.
4. Diaper bag: The best diaper bags have waterproof/microfiber surfaces, offer plenty of pockets for storage, can be slung cross-body or have backpack straps, and come in designs that all caregivers will want to be seen using. A good backpack also makes a functional and cheap diaper bag.
5. Nursing pillow: If you’re breastfeeding, a trusty nursing pillow is a must for keeping baby in the optimal position. Among many options, you might try a contoured positioner with a clipping strap to hold the pillow in place.
6. Nursing wear: A nursing mom should have two good nursing bras or tank tops, plus nursing pads so you don’t leak through all your shirts.
7. Breast pump: An efficient breast pump can help establish milk supply or alleviate engorgement. There are many pumps on the market, but I wholeheartedly recommend renting a hospital-grade one. Simply put, it’s powerful, efficient, sanitary and returnable.
8. Bottles and formula: Recommendations vary on when to introduce a bottle, but you may need one sooner than you think. Options include glass or BPA-free plastic bottles, breast-mimicking or classic-style nipples, gas-reducing valve technology and disposable liners. If you’re supplementing or planning to formula-feed, you can choose between organic, soy and reflux-reducing formulas in addition to the conventional brands. Some experts suggest not keeping formula in the house at first if you intend to breastfeed.
9. Burp cloths: This goes without saying, but there is a lot of spit-up in your future. Have at least 15–20 burp cloths washed and ready.
10. Footed PJs: My only clothing recommendation is to dress baby in one-piece footed pajamas for the first weeks. (Imagine how bummed you’ll be when baby spits up on the adorable outfit that took you 10 minutes to put on her.)
11. Co-sleeper or bassinet: Most newborns start out sleeping somewhere near mom. Co-sleepers are wonderful for the first few months: They attach securely to the big bed and have a padded drop-side for easy transfer of baby back to his own sleep space after feeding. Many play yards, which double as travel cribs, come with bassinet inserts.
12, 13, 14. Sleep soothers: Here are my three top recommendations for helping your newborn — and you! — get some rest: Watch the Happiest Baby on the Block DVD to learn all the skills; have several pacifiers on hand; and invest in at least two swaddlers. The Miracle Blanket is the best swaddler I’ve found for keeping baby wrapped up snugly with no troublesome fasteners.
15. Diapers and wipes: Choosing a diapering strategy can be daunting. We tried cloth diapers with our first child, but they didn’t wind up working for us. For the next best thing, we used “eco” diapers: disposables containing biodegradable or recycled materials. Diaper Dabbler is an easy way to try several brands and see what works without buying a whole package. Also check out Amazon Mom for discounts and subscription services for all sorts of baby items you’ll need regularly.
16. Diaper cream: Diaper cream will save your baby’s butt. There are many creams on the market, including ones with all-natural ingredients — look for a version with 12 to 20 percent zinc oxide. If you’re using cloth diapers, be sure to pick up a cream without petroleum, which may cause additional irritation and ruin the cloth.
17. Digital thermometer: Fevers in the first weeks of baby’s life can be very serious and may require medical attention. A rectal digital thermometer will give you the most accurate temperature reading — ear and forehead thermometers are not as precise for young babies.
18. Nail clipper: Baby nails grow amazingly quickly, and they will scratch you up! It can be unnerving to cut those tiny nails at first, so get a large-grip clipper with an optional magnifying glass and light to help with accuracy.
19. Reference book: If there were ever an instruction manual that should come with babies, Baby 411 (now in its sixth edition) gets my vote. Authors Denise and Alan Fields team up with pediatricians and other specialists to regularly update this comprehensive, straight-talking, easy-to-navigate reference about babies ages 0–12 months.
20. Tdap and flu shots: Says Denise Fields: “We (and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) suggest Tdap and flu shots for everyone who comes in contact with baby.” Grandparents, siblings, friends, babysitters and anyone else who will be in close indoor proximity should be vaccinated at least two weeks before baby arrives.
And — most important — don’t forget to breathe. Welcome to parenthood!