Once upon a time, there was a superstore filled with bibs and bathtubs and bedding and bottles, with strollers and soothers and swings and spoons. And there were two little, lost people, my husband and me, staring down a new universe of products we would need to keep our baby alive. Flummoxed, we all but handed the sales clerk our wallets as he walked us through the aisles and scanned item after nameless item for our registry. Trust me, we registered for it all. But did we really need it all on our baby registry?
Where to Begin
Fortunately, if you’re a first time parent, there are resources to guide you as you build a baby registry. Vendors like Amazon, Buy Buy Baby and Target have assembled helpful checklists that detail items to include.
In addition to the registry checklists, you may want to explore registries of people you know for more ideas. For safety ratings, Consumer Reports has boiled it all down by category – though you’ll need a paid membership to access the full site.
My cheat sheet below is based on personal experience, and while it isn’t a comprehensive list, it may help answer some questions about what your baby actually will need… and when.
- Crib: Yes, you will need a crib on your baby registry. What you may not know is that your baby may not use it right away. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that babies sleep in the same room as parents (but not in the same bed) for at least the first six months of life, and ideally, for the first year to help decrease sleep-related death. If you plan to keep the crib in a separate room, you may want to consider another sleeping option for baby in the interim. When your baby is ready for a crib, it’s recommended you buy one new; older cribs may not meet safety guidelines, or may be broken. There are plenty of ways to save money by using items secondhand – but your crib isn’t the place to scrimp unless you must.
- Bedding: Skip the pillows, blankets, bumpers and toys. A safe bed is a bare bed, except for a crib sheet!
- Bassinet/cradle: A bassinet or cradle could be a good alternative if baby is rooming in with you. We chose a bassinet with wheels, so we could easily move it from room to room, giving our daughter the ability to sleep wherever we were. A play yard, which holds babies up to about 30 pounds, is another sleep option. You will need sheets that tightly fit whichever option you choose.
- Play yard: Even if you don’t use a play yard as the primary place for your baby to sleep, it is helpful to use as a portable crib if you are traveling. There are models that include a napper and changing station, which might be helpful for younger babies.
- White noise machine: In my opinion, a cheaper white noise machine is just as good as a more expensive model. These seem to vary in price from $15 to about $60. If you’re on the go, you also can try a white noise app.
- Mobile: Before you invest too much money on your crib mobile, just remember its days are numbered. Once your baby is able to grab it (circa four months), it’s time to remove it!
- Breast pumps: If you have health insurance, you likely are guaranteed some breastfeeding benefits, including a new pump or a rental. Before you shell out hundreds of dollars on a costly pump or add it to your baby registry, check with your health insurance provider.
- Nursing covers: My advice on purchasing nursing covers (and nursing clothing) is to wait and see. While you may be determined to breastfeed, this isn’t in the cards for everyone. Buy a minimal amount of nursing covers, bras and clothing until you know what you might use. With that said….
- Nursing pads: A must if you are nursing. The softer, the better. You can choose between cloth and disposable options, and while this is a personal preference, I found the cloth pads more comfortable;
- Bottles: Don’t buy too many. Once you’re ready to bottle feed, make sure your baby will take milk from the bottle you’ve chosen before stocking up. If not, you can try another nipple or brand.
- Bottle warmer: This may be handy, but it’s one item you (easily) can skip if you’re trying to save money. We put cold bottles in a mug or bowl with hot water, and our method warmed bottles just as evenly.
- Drying rack: You will want a place to dry bottles and nipples. There are racks specifically designed with baby in mind, and full disclosure, I own one of them. I find it helpful, but any drying rack will do the job.
- High chair: You’ll need one, but not right away. Most manufacturers suggest waiting until your baby is at least six months old, so this may be one purchase you can delay for a few months.
- Bibs: Bibs are essential, whether baby is drinking from a bottle or eating solids. Make sure to buy bibs that you can wash easily. My favorites are ones that snap in the back, since velcro sometimes wears over time. Either way, you will want a plethora of bibs on hand, and don’t worry about finding cute ones, since they won’t stay clean for long.
- Burp cloths: Each baby is different, so the amount of burp cloths (or towels or rags) you use will vary based on how much spitting up your baby does. Some parents of babies with reflux issues cover all of their surfaces with burp cloths. Even if it isn’t a formal “burp cloth,” you will want something on hand to protect your clothing and your furniture.
- Pacifiers: The hospital likely will give you a couple to take home, and you can decide then whether your baby likes them or not. They might help to soothe your baby, and also could lower the chances of SIDS. Pacifier clips are not recommended for safety reasons, so skip those on your baby registry.
- Formula: If you are using or supplementing with formula, the hospital likely will send you home with samples. You also can — and should — sign up for coupons with the major formula companies, as formula is extremely expensive. That’s one reason not to buy too much before you know how your baby will tolerate the specific type you try.
- Breast milk storage bags: You can store breast milk for up to six months in the freezer. Make sure to label bags with the correct date, and thaw as needed.
- Steam sterilizer bags: These make it easy to clean bottles and parts to your pump. Just throw them in the microwave with the instructed amount of water – and voila!
- Changing table or dresser that doubles as a changing table
- Changing pad/covers and liners: The changing table may be important, but the changing pad is where the real work gets done. You can live with two changing pad covers, but invest in at least a few liners (you put those over the changing pad) to switch out and wash as needed.
- Diaper pail: While you could use a regular garbage pail, I would recommend a diaper pail, unless you want to smell a lot of stinky diapers. The diaper pail absolutely contains unpleasant odors better than a regular trash can. A baby registry must!
- Diapers: Find a brand, and stick with it. But please don’t make the mistake of buying too many newborn diapers, which are made for babies weighing less than ten pounds.
- Aquaphor: This is great for diaper rashes, dry skin, you name it. Keep a jar with your changing supplies, and another in your diaper bag.
- Bathtub: If you plan to use a bathtub for your infant, make sure it also comes with an infant sling. Otherwise, there are sponges you can purchase to wash baby in the sink when he or she is a newborn.
- Hooded towels
- Wash cloths
- Baby shampoo/body wash
- Baby body lotion
- Rinse cup: You will want something to help rinse your baby, whether a cup specifically made for this purpose or just a cup you can keep in the bath.
- Car seat: Car seats are essential, and I recommend checking safety listings and reviews to find one that’s best for you. We spent $350 on an infant car seat, and it served our daughter well. But bear in mind those infant car seats are only for, well, infants. Once your baby is about a year old (or exceeds height and weight requirements), your infant car seat will be kaput. If you want a seat you can use longer, consider a convertible car seat that your baby can grow into and use later. Just know that unlike infant car seats, which often are baby carriers as well (and fit into your stroller), convertible car seats remain in your car.
- Car seat base: One base is typically included with each car seat, so remember to purchase additional car seat bases as needed or add them to your baby registry.
- Car seat blanket/cover: Babies should be strapped in to the car seat as tightly as possible, so you’ll want to remove jackets or coats before they get into the car. Instead, have a blanket on hand for winter months, or one specifically designed to wrap around your car seat.
- Stroller: A good stroller can last you a few years, so consider this an investment. You’re golden if your stroller is already part of a travel system that includes your infant car seat; if not, the stroller manufacturer likely has a converter you can purchase to fit your car seat. Consider how much the stroller weighs, and how easy it is to push. Your baby will only get heavier, so you will want a lighter weight stroller to accommodate a growing child. It’s also important to be able to open and close the stroller easily, so take the time to test it out before you buy it. Storage space might come in handy too, so you can easily stow your diaper bag underneath the seat. Many strollers also come with a rain cover and mosquito netting; check on whether those are included, or you can buy them cheaply if not.
- Baby carrier or sling: There are many types of carriers and slings, but it will come down to personal preference for you and the baby. Some parents use carriers all the time, and some never use them. If you plan to add a sling or carrier to your baby registry, you may want to think about how your baby’s hips will be positioned, as some carriers could cause hip dysplasia. Here’s the guidance from the International Hip Dysplasia Institute: “Parents and caregivers are encouraged to choose a baby carrier that allows healthy hip positioning, in addition to other safety considerations. When babies are carried, the hips should be allowed to spread apart with the thighs supported and the hips bent.”
- Diaper bag: A bag or backpack to store the essentials when you’re on the go.
- Play mat with toys: This is for tummy time, or the few minutes a few times per day that you place your baby on his stomach. This helps to grow your baby’s muscles and increase motor skills, as well as decreasing the change he will develop a flat spot on his head. We had three play mats for tummy time, and my daughter used them very briefly. They run the gamut in price, but I wouldn’t spend a lot of money unnecessarily; this is one item you could get secondhand, and wash fairly easily, or simply use a blanket!
- Bouncer chair: These are chairs that vibrate and/or play music, and may have attached toys. They are a great place to put your baby down, and a good way to soothe them.
- Swing: Another good item for get secondhand, as they aren’t cheap, and (this may sound like a familiar refrain at this point) your baby won’t use them for long. The weight limit on most swings is about 30 pounds.
- Exersaucer/jumper toy: These are stationary toys that baby can sit, stand or jump in, and generally include items for your child to look at, move and grab. They also may play music. In my daughter’s life, these toys were very, very important for a very, very short period of time. While we had both, we could have lived with just one or the other. By the time my daughter was walking (around age one), she was no longer interested in either. However, they did keep her occupied for a few months, and allowed us to sit down and eat dinner while she was safely playing.
What to wear
**A note on sizing: Please, please do not spend too much money on newborn clothing or add too many items to your baby registry. Babies grow so quickly, and sometimes are too big to ever wear newborn clothes. If you’re open to the idea of getting clothing secondhand, consignment sales are a great place to acquire inexpensive clothing, often in good condition.
- Footed pajamas: My daughter lived in these for the first few months of her life. They’re comfortable enough for sleep and play, and I highly recommend getting zipper pajamas versus ones with snaps; they make for much easier diaper changes.
- Onesies: To wear during warmer months, or to layer underneath clothing for colder months.
- Caps and mittens: Hats and mittens aren’t just for babies born in the winter; caps help prevent babies from losing heat, and mittens stop them from scratching themselves. You may be surprised to learn that your baby might be born with long nails!
- Sleep sacks or swaddles: Sleep sacks (wearable blankets) and swaddles help keep baby warm, secure and comfortable while she sleeps.
- Hamper for baby clothing
- Baby-sized hangers
- Organizers in closet to divide items by size
- Thermometer: While there are many types of thermometers on the market, a simple rectal thermometer is considered the most accurate for young babies.
- Nasal aspirator or suction bulb: The hospital helpfully provided us a suction bulb before we headed home (and likely will give you one too). I can’t speak to other products, but we got a lot of use out of our free bulb syringe, and also had no need to purchase one or add one to our baby registry.
- Boogie wipes: If you have a child who will be entering daycare, boogie wipes (or saline nose wipes) are a great alternative to tissues, which may irritate your baby’s nose. Stock up, moms!
- Saline drops or spray: Since your baby won’t be capable of blowing his or her own nose for a while, these drops or spray make it easier to clear nasal passageways and remove mucus with a nasal aspirator.
- Baby acetaminophen or ibuprofen: You will want to follow a doctor’s instructions for dosage, but keep this on hand in advance of your baby’s first fever.
- Gripe Water: For gas/general fussiness
- Cool mist humidifier: This has been a life saver for everyone in our family during cough and cold season.