A friend of mine who is expecting her first baby in April recently suggested that I could write a blog post about what I think you really need (as opposed to what the shops and media tell you that you need) when you have a baby. I agree that this sounds like a great idea for a post, and I’m happy to help her and others out in their quest to sift through the vast array of possibilities, which is quite honestly a mind boggling task as I recall.
So here is my take on which bits of kit really are essential, and whether I think each one is best bought new or whether secondhand is fine. I should stress though that this is my personal take on things, based on my own experience of having 2 babies. The suggestion for this post came after I commented on Facebook about an article in a newspaper (one I like to disagree with!) which talked about the top 10 most unused or useless pieces of baby equipment according to a recent survey of new parents. I disagreed with almost all 10, and actually would find life a lot harder without half of them; but some of my mummy friends agreed with most of the list, so it goes to show that not everyone has the same experience – we have different locations, lifestyles, personalities and, most importantly, babies! It depends to some extent on when your baby is born in the year – I’ve had two winter babies, so I’ve not had experience of clothing a newborn when it’s a heatwave (well, a heatwave for this country at least!) Also, as part of my Editor role for my local NCT branch magazine, I recently edited a baby kit list article by another mum of two children, and although I agreed with most of it, there were some things that weren’t the same in my experience.
- Totally fine to get secondhand, and you’ll probably be given lots when baby is born.
- A note on sizing: There are three ‘newborn’ sizes – tiny baby, newborn and 0-3 months. Both my boys were pretty much the national average for birth weight and were long and thin. We only had one actual ‘newborn’ size babygro that was given to Andrew as a present, and both of them grew out of it within a month (we made sure they wore it lots in that time!) So if you have an average-large baby, there’s no need to get the newborn size, just go straight to 0-3m. If you have a smaller than average baby, then the newborn size would be handy so they’re not swamped, and if you have a very small, maybe premature baby, then you may even need the tiny baby size. But too big is better than too small – they can always grow into it.
- Babygros (also known as sleep-suits and, from across the pond, onesies) – about 12. We bought a pack of 3 in size 0-3 months, but were then given many more. If you have a very sicky baby you’ll get through more than you think! They sleep in these, and wear them in the day too until you can be bothered to dress them in anything more fiddly to get on.
- Vests – about 12. These can be sleeveless or with short sleeves (like t-shirts), but useful if they have poppers at the bottom to secure under the bum so that it doesn’t ride up baby’s tummy, which is particularly important in winter, and for a summer baby you might find they live in vests rather than babygros.
- Outfits e.g. dungarees for a boy or dresses for a girl: These are not essential, as most of the time you’ll probably prefer the ease of babygros in the early days, but it’s the kind of thing you’ll be given and can look very cute 🙂
- Wooly cardigans – about 5-6. We were very kindly knitted a lot of these. Cardigans are so much more practical than jumpers. Obviously if it’s the height of summer you’ll need fewer, but even in spring and autumn you’ll need them, and definitely in winter.
- Hat: It’s the kind of thing you’ll be given probably. We have quite a few, but they are easily lost. Both cotton jersey ones and wooly knitted ones are handy.
- Coat: Unless it’s really warm (July or August), I’d get a snow-suit style all-in-one coat, either in a ‘puffa’ style or a fleecy one. Look for a good hood and one with feet (and gloves if in winter).
- Socks/bootees: These are not so important if you use mainly babygros that have feet, but necessary for outfits without built-in feet. I find socks stay on better than bootees, which aren’t really much use until they’re a bit older. We’ve not had too many problems with socks coming off, but I’ve heard other mums who have – you can buy things called ‘sock-ons’ which help keep them on, apparently.
- Changing mat: We bought (with vouchers we were given) one that sits across the top of the cot, but soon found it easier to do nappy changes on the floor when Andrew started to roll, and it’s stayed on the floor ever since! The same thing would have happened with one of those changing stations where baby lies on top. You could buy secondhand if you gave it a thorough anti-bacterial clean, but they’re pretty cheap new for just the plastic mat, and you don’t need anything fancy.
- Changing bag: I’ve recently blogged a bit about this here. There are some quite cheap, and even free (if you join Boots parenting club and buy some nappies) bags out there, but I think it’s a case of you get what you pay for, and if you want something that’s going to last, you’ll inevitably pay more for it. Think about whether you’d prefer a satchel style or a rucksack, something plain or something fancy? I can recommend one with lots of pockets to keep stuff organised so things are easily accessible when you desperately need them! I guess there are secondhand ones out there, but I haven’t looked into it, as I knew we’d use it loads and so I wanted one with lots of life left in it.
- Nappies: Anyone who’s been reading this blog for a while will know that I’m a big cloth nappy fan. I blogged about it here and here, and I must do an update on how we’re doing with two bums to cover at the moment. I’d definitely recommend thinking about it, even if you decide it’s not for you – the main attraction for us was the money we’re saving. Recently I’ve heard of cloth nappy libraries that allow you to try before you commit to buying – why not Google for one near you? (I wish there was on in Cambridge; I’m very tempted to look at setting one up – anyone interested?!) Whether you decide on cloth or disposables, I’d get stocked up on a few weeks worth (reckon on about 7 a day) of newborn disposable nappies – size 1 should be fine unless you have a teeny baby or a very chunky one. We didn’t use cloth with Andrew until he was about 6 weeks old because it took us a while to get used to the big shock that having a new baby brings to your previous lifestyle!
- Nappy sacks: The value ones are OK, or you can get eco-friendly biodegradable ones. We don’t use many as we mainly use cloth, but they are handy for getting rid of disposables.
- Wipes: At home I mainly use cotton wool and water in a little plastic bowl, especially for big poo explosions! Wipes for sensitive skin (suitable from birth) are essential when we go out. I’ve heard quite a lot recently about reusable wipes, or even making your own from face cloths, but I’ve not gone down that route yet as we stocked up on enough wipes to last us months when I had a voucher that gave us a cheap deal on bulk buying.
- Muslins – lots, maybe 12 for one child (I don’t think you can really have too many).They can be used for pretty much any mess wiping from babyhood to toddlerhood and beyond! Ours have seen sick, wee, poo, snot, dribble, drinks, food, paint etc. (not all at the same time obviously!!), and they wash easily to be used again and again. I think there’s not much difference between the different brands that we have (Boots, Asda and Mothercare) in terms of their performance – wash them first as they aren’t very absorbent before you do, like new towels. The price can vary quite a bit though – recently I bought some more and Mothercare were almost twice the price of Boots and Asda.
- Moses basket: This is a good idea for the early weeks, but they only last for around 3 months (probably a bit longer if your baby is shorter than my long boys), so definitely borrow one or buy a secondhand one. We were kindly given one to borrow from a friend of my parents. Neither of the boys have slept in it for a long time each night – Joel seems to settle off there at the start of the night but then we co-sleeep (baby next to me in our bed, and Tom on sofa bed) after the first waking for feeding, and Andrew did the same.
- Cot or cot-bed: We got a bargain secondhand cot and cot-bed, both from eBay, thanks to my mum’s bargain hunter’s eye! It’s fine to get the frame secondhand, but you need a new mattress for each child that sleeps on it. A cot lasts up to about age 2, and a cot-bed until about age 5 as it’s bigger and you take the sides off to turn it into a toddler bed. We got a cot-bed for Andrew and have just taken the sides off, which went very well – he’s low to the ground so no damage done if he falls out, and we think it’s helped that he’s familiar with the mattress and sheets, so the transition to a big boy’s bed has been quite uneventful for him. Joel is still in with me, but when he’s ready to go in the bedroom with Andrew, we have a cot, because there isn’t room for two cot-beds. The plan is that by the time he’s ready for a bed, Andrew will be old enough to go in an adult-sized single bed and Joel can have the toddler bed (and we’ll have moved to a bigger house!)
- Mattress: There are so many choices to make on this! I must admit that my mum did most of the research on this, as she bought the cot/cot-bed frames for us so bought us the mattresses too. I’d say that a sprung one will last longer than foam, which soon gets indented to your baby’s shape. If you’re concerned about allergies then some are made of more natural materials than others.
- Baby sleeping bags – 2-3. These are absolutely amazing, I don’t know what we’d do without them. Andrew was and still is such a wriggly sleeper, so if he’d had the traditional blankets, he’d have kicked them off and got cold, or worse still there’s a suffocation risk if they come up over his head. Sleeping bags allow him to move around as he likes and he stays covered in the right places! Fine to get secondhand, just wash them once at a high temperature to kill any bugs – I saw loads of bargain ones at a nearly new sale in the autumn.
- Fitted sheets – 2-3 for each type of bed (Moses basket, cot etc.). These are easier to put on, and stay in place better in, a cot/moses basket than flat sheets do. Fine to get secondhand, just wash them once at a high temperature to kill any bugs.
- Swaddling sheets: You can buy cotton sheets that are shaped specifically for swaddling your baby for the first few months, instead of using a sleeping bag or blankets. We bought a couple, but I haven’t been too impressed by them, as both my boys seem to kick them loose or almost off over the night, and when in with me (though not under the duvet of course) I find it’s warm enough for them just being next to me.
- Blankets: If you prefer these to sleeping bags, make sure you get the ones designed for sleeping in, which will be obvious where they are sold (e.g. John Lewis, Mothercare). We were kindly knitted quite a few by various family members. We’ve not used them for sleeping, but I find them useful for around the house when we’re doing skin-to-skin feeding during the day (which involves taking most of his clothes off), and other places like the car (as bulky snow suits are hard to fit in a car seat) and in the pram (at least for Andrew we had a pram – Joel just goes in the sling). Fine to get secondhand, just wash them once at a high temperature to kill any bugs.
- NO other bedding needed! Especially no pillows or cot bumpers – not recommended these days for babies, and even at nearly age 2, Andrew has only ever had a sheet and sleeping bag.
- Night light: We didn’t have one of these for a while, but there was a light on the mobile which Andrew had in his cot for a while until he was old enough to pull up and therefore potentially pull it down on himself (see next bullet point). But then Tom’s mum gave us the night light that Tom had had as a child, and recently this has been essential – if Andrew rolls out of bed, which only happens occasionally, he can get back in on his own and he’s happy to do that, rather than when there was no light and he got very disorientated in the room and cried for help.
- Mobile: Not exactly essential, but we found that it helped at one stage when Andrew was going through a phase when nothing seemed to settle him to sleep, not even feeding. The mobile didn’t solve it, but it did help at least keep him calm and give him something to focus on other than me or Tom. I wouldn’t buy one new myself, but it’s a nice present idea.
- Monitor: As we live in a small flat, we don’t need a monitor – we can hear everything from everywhere and our room is right next to the boys’ room. But my parents bought one for their house and we found it very handy when we stayed. They got a secondhand bargain, though it is a simple one, and I’ve seen others that have fancy functions like talk back or video. I imagine these would be handy in some situations.
- Pram/buggy/travel system: Well, where do I start?! I’ve already blogged about our experience with our old iCandy Cherry travel system here. It was an awful product and I wouldn’t recommend it if you want to walk anywhere further than 5 minutes away. But in general we liked the idea of a travel system – a chassis onto which you can fit a carrycot (in other words it makes a pram), a seat unit (to make a parent-facing and outwards-facing buggy) and a car seat (handy if baby falls asleep when you’re in the car and you want to transfer to something you can push without waking). Our secondhand Bugaboo Cameleon does all of the above, and we’re very pleased with its performance, although we haven’t used the pram with Joel as I’m carrying him in the sling all the time and pushing Andrew in the Bugaboo with seat unit attached. The things you need to think about when deciding on a pram/buggy are: How far and how often will I walk with it? Will it be mainly on pavements or across grass/mud too? Do I need it to fit in the car boot? Do I need to lift it often into the car, so does it need to be lightweight? Do I like four wheels or three? Do I want a pram as well as buggy option? Where will I store it in the house, so does it need to be compact or easily foldable? You need to look out for whether they are suitable from birth, or from 6 months, as a newborn needs to lie completely flat. Also a note on double buggies – I know some people who bought a buggy with their first child which could convert to a double when their second would come along later (the Phil and Teds is a popular choice for this). We decided against this when buying for Andrew, because I didn’t like the style of either an inline double where one child is close to the ground or a side-by-side double which is so wide and wouldn’t fit in our flat. Instead we have gone for keeping our single travel system and I carry Joel in a sling. Which leads nicely onto….
- Sling/wrap: There are several different styles of sling or ‘wrap’ (the ones which you wrap around you and tie in place instead of one with buckles). But if you just look on the high street, you’ll probably only come across one or two brands, like the Baby Bjorn. We didn’t get on very well with the two we were given when Andrew was a baby, but since then I’ve come across much more info on ‘babywearing’, and learned that babies and parents are much more comfortable in slings and wraps that are designed more ergonomically than the most popular brands – you have to look online to find them though. I could write loads about babywearing, so I should probably write a whole post on it some time. But for now I can say that a comfortable sling/wrap is making my life much easier with Joel, because I can do quite a few things with him attached to me like that, and he loves being walked in it and falls asleep almost instantly most of the time. I’d definitely recommend one, even for your first baby, and if you have any more, it’ll come in even more handy! I currently have a Moby stretchy wrap, and hope to move onto a structured sling like the Ergo when he’s too heavy for the stretchy wrap. Some slings are fine to buy secondhand, though it is often advised not to buy a stretchy one secondhand as it could well have lost some of its stretchiness depending on how much use it has already had.
- Car seat: Only buy this new or from people who you know and trust, because it could be dangerous if it has been in an accident before. Even if you don’t have a car, I’ve heard from friends who don’t (plenty in Cambridge and London) that it’s still worth getting a car seat, so you can accept lifts from people or get a taxi if you need to. If you go for a travel system, you’ll need to get the car seat that attaches to the chassis that you choose. We found it handy to put the car seat on the chassis quite a bit with Andrew if he fell asleep in car and we wanted to get out and walk without waking him up, but so far we’ve not needed to do that with Joel, probably because we’ve hardly done any car journeys with him yet.
- It’s fine to get most of this secondhand, though always check that things are safe and in good working order before giving them to your child, especially anything electrical or mechanical.
- Toys: You’ll probably be given loads so I wouldn’t buy any to begin with, especially as baby won’t play with them properly for a while. Rattles and soft toys suitable from birth are good to start with. For older babies and toddlers, you can even have a go at making your own! Some of Andrew’s favourite toys have been things made from household items, like a shaker made from a plastic drinks bottle with dried lentils in.
- Books: It’s never too early to start reading with a baby – they love it, listening to your voice and looking at pictures. Simple books with black and white designs are good to start with, and any ‘board books’ that baby can start to turn the pages of when they’re a bit older – chunky pages for little hands.
- Play gym, mat: We’ve found this to be very useful, even though it takes up quite a lot of floor space in our small flat. Although I use the sling a lot, it’s also good that I can lie Joel down on the mat for 10 minutes and he can gaze at and kick the pretty things hanging above him – there are some things it’s not easy to do with a baby strapped to you. It’s also useful for doing ‘tummy time’ with him, though any soft mat or towel would be fine for this too.
- Play pen: This is useful when baby starts to become mobile, so you can put them in there for a short period and know they can’t escape, for example if you need to nip to another room to fetch something. Our flat is very open plan, so the other option of using a stair gate to block a door to a child-proofed playroom wasn’t an option for us. With Andrew, it also became the place where we would scoop up all the toys into at the end of the day when he went to bed. With a second child, it’s very handy to be able to pop Joel in there under his play gym arches and know that he is safe from Andrew getting to him whilst I nip to another room – not that Andrew has shown signs of intentional harm, but his well-meant affectionate ‘hugs’ are rather crushing for a little baby!
- Bouncy chair: Generally useful, again if you want to put baby down for a short while, and many babies love a bouncy chair, so I’ve heard, but Andrew didn’t – the concept of sitting still has never really appealed to him! We haven’t felt the need to use it for Joel yet, so we gave ours to my niece who loves it. Lots of them come with a bar of toys hanging over where baby sits, to keep them fascinated.
- Door bouncer: When baby is strong enough to stand up supported, this is a great way to keep them entertained if you need to get on with a few jobs in the same room. We don’t have room for one of the free-standing baby walker style bouncers that go on the floor, so the doorway one was a better option and Andrew loved it, especially when he was at the cruising around furniture stage and basically wanted to be upright all the time. I wouldn’t get his secondhand unless from someone I knew and trusted, because you never know what condition it’s in and there’s a potentially serious accident in it being faulty.
- Baby bath: This is a good way to save water rather than filling the normal bath with the same depth of water. You can get different styles, for example some with inserts to help you hold a young baby more confidently, some that even fold up for easy storage (though we just stood ours at the end of the bath). Ours is just a plain tub, nothing fancy, which Andrew was still in until Joel was born, when he outgrew it, and now we put them both in the big bath, obviously with one of us holding Joel whilst Andrew splashes around him! This is totally fine to get secondhand – we got ours off Freecycle and just gave it a good scrub down before we first used it.
- Top and tail bowl: I wouldn’t pay money for one of these as we haven’t used it much and tupperware bowls that you already have in your kitchen would be fine. We got ours off Freecycle with the bath.
- Towels –2-3 just for baby. We like the little ones with a hooded corner so you can wrap them up nice and warm from head to toe when drying them after a bath. Secondhand is fine, as long as they’re still nice and soft, and give them a hot wash to kill any bugs.
- Nail clippers: We’ve found these much easier than nail scissors for cutting little nails on wriggly hands. With a small baby I just peel the nail tips off as they are still so soft.
- Toiletries: To start with you really don’t need much at all. We just use water to bath Joel in, and haven’t needed baby oil or lotion or anything like that – his skin is still silky smooth. We used to massage Andrew’s tummy quite a bit when he was a baby as he was prone to constipation now and then, so baby oil was good for that. As he got older and his hair was already a mop very early on, we used baby shampoo and still do. We’ve only used nappy rash cream a handful of times, usually when teething as he’s had a sore bottom then too, but you might find you need it more. I would wait until baby is born before you get any of this, and just see what you need as you go along – it’s not like you can’t pick it up easily from the supermarket with your groceries.
- Hairbrush: It depends how much hair your baby has and what its texture is as to which type, if any, you’ll need. Andrew had so much thick hair that we hardly needed to use the soft bristled brush that we were given and went straight to a small adult brush when it started to get long enough to be messy if not brushed. Some babies hardly have any hair for ages, so you may not need to brush it at all for a while.
- Thermometer: You can get thermometers for the bath, but we’ve never felt the need and just trusted our judgement on how hot the water should be – neither boy has complained so far! If you’re not confident at doing this, a thermometer may help, but I think it’s the kind of thing you soon learn once baby is here and you do it all the time. The other type of thermometer worth getting is one for taking baby’s temperature if they are ill. We haven’t had many temperatures between them yet, but it’s always better to be cautious and take it just in case if they feel warm and are grumpy. We have an accurate digital one that goes in the armpit – this is easy to do on a baby, but I have to admit it gets harder as they get older and want to move away whilst you wait for it to take the final reading, which can be up to a few minutes. A quicker one would be the type you put in the ear and it takes a pretty much instant temperature – these look good for mobile babies but I’ve always been put off by the much more expensive price and the fact that we’ve hardly needed one. You can also get the strip across the forehead thermometers – these are cheap but not that accurate, I guess good if you just want a rough measurement.
And finally…… Feeding
- I’ve decided to write a separate post on this at some point. In theory there is no special kit that you need to start breastfeeding, though there are some things that you might want to get as time goes on depending on your experience of how it goes. Of course there is the option to bottle feed formula right from the start, and although personally it never crossed my mind to not even try breastfeeding, every mum has the right to make her own decision on this, hopefully based on the correct information, in which case you’d need to get the kit for that.
Phew, that took longer than I thought! And I still get the impression there’s more I could go on about if I was asked specific questions. Two areas I haven’t covered are baby-proofing devices for when they get mobile, and eating equipment for when they’re on solid food; of course these things aren’t essential straight after birth.
I think my take home message from all of this is that of course it’s good to be prepared and get the basics sorted before baby arrives, but there are several things that are pretty easy to pick up once you’re actually doing the parenting and figuring out what your baby needs and what you think are useful things to help you with this. We were amazed at how generous family and friends were, so we’ve still hardly needed to buy much ourselves at all, and what we have bought has often been secondhand or something I know we can sell secondhand later (like nappies). It was worth waiting until after the births before buying some things, because it allowed us to spend vouchers and not have multiple items!
I hope this has been useful to any pregnant mums and their partners out there! Let me know if there’s anything else I haven’t covered and I’ll share my experience with you 🙂