You’re standing in the foyer of Buy Buy Baby, Target, or another baby registry mecca of your choice, registry checklist in hand. Your palms start sweating, you have to pee (again), and you don’t even know where to start scanning.
Even with that handy little checklist (okay, it’s not so little, let’s be honest) you don’t know which brands, what styles, what sizes…there are just TOO MANY CHOICES.
I’ve been there. Twice. I’ve also helped my sister build her registry and offered my two cents to friends working on theirs.
While the baby industry wants to sell you on this idea that you need ALL THE THINGS, and all the bells and whistles that go with them, here is my practical take on what you need to register for, what you can skip, and what you can find secondhand.
Sure, there are whole books on this subject, but consider this post a cliffs-notes version to get you started, along with one mom’s opinion on what worked for her.
My guiding principle: Baby needs to be fed, clean and clothed, and have a safe way to travel and sleep. Everything else is just nice to have.
If you’re planning to breastfeed, I created a whole separate list of things you might want here. However, since it’s super important, I’ll also reiterate here that the #1 thing you can gift yourself if you’re planning to breastfeed is a private lactation consult. Set aside some money, or add it to your registry if you’re using one of those all-in-one registry programs.
No amount of fancy gadgets makes up for the expert guidance of an IBCLC (International Board Certified Lactation Consultant). Breastfeeding is natural, but it doesn’t always come naturally. Even when it’s going well, you will have so many questions that connecting with an expert is reassuring. You can find a local IBCLC by searching here.
Don’t stockpile bottles. Register for sample size, starter pack, or individual packs of bottles. Babies are picky, and you want to find the one yours settles on before you stock up.
If you’re breastfeeding, opt for preemie or size 1 nipples to start. You may or may not need to move up later on, but you definitely want to start with a very slow flow. Dozens of brands claim to be “most like mom’s breast,” but it boils down to this: the nipple elongates in baby’s mouth when they’re nursing, so opt for something that simulates that (size of the nipple base isn’t as important). Dr. Browns or Avent are great places to start.
Add cups, spoons, plates and all that good stuff for when baby starts solids. The First Years Take and Toss items are awesome – they’re simple, inexpensive, and can be recycled when it’s time to get new ones. Munchkin 360 cups are also awesome. Nuk trainer cups are a good training cup because their spout is soft like a nipple for easier transition from a bottle. Ikea makes a great set of plates and bowls that are simple, inexpensive, colorful, and great for when your child gets a little older.
Go minimal on the high chair. We took the fabric cover off ours early on (because have you ever watched a baby eat?) and never looked back. They also make ones that clip onto a table or just hook to a chair and take up less space.
Unless you find that cute outfit you just can’t live without, don’t add too many clothes to your registry. Why? They just appear on their own and multiply. People like picking out clothes for a new baby, and friends love passing their child’s barely-used stuff on to someone they know and love.
If you can, encourage friends and relatives to buy big. Shoot for 3 months and up – your baby won’t stay in newborn size very long, if they start there at all (plus, you’ll be doing lots of skin-to-skin in the early days).
I found my children wore 9 and 18 month sizes the longest, so maybe go heavier on those. Pajamas always seem to run a bit small (I know they’re supposed to fit snug for fire safety reasons, but still…).
If you want to prep the basics, register for some newborn and size 3 plain white oneies (short and/or long sleeve). Get some socks. Look for layette gowns (they look like little potato sacks – they’re open at the bottom for easy access or skin-to-skin time in the newborn days). I wish I’d known their value with my first.
Another great option for clothes is to look for people selling whole garbage bags or collections of a particular size on Facebook. You can get a lot of stuff for a bargain rate for sizes your baby won’t be wearing long and/or will be spitting up all over anyway.
Register for 1-2 sets of swaddle blankets. The large, soft muslin ones are wonderful multipurpose blankets, and you really can’t have too many of these. We used them to swaddle in the early days, to cover baby in the car seat if it was chilly, to lay down as a play mat when we were out, and to keep stashed in diaper bags or cards just in case. My toddler still uses his as his comfort object at night, so they’ve been well-worn and loved on. They’re worth every penny.
Get several sets of burp cloths. You’ll go through more than one a day most days. Go big – I got a lot of small ones, and my kid always misses them and splats on my shirt. My sister has these jumbo size ones. They stay put, and they protect more ground. Go big on the burp cloths.
You will need a car seat. There are two ways to handle this. The most popular way is to get a travel combo that comes with the infant car seat/carrier and a compatible stroller. It’s usually a great deal for the early days, and allows you to transfer baby from car to stroller if, say, they’re napping. If you go this route, get an extra click-connect base for your husband’s car.
Another option is to find a quality stroller you like, then invest in a 4-way convertible seat that your child can use from infant all the way up to booster. Expensive, but you’ll never have to buy another seat.
Invest in a piddle pad car seat pad for the inevitable accident or blowout. Washing a car seat cover is about as fun as a root canal.
Whatever you choose, please, please find a certified car seat tech to go over how to properly install a seat. You think you know, but you may not know. We thought we had our seat in correctly when we first installed it back with Little Dude, but realized we weren’t tightening it nearly enough. Most cities have programs through the police or fire department for free – Google your area and see what comes up.
Even if you don’t plan to baby wear all that much, find a soft structured carrier you like so you have the basics. (If you want to get all fancy with do-it-yourself wraps, more power to you. But the structured carriers work just as well.) My hands-down favorite is the Ergobaby. it’s comfortable and user-friendly. Don’t forget the infant insert. Otherwise, you can look up how to rig the carrier for newborn use with extra rolled-up swaddle blankets.
Treat yourself to a nice diaper bag. I’ve tried out a few, and I hands-down recommend a backpack diaper bag (it’s easier on you when you’re juggling bag and baby). I highly recommend this Bag Nation diaper bag – it’s got enough compartments to organize all the essentials for easy access.
You will need sleeping arrangements. I wanted to have my nursery all set up right away, but the reality is you can likely wait on the crib until around 6 months, minimum.
What you’ll need right away is a basinet or cosleeper (I loved my Arms Reach Cosleeper). Something that can be placed right next to or attached to your bed is a nice idea if you’re planning to nurse. It makes it easier to quickly feed baby during those early round-the-clock feedings. A pack and play set up in your room also works, or is a great transition piece when baby outgrows the cosleeper.
Invest in extra sheets for wherever baby will be sleeping. 2-3 sheets gives you some wiggle room if baby has an accident – you won’t be up washing sheets at 2 AM. Extra waterproof covers for the crib are a must as well. I even had a friend recommend layering two waterproof covers and two sheets onto the mattress for easy late-night bedding changes. I have yet to try that, but it’s a genius idea!
You can skip most of the extras. Bumpers are mostly unsafe now, unless they’re the mesh kind (those didn’t fit on our crib anyway), dust ruffles are cute, but not necessary. Even curtains – unless you find a cute set that comes with everything, you can get yourself a cheap plain set that matches whatever color scheme you’ve got going on. Black out ones are great for naptime! That said, if you find a bedding set you love, you can hang on to any extras for once the newborn phase is over.
While swaddling is cute, zip-up sleep sacks are way more practical. They’re great for a tiny baby who likes to break free from the swaddle, and the tired parent who just wants to get the diaper changed and put the kid back to bed ASAP. I love Love to Dream brand. They make what I lovingly refer to as the flying squirrel suit for newborns. Then, they make a transition sack that allows you to unzip one or both arms as baby begins rolling over. The Halo Sleep Sack is a great option for an older baby.
Skip, or go very light, on the size newborn diapers. You could wind up with a Tank who skips the newborns completely. If not, your baby will likely graduate to size 1 before you know it.
Go heaviest on size 3 and 4 diapers – they’ll be in those sizes longer.
If you’re not sure which brands you’re going to like, register for a few.
Fun fact: most stores will let you bring in an unopened bag or box of diapers to trade out, as long as they stock the brand and quantity you’re wanting to swap. So if you find yourself switching sizes and have a small stockpile, take them in and swap them out.
Register for wipes just like diapers – pick a couple different brands if you’re not sure what you’ll like. We discovered Little Dude was very sensitive to some wipe brands, so we ultimately opted for Water Wipes. If you can splurge on these, I absolutely LOVE them. They’re 99% chemical free, and I use them for just about any mess – hands, face, bum, or a complete wipe-down if I’m feeling too lazy for a bath!
Invest in 1 or 2 packages of waterproof changing pad liners. They’ll save you having to launder your actual changing pad cover (should you choose to use one) as much. Also register for a package of one-time-use disposable changing pads for travel or those major blowouts.
Get one package of washcloths. Spasilk makes a fairly large package, and they get the job done. You’ll need two per bath if you have a boy (yup…) or any baby who likes to chew the washcloth!
Hooded towels aren’t necessary, but I like them. Have more than one for laundry purposes. You can also go bigger (think toddler) and they’ll last you longer.
For bath shampoo and lotion, I’m partial to unscented (I’ve always stuck with Aveeno) for baby’s gentle skin. Get sample sizes if you want to try a few brands out.
You’ll want the essential grooming tools: nail clippers, comb/brush, training toothbrush. They sell baby grooming kits, or you can skip all the fluff they also include in those kits and just buy the items individually (what I recommend). Safety First is a great brand for grooming items, and I also recommend Nuby for a training toothbrush set baby can use all the way through toddlerhood.
A rectal thermometer.
Infant Tylenol. You want to already have some for the two-month shot appointment. You can NEVER have too much Tylenol stocked up. Pro tip: once you get the dropper, you can buy the regular Children’s Tylenol – it’s cheaper, and (double check the label when you’re buying to make sure) has the same strength.
Little Remedies Gas Relief drops. You may not need them, but this is another product you don’t want to get caught without in the early days.
As with clothes, don’t register for a lot of toys unless you see things you can’t live without. They tend to just appear and multiply. Especially the noisemakers. I started a separate wish list for holidays and birthdays after my kids were born, once we saw what we were still missing.
Larger toys, like walkers or exersaucers or play mats, can be found used on Facebook Marketplace. They’re often in decent condition, since most babies use them for such a short window. For that same reason, getting them from a friend or buying used is often the best bet.
If you’re planning to use a pacifier, I recommend a WubbaNub. It’s easy for baby to learn to hold the attached stuffed animal, and it doubles as a cuddle toy. Skip the kinds that are flat – they can trap water inside and get moldy. I’m partial to the kind that is the single silicone piece with the round tip.
Get some sort of memory book/calendar. I recommend C.R. Gibson’s baby calendar. It’s an easy way to jot down the main event of each day without dragging out the whole baby book. We hang ours in the kitchen and write stuff down as it happens.
Go ahead and throw a training potty or two on there – a cheap one to stash in your trunk will be a life-saver. Ikea makes a no-fuss, one-piece one for $10 that’s worth its weight in gold on long car trips/travel.
For YOU: Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth and The Birth Partner by Penny Simpkin, two books that will prepare you and your partner for labor and delivery. Trust me. I wish I’d read them both during my first pregnancy.
Things You Can Probably Skip
While I understand that others may find value in some of the following items, in a post about sticking to the essentials, I felt obligated to dissect why you can live without the following items.
Shopping cart and high chair covers. I tried them. Honest. I found I most often forgot them at home, or didn’t feel like bothering. An antibacterial wet wipe for a quick wipe-down does the trick.
Stick-on placemats for restaurants. They don’t stick on very well. I either opt to bring a silicone placemat/plate OR just give the table in front of baby a wipe down with an antibacterial wet wipe.
Extra attachments for the car seat – shoulder pads, neck rest, etc. They’re actually not recommended at all by car seat safety experts. They can alter the fit of the harness or do more harm than good in an accident.
Wipe warmer. Unless for some reason you live somewhere very cold, baby can live with room temperature wipes. Their bum will get over it. (They can also grow mold…ew!)
Fancy gadgets for making baby food. A blender/food processor and some ice cube trays work. Skip the Baby Bullet.
Travel potty seat cover. I thought this idea was genius. I really did. Then I kept forgetting it or not wanting to lug it around. We just wipe the seat really well, or use our Ikea training potty if there are no better options.
I hope you found something useful on this list to either add or delete from your registry. Did I miss anything? Drop a comment below and let me know!