Babies don’t have to be expensive, and they don’t need a lot of stuff! Here are my top baby essentials for new parents.
I follow a lot of parenting and pregnancy boards on Pinterest, so often I come across a lot of “must-haves for baby” lists. And while many of these include a lot of great items that I used myself, I think they all mention a lot of non-essential items as well…as essentials. To put it simply, your baby doesn’t really need a lot!
I was talking to my friend Megan a few weeks ago, and she mentioned how she appreciates the lists that really have the bare minimum and basics. When you have a spouse still in college (or you are in college yourself), or money is tight, or you just don’t like spending money on items that you may not use for more than a few weeks, the bare minimum is the best way to go. I’ll be honest — we used more than just the items I list below.
I wanted a few items that were more for convenience than anything, and I didn’t just dress him in a onesie (baby boy clothes are CUTE!) However if the bare minimum is what you’re going for — then this is probably the list for you! So whether you’re filling out your baby registry or just figuring out your budget, hopefully, you’ll find this list helpful.
And since you’re looking for the bare minimum, you might not even want to read through my long description of items, so here’s the condensed version – you can get something even shorter here – New Baby Essentials; What You Really Need
Originally published June 2014 – updated July 2018.
Baby Items List
- Crib (we LOVE this one – it also turns into a toddler bed and day bed) or Pack-and-Play (preferably with newborn or bassinet attachment). Another option is a co-sleeper or a bassinet. This is a LIFESAVER if your baby has reflux. With our second baby, I really enjoyed this co-sleeper that fits on our bed and isn’t expensive. The AAP recommends you keep your baby in your room for the first six months of life at least, though they recommend a year if possible.
- 2 fitted crib sheets (this one is for a pack-and-play)
- Waterproof Crib Mattress Pad (trust me…you’ll want this.)
- Swaddling blankets – you can go with simple receiving blankets, but I personally prefer the aden and anais blankets – or even better, if you can’t swaddle to save your life, these are amazing.
- 3-4 footed pajamas (in each size) (or 2-3 sleep sacks – great for sleeping and eliminates any need for a blanket, typically available in one size, fits all). I honestly think the Woombie is the best sleepwear for a baby though.
- 7-10 onesies (in each size)- avoid buying too many in one size, since you really have no idea what size your baby will wear when they are born, or how fast they will grow out of them. We personally LOVE this brand – so soft, durable, and 100% organic.
- 4-5 pairs of baby leggings or sweat pants (or skirts, etc.), in each size
- 5 shirts (per size) (if you don’t want your baby just wearing a onesie all the time!)
- Baby hats – essential for newborns!
- Baby socks (lots!) (no need for shoes until they start walking)
- Bottles (if not breastfeeding — if you are breastfeeding, buy a couple just in case. After a lot of trial and error, we found that Dr. Brown’s Bottles with a preemie nipple work the best for breastfed babies – here is an article I wrote about the The Best Bottles for Breastfed Babies, which is based on a survey I did).
- Breast Pump – Make sure to check with your insurance to see if you qualify for a free pump – here is how to get a free breast pump through insurance. I have heard AMAZING things about the Spectra pumps. Apparently, they work almost as well as hospital grade pumps (for a much more reasonable price.)
- Breast Milk Storage Bags — I really liked these freezer trays! (if breastfeeding). People SWEAR by the Kiinde Pumping System – you pump directly into the bag.
- nursing pads (pay just shipping using the code C113D4), though to be honest, I really liked the disposable Lansinoh nursing pads the most.
- Baby bath or Baby Bath Sponge
- Baby Shampoo
- Baby Lotion
- Nasal Aspirator – Don’t get the blue bulb. Using that is just going to aggravate your baby’s nose! I highly, highly recommend the BabyBubz. It’s gross to use, but it works so well, and it was recommended to us by several nurses and a pulmonologist we’ve seen.
- Diapers (I recommend one box of newborn diapers, one box of size one, and one box of size two to start out). You can do cloth diapers, too…but I have no tips for that! Pampers Swaddlers have worked well with both of our boys.
- Wipes – I like the Huggies simply clean ones.
- Bibs (you’ll want this before you introduce solids if your baby drools a lot!) We love the sleeved bibs. Very helpful if you are doing baby led weaning.
- Changing pad or table
- High Chair – we personally liked the Space Saver kind kind (or Bumbo with tray) – not needed right away
- Baby plates and bowls (not needed right away — IKEA has great deals on these, and baby cutlery)
- Car Seat
- Some type of diaper bag + portable changing pad
- A few books (black and white patterns are great for the first few months!)
- Pacifiers (don’t buy too many of one kind — your baby may like only a specific kind. Jack only ever liked the Soothie Pacifiers – especially when attached to the Wubbanub.)
Let me know if I missed anything! If you are looking to buy second-hand clothing, ThredUP is awesome. They have gently used clothing for babies and women, and I absolutely LOVE them.
If you are planning to register, a lot of places, Target, will give you a gift card or some kind of welcome package just for registering. However, I LOVE the Amazon Baby Registry. It’s convenient for most people, and after your baby is born, they give you a coupon to purchase anything remaining on your registry at a discounted rate. I recommend registering there, but also at an in-person place, such as Target, just because not everyone is comfortable shopping online 🙂
Essential Baby Items
And now for anyone who wants to know my reasoning for some of these essentials, here’s a little more information:
Your baby has to sleep somewhere. But where…well, that’s up to you! I mean, in Finland, babies sleep in cardboard boxes. While I’m not really a big fan of that idea, it certainly is cheap.
However, there are a few other options, too 😉 Most people typically start their baby out in a bassinet, where they sleep for about three months or so. We chose to skip that, and we bought a Graco pack-and-play that had a bassinet feature, as well as a newborn sleeper. We used it until Jack was about seven months when we decided to move him to this Lauren 4-in-1 crib that actually turns into a toddler bed and a full-sized bed. However, I know some people who just had their baby sleep in a pack-and-play until they were ready for a toddler bed, and that worked fine for them. The mattresses aren’t very soft though, which is the main reason we moved Jack to a regular crib.
If you buy a crib, you’ll want to buy some fitted crib sheet for it, and to protect the mattress, a waterproof mattress pad (believe me, you’ll want this.) That’s truly all you need for the first year or so of your babies life. Bumpers are controversial and not typically recommended anymore, as well as big comforters or pillows. You simply don’t need them, and they increase the chance of your baby suffocating. Crib sets are always really expensive too, so thank goodness they aren’t necessary!
Of course, you’ll want a few nice blankets to snuggle your baby in and swaddle them in. Receiving blankets are awesome for little babies and very inexpensive as well. Aden and Anais are great because they are larger and lightweight. However, if you can’t swaddle to save your life (guilty!), I love the Woombie. I think the convertible version is the best just in case your baby wants to keep their hands next to their face.
After the baby is no longer swaddled, I really like the sleeping bag pajamas. It keeps them warm, doesn’t have the same chance of going over their faces like a regular blanket would, and they are typically sized for zero to nine months!
Walking into any baby section of any store, you’ll immediately be bombarded with tons of adorable clothing. And then, you might cry a little when you see the prices of said adorable clothing. Why a little outfit, that uses far less fabric than a regular outfit, costs so much is beyond me. Luckily, you don’t need all those over-priced outfits. Your baby isn’t going to know what it’s wearing, and so long as they are properly clothed for the season, you can really get away with just onesies and baby sweats/pants, and perhaps a few long sleeved shirts.
However, if you are like me, a onesie and cheap baby pants aren’t super fun or cute all the time. I loved dressing Jack in cute little outfits — however, I rarely bought some full-priced. About 95% of his wardrobe came from family or friends, or from the dollar sales at Once Upon a Child (a child’s clothing consignment store).
Be sure to check out this post on how to get kid’s clothes for less.
Until about six months, babies don’t need anything beyond breastmilk or formula, so really, you don’t even need to worry about buying little plates, forks, and cups for quite awhile. If you plan to formula feed, you’ll need bottles (I wouldn’t buy a huge set until you’ve discovered which one your baby likes the most), a bottle warmer (this is even iffy if you need it or not), and that’s about it.
If you are breastfeeding exclusively, I wouldn’t even buy bottles until you decide if you want to pump at all. We bought this nice set of bottles before Jack was born, and we used them twice. Ever. I never really had a reason or need to give him a bottle, so that was just money down the drain.
If you plan to breastfeed, I highly recommend getting a breast pump of some kind. These are especially helpful during those first few months where you may get engorged and need to pump milk before your baby needs to eat. Insurance should cover a breast pump! I highly recommend an electric one…manual ones aren’t so fun.
You’ll also want a few towels, though you can easily just use towels you already have! However, I am a sucker for hooded towels for babies and toddlers — Jack still loves his. We have two that people made for Jack, but you can also buy them on Etsy or at Target, Walmart, or Amazon.
Your baby needs a car seat, and this is one thing that I wouldn’t be stingy on. I’m pretty passionate about car seat safety, but I won’t go into that right now (don’t want to start a fight or anything) but do some research on car seats before you buy one. We personally opted for an infant car seat because we felt like it was more convenient than just a convertible car seat for that first year of Jack’s life, but if you don’t want to have to buy more than one car seat for your baby, then just buy a convertible car seat from the get-go. The convertible car seat we bought Jack is the Graco MyRide 70 — it works a baby as small as four pounds and goes up to 40 pounds rear-facing, and 70 pounds front facing. So basically, you can use it for pretty much the entire time your child’s supposed to be in some kind of child-restraint device.
And please, don’t buy a used car seat, especially if it’s from a consignment store or from someone you don’t know. There’s really no way for you to verify that it hasn’t been in an accident, and it may even be hard to tell if it’s expired. If you buy one thing new for your baby, make sure it’s their car seat.
I do recommend getting some kind of stroller — we got ours as a travel system with our car seat, and we loved it. However, a travel system isn’t totally necessary. Strollers are just nice for going on walks, going to the mall, etc. You can easily buy one of these used at a child consignment store as well, and it will be in pretty good condition.
Whether you choose to use disposable or cloth diapers, you’ll need them! I stocked up on diapers from Amazon Mom while I was pregnant, which really worked out well for us. I only purchased one box of newborn diapers (though we ended up buying another — Jack didn’t go through diaper sizes very quickly), a couple boxes of size ones and twos, and one of size three. We obviously had to buy other ones eventually, but it was nice to have a nice stockpile.
If you are interested in stockpiling, you will probably appreciate this post – The Ultimate Guide to a Diaper Stockpile.
The same thing goes for wipes — we always buy them on Amazon Mom, and I stocked up while I was pregnant. One thing about stocking up on wipes is that you’ll always be able to use them — there’s no chance that they will outgrow them or that they will cause leaks, which are common issues with stocking up on diapers.
You’ll also probably want to get a tube of diaper rash cream. I always liked having a changing pad as well that we put in our diaper bag.
Unless you plan on carrying around everything your baby needs in your hands (not possible, I don’t think), be sure to get some kind of diaper bag. There are tons of styles in every single price range. I personally feel that I should have spent a little more on a quality diaper bag because the one we bought wore out really quickly because we used it a lot. But whatever you end up doing, I think it’s good to have lots of pockets!
I recently started using a backpack style diaper bag, and I LOVE it so much. Forrest likes it more, too. For quick diaper changes and trips where you don’t want to take your whole bag, I like this compact diaper bag.
A few non-essentials that I still love
So, I already mentioned that I didn’t just get the bare essentials! I wanted a few “luxury” items, and I don’t feel bad about that. They made our life easier for sure. So even though this is mainly a post about the essentials, these are a few things we really loved
Owlet Baby Monitor: This is, by far, the best baby product we own. I wrote about it awhile back, and how I wished we had it when Jack was a baby. It’s a baby monitor that tracks your infant’s oxygen and heart rate levels while they sleep. It’s been very well-researched and developed by a team of experts to ensure the highest quality monitoring.
It has helped me sleep SO much better at night, and it actually alerted me to Oliver having breathing problems one night. It is $299, but to me, it’s more than worth the price.
A swing: This was so wonderful for the first several months of Jack’s life, especially since he had really bad acid reflux. The swing we had was like a baby whisperer — any baby that sat in it was instantly soothed. We had the Ocean Wonders swing but I don’t think they make it anymore, which is a shame! However, this swing looks pretty similar. looks very similar. Believe me, a swing is worth the investment, at least in my opinion!
Bouncer: Some might say having a swing and a bouncer was overkill, but we honestly used both a ton when Jack was little. Whenever I wanted to take a shower, I would put Jack in his bouncer (the swing was too big to bring in the bathroom), turn the music and vibration on, and he would be calm the entire time — I think the steam from the shower helped as well! Jack always loved the vibration of the bouncer and we used it until he was about four months old. The Mamaroo is pretty amazing.
Aden and Anais Swaddling Blankets: Jack LOVED to be swaddled for the longest time, and we received the Aiden and Anais Swaddling Blankets for a baby shower present. These made swaddling so much easier, and they could also double as a nursing cover (when I forgot my super awesome and easy-to-make nursing cover) or as a car seat cover. They are thin, breathable, and super soft. I always had issues swaddling, and it was always a lot easier with these swaddling blankets.
Baby Monitor: If you live in a house and you’re not always going to be close enough to hear your baby cry during nap or bedtime, I think a baby monitor might be more of an essential. However, if you are like me, and live in an apartment…it’s more optional. We always had a baby monitor, simply because I’m paranoid that I won’t hear Jack wake up (and there were times when the monitor was off, and I didn’t!)
You don’t have to get an expensive one — we use this Safety 1st baby monitor that is only about $15, and it works really well. With our second baby, we bought this video monitor which works really well.
Nursing Pillow: I purchased a Boppy and used it all the time — when I nursed Jack, when he was asleep in my arms, to prop him up when he got older….it was well-used! I loved my Boppy, but there are plenty of other brands out there. You can even find homemade ones on Etsy or patterns to make your own. You can get a FREE one here (just pay shipping) using the code C113D4.
Nursing Cover: I made this nursing cover when I had Jack, and I loved it! It provided full coverage on the front and back, and it was cute…and most importantly, incredibly easy to make. Of course, you can find nursing covers in any style you want and pretty much every style. You can also get a free nursing cover here using the code C113D4.
Arm & Hammer Diaper Pail: We knew from the get-go that we wanted some kind of diaper pail to put all of Jack’s diapers (I’m not really a fan of having to go out to the dumpster every time we change a diaper, or stinking the room up by just throwing it in the trash can!) We looked at a lot of different diaper pails, and the one from Arm & Hammer looked the best to us. It’s always worked really well. The only downside is that you do have to pay the Arm & Hammer bags, but they aren’t super expensive and each one can hold about 15 diapers.
Baby Carrier: Jack practically lived in my Moby Wrap that I made for the first six months of his life. He loved being it, and I loved wearing him — I was able to get so much more done, and it always soothed him. I highly recommend getting some kind of baby carrier for your child! The Ergo is very highly recommended.
Babies don’t really need toys. But they do s Especially things that make noise and are colorful. We loved this Baby Einstein’s Take Along Music Box (Jack was mesmerized by it,) Sophie the Giraffe, the Oball, and this Very Hungry Caterpillar teether rattler,
Jack used to be entertained for hours by his play mat, and it was great for tummy time! We got a killer deal on this Bright Starts Play Mat, and it was worth every penny.