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 ca do the same:
Specific Baby Gear & Essentials We Love
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.
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!
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.
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! 😉
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!).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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+).
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!
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.
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.
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. 😉
Sophie toy! The only toy/teether to make sure you get. This was actually the first toy L grabbed on her own! We take Sophie everywhere and every time we leave the house, we tell Lilly, “it’s time for another adventure with L and Sophie!”
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.
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.
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!
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.
- Not available at Target
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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******
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.
“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.
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!