For every list available on the internet of essential baby gear items that you absolutely must have to survive early parenthood, there are parallel lists of items that you do not need. All of these lists include a wipe warmer, presumably because babies don’t really care if their hineys are cold, and also because wipe warmers frequently catch fire. But some lists are far more subjective—I recently came across one that insisted you do not need to buy a crib, because obviously junior will be sleeping beside you until he is two years old and ready for his own straw pallet in the barn. Like most aspects of parenting, learning what you do and do not need to make life a little easier occurs through trial and error. One person’s Sleep Sheep is another person’s Peepee Teepee, and who are any of us to judge the talismans another holds dear when trying to extend her baby’s wake-up time from 4:45am to 4:55am because those ten minutes actually are the difference between giving a passable presentation at her quarterly sales meeting and falling asleep at a red light with her eyes open and remaining that way until somebody calls the police because they assume she is dead.
That said, I do think there are some things that you can wait to buy until after your baby is born and you have an actual test subject to experiment on, or items for which you should retain the receipt or return for store credit if received as a gift. With the tremendous depth of experience provided by having had one child for well over two years, I offer the following list of items you should hold off on buying/unpackaging until your baby’s unique personality reveals itself and you discover he’s either an agreeable little angel with a textbook growth curve or a cantankerous malcontent with chronic diarrhea:
1) Newborn-Size Diapers/Clothes + Size-Up Clothes: I disagree with the recommendation that you should not buy ANY clothes in NB size, but don’t necessarily rip the tags off every single teensy-tiny three-piece newborn outfit you receive at your baby shower. I fully expected to follow family tradition and give birth to a 10-pound baby who could sit up on his own at two months supported purely by fat rolls, but my son was 7 lbs at birth, plus he dropped a few ounces during his colostrum fast and did not end up gaining weight like an off-season high school wrestler, so we needed some NB size clothes and diapers, but not a huge stockpile. He went on to experience seemingly random growth spurts and plateaus throughout his first two years, the former generally occurring within hours of me returning from the Carter’s outlet, thus buying clothes even 3 months ahead was risky. It’s nice to have a little stash of outfits in multiple sizes that you’ll use regardless of season, like cotton sleepers, but I would not recommend going nuts on Zulily’s summer smocking sale in November until you’re well into toddler sizes.
2) Adorable Bibs and Burp Cloths: Daddy’s Lil’ Linebacker, Mommy’s Perfect Gentleman, Property of Grandma, I Poop on Michigan (go Buckeyes)—there’s nothing cuter to compliment the perfect Babies R Us outfit than a pristine cotton bib, lined in gingham and embroidered with love. Except if your newborn actually requires a bib due to reflux, Baby’s First Christmas will be permanently stained with chunky yellow crust that smells like rotten milk, as will everything else both you and he are wearing, sitting on, and standing near, because those adorable bibs are worthless when it comes to actual absorbency. Before baby is born, buy a few packs of cheap terry cloth bibs, and if you discover you have birthed a tiny fire hydrant of stomach acid, I recommend Maxi Moo Moo bibs or something similar with a snap collar (Velcro doesn’t survive the multiple daily washes) and an interior plastic lining. Same goes for burp cloths—skip the 12 square-inches of organic pima cotton printed with duckies and lambies and hearts that won’t even protect your left pinky finger from the volcanic uprising created by two tablespoons of breastmilk and your newborn’s untested digestive system, and instead invest in a pile of cheap, dark colored towels from Wal-Mart, plus a commercial painter’s drop cloth and possibly a few sets of surgical scrubs to save your furniture and your nursing tops. (Even for non-refluxy babies, regular cotton burp cloths are pretty pointless, but cotton prefold cloth diapers, when properly prepped, are excellent alternatives).
3) Receiving Blankets: Blankets of all shapes and sizes and materials are handy and cute and make great backgrounds for your monthly Facebook photo updates, but you do not need to buy these yourself, because I swear that 90% of the gifts you receive after the baby arrives will be blankets. People love buying baby blankets—it’s like we all secretly long to be swaddled in pastel velvet. If you live in the South, people will go so far as to monogram them for you, meaning your firstborn will always be properly identified when blanketed with love and your second child will begin developing her inferiority complex from birth.
4) Special Swaddle Blankets: By these I mean the wide variety of blankets that are cut in certain shapes and offer a variety of fastening devices intended to make it easier for you to swaddle your irate little banshee at 4am rather than screaming at your spouse that only an inbred moron would take this long to locate the diagram in The Happiest Baby on the Block that you clearly bookmarked in your 34th week of pregnancy after you both spent an afternoon practicing the “five Ss” on your neighbor’s dachshund. There is nothing wrong with any one of these blankets, but your particular infant may only respond to a certain type of swaddle, such as one that allows him to suck on his hands, like this; or he may emerge from the womb like a mini Houdini capable of busting out of titanium Velcro and thus require snaps; or he may be like my kid and defy God and nature by despising the swaddle entirely, preferring instead the warm embrace of a sleep-sack dampened with his mother’s exhausted tears. Since any one of these swaddle-saviors runs from $15 to $40, it doesn’t hurt to put a few different kinds on your registry and let your wealthier friends buy them for you, but hold onto the receipts and check store return policies so you can trade them in for whichever type of straitjacket your genetic miracle ultimately prefers.
5) Breastfeeding/Pump Supplies & Accessories: Go ahead and order your breast pump through your insurance company well before your due date (if allowed, some insurance companies require you to wait), and keep in mind that many HSA or FSA accounts can be used for breastfeeding and pumping supplies, but don’t go hog wild and fill your hall linen closet with tubes of lanolin and self-adhesive breast pads like you intend to breastfeed through the zombie apocalypse. Many women with the most ambitious goals find that they are unable to breastfeed, or that it simply isn’t right for them or their baby, or that their baby finds sucking on a nipple smeared in lanolin about as delectable as you would find pouring petroleum jelly on your breakfast cereal. The same goes for milk freezer bags and pump wipes and sterilization kits—put down the Amazon app and go settle your nesting crazy by folding a few tiny hats or smelling another pile of freshly laundered onesies. All of these accessories can be valuable tools in your blissful journey through cracked nipples and overactive let-down, but they will still be there in the warehouse in Chattanooga, primed for same-day delivery, once the actual need arises.
6) Bottles & Nipples & Sippy Cups: It turns out that babies can be as picky about what type of bottle and nipple they prefer as your asshole brother-in-law is about craft beer. You think the set of BPA-free Dr. Brown’s 4-ounce bottles with the Level 1 even-flow nipple are the cat’s meow because that’s what all the experienced moms on your birth-month Facebook group recommended, but your 6 week-old gags and sputters when you try to feed him like you’ve secretly exchanged his Hops Valley Hoppity Hopster IPA for Miller Lite. Sometimes finding the right bottle and nipple takes a few tries. Same goes for sippy cups, so as brilliant as it might seem to have your child’s entire life through college paid for by your mom’s quilting circle via your shower registry, it’s best not to test the upper limits of Target’s return policy on 16 Munchkin Click-Locks once you discover that your toddler only does Nuby Super Spout.
7) Baby Swing/Mamaroo: Another good item to register for so other people pay for it, but again, save the receipt and check the limit on returns. Some parents swear by these contraptions, others find they are the first baby item to be sold over the neighborhood listserv. My son was born savvy enough to tell the difference between my loving, mind-numbingly exhausted embrace and a motorized negligence machine, thus I never used one, but I know plenty of people who worship at the altar of the baby swing for its soothing and sleep-giving powers. If I had a dollar for every baby swing that was ordered on Amazon Prime in a fit of desperation between the hours of midnight and 5am, I would probably be able to afford a Mamaroo.
Written by: Kathleen