All it took was me stepping into my first maternity store to buy two shirts, and the pregnancy gods knew. I don’t know how it happened, ‘cause I sure don’t remember signing up for anything at checkout… but within a matter of days, my mailbox at home was inundated with pregnancy advertisements, free samples, coupons, and magazines detailing all my baby registry must haves (among many, many other things).
It was creepy. But it was also helpful. I hadn’t planned on going out to purchase any maternity mags, but if they were gonna start showing up at my door, I wasn’t gonna not read them. Especially since I was over halfway through my pregnancy and had yet to prepare… in any way whatsoever. Getting some expert recommendations on baby must haves was a great starting point.
That said, some of the lists of newborn “must haves” seemed a little much to me. Like, I need a warmer for diaper wipes? Seriously? Pretty sure that wasn’t a thing when I was a baby…
I was already freaked out enough thinking about the abundance of stuff that was about to enter my life. I hadn’t even thought of things like wipe warmers and splat mats and bath thermometers.
WTF is a splat mat, even? And bath thermometers?? Can’t I just stick my hand in the water???
As great a starting point as the lists were, I knew I’d be whittling down the experts’ recommendations significantly. Turns out, it was (mostly) the right move! I didn’t need all the stuff that was recommended.
Read on to see how I revised the list of must have baby items.
Baby Registry Must Haves: The “Experts” List
As a former wildlife biologist, I have some hippie tendencies. We definitely reuse and recycle, but our biggest focus is on reducing. When I was pregnant, one of my biggest fears (multiplied ten-fold by all those damn hormones!), was contributing to all the waste that stems from the baby industry by getting a bunch of brand new baby items that we’d use for a short time and then discard.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to be sanctimommy here. We definitely purchased stuff. Tons of stuff. We used disposable diapers, baby food pouches, plastic toys, the whole nine. But where we could, we wanted to reduce. So, we dismissed items we thought we could simply do without. And our final baby must have list was about half the size of what we started with!
With that said, here’s what most registry lists of infant “must haves” looked like:
Yes, you’re looking at a total of 215+ individual items. That shit wasn’t about to happen!
Baby Registry Must Haves: My Revised List
We already had some stuff that we were able to repurpose – for example, an extra dresser meant we had no need for a baby-specific dresser, or even a new changing table. We just bought a changing pad to pop on top.
But so many items from the recommended list were downright unnecessary, regardless of what we already had. Here’s what we cut:
Damn, was I proud of us! From our shorter, far more manageable list of the real must haves for new baby, here are the purchases we made that I’d definitely recommend!
Baby “Must Haves” That You Actually Need
Some items you need from the get-go, and some can wait. Here’s our breakdown:
Must Have Newborn Items
Clothing Items: A dozen onesies (including the “bringing home baby” outfit), 2 swaddles, a dozen baby socks, a dozen burp cloths, a dozen receiving blankets, and baby laundry soap.
This is about half of what was recommended by the experts, but it was all we needed. (Caveat: our babe was born in spring, so we didn’t need warm-weather clothing like caps and pants and snowsuits.)
We went all out and got all-organic Burts Bees for everything – they had a great selection of neutral colors, perfect for us since we weren’t finding out the sex ahead of time. Their onesies were awesome – especially the zippered sleepers (it won’t take long before you’re hella tired of neck-to-toe snaps… save yourself the trouble and go for zippered or crotch-snap-only onesies!). This mama has sensitive skin, and didn’t wanna risk Jack’s skin with harsh soap, so we washed his stuff in baby-friendly Dreft.
Burt’s Bees Organic Sleeper
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Dreft Baby Laundry Detergent
Click Here for Details and Price Info
You’d think you’d go through the onesies like mad, what with all the newborn spit up. But, for us, the burp cloths and blankets took the brunt of that, so we didn’t need more than a dozen onesies. Plus, after just a couple weeks, they were already too small and had to be replaced with a dozen more the next size up!
As for baby socks, Burts didn’t have what we wanted, so we went with Gerber Organics. Burts also didn’t have swaddles with Velcro (an absolute must for a gal like me who couldn’t blanket-swaddle to save her life!), so we went with the SwaddleMe brand and loved it. Like, loooooooved it. The kid was so immobilized, he slept like a frikkin’ rock.
Feeding Items: One breast pump (with one extra set of pump replacement parts), a dozen 5 oz milk storage containers, a nursing pillow (that we ended up not needing because our pillows worked just as well), half-dozen 5 oz. feeding bottles, half-dozen slow flow nipples, 2 bottle brushes and 1 bottle nipple cleaner (these also doubled as breastpump cleaners), one drying rack.
Whew! That’s a lot. But, since feeding is a slightly important must have for newborns (hehe), it’s not too surprising. We bought the Medela Pump-in-Style pump and bottles, mainly because that’s what we were introduced to at the hospital. They peddle the brand for a reason – it’s awesome! Easy to use, easy to clean, and Jack took to the bottles just fine (and had no problem switching between bottle-feeding and nursing).
We also bought an extra set of replacement parts, because laziness. Cleaning of breastpump parts was a several-times-a-day occurrence in our house. To make things a little easier, especially when I didn’t want to do middle-of-the-night cleaning, we got an extra set that I could just toss in some soapy water until the next pumping session, then wash both sets at the same time. #momhack for the win!
I stored pumped milk in the same 2.7-ounce cylindrical bottles I pumped into (why transfer it to another storage container? #worksmarternotharder). So, I just bought several sets, so milk could be put straight into the freezer (or, I’d pour it all into a 5 oz. bottle for the next bottle-feed).
For feeding, we started Medela’s feeding set with 5 oz. bottles, and found that size was exactly what we needed – so we bought several more 5 0z. bottles and slow-flow nipples to round it out. Many people upgrade to larger-capacity bottles as their babies get older and consume more, but we never needed anything larger than the 5 oz bottles. Jack just happened to drink less milk, more frequently.
For pump and bottle cleaning, we used large bottlebrushes and a small nipple brush – pretty much a pipe cleaner – that got every inch of the pump parts clean, then tossed everything on our trusty drying rack. We liked Munchkin brand:
Bathing Items: One sink tub, baby shampoo, half-dozen washcloths, 3 hooded towels.
My mom swore by the PUJ tub, which my niece and nephew had used, and got us one. It worked awesome for sink bathing, and when it wasn’t in use, folded flat for easy storage. And, despite all the samples of lotions and potions and bath stuff we received, we only ever needed baby shampoo. Don’t get sucked in with the cute gift packs… just buy shampoo. Sticking with the organic theme, we opted for Honest Company.
We didn’t bath baby very frequently those first couple months, so didn’t need all the bath accessories on the recommended newborn must have list. Six washcloths (which was honestly too many) and 3 towels were more than enough. Again with the organic Burts Bees brand – we were so happy to have found it!
Diapering Items: One million diapers, ten million wipes, some diaper cream, one diaper pail, and diaper pail bags.
In an effort to continue the all-natural theme, we opted for Honest Company diapers. We gave ‘em a fair shake, but they just didn’t work for us. The blowouts were far too frequent. After a little trial and error, would you believe that Target brand Up and Ups came out on top?? They’re still toxin-free, and contained the poop-explosions so much better. And our trusty Playtex diaper pail kept the smell at bay.
We did, however, stick with Honest diaper cream and wipes – they were super gentle on Jack and the wipes didn’t have a weird smell (so many others did).
Baby Care Items: 6 pacifiers, 3 teethers, 2 paci straps, 1 baby medicine & grooming set.
Sucking to the rescue! Luckily, Jack wasn’t too picky about pacifier brands, but he seemed to slightly favor Philips AVENT. We used Booginhead paci straps to attach them (among many, many other things!) to his clothing so we wouldn’t lose them or drop them on the floor or get them hella nasty, and I kid you not when I say these straps were one of our favorite baby items.
Banana teethers are where it’s at! Jack used several types of teethers that he quickly lost interest in, but the banana endured (side note – the paci strap worked great looped through the peel!). The teether that came in our grooming kit was also great, because it doubled as a training toothbrush – we were “practice brushing” before his first tooth even came in. Obvi, the baby nail clippers and comb and several other items came in handy, too.
Stroller Items: A travel system and a lightweight stroller. This is what we spent the most time researching and testing, and I couldn’t have been happier with our final choice – a travel system and lightweight stroller in one!
I can’t recommend enough getting a travel system that’s on the smaller side and includes an umbrella-style foldable stroller, like our Chicco. I could shout from the rooftops how much I loved this system for it’s durability, ease of use, and travel-friendliness:
Travel Items: A car seat, enough car seat bases for all cars, seat mirrors, some window shades, a play yard and a baby carrier.
So, depending on how you’ll load and unload baby in and out of the car, you may want to consider getting each of your vehicles it’s own car seat. We just had one car seat and multiple bases, because we’d carry Jack in and out of the house strapped in his seat.
Some people prefer to carry baby to the car and strap him in there, then unstrap him and carry him inside. In this case, it could be worth spending the extra bucks for the convenience of each vehicle having a car seat. Whatever you choose to do, I highly recommend Chicco. We love how durable it is, and I love how light it is:
Pssst… will you be flying often with baby? Check out my friend Natalie’s guide on the best car seats for air travel here!
A seat back mirror was a no-brainer for me. I couldn’t drive around with a baby only a few days/weeks old without being able to see that it was still breathing (yes, I was a little manic those first few weeks!). So I got mirrors to keep an eye on my little mouthbreather, and while I was at it, some shades for the back windows that attach with little suction cups.
Our play yard and baby carrier… I could literally write a ballad. We used them every single day, both at home and on the road. We had a Graco Pack n Play permanently setup in our lounge area that we used for naps and diapering far more often than the sleeping or changing area in his nursery. And when we traveled, it’d fold up in less than a minute and go with us on the road (or plane).
After trying no less than 8 baby carriers (yes, 8… the staff at the baby store probably hated me), I settled on what I think is the best on the market. Soft-structured with minimal straps and buckles, my Infantino Up Close felt as comfortable as a wrap, but without the hassle of all that extra fabric. I could wear Jack all over the house with it, and when we went out, it folded up so small I could slide it into the diaper bag.
Baby Toys and Developmental Items: A swing, a playmat, multi-sensory toys and books.
Our Graco swing was a lifesaver when I wanted not only hands-free, but touch-free time. The rocking motion and optional seat vibration would lull Jack into a trance just long enough that I could enjoy a cup of coffee and even a shower (an actual shower, y’all).
The playmat was great for batting hanging toys around and the quilt was bright and textured so he was still stimulated when we turned him over for tummy time. For me, it was kind of a must. Ours was a – wait for it – Graco hand-me-down and we couldn’t have asked for a better one.
Toys and books. We opted for bright, textured multi-sensory toys with lots of little attachments to keep Jack’s attention. (The more complicated the toy, the longer they’re quiet!) His favorites were animals with different attachments at the arms and legs. Rings, rattles and mirrors – especially mirrors – kept him occupied both at home and on the road.
While most books are made for a couple months plus, Little Learners “grab books” are specifically made for 0+ months. These simple, 4-page books are made of super thick cardboard and have large, colorful illustrations. But what I love most are the holes in the pages – they make for easy grabbing while baby is working on those gross motor skills.
Baby Registry Musts That Can Wait
Unless you’re just a real planner and want all the things before you go into labor, several must have baby products can wait a few months (or, can be dismissed altogether).
Solid Food Items: A bottle warmer and baby food steamer/blender, some food storage containers, a set of plates and utensils, a highchair, a travel high chair (obviously not necessary, but we used ours several times a week and I highly recommend one if it fits with your lifestyle), and baby food pouches.
Depending on how you’re gonna play this, solid food items could end up adding up! Not only was our space-saver high chair super necessary for keeping Jack confined during the at-home solid food transition, we also opted for a travel chair. Not a must for some, but we’re on the move a lot and wanted something to make feeding him in hotels and at others’ houses easy. Our Guzzie + Guss was one of our most-used baby purchases. Bonus – it folds flat enough to fit into a suitcase!
I wanted to make all his baby food, so got an all-in-one bottle warmer/baby food steamer-blender. Was it absolutely necessary? Nah. Did it simplify the process? Yep. I did quickly abandon it for bottle warming, because the heat warped the softer plastic of the bottles, but it was great for preparing food without the hassle of stove cooking.
For baby food storage, I used this single-serving food storage set that was handed down to us. It was cute and got a lot of utility those first few months. Admittedly, I also abandoned it as time went on. As he began eating more, I made food in bulk, and froze dozens of servings at a time in ice-cream-scoop sized balls (#parentinghack for the win!).
We got some standard baby spoons and a suction plate, and were set with solid-food feeding. All that said, though, those baby food pouches got me! Oh, so easy and oh, so travel friendly. Not gonna lie, they became a staple. We went with organic veggie ones with no additives or preservatives, and felt pretty good giving them to Jack.
Potty Training Items: You’ll eventually need a tiny potty and training books, but OMG, they do not need to clutter your house for 18+ months before finally getting some use.
When you finally get there, don’t bother with the expensive stuff. We initially bought a couple complicated potties that seemed cool, but they didn’t work for us. We ended up taking two pricey ones back and, in the end, the super-simple Summer brand $10 buy was the winner.
We didn’t bother with a potty training how-to book for ourselves, but we got a couple fun ones for Jack. They were short, sweet and simple, but he was hella motivated by them. He particularly loved yelling “Undies!” when we finished Patricelli’s book:
Safety Items: Some baby gates, anti-tip furniture straps, some corner guards, electrical outlet covers, kitchen cabinet/drawer locks, some door and toilet locks, and stove/oven dial covers.
Your kid will be a squishy blob of jello for months, so these can also wait. But you may have noticed that I didn’t cross a single thing off this category of recommended registry items. I got ’em all. I’d go ahead and have them in place by the time baby starts showing signs of mobility. We started with the Safety 1st brand for all our needs, and never felt a need to look elsewhere:
Travel Items: A jogging stroller and hiking kid carrier. Obviously optional and depends on your lifestyle. Either way, pediatricians don’t recommend these for babes under 6 months, so you can space out this purchase, too. If/when you do start getting your run on, I highly recommend the BOB brand. We use the Sport Utility model because we take Jack on a lot of off-road terrain, and we couldn’t love it more! It’s hard to find these days, as the Revolution PRO seems to have surpassed it as their more popular off-road model. The BOB was definitely one of our best purchases.
We looooooove any outdoor activities, but especially hiking. We’ve taken Jack on some pretty epic national park visits with the help of our hiking kid carrier, and can’t recommend it enough for folks who enjoy that lifestyle. I love our Osprey kid carrier so much, I dedicated an entire post to it over on my travel blog!
Baby Toys and Developmental Items: A walker, an activity saucer, and anything he needs to be able to sit on his own to use. We were lucky enough to have a nephew just 8 months older than Jack, so we got all his used stuff (most of which he got from his big sister, so it was handed down twice… #reuse!). If that’s not in the cards for you, here are the brands we used – and loved!
Baby “Must Haves” That You DON’T Actually Need
Basically, anything not listed above, you don’t need! Even after all our list-cutting, we still got a couple things we ended up not using. Like:
Nursing Pillow: It was novel there for a bit, but I found I was hunching over when we nursed, and it quickly took a toll on my back. Our regular old bed pillows kept baby propped just that little bit higher that I was able to straighten my back.
Baby Changing Pad: I’ll probably get some flack for this one. I mean, who doesn’t use a changing pad (preferably on a changing table)?? Well, us, apparently. I can count on one hand how many times we used it. Probably because we were hardly ever in his room.
As a newborn, Jack slept in our room, and when we were up, he was with us in the living spaces. We changed him on his Graco Pack ‘n Play, or just right on the floor, several times a day. But never on the changing pad in his bedroom.
There are few other “must have” items I can’t resist specifically calling out as “don’t needs,” because I think they’re a little cray-cray… (take this with a grain of salt – everyone has their own likes/dislikes, and I’m not knocking folks who make these purchases)!
Nursing Cover-ups: First and foremost, there’s no need to cover your nursing baby (unless you choose to). I sometimes did and sometimes didn’t, depending on my mood/situation. When I did, it never crossed my mind to buy yet another baby product just to cover up. I had a plethora of lightweight scarves to choose from. So, I say skip the cost, and save precious diaper bag space – ball up one of your pashminas to take with you, instead of purchasing a nursing cover.
Bottle Sterilizer: Uhhhhhhh… nah. Dishwasher hot wash cycle!
All Those Strollers: A travel system and an umbrella stroller and a lightweight stroller and a jogging stroller AND a frame stroller, all on one registry list?? Gimme a break…
Our Chicco Liteway Plus KeyFit 30 Travel System killed 3 stroller “birds” with one stone – it was a travel system that had an umbrella-style stroller and was one of the most lightweight on the market. BOOM. Later, when Jack was old enough to take on bumpy runs, we bought our BOB Jogging Stroller.
Rinse Cup/Bath Mitt/Bath Robe: A rinse cup for the bath? All the cups that were already in my cabinets, plus all the bottles I’d just purchased, and they wanted me to buy another cup? Nope. An old plastic travel mug was quickly promoted to rinse cup!
Why a mitt?? Isn’t that why I got those washcloths??? And a baby bath robe? Again, why?? Won’t I just dress him after he’s dry???
Bedding Sets: Bedding sets actually recommended against, so save your money. All your boo needs is a tightly fitted sheet over his crib mattress, plus… nothing! No blankets, no bumpers, no decorative pillows. He can be kept warm by his onesie and swaddle alone.
All That Clothing: Those snap tees, “sleep and plays,” and long pants the registries recommend? Nope… easy-access onesies All. Day. Long. With all the shit (literally) that’s going to descend on you, you won’t want to be dealing with pants or extra layers or anything that hinders access to those pooptastic diapers. You’ll wanna get in and get out fast! Onesies – preferably crotch-snap-only or zippered as opposed to button-up – are where it’s at.
Travel Extras: Car organizers and holders for baby travel accessories? That’s what a diaper bag is for! It’s going to be in the car with you anyway whenever the baby is with you, so why do you need another set of the same items in a seat-back holder? Answer: you don’t.
Baby Nursery Must Haves
Furniture: A crib and mattress, a dresser, and a change table (listed together because most folks buy them as a set!) and a bassinet (optional). I personally don’t see the need for a separate dresser and change table, because all our kiddo’s clothes and diaper stuff fit into a single dresser (we had an extra one we weren’t using, so didn’t need to purchase one).
We also got a hand-me-down crib – until then, I was seriously considering just adding a mattress to the Pack n Play and using it as the crib (don’t judge!). I love my sister’s Simmons Revello set, tho. It’s survived both my niece and nephew (and, for reference, his nickname is Bam-Bam), so it’s fair to say the furniture is pretty damn durable. And I think it’s pretty stylish, too. I’d use that as a starting point in your search.
If you’re like us and plan on having your newborn in your bedroom for a good while, but want him to have his own sleep space, a bassinet might be a good idea. (Full disclosure: we didn’t use a bassinet, we used a Rock ‘n Play with the cushions and accessories removed… they’re not AAP-recommended since most don’t lay completely flat, but it’s what worked for us.) Otherwise, if you have the space, there’s no reason the crib can’t be in your bedroom until you’re ready to move baby to his own room.
Crib Bedding: A couple mattress pads, several fitted crib sheets. Like with baby’s clothing, we went full organic with this stuff, too. I mean, the majority of his infancy was gonna be spent with his face all up on his bedding, so I wanted it as natural and non-toxic as possible. You guessed it… Burts Bees to the rescue! And bonus – they had sheets that matched our Winnie the pooh theme (#winning)!
Changing Pad and Covers: Like I mentioned, we already had an extra dresser, so we just topped it with our newly-purchased (though seldom-used) organic BRAND changing pad with it’s cute little organic Burts Bees cover. Voila! Dresser/changing table combo.
Nursery Storage: Some of this is more personal choice than necessity, but I’d recommend a clothes hamper, some baskets and/or bins for toys and/or other items, and a diaper caddy.
Nursery Décor: Again, this stuff is obviously all optional and depends on your taste, but we opted for a crib mobile, some hanging wall art/wall decals, and curtains. Since, weirdly, both Steev and I had several Winnie the Pooh items from our childhoods, making baby’s room Pooh-themed was the obvious choice (while we weren’t finding out the sex ahead of time, we knew we wanted a gender-neutral room regardless).
So, when I found a Pooh mobile and decals online, they were the final additions to complete the room. Soon after, a friend surprised us with some Pooh-themed hanging art, and it was the icing on the cake! Point being, there’s a ton of décor out there to fit any nursery theme.
In my opinion, blackout curtains are where it’s at! Some people aren’t big fans, but to each their own. These helped us all get just that extra bit of sleep we needed – well, when baby started actually sleeping – and every mama needs all the help she can get in the sleep department! We didn’t find any Pooh-themed ones, but were perfectly happy going with a solid color that matched our other décor.
Rocking Chair/Glider: We also never had a rocker. I regret the hell out of that decision. The first time I rocked my babe at someone else’s house, I actually cried. Sure, I sat with and laid with and played with Jack all the time. But there was something about rocking him that was so beautifully calming… for me! I couldn’t believe I’d deprived myself of that. I even made Steev do the same, so he could see what we’d been missing out on! If I were to do it over again, this would be my first buy.
Safety: A baby monitor. We went old-school and used an audio monitor instead of video – not the choice of the vast majority of new parents, I know – but it worked just great for us. I was so frazzled after becoming a mom that I knew I’d obsess about watching Jack on video if it were an option. So, I didn’t let it be an option. Maybe it was the whole “out of sight, out of mind” thing, but somehow I never felt like I was missing anything or that I needed to be able to see him all the time.
Must Haves for New Moms
Honestly, most of the must have baby items for first time moms aren’t even products, but rather help. Whether it’s someone bringing food, or just coming over to rock the baby while you sleep and shower, take all the help! In the meantime, here’s the small handful of mommy must haves that I found extremely useful:
Maternity Clothes Pajama Jeans: I didn’t bother spending much money on maternity clothing. I like loose-fitting, stretchy clothing anyway, so I had a lot of casual shirts that fit throughout most of my pregnancy. I only bought 2 maternity shirts the whole time (see the first paragraph of this post!), and only because I was traveling and had forgotten to pack enough tops.
Other than that, my only other purposeful buy was my pajama jeans. I was big on jeans, so when mine stopped fitting, I needed a denim fix (okay, okay… faux denim) to get me through the rest of my pregnancy. PJs also top my list of first time mom must haves for the postpartum phase. These and my yoga pants were all I wore the whole first year…
And I set aside several of my existing casual shirts for the newborn phase – low-cut ones that could be easily pulled down at the neck. Likewise with the spotsbras I used in place of nursing bras. Yank ‘em down, nurse, pull ‘em back up. So, zero money spent on nursing tops/bras, too.
I do realize that my methods are probably more tightwad than most, but it’s what worked for me. I didn’t want to spend money on a ton of maternity-specific clothing that I’d just be discarding when my pregnancy and nursing days were over. (That said, I had to get rid of most of my clothing anyway, since it was milk-stained beyond repair… oh, well!)
Breastfeeding Items: A pumping bra, some nipple cream, and a whole lotta nursing pads.
Nursing bras are one of the best new-mom inventions EVER. To think, in the days of old, people had to actually hold the suction cups while they pumped. Poor fools (hehe!). The several hands-free minutes that my pumping bra provided was one of the few freedoms I enjoyed as a new mom. At least, when I wasn’t also having to hold a fussy baby… *sigh*
I did a mix of nursing and pumping the first few months, because nipple trauma (#thestruggleisreal). Who knew a toothless baby could cause such a bloodbath?! Nipple cream really helped soothe the splits and cracks until I got used to nursing enough to go full time.
Leakage is also real. Nursing pads to the rescue! I found washable pads a lot more practical than the disposable ones I used (which I used only because a couple came in the mail as free samples). This pack of 8 lasted throughout my entire 18-month nursing hell nightmare adventure.
These baby must haves for first time moms aren’t actually for baby at all! But, when considering what first baby must haves to add to your registry, don’t forget about the things you need, too. They’re not very exciting additions, to be sure, but they’ll make newborn life just a bit easier for you.
WHEW! I think I’m actually done. If you stuck with me til the bitter end, good job! I sincerely hope you found this newborn must haves list exceedingly useful. Let me know in the comments! And, GOOD LUCK, mama!
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