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Bringing Home Baby: The 20 Essentials You Actually Need

Items you’ll want and use when you bring home baby

Kali Sakai

Published on: June 06, 2022

Dad kissing newborn baby

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. Local fire stations sometimes offer car seat checks to ensure your car seat is correctly installed. Seattle Children’s Hospital also offers free car seat checks at multiple locations. 

2. 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.

3. 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. One Seattle mom with lots of experience caring for newborns loved the Moby wrap when her kids were infants, and the Ergo carrier when they were slightly older. She has found that babies tend to nap easier in a carrier, the the transition from a carrier like the Ergo to a bed or crib is a breeze.   

"baby in an infant carrier bay essentials you will need"
Baby feels relaxed and you can get some felling back in your arms with the help of a baby carrier. 

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. There are so many options today, even one that contains a full changing station/sleeping area!

5. 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. I recommend cotton or bamboo reusable nursing pads. They are much more comfortable than the throw away variety, and you’ll be doing so much laundry with a newborn that there will be ample opportunities to toss them in the washing machine. 

6. 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. My sister, who had twins, said the My Brest Friend nursing pillow was a lifesaver, especially when her daughters were newborns. 

"Mom using nursing pillow baby essentials"
A nursing pillow can make breast feeding easier for mom and baby. 

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. (Check your health insurance plan guidelines to see if it will cover the cost of a breast pump). Some new parents love having the option of a hands-free pump, especially if they are caring for multiple children. 

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. I found that nothing out there works better, or is more absorbent, than cloth diapers. Flannel receiving blankets also make excellent burb cloths. They are relatively inexpensive, so you can stock up, and they are large enough to fully drape over your back or body catching all that baby throws your way.   

"mom holding baby and burp cloth baby essentials you need"
You can never have too many burp cloths. 

10. Footed PJs

 My only clothing recommendation is to dress baby in comfortable one-piece footed pajamas during the early weeks. One Seattle mom recommends something even simpler for the first few week: infant sleeper gowns. The top looks just like a onsie, but the bottom is a gown with elastic around the bottom. For diaper changes, simply pull the bottom of the gown up and you are all set. When the change is over, pull it back down, no need to wrestle tiny baby feet into tiny leg openings. 

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 their own sleep space after feeding. Many play yards, which double as travel cribs, come with bassinet inserts. One local mom recommends the Arms Reach co-sleeper. It can function as a bedside sleeper or a freestanding baby bassinet, has height-adjustable legs and provides needed storage. It is a little pricier than other models, but well worth it. 

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. 

"Infant in a swaddle baby essential you need"
You will soon master the art of the perfect swaddle. 

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. If you do want to use cloth, one local mom highly suggests using a diaper service. Dirty diapers are taken away and clean ones dropped at your door step every week, it makes using cloth a breeze. If you use a diaper service you will need to purchase several diaper covers, and fasteners (we recommend Snappi). 

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’s Baby 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. 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. When babies are very young a nail file may be all you need to remove a sharp pointed edge. 

"mom cutting baby nails baby essentials you will need"
Pro tip: Give your baby a manicure while they sleep. 

18. 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.

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

The Centers for Disease Control recommends that a baby’s family members and caregivers who come in contact with baby (grandparents, siblings, friends, babysitters, etc.) should be up-to-date on all their vaccines, especially whooping cough (DTaP for children and Tdap for preteens, teens and adults) and the flu vaccine. 

For product reviews and recommendations, visit any of these handy sites: BabyGearLab, Consumer Reports: Babies & Kids or Mommy 101.

"Young couple with new baby essential you will need"
Welcome to the adventure

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 most recently update on May 24, 2024 by associate editor Kari Hanson with new recommendations and advice for your parenting journey. 

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