Jeff and I are expecting a third child in June. We gave away most of our baby stuff in the interim, so I’m now considering what stuff to get. Since I’m more experienced than I was the first time, I feel like I don’t need to do as much trial and error.
A note on nurseries
I’m being neither super minimalist nor maximalist. You might get more or less stuff depending on your budget, your tastes, and the space you have.
Babies grow out of things fast. You can get almost everything used from friends, Ebay, Facebook marketplace, Craigslist, and Facebook groups like Buy Nothing [name of town] where people give things away. It’s cheaper and lighter on the environment. When you’re done, you can send stuff back into the same system. (The same is true for maternity clothes and gear.)
I found it hard to think about buying things that I’d only use for a few months, but they’re intense months. You’ll use a lot of baby products every day. And again, the beauty of the secondhand market is that if you get something and don’t like it you can resell it.
Rather than individual clothing items, I would try to get bundles of clothes for a given size. You can get bags of clothes in the various sizes from any of the sources listed above. Remember seasons (if you’re having a summer baby, you want lightweight newborn clothes and warm 6 month clothes). After that it gets less predictable, so I would hold off on getting 9 month 12 month sizes until you know if you have a big, medium, or small baby.
“Newborn” size clothes are sized for babies around 5-8 pounds, and an average baby weighs around 7.5 pounds already at birth. You can probably skip newborn sizes and go straight to 0-3 month sizes.
If you just buy stuff that’s cute, you will end up with lots of cute patterns that don’t go with each other. Now I try to go for patterned/interesting tops and solid color pants so it’s not too crazy.
Hats: If you live anywhere at all cold, get a warm hat both for warmth and to reduce the rate of older ladies telling you the baby needs a hat. Sunhat for summer. The hats will fall off and get lost at some point – have a backup.
Infant carseat: even if you don’t have a car, you will need this at some point. We used a hand-me-down from a family member – tips on safety of used seats. If you want to use a stroller with the baby in the first year or so, you might want to get one that snaps into a stroller frame (examples). It is possible to fit 3 carseats in a standard car – there are several guides.
Some kind of carrier: Even if you never go anywhere in it, I would still get one to use around the house to be able to hold the baby hands-free. Also good when the baby is fussy and wants to be close to you and in motion. If you can learn to breastfeed in the carrier, even better. We used a stretchy wrap for the first several months, but they’re hot to use in summer. Having a pocket in front is convenient, so you might want to sew one on. They look complicated, but if you can learn to tie shoelaces you can learn to tie a wrap. Wirecutter on soft wraps and slings
For older babies and toddlers, a soft structured carrier. The Baby Bjorn is popular but not very comfortable – there are better ones out there. We used our Ergo for errands, parties, conferences, travel, everything. We continued using it as late as age 3 for when a child was sick and wanted to be held at all times. Wirecutter on structured carriers
We got a double stroller once we had two little kids. We got one for the specific things we needed (narrow to get through store aisles, single front wheel to get up onto a bus, rain cover) because we had no car and used it as our main vehicle. For others it’s more of an occasional thing and they might want other characteristics, or might not need it at all.
Cold weather gear:
Outdoor clothes: We had a warm zip-up suit that the baby could wear in a carseat for winter. If they’re going to be buckled into a carseat or stroller, you need something with legs that separate rather than a sack shape, or a hole for the buckle to go through.
If you plan to wear the baby outside in cold weather, some way to keep the baby warm in the carrier. A snowsuit with feet doesn’t work well because it gets pulled too tight and is uncomfortable on their feet and crotch. I sewed a panel into my coat. I’ve also seen parent tuck a blanket or something around the baby and the carrier.
Diapers and wipes: We cloth diapered for the first 6 months and then decided this was not an additional task we wanted in our lives. Now we use disposable diapers. The big boxes of storebrand ones from Target are cheap and worked fine for us.
Even if you are cloth diapering, I would get some disposable newborn diapers for the first two weeks or so because they come with a cutout so they don’t bother the umbilical cord while it’s still attached.
Diaper pail: Many of the specialized diaper pails like the Diaper Genie only work with special bags that cost more than normal trash bags. We ended up using normal lidded trash cans and normal trash bags. I do recommend a lid, but it doesn’t have to be hermetically sealed.
Nasal aspirator thing, aka snotsucker: Nosefrida or similar. At some point your baby will have a stuffy nose and be unable to breathe while latched on to the breast or bottle, and it will be a sad day for everyone. This device will unstuff their nose. Yes, it’s gross, but this kind works better than the bulb kind. My babies hated having their noses cleaned in any way, but life is better once they can breathe freely.
Minimal version: A doctor I know says the old-fashioned method used by some of her patients on their babies is just mouth-to-nose suction.
Some kind of spit cloths: babies vary a lot in how much they spit up. Even with not-very-spitty babies, we wanted some. You can use things sold as burp cloths, old cloth diapers, cut up flannel baby blankets, or whatever. You can get or make bandana-type drool bibs so the baby’s shirt doesn’t keep getting wet.
Some kind of bathtub: We used the bathroom sink for the first few months, and later a plastic tub that I think was meant to hold drinks. Even once they’re old enough to sit in the big tub, it’s nice to have something quicker to fill, and ideally small enough that they can’t tip over very easily.
Minimal version: wash baby in the sink with a towel for padding, or take a bath with the baby and hold them. I find both more annoying, especially in sinks with a popup drain where the baby inevitably sits on the drain and opens it, draining all the water out.
Somewhere comfortable to sit: If you’re breastfeeding, you will spend a lot of time sitting and feeding the baby. Some people just do that in bed or on a couch. The Ikea Poang chair is a popular cheap alternative to gliders or rockers. I prefer a chair with padded arms (for less head-bonking) and where I can rest both my elbows on the arms at once (for me, that’s a narrower chair). I do like a glider, and since I’m going to spend a lot of hours in this chair I did get one I thought would be maximally comfortable.
If you want one that moves, I would go with a glider rather than a rocker. Rockers move around on your floor so you have to keep repositioning them after you’ve rocked for a while, and if you have cats or older children it can rock on their feet or tail.
If you have older children, you might want a glider where the gliding mechanism is not exposed, so nobody gets their hands and feet caught in it. DaVinci is one brand with a bunch of such gliders.
I’m paranoid about flame retardants in furniture, so I get one that’s not made with flame retardants (like Ikea or some other brands) or where I can take off the cushions and wash them. Since no one in our house smokes, our furniture is very unlikely to catch fire.
Footstool: if you’re short enough that your feet don’t easily rest on the floor in your chair, a footstool of some kind is nice. I like this wooden kind.
I don’t know what people find best for bottlefeeding – I assume the chair is less important.
Breastfeeding pillow: something to rest the baby on while you’re feeding them. I have one for upstairs and one for downstairs. Boppy and the oddly-named My Brest Friend are the two common kinds.
Depending on the distance between your lap and your breasts, you might want a thicker pillow. I jam extra stuffing inside a Boppy kind.
Minimal version: use regular pillows, or feed the baby lying down.
Breastpump: If you’re going to be pumping at work. In the US, your insurance will probably cover a couple of models, but if you use it every day you might want to buy your own if the model you want isn’t covered. Wirecutter on pumps. I loved having one with a rechargeable battery so I didn’t have to plug it in everywhere, but you can also get an external battery for models that don’t come with this.
If you’re pumping every day, definitely get some way to pump hands-free, whether it’s a bra that can hold the pump parts, or a wearable pump. This way you can still use your computer, read, etc while you’re pumping.
There are a lot of in-bra models now that didn’t exist when I first looked into this; I would look at those if you’re going to pump at work. And someday the MIT breastpump hackathon may save us all from poor design and those little flaps that wash down the drain.
If you expect to pump only occasionally, a hand pump is fine. Wirecutter recommends a couple. Also worth having for travel, public bathrooms, etc where you don’t necessarily want to bring your full electric pump or can’t plug it in.
Minimal version: hand express and you don’t need a pump at all. It’s slower and won’t get as much milk, though.
Some kind of bottles: Even when I was breastfeeding 95% of the time, we did a couple bottles a week so I could go to dance practice. I would start with a few and then buy more if you like that kind, or try different kinds if not. Then buy more of the kind you like.
If your baby is not liking bottles, you might want to try different kinds. Some breastfeeding support groups have loaner kits where you can try out a bunch of different ones.
I wanted to avoid plastic bottles, so we used glass bottles with silicone covers. I was happy with them.
Something to dry bottles on: All those little bits can take over your counter very fast. There are various racks intended for drying bottle parts.
Minimal version: dishcloth, but wash it pretty often
High chair: I love this one that buckles into a normal chair. We used it every day, and it’s light enough that we packed it in our suitcase (with clothes in the crevices) when traveling.
Bib: I get the kind with sleeves. The kind that just covers their front still leaves their arms/sleeves covered in food.
Clothes you can breastfeed in: If relevant. You can get ones that are specifically made for this, with some kind of opening or layers that lift out of the way. I typically wore loose shirts with a tank top underneath, aka the two-shirt method. That way you don’t need to buy a different set of clothes.
Most dresses do not work for breastfeeding because you’d need to hike the whole thing up to your shoulders. Dresses and tops can work fine if they have a wrap style, or have buttons at the neckline that can be undone, or are stretchy enough that you can pull the top down.
If you’ll be breastfeeding at night, think about sleep clothes – button-down pajamas or stretchy tank tops work well.
(For the first few weeks when you’re figuring it out, don’t worry about clothes – just hang out at your house and feed the baby the best you can. You can figure out how to do it in clothes later.)
Bra you can breastfeed in: Most people seem to like the kind with little buckles that open up. I’ve always used something like a stretchy cami bra that can be pulled out of the way. You might start by finding one you like and then getting more.
Swaddles: The blanket method is good to know, but velcro is so much better and less likely to come undone. By far my favorite is this sleepsack with wings, so they can have arms out or in. More recommendations from Wirecutter. Some babies hate swaddling, but enough people (including us) find it so helpful that I would have some swaddles available. I would have at least two so you still have one to use when the other is in the wash. In a pinch while out of the house, we have swaddled Lily in an adult flannel shirt or any other thing we could wrap around her to get her to sleep.
Something to sleep in during the early stage (first six months or so):
You could just go straight to a crib. You’ll be getting up to feed them a lot, so you might find it more convenient to have the crib in your room rather than in a separate room.
You could cosleep (sleep with baby in your bed), but if you already have two adults in the bed I’d recommend sidecar-ing another mattress or using a co-sleeper so the baby has room. Cosleeping is most dangerous when you do it without planning out of exhaustion – if you want to do it, figure out a safe setup where baby won’t fall off the bed, get trapped between mattress and wall, covered with a blanket, etc.
This time I am biting the bullet and getting this ridiculously expensive robo-bassinet that rocks and shushes the baby. (I’m getting it used, but they’re not cheap even used.) If it does result in significantly better sleep, even for 5 months of use that’s a cost of about $7/night, and as the parent of a newborn I would definitely pay $7 for an additional 30 or 60 minutes of sleep a night.
Crib, crib mattress and crib sheets: Easy to get used. We kept them in cribs as long as possible, which worked well for us. Once they seemed on the verge of climbing out, we just moved them to the same crib mattress on the floor without the crib frame. A child doesn’t actually outgrow the size of a crib mattress until they’re 5 or so.
Crib sheets and waterproof mattress covers: I recommend the layering method so when your child has a stomach virus or whatever and you change the sheets in the middle of the night, even if you have to do it multiple times, you just take off the dirty layer instead of wrestling more sheets on. I like to have at least 3 layers (so 3 sheets and 3 mattress covers).
Minimal version: cosleep in parents’ bed, but you probably still want a bigger mattress or an additional mattress to put alongside yours.
Night light: to see the baby a little while you’re feeding them at night.
White noise machine: Especially when sleeping in the same room as the baby, this was helpful for everyone’s sleep. You can use your phone (or an old phone with no data) and a white noise program, but you want to be able to take your phone out of the room. We used the Dohm kind that’s basically a little fan. Or you could use an actual fan, pointed away from anyone.
Air conditioner: We’ve done without air conditioning for nearly our whole time in Boston. But when you have a baby who normally sleeps swaddled, and it’s too hot to swaddle them, it’s a very rough night. We finally own, and periodically use, a window unit.
Minimal version: just have bad sleep when you can’t swaddle them
Warm sleeping clothes: We used sleep sacks through age 3 or so (search for “wearable blanket” or “sleep sack”). Thick ones keep the baby warm in winter without blankets that can get over their face or get kicked off. Even in summer, they make it much harder to get a leg over the side of the crib.
Blackout curtains: Your baby does not have to wake up at dawn. We made some curtains that velcro for a good seal. There is a commercial version too.
Minimal version: try aluminum foil or black garbage bags first, or while traveling. It might get moldy if you leave it indefinitely, so I would take it down periodically and wipe off the windows.
Baby monitor: Unless your apartment is so tiny you can hear the baby from anywhere. We liked having one with one parent set that lived in our bedroom all the time and another one that we’d carry around during the day. I can see how a video one could be useful but have not used one.
Something to put the baby down in:
For the early weeks when they lie down a lot, we used a bassinet on the floor.
For once they want to sit up and look around, we used some kind of bouncer seat. We liked the kind with a wire frame that you could push with your foot so that the whole thing bounces, like this or similar.
Teethers: I’m getting a natural rubber one because I’m not keen on them chewing on plastic.
Something to change the baby on: You probably want a changing table if you have a c-section or have back or knee problems that makes it hard to be on the floor. I don’t find that I want one, and don’t plan to have one this time. You can change the baby on a mat on the floor, or just a folded towel on the floor. I switched to this after Lily fell off the changing table (which was my fault, but it made clear that I should switch to a more foolproof method). If you do want something at table height, you can use a changing mat on top of a low dresser – they make trays to hold the mat on top of the dresser.
Other swaddle type things: we used the Baby Merlin sleepsuit (basically a stiff snowsuit type garment that makes it hard for them to roll over) as a transition once our second baby started rolling over in the swaddle. There are various other kinds of swaddle-ish things. I wouldn’t get one preemptively, but worth trying if your baby is waking themselves a lot by rolling or startling.
Stroller: We didn’t get one until I was pregnant with our second child and it got uncomfortable to wear the older one everywhere. I did like having a double stroller with two little kids. Obviously some people get a lot of use out of theirs with one kid, but we preferred using a carrier.
If using the stroller in really cold weather, I would get one of those bag-type buntings that fastens into the stroller and keeps the baby’s legs and torso covered.
Bumbo or other thing for the baby to sit in: marketed to help your baby learn to sit up, but the child development people think it’s bad for that. Can be useful for having the baby sit near you while you’re cooking, sorting laundry, etc. We had one but didn’t use it much.
Toys: people will give you some random toys. You can wait and see what you get.
Socks: they just fall off and get lost. If you need to keep their feet warm, some kind of booties with elastic or velcro stay on better. Or put them in footie suits.
Baby shoes: they don’t need them, and it’s better for foot development to walk barefoot or in minimally structured shoes. Once they learn to walk and need something to protect their feet outdoors, here are recommendations for flexible-soled shoes.
Baby food: we did the baby-led weaning method and gave the kids pieces of table food, and soft things like yogurt. Spoon-feeding can be more convenient in some ways (can be faster and less messy) and less convenient in other ways. Most parents do more spoon-feeding purees, which seems fine, just not what we prefer to do.
A note on nurseries
A surprisingly large portion of the baby-related internet is devoted to setting up and decorating your baby’s nursery. If you enjoy decorating a baby-themed room, that’s cool. But be clear that aside from some basics, the room is for you, not the baby. They do not care if there is a color theme. They will not appreciate the wall art.
Make it comfortable, and optionally make it pretty if that’s something you’ll enjoy. But you’ll probably spend more time hanging out in the living room than you will in the baby’s room.
Once the baby is crawling, having their room be a fully childproofed “yes space” means you can leave them there while you go to the bathroom or whatever.
Toddlers do not have tastes that look good by Pinterest standards; as soon as they get some say in how the room is decorated they will probably want it full of rocks, things they found in the recycling, etc. More on scruffy spaces.