Baby Registry Must-Haves Checklist & Reviews (from a NICU Mom)

Preparing for parenthood can be daunting. All the “must-have” baby gear, books to read, classes to take, room to make… it’s easy to let all the planning for baby become stressing for baby and stress is the last thing you want. I remember being there – reading every “baby registry checklist” and “essentials guide” I could find and trying to come up with a reasonable list of baby registry items that we would actually need, that were multi-purpose/space-saving and safe, and that wouldn’t break the bank (ours or our friends and family). I thought we did a pretty good job. That is until our babe decided to arrive six weeks early.

Think of all the things you plan to do before baby arrives – birthing and newborn care classes, birth plan, nursery setup, all those exercises that supposedly make L&D easier. Well, we didn’t get to any of these. We thankfully had our baby shower two weeks prior to Lillyana’s arrival, but we were in a bit of a panic while she was in the NICU. We just felt so underprepared and overwhelmed.

Thankfully the wonderful NICU nurses were there to support and encourage us with advice based on years and years of parenting and professional experience. For the two weeks we basically lived in the NICU, we talked (and cried and prayed and laughed) with nearly 40 nurses, doctors, lactation consultants, PTs, OTs, and more. We learned so much that we actually felt prepared and confident to take care of our new babe once we were home!

We were given so much advice and direction on what we do and don’t need – from objective, unbiased professionals – that we ended up exchanging most of the baby gear we received from our baby shower for more practical and essential baby registry items. Now, with a healthy and happy 4 month old, we want to pass this wisdom on to other soon-to-be moms and dads out there. Below is what we consider the most important items you’ll need for taking care of your little one. Some are absolute necessities, some luxury items, but all are baby items we personally use every day.

* We ended up creating our baby registry at both Target and Amazon. Here’s where you can do the same:

Target Baby Registry >>

Amazon Baby Registry >>



Specific Baby Gear & Essentials We Love


Toys/Development DIAPERING



Nursing Pillow: I love the My Brest Friend Nursing Pillow and use it at least 8 times a day. I heard from many moms, as well as nursing and lactation consultants that it’s a better option than the Boppy pillow since it has a buckle to keep it in place, back support, and pocket (for tissue, burp cloth, chapstick, snack, etc.). I’ve also had mommy friends use mine when visiting and tell me they like it more than their traditional nursing pillow and that they plan to pick up a My Brest Friend version. 

My Brest Friend Nursing Pillow Review >> >>






Nursing Pads: Not everyone needs these, but I definitely do! My milk “lets down” super fast, so I’ll completely soak my shirt, bra, and little one when feeding if I don’t have one on the side she’s not latched to. I LOVE the Lansinoh Disposable Nursing Pads and use about one per day. I used two a day for the first month or so as my milk was coming in (HOLY MOLY was there a lot of milk!), but eventually learned when and on which side I needed one in place… trying to be eco-friendly, here!

Lansinoh Nursing Pads Review
 >> >>




On that note, I also picked up a pair of Bamboobies Washable Nursing Pads. I really like them, but find my flow to be so heavy that I have to wash them too frequently to rely on them with only two pairs. I definitely use them, but rely mostly on the disposable pads. They may work great for women with slower let-downs.


Breast Pump: Insurance might pay for your breast pump, so definitely something to look into (these things ain’t cheap!). I used the hospital pumps for the two weeks while L was in the NICU (they also sent me home with one to keep for 30 days). One was a Medela and one was by Ameda – I honestly wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between the two in a blind test (although I had a lot going on at the time). Once home, I’ve been using this Medela Breast Pump and love it. The carrying case is very nice for pumping away from home.

Medela Breast Pump Review >> >>



Pumping bra: This was a life-saver, especially in the beginning when I was trying to increase my milk production by pumping after every feeding. It was exhausting and frustrating to have to hold the pumps there for 10-15 minutes (my wrists would even start to hurt!) – couldn’t do anything else but sit there and watch. This hands-free pumping bra allowed me to read or work on my computer and stay productive while pumping. Just make sure you pay attention to how full the containers get as they can overflow quickly if you are not paying attention. And as any mom who pumps will tell you, pumping is a labor of love. Whoever came up with the saying “don’t cry over spilt milk” has clearly never pumped! 😉 

Lansinoh Hands-Free Pumping Bra Review
 >> >>





Bottles: The biggest thing we learned about bottles was from an amazing lactation consultant who suggested getting a wide / larger nipple that’s going to simulate an actual breast. There are a couple of nice ones on the market, but we found the Munchin Latch Baby Bottles to work wonderfully. When we first saw these types we thought they might be too large for our preterm baby, but actually quite the opposite – she took to it no problem. The valve at the bottom of the bottle means less air swallowed because the air comes in through the valve instead of the nipple area. Less swallowed air means less gas and a happier baby. These bottles are bottle-warmer and dishwasher safe (for the win!).

Latch Baby Bottles Review

*Not available at





Milk freezer bags: We discovered these after our freezer was filled to the brim with the Snappies bottles (the little pump bottles they gave me in the hospital). As I mentioned earlier, my milk came in like crazy thanks to regular pumping. These Snappies are great for pumping directly into and for short term storage in your refrigerator,  but take up too much room to make them a viable option in our freezer. If you are lucky enough to have a deeper or second freezer, these would be fine. But we do not, so space saving is key. Once frozen on their side, the Lansinoh Breastmilk Storage Bags are stackable and much more conducive as a longer term solution (I’m hoping to BF for at least 18 months, but also have pumped milk available until 24 months). These are saving us tons of space and allowing us to stock our freezer with other important items… like ice cream.

Lansinoh Breastmilk Freezer Bags Review
 >> >>





Nursing privacy cover up: As a first time mom, I was worried about how breastfeeding in public would work out, but the Bébé au Lait Nursing Cover gave me the confidence I needed to feed L anywhere. I practiced a couple of times at home (with just my husband and then again when friends came over for dinner) before taking my talents outside. I realized that using a cover was not as bad as I thought it was going to be. The biggest benefit is the ridged neckline that allows the top to stay open enough for me to see L (ensuring a good latch & active nursing) while still having two hands free to properly support her. There are a bunch of brands out there, but I have been using this one and really like it. We even use it sometimes to shield the sun when L is in her car seat if we do not have a blanket handy.

Bebe Au Lait Nursing Cover-up Review
 >> >>





Nursing Bra: The brand doesn’t matter, but having nursing bras are an absolute must and a life saver for me. The first (and most obvious) benefit: accessibility. And the second (and less obvious) benefit: once your milk comes in, your breasts (like in my case) can triple in size and none of my pre-breastfeeding bras fit any longer. I found the Madela Nursing Bra and now have one in every color – love them. It also has better support than many of the other nursing bras I tried on, so it’s become my go-to bra. I even wore it while showering the first few weeks, as the ladies got so big (likely from all the pumping) that going bra-less was super uncomfortable.

Medela Nursing Bra Review

*Not available at





Bottle brush: I never thought I could love a bottle brush so much. Seriously, I will buy this long after we’ve moved on from bottles. We like the idea of having a specific brush for her items rather than our normal sink brush that comes in contact with so many other things. And the smaller brushes (that twists off from the handle) are great for cleaning small breast pump parts.

Oxo Baby Bottle Brush Review
 >> >>



Sleeping / Soothing

Miracle swaddle: Hands down the best swaddling-for-sleeping blanket out there. No zippers or velcro, just a brilliant design. L originally didn’t like being swaddled and always wanted her arms up by her head – especially because she could / would get out of every swaddle no matter how proud Steven was about his swaddling at bedtime (jokingly we would say to one another “The goose is loose!” when she would get out of normal swaddles). We pushed passed her stubbornness with this blanket and she sleeps great in it! We have recommended it to a bunch of our friends who just had babies and hear a similar story to ours time and time again. Bottom line, the Miracle Blanket Swaddle works!

Miracle Sleep Swaddle Blanket Review
 >> >>





Anna & Eve Arms Only Swaddle: We have found this as a great option as well; especially during summer when L gets too hot in the Miracle Swaddle mentioned above. There are two great foam pieces that go between her arms and her sides to prevent the swaddle from bending, keeping it from potentially being pulled up into her face and causing an issue. We are also using this as a tool to be able to transition out of swaddling now by only swaddling one arm.

anna-eve-arms-only-swaddle >>

*Not available at




Camera / monitor: This is a fantastic monitor and we love everything about it. The visual clarity (for both day and night modes, as well as zoom) is surprisingly good compared to what we’ve witnessed friends/family using. We are able to see L’s chest rise and fall as she breathes, the interface is very intuitive, and the audio is clear (we can hear her moan, sigh, and of course cry). It even has a ‘talk’ button that allows you to talk through the monitor to your baby. We have not had any problems with range and have yet to lose signal in any room in our home even with her nursery door closed. The monitor is positioned so we’re able to see everything we need with the normal lens it comes with, but we might eventually order up the wide angle lens add-on.

Infant Optics Baby Monitor Review

*Not available at





Bassinet / co-sleeper: We decided that allowing L to sleep in our bed with us was not an option – it’s just too risky, we instead went with a bassinet co-sleeper for safe, close sleeping. There are tons of good brands out there, but we really like the Arm’s Reach Concepts Clear-Vue Co-Sleeper. The set up was very quick – about 20 minutes. We love that it connects directly to the bed with straps that go between the spring box and mattress to keep it close and stable. We also really like the “quick disconnect” feature that allows us to roll it away from the bed if we need. Converting to either option (bassinet, if away from the bed / side up & co-sleeper if connected to the side of the bed / side down) is very simple and done in a matter of seconds. 

Arms Reach Cosleeper Review >> >>





Another cool, space-saving / smaller option is the Halo bassinet. The benefit of this one is the vibrating function that can help keep your baby sleeping for hours.

 >> >>





White noise / soother: We originally had a soother that hung on the side of the crib. We really liked the noise options, volume, and the overall look of it. However, there were a couple of things that we just couldn’t overlook: first, it was only battery-operated and did not have an A/C adapter option. And second, it did not have a continuous loop option, so L would wake up when it shut off after 30 minutes. That’s when we found the Skip Hop Soother. It has an A/C adapter and can stay on until shut off – also has timer options. Not only does it do exactly what we need / want it to do (provide a nice soothing white noise throughout the night), but it is super cute, too! The night light is soft and not too much. The projector is a nice touch that we will have to see how L likes it once she is a little older and can appreciate it more – will keep you posted with an update soon.

Skip Hop Night Time Baby Soother Review
 >> >>





Crib: The Baby Mod – Olivia 3-in-1 Baby Crib is a great! It’s well made and will serve us well for years to come with the different side panel options included. We set it up in about 30 minutes (not nearly as bad as we were expecting!). The crib looks great in the nursery and L sleeps well in it (we mainly use it for naps right now as she is still sleeping in the co-sleeper at night). Definitely a great value for the quality, price point, and style (similar style cribs go for $500+).

Baby Mod Convertible Crib Review >> >>




Crib mattress: We originally ordered a less expensive mattress as an add-on with our Walmart crib purchase. It had good reviews, so we thought we’d be fine. But when it arrived, I was shocked how soft it was. I immediately returned it and picked up this Sealy Premier Posture Dual Sided Crib Mattress – 204 Coil. It was a little more expensive, but had solid reviews that commented on the firmness of the mattress. We also love that one side is for baby and the other is for toddler, so it’ll last L for years – actually making it a better value than the cheaper mattress we returned. L only naps in her crib at this point, but she sleeps well and safely on it so far!

Also don’t forget a few fitted sheets and at least two waterproof mattress pads!

Sealy Crib Mattress Review
 >> >>





Swing / bouncer combo: We use the bouncer and swing equally depending if we’re in the living room where the swing is set up or take the bouncer to a different room (worth its weight in gold!). L especially loves the vibration of the bouncer… puts her straight to sleep. We even take the bouncer outside when we are just hanging out. 

Graco Baby Swing Combo Review Graco Baby Bouncer Combo Review
 >> >>





Muslin blankets: These are great for covering / shielding from the sun without getting too warm.We have found that they are not so great for sleeping (she wiggles her way out every time). A true indication of how much we like them, we make sure we have two with us every time we leave the house. 

Aden Anais Muslin Swaddle Blanket Reviews
 >> >>





Exercise ball: They say to bounce on this when prego to help with labor. Even more valuable: bouncing on it when holding a fussy baby… or do squats. Your choice. 😉

Fitness Excersize Yoga Ball Review
 >> >>






Tummy-time play mat: The Infantino Twist and Fold Activity Gym is an incredibly lightweight, portable, an overall great place to put L down to play – we take it everywhere. The best part is the ease of setting it up and breaking it down with one hand (super handy when holding L). We had some spit up during tummy time (my fault for putting her down too quickly after feeding), but the material is great and wiped up super easily.

Infantino Baby Gym Playmat Review >> >>




Thermometer: This style of thermometer is polarizing. But we like it! Especially once we practiced a few times on one another (Steven & I) before trying it on L (since her forehead is so much smaller). The readings were pretty all over the place our first few attempts. But once we got the hang of it (angle, speed, location, etc), we could be within .1-.3 every time. We like this one because we didn’t feel comfortable doing the rectal thermometer – even though we know that is the most accurate means of taking a temperature. The underarm thermometers are another good alternative, but we figured we would give the temporal one a chance and do not regret the decision. 

Braun Forehead Baby Thermometer Review
 >> >>





Nose Frida: Again, completely amazed by this – a nose snot sucker. Worth its weight in gold (especially once the bulb suckers we brought home from the hospital inevitably lost their suction). The difference in what we got out with the Nose Frida as compared to the bulbs was amazing. During her first cold, we found the Nose Frida to be far more effective for relieving nose congestion – and it took way fewer attempts so it was less irritating/frustrating for all of us. ***Mom Tip*** Use a saline solution to help break up the snot and also prevent unnecessary irritation…makes a big difference!

Nose Frida Baby Nasal Aspirator Review >> >>






Baby probiotic: Absolute must! We have a completely different baby since starting L on this probiotic. Before, she was suffering from extreme gas and struggling / grunting when having a bowl movement. Since I was breastfeeding, I tried changing my diet by avoiding gassy foods, but that helped very little. After only 3-4 days of the recommended amount each morning in a little bit of pumped milk via a bottle (we call it “super charged white gold”), the symptoms of gas pains were completely gone! She is so much happier and now so are we. Don’t get me wrong, she still toots like a grown man, but it’s much less frequent and doesn’t seem to be in any pain now.

Jarrow Baby Probiotic Review




Amazon >>

*Not available at




Free & Clear Laundry Detergent: This goes right along the same lines as the sensitive baby soap and shampoo I talked about above. Limiting chemicals and scents is important for a baby, so this was another area we took very seriously. We decided to switch to free and clear for all of our laundry to make things easier and also safer for L (considering how much we hold her and she is in contact with our clothes / bedding / etc). This detergent cleans our clothes very well – even my husband’s stinky / sweaty workout clothes, wahoo!

Seventh Generation Free & Clear Laundry Detergent
 >> >>





Bath Time

Bathtub: We purchased a bathtub to be used in a sink with an infant sling. However, after only about a month of use, the sling began to fall apart and our baby wasn’t big enough yet to use the tub without it. After some research, we came across this product and it has been amazing for bath time. It supports our baby wonderfully in the tub and we don’t worry about her slipping down into the water (although we NEVER leave her alone). She can enjoy just being in the water comfortably while we clean her. It is easily rinsed off and dries quickly. The only downside (as compared to the sink tub) is that you do have to fill the tub with quite a bit of water compared to the original tub we had. But not a big deal to let it fill up while getting the other bath-time necessities together. Plus, bath time in the tub is just way more fun than in a sink anyways.

Anglecare Baby Bath Support Review >> >>





Graco Baby Bath Cushion: Now that L is getting bigger, we have so much fun getting in the bath with her and playing. There is usually about 4-5″ of water in the tub and we hold her upright to let her splash around and just play. We really like that it is cushioned, providing a softer place to sit/play for her but also the anti-slip aspect. Really nice addition for bath time!

graco-baby-bath-cushion-review >> >>



Sensitive shampoo/soap: We knew that with any baby, we had to be very careful with what soap we used, but were even more cautious with our preterm baby. We used Cetaphil for the last 3 months and it’s been great. Scent-free and left her skin feeling “soft as a baby’s bottom.” Once we ran out of that, we started using Dr. Bronner’s Fair Trade & Organic Castile Liquid Soap – (Baby Unscented) – an organic alternative without the use of chemicals. Both are great, but we love the peace of mind knowing we are limiting the amount of chemicals L comes in contact with.

Dr. Bronner's Sensitive Baby Soap Shampoo
 >> >>




Cetaphil Sensitive Baby Soap Shampoo
 >> >>




Munchkin 8 Squirtin’ Sea Buddies: These toys make bath time so much fun! Perfect size for L to grab and she loves pushing them around as they float around her. All of them are super cute! My personal favorite is the sting ray; but from a squirt-ability aspect, the puffer fish is the best ;).


muchkin-baby-bath-toys-review >>

*Not available at





Bath towel: This towel was gifted to us from our registry, and we love it. Bath towels are similar to receiving blankets in that it’s nice to have something that’s sized appropriately for a new baby. A normal bath towel feels cumbersome and just too much towel for such a tiny baby. And honestly, cutesy baby bath towels make bathtime so much more fun! I can’t help but smile at how stinkin’ cute L looks with a little ducky on her head. We have the fox one as well and we love both. Definitely have someone snap a few pictures of your little one all bundled up after bath time!

Yellow Circo Baby Bath Towel Review
 >> >>





Comb / brush set: The Dreambaby 10 Piece Essential Grooming Kit is the perfect kit for everything you will need to make sure baby is groomed up real nice. We use the brush during bath time to help stimulate her scalp (recommended for avoiding cradle cap and hopefully help with L’s bald spots, too. LOL). The bristles are soft and perfect for her sensitive skin. We have found that the scissors are the best option for trimming finger and toe nails, as her nails are not yet ridged enough for clippers and I didn’t have any luck biting her nails as some moms do. I have found the best time to clip her fingernails is when she’s nursing and toe nails when she’s napping.

Dreambaby Baby Grooming Set Review
 >> >>







Car seat: Expensive, but the best there is. We really like this car seat and were ok with the price point if it meant a safer car ride for our precious cargo. We really like the compatibility with the stroller and car seat base – makes it a lot easier to go back and forth. 

Britax B-Safe Car Seat Review
 >> >>





Car seat base: We tried to make it work with the one base that the careseat comes with, but moving it back-and-forth between our two vehicles became a huge hassle (we already have SO MUCH STUFF to take everywhere now). We finally decided it was worth having a second base; especially knowing that if the base was gone in one car, the other car is still just as safe an option. There is a way to lock in the car seat in without the base using just the seatbelt, but the base is the safest setup.

Britax Car Seat Base-review >> >>




Stroller: Again, expensive, but the best there is. This stroller is light as compared to a lot of others on the market and collapses to be smaller than most as well – we just leave it in the back on the car. It provides a smooth ride for L and turns very easily. Again, very sturdy construction. Definitely worth the extra bit of money. Britax did these items right. 

Britax B-Ready Stroller Review Britax B-Ready Stroller Quick Fold Review
 >> >>





Stroller organizer: A great addition to our stroller for keeping necessities (paci, burp cloths, snack, cell phone) nearby. The center section is designed to be a cooler for small snacks, but we tend to just throw our keys in there. We like that it is not as bulky or large as some of the others out there, but still has great functionality and capacity. Definitely useful!

Britax Stroller Organizer Review >> >>




Car backseat mirror: This is a good sized mirror that’s easy to attach to the headrest. The only drawback is that it reduces the visibility out of the rearview mirror. This is partly because we put the carseat in the middle seat (which is the safest and expert recommended placement), but it’s still a good buy.

Brica Backseat Baby Mirror Review >> >>




Ergo360 Cool Air: The best, safest carrier out there. The safest because it’s ergonomic design properly supports baby’s legs and hips without causing unnecessary weight to be on any one part. The newest version has a mesh liner, which is way cooler than the normal Ergo. Pricey, but totally worth it. Baby falls asleep within 10 minutes and is happy as can be for hours. We even use this carrier everyday – when out and about, for soothing, and for walks around the neighborhood. 

Ergo 360 Air Cool Baby Carrier Review
 >> >>




Solly Wrap: We use our Solly Wrap for quick wearing and just leave it in the diaper bag since it’s smaller. L really like to sleep in this one as well. This is thinner and less hot than the Moby or Boba wraps. Plus, it’s SD-based…Go Chargers! 

Solly Baby Wrap Carrier Review >>

*Not available at

*Not available at





Teething Necklace: I admit I wasn’t completely sold on the idea since jewelry in general seemed out of the question with a newborn. But at around 5 or 6 months, I decided to dress like a normal human being again (yay for shower & a bit of makeup!) and even threw on a long pendant necklace. Then I picked the babe up and immediately understood the purpose of a teething necklace. Letting L play with my chain necklace was fine, but it was tough keeping her from chewing on it.

This Itzy Ritzy “Teething Happens” has been great – keeping L entertained while out and about, as well as giving her something to grab onto while nursing. I love that it’s non-toxic, BPA-free, and can even be thrown in the dishwasher (top rack only). This teething necklace has even become a go-to baby shower and/or new momma gift. Highly recommend!





Sophie La Giraffe! This was actually the first toy L grabbed on her own and, if you haven’t heard already, it’s one of the most popular baby teething toys on the market! I’m not quite sure what it is that makes Sophie so special, but L loves her! We take Sophie everywhere and every time we leave the house, we tell Lilly, “it’s time for another adventure with L and Sophie!”

Sophie The Giraffe Teether Review
 >> >>





Munchkin Mozart Magic Cube: We really like this toy now that L is able to stay sitting up (almost on her own). The cube helps her maintain her balance but also helps to stimulate her while she is pushing the buttons. The buttons are large enough that even with her limited coordination, she can still engage with the toy. She really likes it and it is nice to have a toy that she can entertain herself with for a little.

munchin-mozart-magic-cube-review >> >>





A Photicular Book: The best way to describe these books is that they are interactive holograph images that the images move as you turn the pages. Hands down the best books out there for kids. L absolutely LOVES & locks on the images as they move back and forth. Really high quality images and construction of the book too which is great. L loves them so much that we had to get all 4. It is also really cool that she will be able to enjoy these for years to come, especially because there is really great information about each of the animals from that type of environment.

safari-photicular-baby-and-toddler-book ocean-photicular-baby-and-toddler-book








jungle-photicular-baby-and-toddler-book polar-photicular-baby-and-toddler-book*Images link to specific books for purchase








Diapers: Pampers Swaddlers or Sensitive are the diapers we have come to prefer. And after trying other brands, always come back to. The store brand, Huggies, Seventh Generation, Luvs, we’ve tried them all. Pampers Swaddlers have been consistently the better option for us. We have only had a couple of blow outs, but those were our fault for not changing a diaper when we knew it was close & should be changed.

Baby wipes: We used Pampers and Water Wipes before trying out Costco’s Kirkland version – they all seem the same to us! We keep a pack of Water Wipes in our stock since they’re considered the best option when dealing with diaper rash or yeast. But for daily use, the Kirkland baby wipes are great!

Kirkland Baby Wipes Review





Butt paste: More expensive than Desitin, but we like that it has other soothing ingredients. We like the tub for next to the changing station at home as is more convenient and larger capacity (better value as well) and the small, lighter tube option for the diaper bag.

Boudreaux Butt Paste Diaper Rash Cream Review
 >> >>





Changing pad: There isn’t anything too fancy about this, but it works well and does what we need it to. The strap is easily mounted to the back of the dresser with one screw. The safety strap and angled sides prevents our baby from easily rolling off of the changing table (but we are obviously watching and standing right there) so she isn’t going anywhere. ******Never leave your baby unsupervised (even for a second) on the changing table******

La Baby Contour Changing Pad Review >> >>



Diaper Champ trash bin: Another thing I can’t believe how much we love. Skip the Diaper Genie and get this… way way way better & less expensive! Best part: it uses regular trash bags that we already use. We change the trash bag about once a week. We also spray it down with Lysol and let it air dry outside in the sun about every two weeks to help keep any funky smells to a minimum. 

Diape Champ Trash Bin Review
 >> >>





“Puppy pads”: These were super nice for the first few months to go over the changing pad because L would have explosive poops right when the diaper would come off – never failed. We got tired of cleaning the changing pad so frequently and these were super convenient to just throw away after an outside-the-diaper mess. We also keep a few in the diaper bag just in case. She doesn’t have that problem so much any longer, but we still use them when we are out to avoid any possible accidents; especially if we are at a friend’s house. 

Puppy Pads For Baby Changing Pad Cover Review
 >> >>




 Baby items to bring home from hospital:

Nasal bulbs: These worked great throughout the first cold but eventually wore out and lost some of their sucking power. That is when we switched over to the Nose Frida for getting unwanted boogies from L’s nose. But these are easily cleaned with warm soapy water and good to just have on hand.

Yellow / pink tubs: They give you these for a variety of reasons in the hospital – from thinking you might vomit to storing breast pump accessories and everything in between. We ended up with four of them and they’re surprisingly handy for corralling all of the small misc baby stuff. We use them especially for all of the parts that go along with pumping (bottles, pump tubes/pieces, burp cloths, etc) and even around the house for cleaning.

Swaddle blankets: Grab a few of their swaddle blankets, if you can! You can never have too many baby blankets and there’s something about those hospital ones. Ask your favorite nurse if it’s okay to keep one and you may just get lucky!

Diapers: You will obviously be going through a ton of these so any freebies you can get your hands on are awesome.

Snappies (pumping bottles): These are pretty expensive and great for pumping. We tried using these for longer periods of storage (freezing), but they take up more room and are not nearly as convenient as the Lansinoh Storage Bags. With that being said, these are great bottles and we use them constantly.

Soothie pacifiers: These pacifiers won’t stay in L’s mouth without her sucking. But we have taken the position that if she stops sucking, then she is done with it and no longer needs it. We prefer it to not just sit in her mouth and then realizing it is still there and then continue sucking – possibly for hours on end. If it falls out and she starts getting fussy again, we simply put it back in or try soothing her in other ways. We just don’t want to create a dependency on it that will be a battle down the road.

For mom: Pads, witch hazel wipes, numbing spray, ‘sits bath’ (which is basically an epsom salt rinse) and all of the little tubes of lanolin you can get your hands on (stuff isn’t cheap and it can be used is so many ways!).

So there you have it – the full download of baby items you’ll actually need and use on a daily basis. We hope this was helpful as you prepare for your little one. And if your babe has already arrived and you’re searching for tips to make life easier, maybe these items will give you some much needed rest. From one tired momma to another, stay positive and know that it gets easier and more fun each day (especially after month 3!).

Know of other great baby items? Please share about them in the comments below!

Baby Registry Must-Haves & Essentials Checklist


Vertebral Artery Dissection: Health Update

This is the email I sent to my work; more details to come.

Hi everyone,

I know Steven has done a pretty good job updating everyone, but today (Sept 8, 2014) is the first day I can think clearly so I wanted to update you all on my diagnosis and how I’m doing.

On August 24th, one day before my 27th birthday, I woke up with a headache & neck pain which I thought was just from sleeping on my neck wrong so I took ibuprofen and toughed it out. Six days later I still had it but the pain was even worse, along with random numbness in my face, arm, leg & foot, and bad nausea/spinning, so Steven took me to urgent care. They said I had a migraine which was likely caused from sleeping on my neck wrong & to take Excedrine migraine and alternate ice/heat on my neck.

All of the symptoms continued through the next week but I couldn’t really tell they were getting worse since I was taking a pain reliever that lessened the pain. I even surfed at lunch on a few days, but got out of the water quickly because I just didn’t feel right. The spinning and feeling like I was going to vomit/faint got to the point where I  mentioned what my symptoms were to coworkers “in case anything happened,” but I assumed I was just being paranoid.

On day 10 of these symptoms, I had an appointment with my primary doctor (the first day I called in sick to work), but when I called to see if my appointment could be pushed earlier, my doctor got on the phone, listened to my symptoms & said to go to the ER.

She said not to take any Excedrine or ibuprofen so they could test accurately, so by the time I got there, my pain was at a 15 – on a scale of 1-10. I had an emergency CAT scan and MRI with contrast that came back to show a tear in 1 of the 4 main arteries in my neck – called Vertebral Artery Dissection. What happens is a tear on the inside of the artery blocks blood flow to the brain – which is why I was having stroke symptoms of sudden headache, numbness, dizziness. VAD is said to have 2 main causes – spontaneous or blunt force trauma to the neck which I did not have, so this whole thing is being considered spontaneous.

I have been home for 2 days now (after being in the hospital for 2 days) & continue to have the symptoms, but am on multiple medications to control the pain, nausea, and blood thinners to prevent stroke. I mostly struggle with walking (because of the dizziness), focusing my vision quickly (I can focus fine on one thing, but then if I look somewhere else everything starts spinning), and I cannot move my neck at all. On the emotional side, I’m definitely going a little crazy not being able to do my usual activities (most of you know how active of a person I am and now just going outside for a walk is a big deal). I’m also dealing with a lot of fear about my recovery and frustration about why this happened to me (it happens to about 1 out of every 100,000 people).

I will be seeing a neurologist this week and will have another MRI to see how the blood is flowing & if the tear is healing. From what I was told in the ER, this has to heal on its own and can take anywhere from a few weeks to 18 months, with 60% of patients having complete recovery within 6 months. We will of course keep you all updated & depending on what my neurologist’s prognosis is, I hope to be back to work next week.

I am very very fortunate that I did not have an actual stroke. VAD is the leading cause of stoke in young people and very often leads to death in large part because patients are misdiagnosed with having a migraine – just like I was. Thankfully, I had what’s called a “Mini Stroke” or “TIA,” which is a stroke without permanent brain damage. I’m also very fortunate to have such a strong support system – my family and friends, including all of you, have been incredible and have made all the difference in helping me stay positive and hopeful.

Thank you for all your prayers, love, & support through this scary time.



Now that I’m home, I have a sensation where my lower jaw and throat feels tight/numb which create a slight feeling of choking/drowning when I eat or drink anything. It also seems to make it hard to me to say some things. Very frustrated & hoping this will go away soon… along w/ the pain, nausea, and mostly the fear. 🙁


Just one day after posting the updates #1 (above), I was readmitted to the hospital, where they found that a clot had developed on the right VAD & another VAD had developed on the left side. I ended up staying at Palomar Hospital (Escondido, CA) for 12 more days in the stroke unit. I was very uncertain about going back to the hospital, but went anyway since I had a strong gut feeling that something (else) was wrong. I basically spent all of September in the hospital… the scariest, most life threatening experience of my life. It’s been a roller coaster both on the physical & emotional side of things, but I’m happy to say I’ve overcome the worst of it. My goal now is to finish up my treatment, then share my story with the intent of educating & hopefully saving lives. More details coming soon…

PRK Corrective Eye Surgery: My (Mostly Amazing) Experience & Recovery

Hello, thanks for stopping by! My name is Sheena. I’m 26 years old, a wife of almost 4 years, surfer, rock climber, photographer, writer, and a senior digital marketing director born and raised in southern California.  I have wanted laser eye surgery for years- glasses and contacts just didn’t work for my active lifestyle. It’s now been one month since my corrective laser eye surgery, so I’m sharing my experience, the good and the bad, in hopes it’ll help others decide what’s right for them. So here it goes…

I went to consultations for almost every ophthalmologist in San Diego County (found through Google, radio ads, & referrals), but never felt 100% comfortable with any of them.  I came across Dr. Tracy of Carlsbad Eye Care through a Groupon ad over a year ago and decided to at least go in for the consultation. Dr. Tracy and his wife Natalie (who works in the front area) were incredibly nice and attentive. Dr. Tracy spent over an hour with me- examining my eyes, explaining my options, and answering all my questions. This was very unique, as most of the other companies I visited had what seemed like a sales person spend the most time with me, mostly explaining my different payment/financing options, with the doctor only coming in to say hello, then leaving after a minute or two

Dr. Tracy was also the only doctor I consulted that recommended PRK corrective eye surgery instead of Lasik. He said both would provide great results and that it’s ultimately my decision, but that PRK was his recommendation because it doesn’t create the “flap” like Lasik, leaving my eyes much more stable and better for my very active lifestyle. I left the consultation a little wary, mostly because PRK was a new idea for me and of course, I found the guy on Groupon! Haha.

Some life events (a back injury, specifically) kept me from moving forward with the surgery, so almost a year went by before I decided to consider PRK or Lasik again. I did some research on Dr. Tracy, and I was happy to find tons and tons of amazing reviews from his patients over the last year! Reading about so many other patients’ wonderful experiences completely calmed my nerves about both PRK and the idea of finding my doctor through Groupon. So I reconnected with Dr. Tracy towards the end of December 2013 and fast-forward about 3 weeks, I’m now in the first few days of recovering from my PRK corrective eye surgery!

Before giving the green light and also in the few days leading to my surgery, I did a ton of research on what to expect- I literally found one site that was helpful. One! You can read this guy’s PRK experience here. Since I had such a hard time finding information about the PRK experience and recovery process, I decided to document mine! So here it is- I really hope this helps you in your search of the right corrective eye surgery for you! Please ignore any grammatical errors, I’m mostly blind while typing all this. 🙂

Day Before PRK Surgery: My nerves kicked in about 24 hours before my scheduled surgery. I’ve been super excited for the last few weeks, then all of a sudden I started thinking about what was actually going to happen to my eyes. Then came some intense worrying about what could go wrong. Actually, it wasn’t even so much what could go wrong, but more fear of the actual surgery process. Other than getting my wisdom teeth removed, this was my very first surgery.

Natalie, Dr. Tracy’s wife, called me to finalize a few things and make sure I picked up all 5 prescriptions (2 types of pain relieving pills & 3 different eye drops)- she asked how I was doing & when I shared where I was at, she really did a great job of explaining how minor of a procedure PRK was. Unlike Lasik, where they create a “flap,” she said PRK is basically like getting a scratch on your eye, and that really nothing can go wrong. Talking with her helped reassure that I would be completely fine, so I finished my day of work and I made sure we stayed in that night. Steven and I made a healthy dinner, a drink to calm the nerves, watched a movie, and then I took an Advil PM to ensure I would sleep well. It worked.

PRK Surgery Day – Jan 30, 2014: I told Steven that according to my surgery instructions, I’m not supposed to have caffeine within 4 hours of my surgery, so I planned to wake up at 6am (when he wakes up for work) to have my daily cup of joe. I ended up rolling at of bed at about 6:26 am and went straight to the kitchen only to hear Steven say something like, “Sorry babe, you woke up too late. I dumped the coffee down the drain.” Are you freaking kidding me?? Hahah. I was so bummed! Luckily we had some decaf on hand—and yes, I pouted until he made it for me (it’s biblical: Hebrews ??). 😉

Tammy (Steven’s amazing mom) picked me up at 9am and we headed down to the San Diego Eye Bank surgery center. A nice lady took me into a room for a few quick tests before sending me into the examination room. She offered for Tammy to watch the surgery, so I grabbed her before heading into the room. Dr. Tracy arrived a few minutes later, chipper & happier than ever. He gave me one Valium (what he joked about as “candy”) and chatted for a few minutes. Then another guy came in and put some numbing drops in my eyes. Before I knew it, I was heading into the surgery room on the other side of the window (where Tammy would watch from).

Dr. Tracy’s assistant helped lay me down on the bed and position my corrected under the machines. I remember telling them that I didn’t feel anything from the Valium yet and was worried about not waiting long enough or not taking enough. Dr. Tracy said not to worry since they’d be taking several tests to make sure my eyes are ready. His assistant gave me a teddy bear to hold and they joked that it made for a good picture. Having the teddy bear was surprisingly helpful since it gave me something to squeeze and laughing kind of distracted me. Continue reading

Wanting More: When And What is Enough?

In college I dreamed of landing a good paying job that I’d enjoy. I did everything I could to get there, too. I worked nearly full-time throughout my college career and held multiple internships. Admittedly, I was a bit of a hustler and did whatever it took to get where I thought I needed to be. You see, I come from a family of a lot of brokenness and financial hardships. Everything I experienced through those difficult years of my life shaped who I am today.

At a very young age, I knew I wanted to be different. First and foremost, I knew that my only option, and way out really, was education. I remember being in my senior year of high school and having no plans of what would come next. For a short period, I assumed that I would just get a job and work. No one in my family had ever gone to college, so why would I and how would I even get there?

I have two very distinct memories of people telling me something that completely changed the direction I was heading. One was a friend/classmate, Alie, who casually asked where I would go after graduation. I remember her shear shock of my reply that I didn’t have anything planned and would have to just find a job. The casual chat turned into her looking me straight in the eye and saying “Sheena, you’re better than that. You’re one of the smart ones, don’t underestimate yourself. Find a way.” I don’t think anyone had ever said anything so bluntly concerned to me before. But I still didn’t know what to do or how to start, and I even felt guilty about the idea of doing something bigger.

The next course-changer happened while working as a busser/hostess part-time at a little Mexican restaurant. One of the servers, Danny, was attending CSUSM and also volunteered as an advisor at my high school for college-bound students. We were pretty good friends, always joking around at work, but one day he asked me the same question of what my plans were after I graduated. He got the same answer, but he already knew what it was. He said he looked up my academic file and saw that I had a top ranked GPA, had been an honor student every semester, scored high on my PSATs (which I only took because everyone else in my class was), and most importantly, was one of only 30 graduating seniors eligible for applying and being accepted into a UC. Who knew?! I sure as heck didn’t! Again, the chat turned serious. He saw that I didn’t submit any requests for my transcript to be sent to any colleges and pretty intently questioned why. I still fell back on the whole not having any money for college thing and that it was too late to apply. He told me not to underestimate myself and gave me some direction as to where to start. I ended up enrolling at a local community college with the goal of eventually transferring. I still had no idea what I would “major” in or what I wanted to do. But just being there was a good start.

Continue reading

Newborn Photo Session: Baby Forest

A few weeks ago I had the amazing opportunity to photograph my friend’s newborn baby boy. Anthony and I work together at Cuker Interactive (aka Most Awesome Digital Agency Around) and I happened to have gone to high-school with his wife’s younger brother… such a small world! Anthony and his beautiful wife, Jessica, are an adventurous young couple who love being outdoors (so much that Anthony runs San Diego Wilderness Tours), so it was fitting for them to name their new son Forest.

There are so many frame-worthy shots, but here are a few of my favorite photos of the little angel himself!Newborn PhotoshootNewborn Photoshoot - Baby EyelashesNewborn Photos - Wedding Rings & Baby Toes

Newborn Photoshoot - Baby Boy in His Dad's Hands

Newborn Baby PhotoshootParents Holding Newborn Baby HandAnd my favorite shot from this outdoor newborn photo session… a beautiful portrait of the happy new family!

Newborn Photoshoot - Family Portrait

I hope these photos brightened your day and made you smile. Feel free to contact me for information on newborn, family, engagement, lifestyle, or event photo sessions!

Pura Vida in Costa Rica!

Costa Rica had been a dream destination of ours for years. I even planned to study abroad there while we were dating, but then Steven proposed and we decided to postpone the Costa trip until we could both go together! We were married in May, which turns out to be one of the best times of the year to get away, so we decided to try to take at least one big trip around that time every year…sort of a pact to get us out there and a great way to celebrate another year of marriage.

Our first year anniversary was spent at a sweet B&B in Catalina (a smaller trip since we were in escrow buying our home at the same time). For year two, we wanted to take a bigger trip- a dream-come-true adventure in Costa Rica! A month before the trip, though, we ended up heading to the Dominican Republic for our friends’ wedding. We spent over a week in absolute paradise and the last day there ended up being our anniversary day. Tough life, huh? 😉

So we booked the flights our 13 day surf trip to Costa Rica, but that was it! We had no idea where to go or stay. Luckily a neighbor overheard me talking out the trip while lounging down by the pool and offered to connect us with a friend of his that lives and runs a rental property down there. He explained it as his friend’s dad who owns several houses right in-front of a world-class surf break. We were hooked… and booked!Casa Linda Vista in Playa Grande, Costa RicaCraig “Kai” Pyle and his wife are the owners of Casa and Casitas Linda Vista in Playa Grande, Costa Rica. Kai was incredibly helpful beginning to end! With tips and advice that only a local would have, we were very thankful to also have an American host & surfer to look out for us.Steven with Kai of Casa Linda VistaWe ended up driving from San Jose to Playa Grande in about 4 hours. While it was a cool opportunity to see a lot of the country, next time we’ll fly into Liberia (1.5 hrs away)… less driving, more surfing. 🙂

Day 1: We got all settled in to Casa Azul, the beautiful one-story house that sleeps about 7 people. Then we headed over to Frijoles Locos to pick up our surfboard rentals. Kai recommended going through the Bean’s family shop (get it, the surf shop name??) and we couldn’t have been happier. They had the boards we wanted at a very fair price. Plus, we had the option of switching our boards for another shape/size at no cost if the surf changed. The best part was that, without planning, we ended up arriving at the start of a full week of perfect tides! With this being our first destination surf trip, we had no idea how much the tide affected the surf since we were so much closer to the equator. Who knew?! We ended up also making a friend who ended up surfing with us all week & who we stay in contact with through Facebook! Here we are at the end of the trip… all burnt to a crisp!

Marcos from Frijoles Locos Surf Shop

Days 2-9: The next 8 days were all pretty similar, with a few unique excursions throughout. We woke up at about 6am, gobbled down some coffee and breakfast, covered ourselves in sunblock, and surfed from about 7am-noon. What an incredible experience!Casa Linda Vista Beach PathSteven and I headed down the path to the beach, following Kai’s direction to head straight out next to the Rock. Apparently there’s a super long right that breaks there called the “Sugar Bowl.” We got down to the beach, completely stoked to finally be there, only for me to get super sketched out about paddling out without anyone in the water. Glassy, shoulder to head-high perfect surf with no one out??Playa Grande Surf ReportI was convinced there was something wrong, like this area was full of sharks or crocodiles! haha. Turns out we were just there in the wet season, when most people stay away, and were incredibly fortunate to have epic surf and no rain.Playa Grande SurfWhen we weren’t surfing the perfect, warm waves of Playa Grande, we were usually found exploring places like the black sand beach (hot, hot, hot!), Tamarindo, the estuary (with crocodiles), relaxing back at Kai’s place (amongst the lizards, bird, and monkeys!), or scoping out local restaurants. We pretty much went wherever Kai recommended and they were all amazing! Oh, and we tried to watch every sunset. They were, in a word, magnificent! Yes, that’s Steven at the top!Playa Grande, Costa Rica SunsetBlack Sand Beach in Playa Grande, Costa RicaCosta Rica Happy CowsCosta Rica MonkeysExploring Playa Grande, Costa Rica Young Iguana in Playa Grande, Costa RicaCollecting Sea Shells in Playa Grande, Costa RicaTico Fishermen at the Tamarindo Estuary, Costa Rica     We also went on an amazing sailing and snorkeling lunch cruise. This was very similar to the Napali Coast tour we took on our Kauai honeymoon. Both had an exceptional crew, delicious food & drinks, breathtaking scenery, and awesome snorkeling! I’d definitely say the Costa Rica version had less regulations than in Kauai (go figure!), but we felt very safe and taken care of.Costa Rica SailingSailing Around the Costa Rica IslandsThe other difference was the variety of sea life we saw in Costa! We took one of the crew member’s advice and stuck with the captain while snorkeling. He was very experienced not only with diving, but at finding all types of creatures we would never have found ourselves! I mean, he caught a puffer fish with his bare hands!! Who does that? We each got to hold the puffer, an octopus, and tons of starfish. We saw every type of (thankfully harmless) sea creature you could think of. Tons of dolphins, turtles, seals, and fish, too! Continue reading

It’s Gettin’ Hot in Here… and Our HOA Doesn’t Allow Screen Doors

There are many things our HOA does not approve of, and most of them we agree with. But not allowing us to install a screen door makes no sense at all. Even though we live near the coast, some days just get blistering hot and opening the windows just doesn’t cut it. Our home does get a lovely ocean breeze, but it’s hardly noticeable without opening the doors.

We considered all kinds of contraptions that would allow us to keep a door open without worrying about the cats getting out, but nothing seemed feasible. The “invisible” roll-up screen doors looked like a good option at first, but they’re pretty pricey and are not very secure. They actually hang freely at the bottom, so there’s no way they’d keep our two crazy Bengal cats from escaping. We also considered getting a regular screen door that would could install in a way that could be removable when we shut the door (kind of like a kid gate). The problem with this was storing the door when not in use–it would be such a pain. My husband’s solution was to just shut the doors and turn the AC on when it got warm, but that wasn’t even an option in my mind considering two things: 1. it’s expensive and 2. he’s always hot, so it would always have to be on.

After many, many discussions of what to do, I decided to try something we hadn’t considered yet. My idea, basically, was to get some screen material and Velcro strips that we could just press along the door jam. Of course, it wasn’t quite as easy as it sounds, but it was definitely less expensive! And not just a little less, I’m talking $20 versus upwards of $1000 for the “invisible” options!

DIY Removable Cat Screen Door

When looking at this picture, the untrained eye might say we have some incredibly well trained cats. That’s definitely not the case, at least when it comes to an opportunity to dash outside. This is Penny (right) and Donny (left) checking out the new screen door for the first time.
The cats can’t get out and we just roll it up and store it in a closet when not in use. Best part: we get a fantastic ocean breeze without any letters from the HOA saying we’re breaking the rules. Here’s how we did it:   Continue reading

Working on Our Leap List: Dominican Republic

So I know I owe you all the big reveal of our kitchen renovation, but that will just have to wait a little longer. We took a few big trips this summer that we’ll be documenting here on the blog, as well as sharing all the dos & don’ts for those considering the same trip.

First up: An 8 day destination-wedding trip to the Dominican Republic. We stayed at the Majestic Elegance in Punta Cana, which in our book, gets 5 bright and shiny stars for being so amazing!

Dominican Republic Paradise

Dominican Republic Party Cruise

Continue reading

Dreams of Sunshine

This past weekend we held a baby shower for my big brother and his sweet girlfriend. I’m so incredibly happy for the start of their little family and it was such an honor to capture the day in photos. I won’t share all of them here, but some of the details that went into the day were just so special!

Best idea ever, right? This lovely tree was still pretty bare, so to pretty it up the ladies decided to cover it with DIY tissue paper cherry blossoms. Brilliant and oh so pretty!

Continue reading

Kitchen Kitchen Demolition

As promised in my last post about our decision to renovate our kitchen, things get a lot more interesting… especially with a sledge hammer. Actually the first thing we did was remove our ancient double-stack oven. Note that from here forward in this post, “we” mainly means “they” while I took pictures. Our plan was to Craigslist the oven, cooktop, and dishwasher, but everything to the garage for now!

The whole cabinet area that held the ovens was completely removed so we could slide the fridge (and the cabinet above it) right on over to the left to create more of the ‘kitchen triangle.’ Notice below that the fridge was pulled into the middle of the kitchen (you have to take the doors off to get it out of this area), so the kitchen and workspace got pretty tight through this process.

Once the fridge was put back, we went to town with some hammers to break away the gross black tile counter top.

Continue reading