My neighbor is expecting her first baby this week and I've been giving her tons of advice. (OK, take a moment to let the dubiousness of that properly concern you.) One thing she's been particularly interested in figuring out is if she has what she needs for the baby's arrival.
I ended up making a list for her of the infant items I found most useful and I thought I'd pass it along here as well.
It is my firm opinion that the Baby Industrial Complex is bent on forcing you to spend as much money as humanly possible each time you bring a newborn home, and the fact is that most of that stuff you don't really need.
After some debate we used disposables.
You probably don't need as many as you think. With Snoodie, I changed him every time he ate overnight, but eventually I realized that diaper technology has progressed to a point where being wet wasn't bothering him. I only change my third overnight when she seems uncomfortable, which as it turns out, is never. So now I only change every several hours during the day or her if she poops.
If you want to be hardcore, you can stop the list of things you absolutely need when you come home from the hospital at diapers. You will certainly get a couple of outfits as gifts, and so with diapers on hand you are now ready to meet the basic food/shelter/clothing requirements of having a newborn.
BUT, a few additional items will make life easier on all.
The Breast Pump
For me the breast pump was one of the few baby items that was worth investing some real money in.
I made the mistake of buying two cheap drugstore pumps before dropping real money on a high-end version. I have the Medela Pump In Style (because, as the name implies, it is wildly important for me to be as stylish as possible while self-milking). When it came to pump-shopping, I eventually came to the realization that when purchasing hardware that you plan to attach to your nipples, it's really not a time to look for bargains.
I've used the breast pump more with each child. With my first, there was no impediment to sitting and breastfeeding for hours at a time while watching hour after hour of reality TV (insert wistful sigh for the good old days). But now that I have two toddlers, I find that keeping a stash of pumped milk means I don't have to master the art of breastfeeding while simultaneously playing hide-and-seek in the park. For this I am grateful.
I work from home, but I sense from friends who have gone back to work while still breastfeeding that they find a good pump even more invaluable.
If you pump you'll need bottles and nipples to feed, but again, not that many. I got mine with my breast pump. I also never bought any sort of bottle sterilization system. They are expensive and take up a lot of space and your dishwasher does the same job for free, so I say skip it.
Nightgowns with Open Bottoms/Onesies with Feet
I dressed my first in a wild assortment of adorable, multi-piece outfits featuring coats with whimsical animal scenes, onesies with sailing tableaus, and the occasional jaunty hat.
My third alternates between exactly two outfits.
At night she wears nightgowns with open bottoms to allow me to change her (in case of poop) without either one of us having to fully wake up. During the day she wears a one piece that covers her feet so I don't have to keep track of socks while we're on the move.
A Car Seat
A car seat is non-negotiable, but beware! The purchase of a car seat can lead you into a treacherous minefield of information designed to convince you that your love of your offspring can be accurately measured by how much you are willing to spend to keep him or her safe in your vehicle. After lamenting over our car seat purchase at length, my husband finally convinced me that we live in a litigious age where nationally mandated child-related safety standards are already in place for all infant products, and so any car seat that we purchased in a reputable store would inevitably be safe.
Thus we went with a fairly inexpensive one.
One thing I have found to be invaluable in a car seat is to have one that snaps into a base in your car and also snaps into your stroller. This means that you don't have to take your kid out to transfer him/her from stroller to car and vice-versa, because in my experience when you do have to wrest them from one location to another they tend to get very, very angry at you. And that should be avoided. And speaking of...
Like car seats, if they are allowed to sell them, they're suitably safe, so you're paying the money for extra bells and whistles that are generally unnecessary. Like I said, you DO want to buy one of the systems where the same seat locks in the car and on the stroller. You should also pay attention to how you "unlock" the stroller handle to put it down. We didn't, which means to release the handle on ours you have to use both hands, which means you have to put the baby somewhere first. Hey, how about the seat? Great! First just let me put the handle down...
OPTIONAL BUT NOT NECESSARY
A Baby Tub
One of these can be pretty useful during the time before the baby has head control, but you can also sponge bathe them or give them bird baths in the sink instead. They sell all sorts of stickers and things that warn you if the water is too hot, but if you happen to have a wrist (right about the spot before your hand starts?) then you can use that instead.
A Wipes Warmer
From what I hear from my elders, children in previous generations have survived the sensation of cold things touching their butts at changing times. Still, I found that having warm wipes helped my little ones sleep through diaper changes, so while acknowledging it as an indulgence, I recommend.
This pillow really helps get the baby is a good position for nursing. For the record it also helps you multitask (eat, drink, blog, break up violent fights between your other offspring, etc.) while nursing. I have the very basic kind (they have some that attach around your waist, making you resemble a cigarette girl selling breastmilk, but I never tried one of those). As a bonus, a Boppy makes a great lap seat for your little if you happen to be traveling on a plane. I'd get one.
Baby Soothing Systems
These include the baby swing, the vibrating chair, the hammock, and all the other devices meant to stop your baby from crying and thus save you from ruing the day you ever decided to spawn. Some work quite well, but it's hard to predict which one will work for your kid, and inevitably they'll end up needing something completely different.
(Snoodie had a stretch where he would only calm down if you held him "just so" whilst bouncing on an inflatable yoga ball for hours at a time. My second, thankfully, had no interest in the yoga ball of doom.)
We were fortunate enough to get several of these items as hand-me-downs, and while my kids liked all of them to varying degrees, the one consistent winner was the swing. They make super-elaborate swings and cheap ones, and my babies couldn't tell the difference as long as they were rocking back and forth in some fashion.
Somewhere for Baby to Sleep
I bought a co-sleeper off Craigslist. Never used the actual co-sleeping feature but it's a nice little spot for the baby to sleep that's away from where her brothers can bother her. A Moses basket or bassinet seem like they would have been just as good. It's nice to not be dealing with a full-sized crib for the first couple of months because there's not so much lifting them in and out, but aside from that slight hassle, a crib would be fine as well.
THINGS YOU DON'T NEED
Here are the items I found the least useful:
We came home with three hospital-issue blankets and then received approximately 1,000 additional blankets as gifts. Babies don't really use blankets at night, so you only really need 2 or 3 to wrap them up in when necessary. We had total blanket overload. (Please note at this time that if you gave us a blanket, I am not referring to your blanket. Yours is the blanket we use and adore. Thank you for your thoughtful and awesome blanket. You rule.)
Nursing Tops/Nursing Covers
Again, with my first, I was constantly constructing elaborate tent structures over myself while nursing in public. With my third, my basic attitude is, turn your head for a second folks. If, in the age of readily-available internet porn, my 40-year-old boob is so inciting that you can't turn away while it makes a brief appearance, then you've got bigger problems than I know how to address.
I've gotten rid of all my nursing clothing and covers.
A diaper bag is kind of like a purse: you can tote your crap around in any old thing, so you just need to decide how stylish you want to be, how much room you need, and how much you're willing to spend on the 'reusable grocery bag' to 'whatever Beyonce has' scale.
Breast Milk Storage
They sell all sorts of bags and stuff in this category, but I've always stored mine in a bottle in the fridge. I never had a huge backup supply, so maybe I just never needed this stuff, but still, I never needed it.
When we lived in a small apartment the diaper pail was pretty necessary. Now that we are in a house with an easily accessed outside can, we could do without ours. Some of the models use a specific kind of bag which you have to keep buying, so I prefer the kind that take regular garbage bags.
My overall advice is simple -- don't overbuy. Your children will soon fill your home with a cavalcade of debris the likes of which you can not at this time imagine, so don't give them a head start by over-purchasing for them as infants. There really isn't all that much they need, no matter what the shiny circulars from Babies R Us may have you believe.
It should be noted that we live in Southern California, so we don't have any climate-related needs for baby snowsuits, baby fur hats, or other baby de-icing systems. These may be necessary in other parts of the globe and certainly may up your need for blankets (I might have some spares you could use...)
Please weigh in in the Comments section if there's something I've forgotten -- was there anything you absolutely loved having when you first brought baby home?
My neighbor thanks you in advance.