Some people garden, other people collect movies — I plan. I make lists, I research, I get my ducks in a row. And when it came to first-time motherhood, I soaked up all the books, and the articles, and the advice that I could — and then, like everyone else, learned the bulk of what it means to be a parent by just doing. However, those first few months were made much easier with a fully-stocked home and nursery (well, and my live-in mother for two weeks; shout out to G’ma Sharon for supplying all the chicken pot pie and baby bathtime tips we didn’t know we needed).
Here’s my Ultimate First-Time Parent Registry List, with what worked for us (and what I would change). It will also be fun to look at this list in 30 years and see what’s changed (or not). Scroll down to the bottom for a printable checklist.
NOTE: I was an exclusively breastfeeding mama who worked full-time starting when my son was three months old, so adapt this list to your needs accordingly.
CLOTHES. While the cutesy, fussy, all-done-up stuff is nice for a picture or two, or a special newborn event like a christening, 99% of the time I’m going practical and easy all the way. For me, that meant lots of footed sleep-n-plays and onesie-and-pants sets.
And lots of them. In the beginning, it wasn’t uncommon to do 4 outfit changes a day. (You’ve never seen so much bodily fluid until you have a newborn.) And trust me, you won’t be doing laundry nearly as fast as you think, so you’ll need plenty of outfits still in rotation if that dirty load hasn’t been washed yet. (You’ll also be doing some heavy-duty stain treating, so you want durable fabrics like cotton. Trying to get that diaper-explosion stain out of a $40 monogrammed, dry-clean-only jumper is not fun.) Another note: for nighttime, I preferred the snap-up footed sleepers, as opposed to the zipper kind, since they were faster and easier to undo, and kept the baby warmer, in the middle of the night.
I’ve used many brands, all of which are fine, but Carter’s is my go-to. You can always find coupons, clearance deals and their quality is phenomenal.
BEDS, BOUNCYS, & BASSINETS (OH MY). We used all of the above. Owen slept next to our bed for the first three months in a Fisher-Price Rock ‘n Play Sleeper, which is seriously my most favorite baby item of all our baby items. It’s genius. He absolutely loved sleeping in it, probably because it’s inclined and let’s him feel swaddled and surrounded, and I loved that it both rocked easily, even if I was lying down next to it, and folds up and can be carried up and down stairs, even with one hand. The cover was also very easy to pop off and wash (and yes, you will have reason to do that). Best money spent, hands down.
Due to space, we opted for a Graco TravelLite Crib instead of a full-sized Pack ‘n Play, which, in retrospect, we should have just gone full-sized. The TravelLite Crib is fine and we did use it as a playpen (especially in the mornings during the work week), but it’s smaller, so Owen quickly got too big for it. He also never slept in it as an infant (see Rock ‘n Play of awesomeness, above), and by the time he was sleeping in his crib and we went on vacation, he needed a full-sized playpen to sleep in, so we ended up buying one. File this under “live and learn.”
We also used our bouncy seat and swing (hand-me-downs from my mom, from THIS Fisher-Price line) quite a bit in those early days. The vibration on the bouncy and the motion of the swing were often the only ways he could find sleep. They’re also a great way to keep him occupied long enough for me to take a shower or eat lunch.
We moved Owen from the rock ‘n play to his crib at around six months, and that’s where he still is at 2. We found our crib/changing table set at Burlington’s Baby Depot for a steal, as the style had been discontinued and was a floor model. Shop around, and remember that Babies R Us is usually the most expensive. We also didn’t go the “convertible crib” route. You’re paying more for something that the manufacturer sells you on using three ways (crib, toddler bed/daybed, full-size headboard), but you likely never will. Most cribs can become a daybed by taking the front panel off, and if you do decide to use the back panel as a full headboard, and have any more children, you’ll be buying a second crib. Um, no thank you. Plus, the headboard the back panel creates is never really that attractive.
Two more things we got but only used twice: one, a Nap Nanny. Which, I can’t even give a link to, because the company has since gone bankrupt. Owen just didn’t like it at all, and we had plenty of other devices that he did enjoy sleeping in. The Nanny is also pretty big and bulky, so even with one of their “travel bags” isn’t going to make the cut leaving the house on vacation or a short stay at a friend’s house across town. And two, a travel bed. It sounded like a good idea, but we didn’t do enough traveling/visiting when he was that little to warrant using it. Between round-the-clock nursing and icky northeastern winter weather/germs, it was so not worth leaving the house.
BEDDING. We used the Carter’s Easy-Fit Sateen crib sheets and loved them. Great fit, durable, not too thin and easy to stain-treat and wash. I highly recommend having at least three sheets, as often as you’ll be washing them. We also used the Carter’s bassinet and play yard sheets for the TravelLite and play yard, and they work equally well. The darker colors (we have a chocolate sheet) do tend to hold lint more, for some reason, but it’s not bad enough that I’ve stopped using them. I loved THESE Carter’s lap pads, and used them all the time, especially on his changing pad. It was a lot easier to change out a lap pad then replace the whole changing cover after accidents and messes.
BLANKETS & BURP CLOTHS. Of varying sizes, materials, and weights — you’ll use them differently depending on age, stage, season and activity. In the beginning (especially since it was winter for us) we used thin cotton flannel receiving blankets (like THESE from Carter’s) ALL the time, both for swaddling and extra coverage. Again, you’ll be washing these a lot, so be sure to have plenty that you can cycle through. I’m also a fan of THESE receiving blankets from Gerber. Classic, with a bit more heft. The rest of our stash came from family and friends — some knit, some large ones to use to play on the floor, some heavier ones for bundling up in strollers and car seats, some great for sleeping when he was a toddler, etc. We probably have about a dozen and we seriously use them all. We also used a lot of burp cloths, even with breastfeeding. I kept several near where I was feeding him, and we kept them around the house and in diaper bags for spit-ups. Breastfed babies aren’t as burpy, but I liked THESE thicker ones for putting over your shoulder, and THESE thin ones for everyday use. The thin ones are way more absorbent. Lastly, I recommend both SwaddleMe’s and Sleepsacks. The swaddlers were miracle workers for getting Owen to sleep as a newborn, and the sleepsacks kept him warm when he was still too young to be put to bed with blankets. (We did get a combo swaddle-sleepsack, but he was not a fan.)
EQUIPMENT. We went with a basic audio walkie-talkie style monitor, which works just fine, but in retrospect, I really would have liked a video monitor. Not only is it fun to watch a sleeping baby, as he got older and we got into sleep training, it would have been super helpful to peek on him without opening the door and risking eye contact (a dealbreaker, for sure).
Every baby’s different, but for us, having a white noise machine (we had a mini SleepSheep and apps on our phones) was a godsend. There were soooo many days/nights that the soft sound of waves crashing or a fan blowing were the only thing that helped him fall asleep or calm him down. I loved that the travel sheep had a velcro strap, so you could attach it to the outside of the crib around one of the rails, or around the top of the rock ‘n play. It was a beautiful thing.
The other thing I would buy in a heartbeat if it failed was a baby timer (I also had an app on my phone, which I LOVED — Total Baby). Seriously, if you’re laughing right now and asking, “How do you not know when you last fed your baby, or on which side?” your time is coming. Especially in the first few weeks when you have to make sure you’re baby isn’t sleeping through feedings, this thing was fantastic. And with the app, you can export Excel spreadsheets (I actually added up all our parenting awesomeness in the form of diapers changed, hours nursed/pumped, baths completed, etc. for his one-year scrapbook). Another reason to love the app — when you’re standing in the pediatrician’s office all sleep-deprived and nervous and they’re throwing 1,000 questions your way, you can just pull it out and show them what’s been going on. Love. it.
And, my breast pump. I have a love/hate relationship with this thing. I spent so much time with it in that first year I felt like I should name it. Everyone’s different, but my child was a hungry hungry hippo and I pumped 5-6 times a day well into month 9 (and dropped down by about 1 session for the next three months). I highly, highly recommend getting a high-end electric pump if you’ll be using it this much. I used the Medela Advanced with tote, which was very convenient in that it packed up into a nondescript bag and could run on batteries (not for more than a couple sessions, but still) if needed. It was also plenty roomy for all the tubing, etc., as well as a four-bottle cooler (I think I was able to hold 20 oz. total in it), a nursing cover, and more. I loved THESE bottle date labels — both for my own knowledge to use the milk before it went bad, but most daycares require you to label it. (Side note: I used THIS Etsy shop for personalized name labels for his bottles, cups, and clothes that are permanent and washable, and loved them. I’m still using them as he gets new coats, jackets, shoes, etc. that need to be labeled for school.) Last, get yourself a handsfree bra — otherwise you’ll hate life. It allows you to do pretty much anything you normally would while pumping — email, paperwork, eating breakfast, typing, reading, etc.
Strollers – we LOVE our Chico umbrella stroller and use it all the time now that Owen’s older. Highly recommend it, and it’s great at zoos and other crowded places, has a great turning radius, is lightweight and the basket on the bottom holds a lot more than you’d think. As for a full-sized stroller, we went with a Peg Perego. Totally not worth the money, in my opinion. It works fine, we use it, but my two main complaints are that the separated handles, for a full-sized stroller, make it quite the workout to use. I’d prefer a solid bar, as it turns out. Second, the basket underneath is a complete joke. I think it can hold a sweater, if you fold it. There might be more space down there, but the way it’s constructed you can’t get to it. No way would you be able to hold a diaper bag, which wasn’t what I was thinking about at the time of purchase, but really needed. We ended up also buying a frame that fit our infant car seat, and it rode so smoothly that I wished we had just gotten the travel set with the full-sized stroller that also holds the infant car seat. As it stands, I have serious stroller envy when we’re out and about 🙂
FEEDING SUPPLIES. We only used one kind of bottle — I was pretty picky about finding something that would let us transition between breast and bottle-feeding (while at daycare or with the occasional babysitter). We used Tommee Tippee Closer to Nature bottles and loved them. They’re a great shape for holding, only four pieces so really easy to clean. Another tip that no one told me about: formula-fed babies increasingly drink more and more formula the older they get, since it’s water-based. Breastmilk actually adapts and changes to meet babies’ nutritional needs, so the amount of it they drink doesn’t change as they get older. So, all the super-big 9 and 12 oz. bottles we got were never used. We also didn’t need to switch from the newborn low-flow nipples, since they’re similar to breastfeeding.
I made most of Owen’s baby food myself, and used a variety of plastic storage containers and lidded ice cube trays, but my favorites (and most expensive, of course) were THESE. I ended up buying four I loved them that much.
BOOKS. Yes, for a newborn. Read all the time, any time, any thing. I’m a huge huge HUGE proponent of early literacy; read early, and often. Here’s my list of 50 great books for little ones.
Alright, now that you’re on information overload, happy shopping! 🙂 I’ll update if I get any requests for specific reviews.