When I was pregnant with my first child, friends offered a heap of advice about 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.
It doesn’t have to be like that. So before you go wandering glassy-eyed through the aisles filling your shopping cart in impending parenthood panic mode, check out this list of 20 must-haves — curated from hard-earned wisdom and on-the-job 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. Nonprofit Safe Kids Worldwide is a tremendously valuable resource with tips on buying and properly installing a car seat for your child, at every age and stage.
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: 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 feature 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 sturdy backpack also makes for 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 at least two good nursing bras or tank tops in rotation, plus nursing pads so she doesn’t leak through her 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: They are powerful, efficient, sanitary and returnable. (Your health insurance plan must cover the cost of a breast pump — it may be either a rental unit or a new one you’ll keep. Check your plan for guidelines.)
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 venting technology and more (check out Babylist’s Best Baby Bottles guide for tips and parent recommendations). 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. Keep at least 15–20 burp cloths on hand that are washed and ready for duty.
10. Footed PJs: My only clothing recommendation is to dress baby in comfortable one-piece footed pajamas during the early weeks. (Imagine how bummed you’ll be when baby spits up on the adorable outfit that took you 10 minutes to dress her in.)
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 parental 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: Read “The Happiest Baby on the Block” to learn all the skills; have several pacifiers on hand; and invest in at least two swaddle blankets. The Miracle Blanket is the best swaddle I’ve found for keeping baby wrapped up snugly with no troublesome fasteners.
15. Diapers and wipes: Choosing a diapering strategy can be a daunting proposition. We tried cloth diapers with our first child, but they didn’t wind up working for us, though they work beautifully for some families. For the next best thing, we used “eco” diapers: disposables containing biodegradable materials. Diaper Dabbler is an easy way to try several brands and see what works without buying a whole package. Also check out Amazon Kids’ Store 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” 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 caring for babies ages 0–12 months. Another indispensable resource young moms are raving about is the “Moms on Call” series by pediatric nurse moms Laura Hunter and Jennifer Walker — great, they say, for establishing a regular sleep, eat, play, repeat routine.
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!
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Editor’s note: This article was first published in 2014 and updated in 2022.