Back when I was pregnant with my first baby (how was it 13 years ago?!) my list of what I deemed baby “necessities” was out of control. Like many first-time moms, I thought I had to buy everything if I wanted to do parenting right. I quickly discovered there’s no such thing as doing it right. I also learned that a top-and-tail wash bowl is the biggest waste of money and time ever (FYI, just use two washcloths), and a lot of the “must-have” lists are sponsored by stores that just want to sell more products — either that, or they’re written by people who don’t actually have kids. By the time my third-born arrived in 2018, my list had been scaled back to the baby items I’d learned were actually essential.
Big-ticket picks like a crib, stroller and car seat aside, here’s a list of 12 necessities for babies to make the lives of new parents a little easier.
Newborns poop a lot. And then some more. So whether you’re going down the disposable route or planning to use cloth, make sure you have a plentiful supply of diapers. Running out of them at 4 a.m. or when you’re on a long journey is the stuff of nightmares. Also, it’s a good idea to stock up on various sizes — too-small diapers just don’t do the job.
2. Onesies with mittens
Teeny-tiny baby mittens for teeny-tiny baby hands are super cute, but they sometimes fall off and regularly get eaten up by the washing machine, à la the mysterious disappearing sock. Luckily, some genius person behind the scenes at Baby Products HQ had the idea of combining mittens with a sleep suit, which is the only thing you’ll want your tot to wear for the first few weeks anyway. The fold-over mittens stop them scratching at their cheeks with those minuscule but surprisingly sharp nails. Stock up.
3. A swaddle blanket (or three)
Most newborns find swaddling really comforting (it mimics the gentle squeeze of the womb) and there’s a huge choice of swaddle blankets out there. The best are generously sized and have plenty of stretch. It pays to have more than one so you’re not without on laundry days — go for three just to be on the safe side.
4. A portable changing pad
All-singing, all-dancing changing stations for the nursery definitely fall into “want” rather than “need,” but a portable changing pad is essential if you ever want to leave the house with your baby. Lots of public bathrooms don’t have changing stations, and of those that do, not all of them will be as clean as you’d like them to be. And sometimes, you just have to change a diaper on the ground or the back seat of your car. It’s not fun, it’s not pretty, but a cute portable changing pad with a compartment for extra diapers and wipes will save you from a complete meltdown.
5. A comfortable, secure carrier
I didn’t use a baby carrier for my first baby (it may have been the only thing not on my essentials list) but it was a game changer with my second — partly because I had a toddler running around as well as a newborn, but also because it’s just magnificent to be able to use both of your hands. A good carrier should have the same effect on your infant as swaddling in that it mimics the womb, and being right next to your heartbeat ticks another box. Some parents like wrap slings (they’re easier than they look, I promise) while others prefer something with more structure — go for what you feel most comfortable wearing.
6. Nipple cream
If you’re breastfeeding, you gotta take care of your boobs. Sore, cracked, chapped nipples are no fun; they can quickly turn what you want to be a positive experience into a form of torture. So stock up on a good nipple cream and don’t let it leave your side for as long as you’re nursing. Lansinoh is a popular brand but there are plenty of alternatives if you want to go lanolin-free.
7. Burp cloths
Whether you’re feeding from the breast or the bottle, one thing is for sure: Some of it comes back up. To keep your clothes as free from regurgitated milk as possible (you have enough laundry to do already) stockpile muslin burp cloths like your life depends on it. After an unforgettable projectile incident, I started using blanket-size muslins — think of it as full-body protection. This is actually the most versatile item I carry around with me — it gives my daughter an extra layer if she needs it, and is big enough to use as a cover-up if I feel like I need more privacy when breastfeeding in public.
8. Night light
For as long as your little one is waking throughout the night — and it’s perfectly normal for that to happen through toddlerhood and beyond — a night light is a godsend. They can help to ease bedtime fussiness, soothe a restless sleeper and minimize disruption to other family members as you’re beelining down the hallway at 3 a.m. (if the screaming baby doesn’t wake them, that is). Like most baby products, night lights come in all shapes and sizes; some are multifunctional gadgets that tell you the temperature of the room, create light shows and play lullabies or white noise.
9. Sleeping bag
As soon as your swaddling nights are over, you’re going to need something else to keep your tot warm through the night. Blankets are functional, but they’re easy to kick off, and a cold baby will waste no time in waking you up. Since the goal is to ensure everyone gets as much (safe) sleep as possible, a sleeping bag is a great early purchase. It keeps your little one warm — different togs are available to accommodate seasonal temperatures — and there’s no risk of their head getting covered, no matter how much they wriggle.
10. Hooded baby towel
You might think you can get by with drying your baby off with one of your regular towels, but as soon as that precious little person arrives, you’re going to want to let nothing but the softest fabrics come into contact with their delicate newborn skin. Your baby will benefit from having their own towel, and bamboo ones are the best. They’re super-soft and absorbent, naturally antibacterial and anti-fungal, and don’t stiffen with washing — even in hard-water areas. Plus, a baby in a hooded towel is a perfect photo opportunity.
11. Collapsible baby bottle
Baby bottles are essential if you’re formula-feeding but they can be a pain in the ass when you’re going anywhere. As if you don’t have enough of a haul already — going anywhere with a baby requires superhuman organizational and packing skills — you need to add formula, bottles and cleaning equipment to your load. This is why collapsible baby bottles will revolutionize the traveling-with-baby game. You can actually fit one of these beauties in your back pocket.
12. Onesies — lots of them
Onesies are the staple of every baby wardrobe, and you simply can’t have too many. (Work out how many you think you’ll need; then, double that.) This little infant bodysuit keeps the nappy in place, provides an inner layer of warmth when it’s cold out, and is all your baby needs to wear on hot days. And it was designed with function in mind: Those little flaps on the shoulders aren’t just there to look cute — after a major diaper leak, they let you pull the onesie down over your baby’s torso and legs instead of over their face for a more hygienic change.
A version of this story was originally published in May 2019.
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