Despite what salespeople and baby magazines might tell you, there is very little that you NEED for a new baby. But many things will make your life easier, helping you find more time to keep doing your favorite pre-baby activities.
Before my baby was born, I spent countless hours reading Consumer Reports and Amazon reviews to pick out each piece of baby gear. Having test driven our stuff and seen how it compares to that of my other mommy friends, here’s my two cents on what you should have on hand when your little one arrives:
You should buy a crib and crib mattress that meet current safety regulations, since your baby will eventually (hopefully) do all her sleeping in a crib. You may end up also wanting a bassinet or co-sleeper, but unless you are really sure of what sleeping arrangement you will want, I wouldn't buy any of these before the baby is born.
Don't waste your money on one of the elaborate crib bedding sets; your pediatrician will probably discourage crib bumpers for safety reasons (young babies might suffocate on them and older babies might use them to climb out), and you shouldn't have blankets or anything fluffy in the crib. All you need is a crib sheet (or two) and a washable mattress pad. You may also want a mobile over the crib, but this depends on your taste (you should really listen to the music in person before you buy).
If you are going to visit grandma, take a vacation, or just spend a day somewhere other than your home, you will need a more portable sleep option. Consider a lightweight tent like the KidCo PeaPod (not on Amazon) rather than a bulkier, more expensive Pack 'N Play. This looks pretty nice if you want to splurge: BABYBJORN Travel Crib Light 2, Silver.
If you have a large house, you may need a baby monitor, but we found this unnecessary in our apartment.
Poop will soon become a bigger part of your conversation than you care to admit to your babyless friends. Although I was intrigued with "elimination communication" (being attuned to your baby's needs and placing her over a potty at appropriate times), I found it takes a lot of effort to be THAT attuned. And while I usually try to live an eco-friendly lifestyle, I was not willing to commit to cloth diapers (though I recommend having a stack on hand to use as burp cloths). For more information on the cloth vs. disposable debate, check out this excellent article: http://www.slate.com/id/2187278/
If you are going with disposables, have some newborn-sized diapers (like Pampers Swaddlers Newborn 240 Diapers (12 packs of 20)) ready for baby's arrival. We initially went through about 10 per day, but you might not want too many in newborn size until you see when your baby will grow out of them. We ended up switching to Huggies from CostCo because they were cheaper, but we had more newborn poop leaking out the edges with them, so I'd recommend Pampers to start.
Our hospital recommended wet paper towels over commercial diaper wipes. We switched to diaper wipes a few days after our baby came home, and then switched back after she developed a nasty diaper rash. Paper towels are not that much less convenient (we just keep a bowl of water on the changing table to wet them), and much cheaper (buy the ones that rip into small pieces). You will also want some diaper rash cream on hand: Aquaphor Baby Healing Ointment, Advanced Therapy, 14 Ounce Jar (Pack of 2) is amazing. Don't buy baby powder or any other skin care products.
You may also want a changing table, though I am generally just as happy changing my baby on the floor where I don't have to worry about her rolling away while I go get something. We have the Rumble Tuff Flip Top changer (not available from Amazon), which attaches on top of the dresser and flips out so you can lay the baby perpendicular to you, which I find much easier than changing a baby sideways like on most changing tables.
I literally spent 5 hours reading online reviews while trying to decide which diaper pail to get; it is amazing how passionate people can be on this subject! My husband initially found the whole idea ridiculous ("It's just a trash can!"), but he is now a convert and loves our Playtex Diaper Genie Essentials Diaper Disposal Pail. I was sold on the fact that the diapers never touch the pail (so no washing) and it contains smells wonderfully, plus it looks nicer than the Diaper Champ. The only downside is the proprietary Diaper Genie II Refills (Pack of 3); have a few extra on hand.
If you are breastfeeding, you will want a few good nursing bras. Avoid underwire, which can contribute to clogged ducts. I have some expensive bras from Bravado, Mimi Maternity, and Glamourmom, but I am really just as happy with my cheaper ones from Target. Just buy one or two to start, since your size will change as you lose the baby weight and your milk comes in.
You will find breastfeeding more comfortable (and multitasking easier) if you have a good breastfeeding pillow like the My Brest Friend Pillow, Sunburst (or a Boppy is also good). You may also want a comfortable glider or rocker for your nursery; I often felt like I was glued to mine for the first couple of months.
If you ever want to leave your baby for longer than the time between feedings, you will need bottles. If you are lucky, your baby will happily take the occasional bottle, but many babies need to start on bottles early (2-3 weeks) and have one every day or they forget how. (I had one poor friend who stopped giving bottles for a week, and her baby would never take one again, which ended her plans to return to work!)
You also will need a pump to fill your bottles (and to relieve the pressure in your breasts when your baby is not ready to eat); I love my Avent Isis Manual Breast Pump, though if you are going to be pumping more than a couple of times a day, you might want an electric pump.
You won't need a high chair until you start giving your baby solid foods, which is not recommended until she is 5-6 months old. Even then, it is not a necessity – some moms in my playgroup just feed their baby on their lap or the floor – but if you are looking for a really nice one to put on your registry, consider the Stokke Tripp Trapp Highchair - Natural, which you can use for babies with the Stokke Tripp Trapp Baby Set, Natural and then continue to use as your child grows.
A music-playing swing, bouncer, or vibrating seat may help keep her happy while you make dinner/take a shower/check your email. Though I initially wanted a compact bouncer, our baby much preferred the Fisher-Price Rainforest Open-Top Cradle Swing we eventually bought; even though it takes up a lot of space, it was worth it.
Otherwise, don't bother buying toys for your newborn; she won't be interested in them until she is a few months old, at which point you will have accumulated some from the baby announcement gift booty. For the first few months, your baby will be plenty entertained by just looking at the new world around her, and a simple blanket will suffice for tummy time. But if you are looking for some things to add to a baby registry, when our baby got older she enjoyed her
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and her Fisher-Price Rainforest Melodies and Lights Deluxe Gym.
We barely bought our baby any clothes for her first year: between shower gifts, new baby gifts, and Christmas gifts, we were overwhelmed with more clothing than she could wear (there were actually some outfits that she outgrew before we ever put her in them). If you need to buy any clothes before your baby arrives, keep it simple, and remember that you and the baby may have different ideas of how she likes to be dressed: we had a bunch of flannel sleep sacks that we were planning to use for pajamas, only to find out that our baby hated them. You will probably also receive a number of blankets for swaddling and tummy time as shower gifts; if not, you may want to have a few on hand.
For baths, you may want a baby tub like the The First Year's Infant To Toddler Tub with Sling, Blue (or you can just use a sink). We received some baby washcloths and towels as gifts, but otherwise the adult versions would have worked just fine. You will also want some soap; our pediatrician suggested regular Dove bar soap, or you can get soap specifically made for babies.
For healthcare, Your Baby's First Year: Third Edition is a handy little guide to have on hand. There are lots of healthcare/grooming kits that package little items together, most of which you won't need (you will probably get a nasal aspirator at the hospital, medicines already come with their own measurement droppers, your baby won't have enough hair to brush for a while, your own tweezers will work fine for your baby, etc.). You should have a digital thermometer, but a simple drugstore model is sufficient; don't be tempted by fancy ear thermometers, which are not as accurate as a rectal temperature (it’s not that scary after the first time). You will also want some small emery boards and a baby-sized nail clipper; I found some cheap ones at my local drugstore.
I found the amount of time I was stuck at home one of the hardest parts of new motherhood. Once you have a baby, you will not be able to do as much as you used to (or even as much as you think you will be able to!), but you want to have the equipment to get the baby out of the house when you can.
Don't be tempted to get a car seat that works up to 30 lbs, since by the time your baby gets close to 20 lbs, you won't want to carry her in the car seat anyway. At that point, you will want to upgrade to a convertible toddler seat, which you install rear-facing in your car until your baby turns one year old, and then switch to forward facing until she outgrows it. (We ended up getting the Radian 80, which we love for its slim design. It seems to have been replaced by the Diono RadianRXT Convertible Car Seat, Rugby, which also can fit 3 across in a backseat.)
A stroller is not as essential as you might think (a baby carrier is often more convenient), but most moms will want one. I really recommend trying these out in a store, even if you will eventually buy online, especially if you are on the tall side. Salespeople will try to talk you into "travel systems," or big strollers that you snap your infant car seat into when the baby is little and then use by themselves when she gets bigger, but these are heavy and unwieldy. Instead, we snapped our carseat into the lightweight Graco SnugRider Infant Car Seat Stroller Frame. When your little one sits up better, I recommend a lightweight stand-alone stroller; we loved our sturdy 11-lb Maclaren Triumph Stroller, Black/Scarlet.
One of the most essential pieces of baby gear is a comfortable baby carrier, which can soothe your baby when she is crying, help free up your hands for doing things around the house, and make outings easier in places where a stroller is inconvenient. My daughter and I both love my Moby Wrap Original 100% Cotton Baby Carrier, Black (available in many colors), which really isn't complicated once you try it a couple of times; I can wear this for hours without my back bothering me. My favorite piece of baby gear was our Beco Butterfly II Baby Carrier - Paige, which works like the Bjorn but is much more comfortable, and which you can use for front or back carries.