Gearing up for baby can be an overwhelming – and bank-breaking – undertaking. But experienced parents know that not every item pitched as a "must-have" necessarily deserves that label. Whether you're working with a budget or ready for a buying spree, this guide will help you figure out what to put on your list.
This is a big-ticket item with a big price tag. If you're tempted to get a used model or a hand-me-down, make sure the crib adheres to current safety standards.
Another necessity, if you're considering having baby bunk in your room, is a co-sleeper. The American Academy of Pediatrics discourages co-sleeping – but with one of these handy infant beds (which securely fits against your bed), you can have Baby close by and still sleep safely.
Alternately, you can get a cradle or bassinet. The plus side is that a cradle or bassinet is compact and portable, but babies outgrow them very quickly (and can sleep in a crib from day one).
It's important to use sheets specifically made for cribs, and that fit tightly and securely around the mattress. Invest in top-of-the-line sheets designed to stay tucked.
Why invest in a piece of furniture just for diaper duty? Instead, consider a sturdy changing pad with sloped sides and a safety strap. Position it on top of a regular, waist-high chest of drawers. The chest can be used until Baby goes to college; and a changing table will just be taking up space in the attic in a few years.
We all want our darlings' dirty diapers to disappear quickly and completely, hence the popularity of those fancy diaper disposal pails that whisk the evidence into coils of tightly sealed, odor-preventing plastic sheeting. But the cost of such pails and their refills can add up. Plus, when you have to open the contraption to empty it, the stench of the stored diapers can be enough to knock you off your feet. If you want a budget option, consider a simple diaper pail and a supply of plastic grocery bags. This can be emptied nightly into an outdoor trashcan.
Baby bathtubs are not too expensive, and help keep a squirmy infant safe at bathtime. If you're looking to save space or money, consider a tub or sink liner, a thick sponge that cushions the baby in the sink or tub. A bath thermometer is another inexpensive purchase with a big safety pay-off.
You should have a special place where you can put up your feet and relax during those countless feedings. The traditional rocking chair is a classic, and can be used for years after the baby is grown, in any room of the house. A good recliner or armchair will also do.
When you stumble out of bed for night feedings or just want to check on your baby at night, the last thing you want to do is turn on a bright light. Having a dim light that can be safely left on or used as needed is a life-saver, easing the transition between waking and sleeping for both you and baby.
If you're really pinching pennies, you can use an infant car seat or carrier as a perfectly safe spot for baby to sit. But most parents find that they need a more entertaining contraption as baby reaches the end of the first 6 weeks. Options range from simple bouncing seats to battery-operated swings to baby gyms and (for slightly older babies) activity centers. If you can, let your little one give the various options a test run when visiting friends with babies, then invest in the gadget he or she likes best. These items are also easy to pick up cheaply at garage sales, but make sure any model you buy has not been recalled, is in excellent repair, and meets all safety standards.
This is the single most important item you can purchase for your baby – nothing will do more to protect your brand-new bundle of joy, and hospitals generally won't allow you to take the baby home without a car seat. It's best to get a new seat rather than a used one or a hand-me-down. See our print-out guide to using and choosing a car seat for tips.
You might want to think about skipping the elaborate carriage-style stroller, which is only used for baby's first three or four months. Instead, invest in a combo car-seat-stroller travel system instead (especially good for suburban lifestyles with lots of driving), or save up for a well-made umbrella stroller, which can be used from when the baby is able to sit on her own until she's a three or four years old. In the meantime, try to borrow a fully reclinable baby carriage (check first to make sure it hasn't been recalled) or use a front carrier or a sling to tote your newborn.
When a wheeled carrier isn't appropriate or needed, these other options come in very handy. Front carriers and slings free up your hands, are great for baby-parent bonding, and are very packable. Some models have been recalled, so check first if you are borrowing one. An infant carrier, usually a molded bucket seat lined with soft cushioning, often doubles as a car seat (see above) and/or part of a travel system. Some parents also find that babies love to sleep in their infant carriers, even at home.