Every mother is going to have a different list of must-have items. This is because every mother is different and every baby is different. I’m going to make a list of the things that I found invaluable, and list the reasons why I found them so helpful.
As a sidenote, I don’t really believe in items like baby swings, jumperoos, stationary entertainment centers, and walkers. I won’t criticize another mother’s decision to use them, but I wouldn’t use them myself. The main reason is that they are a poor substitute for a mother’s arms. I believe that babies need to be touched and held, almost as much as they need to be fed and kept clean. Sick babies do much better when they have skin-to-skin contact with their mothers, or even another human being. Although in a busy household a swing or entertainment center might give a mother a few moments of reprieve, I would much rather place my child on the floor (with a blanket or rug underneath, of course). I think it is much safer and much more natural to place them on the floor.
That said, here is my list of essential baby items for any mother.
1. Medela breast pump. I’m going to assume that most mothers nowadays are going to at least attempt breastfeeding (and if they aren’t planning to and have no medical reason not to, they should educate themselves and give it a shot). My husband was at first skeptical about buying a $300 breast pump, but when compared to the price of formula, it was a no-brainer. I believe Ameda also has a really great pump for a cheaper price, but Medela is more readily available, and it worked well for me, pumping twice a day at work until my son was about 13 months.
The Medela Pump In Style works quickly; the parts are easy to clean; the assembly is fast and easy. The motor is relatively quiet but can be pretty powerful. I got mine in a thick briefcase-looking receptacle, but I understand the bags nowadays are more stylish.
2. Swaddle blankets. I’m not talking about regular receiving blankets. I’m talking about humungous swaddle blankets, or possibly the ones that have a Velcro closure (like this one, which was our personal choice).
Babies are not used to the open vastness of the outside world. They’d still rather be in the womb. As a result, when their limbs are flailing all over the place, they freak out. So a great swaddling blanket is key for those moments when he just won’t latch on the breast, or when he can’t catch a great sleep. My husband was a pro at using a regular flannel receiving blanket to get a really tight swaddle.
3. Good-quality baby wrap or other baby carrier. I’m sorry, but I don’t count the Baby Bjorn or the Snugli. Unless they have vastly changed, they aren’t good for anything over 15 lb or so, and they don’t distribute weight over the body well either — making them uncomfortable after about 5 minutes if your kid is heavy, and 6 minutes even when your kid is a peanut.
I’m talking about a stretchy wrap (such as the Moby wrap) or a mei tai (we love Babyhawk). The stretchy wrap is good to about 20-25 lb (just throw it in the washer and dryer to get it tighter), and the mei tai is good to at least 30 lb. (I know this because my son is currently 30 lb and still requests to be carried in the mei tai.) My son so loved being worn starting from about 5 weeks that he rarely ever sat in a stroller. We had the big travel system, but we rarely used the stroller portion of it — the car seat carrier was outgrown by about 5 months.
The other great thing about the mei tai, for example, is that it’s about the same cost as a Baby Bjorn (or even less) and is more versatile, easier to figure out how to use, and can be used for a lot longer (3 months for the Bjorn for us, vs. 33 months and counting for the mei tai) and can easily be rolled up and thrown in the diaper bag. Win-win!
4. Yoga bouncy ball thing. OK, so this was a total impulse-item that we added to the baby registry, but I won’t forget that my friend Landa bought it for me, and that it was awesome for getting our son to sleep. What my husband or I would do is strap the baby on in the wrap or mei tai, sit on the ball, and bounce gently. Most times our son would be out like a light in less than 10 minutes.
5. Back-up car seat. Now, if you live in the city and use public transit most of the time, you’d probably think twice about spending $200 for a car seat that you’d use once a month or less. But what if you only had to spend about $50?
We own a Britax Marathon for the car that our son rides in 90% of the time, but in my in-laws’ car and my husband’s car, we have Cosco Sceneras installed. This is a very good seat that is recommended by car seat technicians, and (vanity) they come in really cute colors and prints. You can buy them at Wal-Mart and Target.
Side note: It is safer for your child to be rear-facing to the rear-facing limit of the seat, which is 33 lb for the Britax Marathon and 35 lb for the Cosco Scenera. Check your own seat’s manual.
6. Portable playard / bassinet / changing table. We didn’t realize how invaluable this particular item was until the baby had come home. We had the Graco Pack ‘n’ Play pushed up against my side of the bed. Our particular model also had a changing table on one side of it. We used the bassinet until our son was about 3 months old (the weight limit on the bassinet is 15 lb, and he had reached that at that point).
The baby slept in the bassinet at night, and when he woke up to nurse, I just reached in and got him, latched him on, and when he was done, I’d just place him back in the bassinet — all without getting out of bed. When his diaper needed changing, it was only 2 steps away. When your child is pooping 3-4 times a night, this is a plus! Very convenient and easy!
7. The Baby Book by Dr. William Sears. This book has everything you need to know about having a newborn. If it’s not in there, just call your pediatrician already. When we’d have a question in the middle of the night, we consulted Dr. Sears’ book. It also has a very good section about breastfeeding. I have to say, Dr. and Mrs. Sears’ parenting philosophy is very similar or at least very compatible with ours, so that’s why we chose this one over others.
8. Diaper Champ. I can’t speak to the other diaper pails, except I remember once babysitting for a parent who had a Diaper Genie and I truly couldn’t figure the thing out. We like the Diaper Champ for many reasons, the main one being you can use regular trash bags in there.If you change the bags often, the smell is minimized — and I sprinkled some baking soda (or spray some Lysol) to mitigate that as well.
When we switched over to cloth diapers, it transitioned very well for a nylon bag and cloth diapers. My only complaint is that when opening it, I sometimes break a nail. It’s got a weird latch thingie. That’s why you get other people to empty the diaper pail for you.
9. The Flip Video. We initially bought a camcorder that was just difficult to hook up to the computer and convert to digital. We received the original model of the Flip Video as a gift, and we couldn’t believe how awesome it was. There are literally about 4 buttons on it, and it records about 30 minutes of video. I have used it to record everything from first crawling steps to several minutes of swim classes. It attaches to the computer via USB (built right in) and you can transfer your videos very easily. Use YouTube or other video-sharing sites to let everyone know just how talented/cute/awesome your child is.
10. Awesome diaper bag. I don’t know about the rest of you, but for the first 6 months or so, I brought everything in the house in the diaper bag. What you need is a diaper bag that is big enough to carry ALL OF THAT. Now, I always brought a receiving blanket along — NEVER USED IT. Extra outfits, on the other hand — sometimes I never had enough. Now that our son is almost 3, I carry snacks (and still with the extra clothes).
I can’t really recommend a brand or style because I found different diaper bags and none of them were exactly what I needed. Some people like a messenger style; some people like backpacks. I never saw the need to pay $100 or upward for a designer bag, but that’s because I’m a utilitarian person for the most part and enjoy simple colors and lines. We had a Skip Hop Expo that was great for short trips; the one we used the longest is the GR8X satchel (transforms from backpack to messenger — LOVE IT for that), but now the messenger strap is all wonky and I need to replace it. It is also the one that I spent the most money on.
I’m sure there are other things out there that I forgot to mention, but forgive me, for new-mom amnesia was almost 3 years ago and I have forgotten much. I also really love the My Brest Friend pillow (so much better than the Boppy, and I did try both), but I know it’s a matter of body types and preferences. The same goes with nursing bras and baby bottles.
Feel free to drop me a comment on anything I missed or any dissenting opinions.