I thought some Mombian readers might be interested in the list of baby gear recommendations I wrote up for a friend who was pregnant.
My partner and I tried to take a pretty minimalist approach, not getting too many whiz-bang one-function items (much as we love gadgets in our adult lives). Every child is different, though, so every parent’s list of “essentials” will be different. YMMV, but this should get you started. I’ve given a few brand names for items we particularly liked, but for most things, it really doesn’t matter. (Warning: Long list ahead.)
- Crib. Mostly a matter of personal style, as long as it has a mattress that can be raised at first and lowered once baby can pull her/himself up. Shop around, though, since you can often find better deals than at the baby mega-stores. You’ll also need:
- Mattress: Most books recommend a firm one. We got the Simmons Super Maxipedic, which has withstood both infant spitup and toddler bouncing.
- Crib sheets: Get at least two.
- Note that you should not get blankets, pillows, or bumper pads, despite the fancy sets in the baby stores. They are linked with SIDS. (And once baby is past SIDS risk, a bumper pad becomes a step for going up and over the side.)
- Cradle/bassinet: Think about this before you spend a lot of money, since babies outgrow them very fast. We were given the cradle that my partner’s grandfather made for her and her siblings. It was lovely, but was quite narrow, and our son would flail his arms and wake himself up hitting the sides. Also, when we had the cradle next to the bed, every little sound he made kept us up. We then put him in the regular crib in his room. It was right next to ours, so we heard him perfectly (even without the baby monitor) when he fussed, but when he was making little random sounds, we slept. Better for all of us. You can also use a “Pack ‘n Play” (see below) in your room at first, in lieu of a cradle, keeping the main crib in the nursery.
- Changing platform: You can buy a specialized changing table, usually coordinated with your crib, or just buy a dresser of the right height and width, with a:
- Changing pad to go on it.
- You’ll also need a couple of terry-cloth-and-elastic changing pad covers. Buy at least two, since baby will get them messy.
- Bonus tip: Go to Costco or the like and buy a 12-pack of cheap hand towels. Use these as an extra layer of protection over the changing pad (on top of the pad cover). They’re easier to pick up and throw in the wash, so you don’t have to change the actual pad cover as often. Also useful as extra burp cloths.
- Diaper pail: You have two basic options in the “no-smell” variety (assuming you use disposable diapers like we did; this is very much a matter of personal preference as well as location in determining whether disposables or laundry is harder on the environment):
- The Diaper Genie, which uses a special tube-like bag to twist and seal each diaper. You end up with something that looks like a bunch of sausage links. Downside is the special bags; upside is that it really seals them well.
- The Diaper Champ, which has a special rotating lid that lets you put in diapers without opening the pail. Upside is that you can use any 13-gallon trash bag; downside is that you do have to open it (and release some smells) to take the bag out when it’s full.
- “Pack ‘n Play” or other portable crib: This is necessary for overnight travel. Also, when my partner had her c-section and couldn’t go upstairs for two weeks, we used this as the main crib, set up in the family room, where we all slept. The main options with the different models are:
- Bassinet insert: This lets the baby sleep at (your) waist height, useful for the early days. It’s only good to about 15 pounds, though, and doesn’t pack up as easily as the rest of the unit. If you get one with a bassinet, go with a full-length one, not the three-quarter, since the sheets are easier to get on and off.
- Changing table insert: We bought an extra freestanding changing pad instead, and put it on the buffet in our living room, so we had a second changing station downstairs as well as up in his room. When we traveled, we had a foldable pad that was a lot easier to carry around than the Pack ‘n Play insert.
- “Pack ‘n Play” sheets: Smaller than regular crib sheets.
- Helpful hint: The “Pack ‘n Play” sheets were a bother to get on and off, so we tucked a large receiving blanket over the top of the sheet (securing the ends tightly under the mattress) to handle small leaks. Easier to change the blanket than the whole sheet (although sometimes we needed to do both).
- Glider/rocker: Not sure if this is absolutely essential, but it’s nice—and good for non-baby sitting, too. Again, shop around; sometimes mail-order is cheapest.
- Optionally, you can get a glider ottoman, but we chose a (much cheaper) nursing stool, a small, slanted wooden footrest that raises your feet just enough so baby doesn’t slide off.
- Dimmer switch: If you don’t have one in the nursery, install one. It’s great for the nighttime feedings when neither of you want a lot of light, but you also don’t want to trip on anything.
- Baby monitor: We got a Fisher Price model with a vibrating remote unit, which let us sit on the deck or take out the garbage and still hear Junior.
- Fisher Price “Bouncer” (or similar): Bounces. Vibrates. Soothes. Absolutely a lifesaver. You can remove the toy bar and just use it to calm baby, or put the toy bar on for playtime. Stock up on extra batteries.
- My partner breastfed, although we started supplementing with formula after a couple of months. You’ll most likely need to think about bottles at some point, though, if only to hold breastmilk. Once baby starts sleeping through the night, a mom will probably need to pump at least once to keep herself comfortable, so you’ll need a Breastpump: My partner used the Avent manual breast pump. It worked pretty well, although it took a few tries to get the hang of it. She did think it was a little tedious, though, and that an electric one might have been better.
- Bottles: For pumping, you usually need the same brand of bottles as your pump. (See above; you usually get one or two with the pump.) We transferred the milk into Dr. Brown’s bottles for feeding, though, since they have a special insert that means less air gets back into the baby. (You’d be surprised something so small can burp so loudly.) (You may want to wait and see if this is an issue for your baby, though, since the Dr. Brown’s do have a couple of extra pieces to wash.)
- Note that bottle nipples come in different sizes, with different rates of flow for different age babies. Most bottles come with the “newborn” size to start.
- Bottle sealing disks: These keep the bottles air-tight when you’re storing them. Some bottles come with them; others you have to buy separately.
- Chopstick: If you use formula, a chopstick is a good stirring device for tall bottles like the Dr. Brown’s. Shaking the bottle tends to make it leak, and puts bubbles in the formula. (If you’re making the bottle way ahead of time, though, the bubbles will settle.)
- Bottle brush: Useful for tall bottles. You can manage with a sponge for the shorter, wide-mouth ones.
- Icepack: For traveling with breastmilk.
- Avent microwave sterilizer: This is easier than boiling everything. Pour water into the bottom, pile all your bottles on top, put the lid on, and zap for 4-5 minutes (depending on the power of your microwave).
- If you travel a lot, you may also want a bottle warmer that plugs into your car. Saves having to ask for bowls of hot water at restaurants.
- For regular at-home bottle warming, conventional wisdom is that you shouldn’t use a microwave. It can lead to “hot spots” in the bottle that you can’t detect even if you test a few drops. What we did, though, was heat up a bowl of water in the microwave for about two minutes, then take it out and put the bottle in the bowl of hot water—about four minutes for six ounces gave a perfectly warmed bottle. (Test this yourself since microwave power varies.)
- Cloth nursing pads: My partner tried a free sample of the disposable kind, and found they got mushy when wet. She then bought about six pairs of the cloth kind that she could just throw in the washer.
- Bibs: Not strictly necessary until baby’s on solids, but sometimes useful to catch the dribbles. Get the kind that Velcro in back rather than tie—those are easiest to get on and off.
- Burp cloths: See #3 above.
- Pacifiers: Some people don’t want their kids to get dependent on these. We figured “all things in moderation,” and found them invaluable when Junior was fussy, especially to keep him calm while we were warming a bottle. We liked the Avent ones, mostly because they’re the only ones that come with snap-on covers to keep them clean. Buy two or three, since you’ll inevitably lose one or get it dirty. Note that they come in different sizes for different age babies. For what it’s worth, our son stopped using them entirely at about six months.
- We didn’t get a specialized horseshoe-shaped nursing pillow, though many do. We’ve found that a regular pillow worked just fine for extra support, and if you have a few around the house, you can nurse anywhere without wondering where the nursing pillow is.
- High chair: You won’t need this until about four months. We got the Chicco Mamma, the Barcalounger of high chairs. It’s been great, although it tends to get crumbs in the nooks and crannies.
- Baby bowl and spoons: You won’t need this till about four months. Keep in mind that there are two types of baby spoons: one for parents to use when feeding a child, and one for children learning to eat on their own. The former are longer and narrower.
- Baby tub: We had one that converted into a more upright position for when older babies. Otherwise, there’s not much to fuss about here, although a non-skid bottom is useful.
- Washcloths and towels: You’ll probably get lots of these with your gifts (we even had someone wrap a gift in a baby towel). We liked the ones with a hood in one corner, to keep baby’s head warm.
- Baby soap: Not sure there’s much difference among them. We even found that they all dried his skin so much the doctor said we should just use water for a while.
- Baby lotion: Again, lots of options here, even among the unscented ones for infants. A lot of babies get dry skin, so you probably want some on hand.
- Diapers: We use disposable ones. If you tour the hospital before the birth—a great idea—they may give you a “gift bag” with samples of various brands, so you can try them all. Some moms feel cloth diapers are better for baby and environment, though. We’re usually good about that sort of thing, but cut corners here.
- Note that newborn diapers come with a cutout or flap to avoid the umbilical stump until it falls off. Our local warehouse store didn’t sell this size, probably because they only sell in quantity, and one doesn’t really need that many of these. So stock up on the Size Ones at the warehouse, for the future, and buy a few packs of Newborns from your supermarket.
- Diaper wipes: Any major brand or good generic, as long as they don’t contain alcohol. The off-off brands can be a little harsh.
- Diaper ointment: We didn’t find this necessary in the early months, but again, it’s the kind of thing you should have on hand. Not sure brand matters.
- If you have a boy and circumcise him, you’ll want some A&D ointment to put on the inside front of his diaper for a few weeks so his little part doesn’t stick to the material.
- Alcohol and cotton balls (or pre-packaged alcohol wipes): To clean the umbilical cord stump until it falls off.
- We didn’t buy a specialized diaper bag, but used a regular knapsack with a changing-pad insert that we bought separately. Matter of preference. If you go with a bag that’s not thermally lined, though, you’ll probably want a small thermal case for bottles and an icepack. (Oddly, some diaper bags have the bottle holders on the outside, with no way to keep the bottles next to an icepack. You can of course transport formula powder and plain water without ice, but you’ll need ice if you’re using pumped breast milk.)
- Instant hand-sanitizing lotion: For when you’re traveling and don’t have proper washing facilities.
- Don’t forget to keep some plastic grocery bags in the diaper bag for disposal of soiled items or to contain wet clothing.
My main advice is not to buy too much yourselves, since you’ll probably be given a lot. Having said that, you’ll want to start with:
- Onesies (or similar): The all-purpose first layer (after the diaper), with a “tail” that snaps under the crotch. The Onesie brand is fairly thin, which is good for the summer or under a sleeper for a little extra warmth. There are also similar items in slightly heavier fabrics.
- We were disappointed with the newborn side-snap t-shirts. These are supposedly good because they don’t cover the umbilical stump, but we found in fact they were cut at just the right height to rub the stump. The Onesies, even though they came across the stump, didn’t rub as much. This may depend on the proportions of your baby.
- Long-sleeved sleepers. Get the ones with feet. Baby socks rarely stay on, so these are better for getting through the night.
- You may or may not want the “gown” style sleeper. We found the “legged” sleepers were better at keeping the diaper properly in place. Also, a lot of the gowns seemed to be cut long and thin, and were actually harder to get on than sleepers. Finally, it’s hard to buckle car seats and bouncy chair harnesses over a gown.
- Hats: A few of the jersey-knit ones for cool summer nights.
- Socks: We’ve found the thinner, more elastic-y ones stay on better than the thicker cotton ones, but none of them are great in this regard. Still, you’ll want some just to keep baby’s toes warm.
- Receiving blankets: Not exactly clothing, but you’ll use them as such at first. The nurses in the hospital will show you how to make a “baby burrito” to keep baby snug. You’ll probably get a lot as gifts. Get them big–the smaller ones don’t wrap as well. They’re also useful to tuck around baby in the stroller, or to use as play mats when traveling.
You’ll likely get all kinds of stuffed, chewable, rattling toys as gifts. Here are a few other items we found especially good:
- Mirrors: Our son loved looking in the mirror almost since day one. We had one that tied to the crib rails, one attached to a stuffed wedge that stood on the floor, and one on the wall in his room, so we could take him over to it when we were holding him.
- Crib mobile: Anything that spins. We put our son in the crib with the mobile when he was awake and we needed to go do something. We were given one that winds up, but you can buy battery-operated or plug-in ones that just keep going, which I think is better. (Ceiling fans are good, too.)
- Baby gym: A mat with a couple of arches over it, filled with hanging toys. This was a great item for watching our son’s development—first, he just looked at the toys, then reacted as the toys moved, then started grabbing and playing with them himself. I don’t think it really matters what kind you get, although some try to make you believe they’ll turn your child into Einstein. You can buy additional toys of almost any brand to hang on them.
- You may also want a CD player for baby’s room. While you can buy baby-specific CDs, we found that any soothing music worked well for calming. He seemed to like jazzier things when playing or when we danced with him.
- Fisher Price “Kick and Play” bouncer (or similar): This definitely goes in the “Essentials” section (see #9) as a soothing tool because of it’s vibrating mode, but it’s also a great playtime toy when the toy-bar and lights are activated.
- We’d recommend against a baby swing. None of the babies we know have liked them. If someone gives you one, of course try it—but we’ve found the Fisher Price “Kick and Play” bouncy seat (see above) had the same intended soothing effect and was easier to move from room to room.
- Books: Anything bright and bold that comes in a board-book format.
- Exersaucer: One of those round plastic contraptions with a seat in the middle and toys around the edges. Baby can sit or practice standing, and play with the toys. They shouldn’t use this until they can hold their heads up, though (at about four months).
- Graco “Jumpster” (or similar—aka “Johnny Jump-Up”): A seat that hangs in a doorway on a spring. We put our son in this for twenty minutes before bed, and he’d go right to sleep afterwards. Again, this is for after babies can hold their heads up. You’ll also need a wide doorway with a molding.
- Stroller: I’d mainly recommend something light, but with wheels large enough to go over obstacles.
- Car seat: We had a seat that snapped into the stroller as well as the base in the car. Very convenient.
- If you live in a cold climate, a fleecy car-seat “sack” that straps on to the seat is great. Saves having to put on too many extra layers of clothing. Buy two, and use one in the stroller as well.
- BabyBjorn, Snugli, or similar carrier: A little complicated to put on, but useful when baby is fussing and your arms are giving out. Also fun for when they’re older and can face outwards to enjoy the scenery.
Check with your pediatrician before giving any medication to your child, of course.
- Mylicon: Anti-gas medication. Vital. The non-red version costs more, but the red stains. Your choice.
- Infant Tylenol and/or Infant Ibuprofen. Just in case.
- Rectal thermometer: Yes, they sell thermometers that go into nicer areas of the body (ear, mouth), but several doctors have told us they only want readings from a rectal one—it’s just more accurate. You can get one with a flared handle so it doesn’t go in too far. It’s really not so bad.
- You’ll also need a small tub of petrolatum jelly to go with this.
- Nail clippers: Small ones for infants are best, but we’ve also used an adult one in a pinch. You’ll be amazed how sharp little nails get. Protect baby and you, and keep baby’s nails trimmed. (Often easiest to do when baby is sleeping.)
- Don’t buy a nasal aspirator bulbs, although you should have one—most hospitals give you one to take home.
- You’ll need a bunch of safety things—outlet covers, drawer latches, gates, etc. once baby is mobile, but that’s typically at least six months after birth.
Remember that humans have been having and raising babies for thousands of years, and that babies are really pretty resilient. The important thing, I think, is to focus on staying relaxed and healthy, and the material stuff will take care of itself (with a little help from family and friends).
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