When you're pregnant, it's a delight to browse the baby stores for those adorable outfits, colorful playthings, and stylish strollers. You might be tempted to scoop up lots of baby gear all at once, but so much shopping can be overwhelming, not to mention expensive.
Relax. Realistically, you'll have plenty of time before your baby needs sippy cups, a high chair, or a potty. In the early months, your baby requires only a few essentials. For example, you can't take your baby from the hospital unless you have an infant car seat. And once you get home, your baby will need diapers, clothing, and a safe place to sleep.
As you prepare to welcome your baby home, make sure you have these important items on hand.
The Right Infant Car Seat
This one's a biggie. Every state requires parents to have a proper car seat before they can leave the hospital with their baby. Your baby must be in a rear-facing seat until he or she is age 2. If you borrow a car seat, make sure it's not damaged and has not been recalled.
If you're not sure how to install a car seat properly, ask your pediatrician where you can find expert help, says Benjamin S. Danielson, MD, medical director of the Odessa Brown Children's Clinic at Seattle Children's Hospital. He says his hospital recommends a car seat-fitting specialist to parents. You can also call your local AAA chapter to find out whether it runs a car seat safety inspection station near your home. Many fire stations and police stations offer free car seat inspection on a drop-in basis, too.
A stable bassinet or crib offers your newborn a safe, comfortable place to sleep. If you start with a bassinet or cradle, follow the manufacturer's instructions on safe use, taking into account the weight and size of your baby.
As for cribs, look for one with slats that are no more than 2 3/8 inches apart, and make sure the mattress fits snugly into the crib so your baby can't slip into any gaps on the sides. Avoid headboards and footboards with cut-outs, which could trap a baby's head.
While it's tempting to spruce it up with stuffed animals, pillows, or heavy quilts, these things can impair your baby's breathing or pose a suffocation hazard.
Some doctors even caution against using any blankets in the crib. As an alternative, the American Academy of Pediatrics suggests using baby sleeper clothing -- no covers needed.
Newborns need only a few baby couture basics: four to six one-piece gowns (called onesies), two to three one-piece, footed sleepers, four to six undershirts, one blanket sleeper (according to the season), two to three pairs of socks or booties, a few bibs, a hat with a brim, and a sweater or outerwear for cold weather.
As for linens, you should have on hand three to four crib sheets, two waterproof crib pads, and three to six receiving blankets for swaddling your baby.
Although your newborn won't be ready for a bath until the umbilical stump falls off, prepare by getting a small bathtub. You'll also need four to six baby washcloths, two to four hooded bath towels, mild soap, and baby shampoo.
If you plan to breastfeed, consider buying nursing bras and bringing them to wear at the hospital. A breast pump is useful, too; it can stimulate more milk if you pump right after a feeding, according to Danielson. "If breast milk production is a little bit slow, which can happen with first babies especially, a breast pump is sometimes a good way to help deal with that," he says. Pumping breast milk also allows Dad to help feed the baby during the night, he adds.
If you go the formula route, ask your pediatrician for a recommendation. Be sure to have several baby bottles and nipples on hand. Stock up on about six small 4-ounce bottles for your newborn. When your infant reaches 4 to 6 months, you'll want to switch to larger 8-ounce bottles.
If you choose plastic bottles, look for certified BPA-free models, the American Academy of Pediatrics advises. While most U.S. manufacturers stopped using BPA in baby bottles in 2009, it's still smart to stay away from clear plastic baby bottles with the recycling number "7" and the imprinted letters "PC," according to the AAP. They might contain BPA, a controversial chemical researchers are studying for possible effects on human health.
But you can still go with plastic. Just look for opaque plastic bottles made of polyethylene or polypropylene, which contain no BPA. Disposable bottle liners also tend to be BPA-free. You can buy glass bottles, although they're heavier and break more easily.
Diapers for Newborns
For disposable diapers, buy newborn sizes, as well as the next size larger to prepare for your growing baby. For the first few weeks, you'll need about 10 to 11 disposable diapers per day, so buy accordingly. For cloth diapers, have about 48 on hand, as well as three to five diaper covers and a diaper pail. Don't forget diaper wipes and a diaper bag, too.
Strollers and Baby Carriers
Pick a sturdy, conventional stroller with brakes that lock the wheels firmly and a seat belt and crotch strap that are attached securely to the frame. Steer away from umbrella strollers. They're light and handy for toddlers, but they're not a good choice for babies who can't sit up yet.
A front or back carrier is a good way to keep your baby snuggled close to you as you move about.
Before your baby starts to crawl, you'll want to baby-proof your home with cabinet locks, safety gates, covers for electrical outlets, and other safety products.
But in the earliest months, you'll need to stock only a few key first-aid items: a rectal (not ear) thermometer (rectal thermometers more accurately take a baby's core body temperature), infant acetaminophen to relieve pain and fever, and a diaper rash cream or ointment. "You'll want something that's soothing and protective," Danielson says. "It's nice to have something on hand for a rash that shows up."