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List of Essential & Must-Have Baby Items (and Others You Don’t Need)

By Casey Slide

cute baby blanketBabies are not very materialistic. They don’t care about how beautiful their nursery furniture is, how educational their toys are, or how fashionable their clothes make them look. In fact, there are very few items that a baby actually requires: a place to sleep, diapers, a baby car seat, basic clothing, and milk.

But even though a baby’s needs are simple, that doesn’t mean yours are. There is a lot of  baby gear on the market these days that can significantly enhance your ability to care for your child or just make it that much easier. But sorting through the available items and making sense of the marketing hype is often overwhelming. Plus, the potential expenses can be frightening. So how do you determine what is worth spending money on and what is essentially worthless?

To get you started, here’s a list of baby essentials and a list of items to stay away from based on my experience with my son.

10 Essential Baby Items You Need

While only a handful of things are actually necessary to raise a healthy child, the following items simplify the demands of caring for your baby. Here are the things I used and appreciated most when caring for my newborn son:

1. Humidifier

baby humidifierThis was one of the few items I did not receive as a gift before my son was born. Understandably, a humidifier isn’t too exciting. However, since I didn’t receive one as a gift, I blew it off as not very important.

I realized how wrong I was when my son got his first cold. When a baby has a cold, there really isn’t much you can do for them in regards to medication (and nose blowing). A humidifier, however, allows your baby to breathe easier, especially in the case of stuffy noses and coughing. Once I got a humidifier, my child slept much better.

Tip: Get a humidifier that has a filter and is simple to clean. Consider adding a few drops of an essential oil like eucalyptus to the water or in the medicine well if your humidifier has one. This worked wonders on clearing my son’s most stubborn stuffy noses.

Cost: $25 to $200 (Crane Drop Shape Cool Mist Humidifier for $45)

2. Swaddle Blanket

miracle baby swaddling blanketUnless you are a nurse, wrapping a newborn in a swaddle can be a bit foreign. As much as I tried and tried, I just could not get my little one swaddled as tightly as the nurses did in the hospital.

So instead of wasting my time and getting frustrated, I used a blanket specifically designed to easily swaddle an infant with the use of flaps and Velcro. Not only did it simplify my life as a parent, but my son looked so cute all swaddled up!

Cost: $10 to $30 (Miracle Baby Swaddling Blanket for $30)

3. Moby Wrap

moby wrap womanMy son has a really big personality and a really big voice to go along with it. He is extremely vocal about what he wants, and most of the time, his number one want is to be held. Holding a baby can be an amazingly peaceful thing, but holding a baby 24/7 is not only impractical, it can also drive you a little nuts.

That is why I loved the Moby Wrap. It allowed me to carry my son with me and still have my hands free without overly straining my poor arms.

Cost: $40 (Original Moby Wrap for $40)

4. Pacifier

avent soothie pacifierBefore I actually had a baby to take care of, I always thought I wouldn’t let my child have a pacifier. However, when my son was three days old, I remember crying, “Where’s a pacifier?!” My belief about pacifiers was forever changed.

For the next several months, I was highly reliant on the pacifier to calm my son during the difficult transition from womb to world. Plus, he broke his pacifier habit on his own once he discovered his thumb.

Cost: $3 to $6 (Philips Avent Soothie Pacifier for $4)

5. Play Yard

pack n playThe play yard is incredibly versatile. More commonly called a Pack ‘N Play, this item can be a crib, a bassinet, a changing table, and a play area all in one. If you plan to travel with your baby, having a play yard ensures that he or she will have a proper place to sleep while away from home. It’s also a safe place to lay your baby down while you take care of yourself or your other children.

Cost: $60 to $200 (Graco Pack ‘N Play Playard with Bassinet for $62)

6. Video Monitor

baby video monitorI can sum up the benefit of a video monitor in three words: peace of mind. That is what you’ll get when your baby is alone in the crib with the door shut. It’s comforting to always be able to see your child peacefully sleeping. And if he or she is not sleeping, it’s certainly nice to see what he or she is up to. It’ll also help you know if it’s a good time to go in to get your baby.

Cost: $140 to $300 (Samsung Wireless Video Security Monitoring System for $150)

7. Library Card

We all know that reading to children at a young age is of great benefit. It develops their vocabulary, their understanding of words, and their listening and communication skills, and gives them a love for reading. To expose your baby to as many stories as possible, get a membership card at your local public library instead of buying books. This will make reading to your baby more fun for both of you.

Cost: FREE

8. Co-Sleeper or Co-Sleeper Bassinet

cosleeper bassinetFor nursing mothers, the co-sleeper is a lifesaver! Or at least, a sleep saver. This is a safe place for your infant to sleep that attaches securely to your bed. It’s a better alternative to directly sharing the bed with your infant and allows you to easily breastfeed your baby in the middle of the night without having to get out of bed and travel to the nursery. Plus, I found that next to me, my baby slept much more soundly than he did in his crib.

Cost: $50-$300 (Arm’s Reach Mini Co-Sleeper Bassinet for $140)

9. Breast Pump

avent manual breast pumpA good breast pump is essential if you’re a working mother and want your baby to have the benefits of breast milk throughout the day. Moreover – and this may be the biggest perk – you can pump before bed at night and your husband can wake up to feed the baby while you get your much-deserved sleep.

You can purchase expensive electric pumps, but I recommend a simple manual one that is easily portable, such as the Avent models.  It’s also a relief to have one on-hand if your body thinks you need to nurse when you’re somewhere without your baby, like at work.

Cost: $30-$300 (Avent Isis Manual Breast Pump for $20)

10. Infant Car Seat Stroller

car seat strollerThis is great option if you want to streamline and multipurpose your infant car seat if you have made the decision to buy one. The infant car seat stroller is relatively light and easy to unfold one-handed. Your baby’s infant car seat then clicks into place atop the stroller, and voila, you have a stroller that doesn’t require a bunch of handling of the baby.

Most importantly, your sleeping baby doesn’t have to become an unsleeping baby through the process of unbuckling from the car seat and rebuckling into the stroller. This is a huge stress-reliever in and of itself.

Cost: $65-$100 (Graco SnugRider Infant Car Seat Stroller Frame for $69)

Baby Items You Don’t Need

There were some baby purchases I made that I didn’t end up using, found a better alternative for, or that just didn’t work like they were supposed to.

Here is my list of items I wish I didn’t get for my baby:

1. Diaper Pails

diaper pailWhen I was deciding on a diaper pail for my nursery, there seemed to be a negative aspect to every pail on the market. Some were expensive and required refill cartridges, others had bad reviews, and the rest required lots of batteries.

In the end, most people told me that no matter which one you choose, they all stink after a while. So I decided not to even buy one. Instead, I use a cheap plastic trash can that I dump into my big garbage can outside each evening (or if it really stinks, then during the day).

This process has worked really well for us, and I didn’t waste money on a pail or the refill cartridges. And if you decide to save money using cloth diapers instead of disposables, you won’t even need a diaper pail at all.

Cost Savings: $25 to $90 for the pail and up to an additional $100 for the cartridges (Munchkin Arm and Hammer Diaper Pail for $25)

2. Bedding

baby bedding setOn the cover of every baby gear catalog, there is always a crib with a nicely laid out quilt and bedding set complete with bumper and dust ruffle. Most of them are very cute and they tend to set the theme of the room.

However, bedding for a baby is not only completely unnecessary, it is also a risk factor for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). In fact, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) recommends not putting any soft bedding in, on, or near a crib. This includes bumpers as well.

Truly, the only bedding a baby really needs is a sheet. If your baby is cold, put them in a wearable blanket or footed pajamas instead of baby bedding. You can still design a strongly themed nursery without the bedding.

Cost Savings: $50 to $500 (Migi Little Tree 4 Piece Crib Bedding Set for $180)

3. Sheet Savers

quilted sheet saverSheet savers are waterproof pads you put on top of the fitted sheet on the crib mattress. When your baby spits up or has a leaky diaper during the night, you can supposedly change the sheet saver instead of the entire fitted crib sheet.

When I heard of them, I thought it was such a good idea that I went out a bought a whole bunch. The first night my baby came home from the hospital, I put him in the crib on top of the sheet saver thinking he would stay right there. Little did I know that even newborn babies can move all over their cribs and get some distance with their spit-up. Needless to say, the sheet savers never saved my crib sheets from anything.

Cost Savings: $10 to $20 (Organic Waterproof Quilted Sheet Saver Cover for $13)

4. Infant Car Seats

infant car seatFor me, the infant car seat turned out to be a waste of money. My son really hated being in it, and apparently, this is the case with many babies. I ended up having to buy a convertible car seat when my son was only a few months old. Eventually, all babies need to be in a convertible car seat when they grow out of their infant car seat, but any baby can ride in a convertible car seat as long as they meet the minimum weight, which is usually about five pounds.

So why not start your baby out in a convertible car seat? One advantage to an infant car seat is that it provides added protection and prevents newborns’ heads from falling forward or swaying too far to either side.

Cost Savings: $70 to $250 (Graco SnugRide 30 Infant Car Seat for $130)

5. Diaper Stackers

diaper stackerThis is another baby item that many people buy because it will fit into the theme of their nursery. At first, it seems like a good idea to put your diapers in a decorative bag that is hooked onto your changing table. But after a while, the diapers end up stacked on the changing table for easier access.

Also, some diaper stackers can be very expensive (up to $100). It’s just not worth spending that much money on something that will become useless or at best is unnecessary.

Cost Savings: $10 to $100 (Dexbaby Nursery Organizer for $17)

6. Wipe Warmers

baby wipe warmerAs if having your pants pulled down 10 times a day for all the world to see isn’t bad enough, babies also have to go through the shock of getting their behinds cleaned up with wet, cold wipes. My son does pretty good with diaper changes until that cold wipe hits his skin.

An obvious solution to this problem would be to get a wipe warmer that stores wipes at a nice, cozy temperature of about 99 degrees. The problem with such products is that they are recalled again and again due to fire hazards. I’m not sure about you, but I would rather continue to use a cold wipe on my son than put a fire hazard in his room.

Tip: You can achieve the same effect as a wipe warmer by using a cloth and warm water. It’s better for the environment too!

Cost Savings: $20 to $30 (Prince Lionheart Ultimate Wipes Warmer for $20)

7. Changing Table

Many bedrooms are very small and there is not much room to squeeze in furniture. If this describes your situation, consider which nursery furniture you really need. You will definitely need a crib, you’ll probably want a dresser for your baby’s clothes, and you may want a rocker as well.

This leaves little or no room for a changing table. So instead of making the costly purchase of a changing table, consider making a changing area on the dresser or on the floor. I found that changing my baby’s diaper on the floor was the safest place once he became mobile.

Cost Savings: $50 to $300

8. Bassinet/Cradle

As I mentioned in the above section of essential baby items, a play yard is a must have due to its mobility and versatility. So if you are definitely going to buy a play yard, such as a Pack ‘N Play, don’t buy a traditional bassinet or cradle because those would be redundant purchases. You can buy play yards with bassinet features on them that work just as well. That said, the co-sleeper bassinet is an exception since it has additional functionality discussed above.

Cost Savings: $80 to $400

Final Word

There are many baby items not mentioned in the lists above, including high chairs, bouncers, and swings. All these items can be great if your baby enjoys them. If he or she does not, however, they are a waste of money. Consider borrowing these types of items from friends and family until you determine which are worth the investment. Moreover, there may be some items on this list that you strongly agree or disagree with. After all, every baby is unique.

What are some of your favorite must-have baby items? Which would you consider a waste of money?

(photo credit: Shutterstock)

Casey Slide
Casey Slide lives with her husband and baby in Atlanta, GA. She graduated from the University of Florida in 2005 with a bachelor’s degree in Industrial Engineering and worked for a prominent hospital in Atlanta. With the birth of Casey’s son in February 2010, she decided to become a stay-at-home mom. Casey’s interests include reading, running, living green, and saving money.

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Comments

  • http://livingwellonless.com Karen

    What time of year was your baby born? Infant seats seem much more practical for winter babies who live in colder climates, because it’s easy to lift a sleeping baby and carry him out of the car while keeping him warm in an infant seat. It’s true that they quickly get too big to carry them in the seat anymore, but by that time it will probably be warmer outside.

    The other useful purpose for an infant seat is a place to put the baby when you’re at a restaurant or in the grocery store. With an infant carrier, it’s easy to leave them in the seat and put them in the cart or a chair. How do you hold a baby in these situations without an infant carrier?

    • Casey Slide

      My baby was born in February. We live in Atlanta, and it actually snowed a few days after he was born.

      You do make a good point about being able to use the infant carrier in restaurants and grocery stores. We just held our son in restaurants, and I put him in a wrap when I was in the grocery store. He never feel asleep in the car so I never had the issue of not wanting to wake him.

  • Lori A.

    I actually liked having the diaper pail and the infant car seat. We did use both of them. It was much more convenient to lift a sleeping baby out of the car in the carrier. We also used it as a place to put him/her when we were somewhere and needed our arms. It also came in handy when our babies had reflux and we could set them up to sleep in the carseat rather than lay flat in a bed.
    One thing we had that we never really used was a wipes warmer. Seems like a good idea but it really wasn’t. I didn’t want to leave it plugged in all the time so it was pretty useless. Who has time to wait for it to warm up? You can warm them up in your hand if you want to.

    • Casey Slide

      Lori, you make a great point about babies who have reflux. I have had friends who used their car seats for that purpose as well.

      I never bought a wipe warmer so that is good to know. Thanks for sharing your experience!

      • Lori.O

        Bad Idea to let your baby sleep in a car seat! My baby girl was in the NICU for 11 weeks so we got to do a lot of car seat training etc and one thing they said is that a baby should never be sleeping in a car seat for more than an hour and a half. My baby girl even had to do a car seat test before she could go home to make sure she could stand being in the seat for an hour and half. Their little heads could go forward cutting off their oxygen supply. Even when traveling, you should be taking stops every hour to hour and a half so that they can get out of the seat and stretch. My daughter also has reflux and we found that using a breastfeeding pillow which also has a crotch harness to use as a “seat” works really well. She is still laying down, but on a slight incline and it works great! My friend’s baby had neck issues and had to have surgery because they let her sleep in her swing a lot when she fell asleep and to me, that seems to be the same as sleeping in a car seat!

        • Casey Slide

          Thanks for the info, Lori. That is good to know. Great idea to use the pillow with a harness!

  • http://www.madatdebt.com/ Scott Neumyer

    Amen on the Diaper Pails. Things like the Diaper Genie seem like such a waste of money. Just toss them in the garbage… especially if you have garbage pickup more than once a week.

  • Lisa Dell

    I agree on all items! People thought we were crazy to put our daughter right into the convertible carseat and never mess with an infant seat. I think it was the best baby decision we made. I see all these poor babies being carted around all day in their infant seats because it’s most convienent for the mom and dad. Sure restaurants and shopping took a little more effort, but it was not really a big deal. People have gotten way too used to those darn infant seats.

    • Casey Slide

      That’s great, Lisa. I know I enjoyed holding my baby more than carrying him around in an infant seat. I love wearing my baby! Also, I think babies really enjoy when they can look around and see everything which is difficult when they are strapped into the infant seats. And if they are happier, there is less fussiness.

  • Carmen

    I think if I could go back 4 years to when I had my first son, I would do without the infant seat as well. He hated it, and a baby wrap would have been a lot easier. My second son used the same infant seat, and that was easier because he loved it…but I still wore my second son alllll the time. Im glad I didn’t have to buy another infant seat, and annoyed that both my boys only fit in them for 6 months, and then i had to buy the big seat.

  • B Kelly @ Moneymasteryacademy

    Thanks for the tips! A family member just got pregnant and have no idea what to get them – apart from the usual clothes and baby hampers! At least now I dont have to do too much research what to get.. love it!

    • Casey Slide

      I am glad this was helpful. Good luck!

  • http://thesavedquarter.com The Saved Quarter

    It’s interesting how essentials for one mom are unneeded by others.

    We LOVED the sheet savers – poop blowouts didn’t mean pulling out the whole mattress to change the sheets in the middle of the night! I had two layered over the decorative sheet, which showed from the side of the crib, and could just unsnap the top layer and have a clean place to lay baby back down.

    We didn’t find swaddling with a blanket to be difficult and much preferred blankets that could be used as a plain blanket, a burp cloth, and carseat cover in sunny/rainy weather.

    We also skipped the video monitor – small house, we could hear when the baby was awake.

    I’m not sure how an infant carseat stroller is essential when an infant carseat is not. If you’re using a convertible carseat in the car, the infant carseat stroller is useless.

    We used cloth diapers but still needed a diaper pail to hold diapers. We had the Diaper Champ, which contained smell but didn’t individually wrap each diaper.

    Anything you buy for baby (except crib and carseat), try to buy second hand. Babies outgrow things so fast that there is a flourishing secondhand market of very gently used goods, and that can save a ton!

    • Casey Slide

      I see your point with the infant car seat stroller. However, IF a couple did choose to get an infant car seat, the matching stroller would be must.

      • Lesleyhitch

        Although they have the snap and go for infant car seats to snap in and are less expensive and less bulky. We used this option because someone had given us a jogging stroller for when our daughter was a little bigger.

    • william burch

      Where did you purchase cloth diapers from , how much, what kind, and how many

  • Adriandc

    Thank you for the information, I have a co-worker that I would like to get something for her first child but really don’t know what her taste is. The humidifier is a great gift one that until you need it (like late at night) you didn’t know you needed it.

    • Casey Slide

      Glad the article was useful! Thank you for the feedback. I think a humidifier would be a great gift too.

  • Lori Keller

    Although I agree about the convertible car seat, the Graco Nautilus is NOT a convertible seat. It is a forward facing only seat and should be used after your child has reached the rear facing limits of their seat, which is typically around 2-4 years old, at 40lbs. It is a great seat to keep your child harnessed longer (and much more safe!) instead of moving them up to a booster!

    Great recommendations for a convertible that isn’t too expensive is the Graco MyRide (extended rear facing weight), Britax Marathon (extended rear facing weight), or the First Years True Fit (extended rear facing weight).

    If budget is an issue, there is also the Cosco Scenera (available at Target or Walmart) – The Target version rear faces to 40lbs, and it costs around $45.

    - This list should be changed so that parents do not mistakenly buy a seat that they will not need for many, many years!

    • Casey Slide

      Lori – Thanks for your comments. You are absolutely right; the Graco Nautilus is not a convertible car seat, and I’ll need to get that corrected. I actually have the Britax Marathon and agree with your recommendation. It is rear-facing and has a minimum weight of 5 lbs which would be appropriate for newborns. Thanks again for your comments!

  • Joy2b

    I’ve seen a lot of recommendations from moms who just put the pack and play beside the bed for a few months, rather than buying a cosleeper.

    This works if you want the baby beside you while they’re small. After 3 months, they’re probably sleeping for long periods, and after 4 months, they’re past the high risk window for sids. Either is a pretty reasonable time to switch to a crib.

    • Casey Slide

      I’d agree with that timeline. That sounds consistent with my experience and those of my friends. Thanks!

    • Casey Slide

      I’d agree with that timeline. That sounds consistent with my experience and those of my friends. Thanks!

  • Mhough

    On not needing the infant car seat, I wanted to just go with the convertible from the beginning, but I talked with my Pediatrics professor (I’d trust her with my son’s life) and she said that convertibles will not provide as much protection in the case of an accident for babies who cannot yet hold their head up

  • Lynn

    For the diaper stackers I’ve seen them being used as cute little baby clothing hampers that match the rooms theme and for 5 dollars more than a store hamper it is a cute way to still get use out of the diaper stacker when functionality takes president over adorability :D

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