Your first official act as a parent -- besides having a baby -- is buying baby furniture.
The same emotions apply to both: You're excited at first. A little nervous, too. Then come the questions and plans. And just like that, you're completely overwhelmed.
Relax: Baby furniture doesn’t have to be complicated. Put down the pretty magazines and let experts who've been there and tried that walk you through it.
The best nurseries start with honest answers about your space, style, and budget. Once you figure out what will work for you, move forward with confidence, whether you're sticking with baby basics or going over the top.
"Nurseries are a no-guilt zone," says Sandra Gordon, mother of two. "The baby doesn't care -- it's really for you. Don't be afraid to make your mark or be low-key about it. It's not a contest. "
Kick the Tires
Online stores and express shipping bring the world of baby gear to your doorstep, but it pays to take your time checking things out. "You want to get everything settled fast. It can feel like you don’t have time to get everything done, but you do,” says Heather Branch, mother of a 5-month-old girl.
Dog-ear those magazines and bookmark baby furniture websites, but don't skip scouting local shops before you buy, even if you plan to purchase online. Sit in the chairs. Bend over the cribs and pretend you're picking up a baby. Comfort is key. An in-person look can give you a better idea of the quality, too.
Start With Sleep
Everyone has different opinions about sleeping arrangements, but no one can argue this: You need sleep and so does your baby. Start with a crib and build your nursery around it.
"The most important piece of furniture is the crib," Gordon says. "It's highly regulated and the safest sleep environment possible."
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends sharing the same room with your baby for the first 6 months. (Though not the same bed -- babies should always have their own sleep surface.) Gordon recommends setting up a stationary crib from the get-go. If space is an issue, start with a bassinet instead.
It might feel exciting to score a cheap crib at a yard sale, but buying new is best. In 2011, federal regulations changed to prohibit cribs with drop-side rails, which can cause suffocation and strangulation.
"I think it's a good idea to buy a crib new, unless you're prepared to measure the distance between crib rails and be sure every bit of it assembles solidly," says Amy Graydon, a mother of three. "Fortunately, it isn't hard to find a highly rated crib for $100 or less."
Speaking of safety, some cribs come with a smell: That's the gasses from paint and glue. It'll go away after a while, especially if you air out the room consistently. If being green is important to you, look online for a list of environmentally conscious baby furniture manufacturers.
Think about this: Your nursery will not always be a nursery. If you plan to have more children, invest in a solid crib that you can use for years to come. If not, consider a crib that converts to a toddler bed to get the most from your money.
The Mattress: Firm It Up
Unlike the dreamy clouds of comfort you might create in your own bedroom, crib mattresses should be firm, like a brick.
"Expect to pay $100 or more for a firm one with structure that'll support your baby's growing bones and won't conform to your baby's airway in any way," Gordon says.
And though it's tempting to fill the crib with pillows, blankets, and stuffed animals, experts say bare is best. "Those things are all suffocation hazards," Gordon says. "All you need in the crib is a mattress with a tight-fitting sheet."
You might as well have fun with the color, though. Going gender neutral? Branch, who works at an interior design firm in Dallas, suggests choosing two or three colors. "I picked out powder blue and lilac," she says. "Try fun options that stray from the typical khaki or gray."
Dresser + Changing Table: The Power Couple
A dresser may not be necessary at first, but it’s a great home base for clothes, blankets, and all those tiny toys. Make it multi-purpose by securing a changing topper on one side and filling a few drawers with diapers and wipes. Instant changing table.
“If you’re buying a new dresser, it doesn’t have to say ‘baby,’” Branch says. “That way it can have a new life in another room later on.”
To keep the budget in bounds, shop your house before the stores and sites. Your baby’s new dresser might be buried under boxes in the basement.
Rockers and Gliders: Sitting Pretty
It's 3 a.m. and your baby has fallen asleep in your arms after a feeding. You choose to stay put instead of risking more crying. Where do you want to spend the next few hours?
Rocking chairs have come a long way since the days of unforgiving wood and wicker. Whether you go rocker or glider, spring for the ottoman. Your feet will thank you. And stray from a strict baby theme so it can rock another room down the road.
"With babies, I'm a little bit of a snob. I like people to start new, even with the glider," Gordon says. "If it's upholstered, it can have dust mites. Buy new for baby No. 1 and reuse for baby No. 2."
Skip This Stuff
Bookshelves make sense for all those baby accessories you can't resist, but they take up a ton of space.
"If you're working with a little room, which most nurseries are, you don't need a bookshelf," Branch says. "Floating shelves are a great substitute that puts all that wall space to good use and makes the room more interesting."
Have an excited older sibling or artistic relative? Have them make something for the nursery instead of investing in art.
And remember: Don't deck out your crib. A crib skirt is fine, but skip the bumpers, sleep positioners, and monogrammed pillows.