Trying to gather all the stuff you need for your baby is often one of the most stressful things about pregnancy's third trimester. In this article, we break this stuff into stages organized by age range, starting with the stuff both baby and you will need in the hospital and then proceed through the entire first year. Throughout are general gear guidelines as well as helpful tips including favorite products personally selected by BabyGearLab's founder and board-certified pediatrician, Juliet Spurrier, MD. Though this is a long article, by using the links provided to the right of this article's top photo, you can go directly to the age/stage of your baby.
Baby Essentials by Stage
Here are the major baby stages in ages we'll cover in this article:
- In the Bubble at Home: 0 to 6 Weeks
- Early Infancy: 2 to 6 Months
- A Little Person: 6 to 12+ Months
For each stage, we'll try to break down items into two lists:
- Must-haves — These are the things we strongly recommend every parent have during the age range.
- Nice-to-haves — These are things that some parents find very helpful, but aren't strictly necessary.
First off, relax. You do not need that much stuff in the first three months.
If you are planning to breastfeed, baby's most essential need can be provided naturally. With mom well cared for, baby's most basic building blocks are present. So, do the best you can to take care of yourself, and the rest will follow.
And, what you may think you need is typically not required, but most appropriately considered a nice-to-have. While there will likely to be differences of opinion regarding essential versus optional items, we have attempted to break this all down for you in a well-organized format so that ultimately, you can decide for yourself.
In the Hospital With Baby
There are a few things we recommend you have packed in the suitcase you'll have waiting ready-to-go for the hospital, and more that you might want to consider. We'll break it down for you in "Must-have" and "Nice-to-have" sections, and explain what specifically we recommend and why.
In Hospital Must-haves
There are really only five items we consider to be must-haves for the hospital.
- The single most common cause of death in children over 4 years of age are car accidents. Fortunately, infant death (0 to 1 year) as a result of car accidents has dropped dramatically in the last 2 decades thanks in large part to safety standards for rear-facing infant car seats. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends to have your baby in a rear-facing car seat until they are at least 2 years old (longer if your car seat's listed weight and height maximums allow it). Please refer to our BabyGearLab Infant Car Seat Review for the full scoop on infant car seats, and results of our detailed testing. Two of our favorites are the Chicco KeyFit 30 (List $200) and the Peg Perego Primo Viaggio 4-35 (List $300). Both are great options depending upon budget.
We recommend avoiding All-in-One car seat products for infants like the Graco 4Ever 4-in-1 convertible car seat. This so-called 4-in-1 style of product claims to offer the ability to serve as one car seat from newborn to child-age. But, as we detail in our infant car seat review, we believe the 4-in-1 products are poor investments, because they offer compromised capability compared to infant car seats. Buy a quality infant car seat instead. You'll be happy you did.
- Baby's Going Home Outfit — The hospital will supply baby with white long-sleeved kimono t-shirts that have built-in mittens. However, if you want your baby to go home in something different, you will need at least one outfit with room between baby's legs for the infant car seat's 5-point harness to fit snugly. We like the Kissy Kissy Footed Pajamas, Petit Bateau Girl's Footie Pajamas, Petit Bateau Boy's Footie Pajamas both for coverage and comfort on the ride home.
- Personal Care Items for Mom — You will want your own personal care items for your hospital stay to help you feel more at home and relaxed. This will include toothbrush, toothpaste, face and body wash, shampoo and conditioner, lip balm, face and body lotion, and brush. If you have vision aids, make sure to include glasses, contacts, and contact solution. If you have hearing aids, don't forget extra batteries and a charger. We invite you to take a look at Dr. Spurrier's great list of recommended personal care products for mom in our Pregnancy Essentials article.
- Clothing for Mom — Along with personal care products, you will eventually want to change from a hospital gown into your most comfy lounging maternity clothes once baby is born with a top that provides easy access for nursing. Button-down pajamas or sweat pants with a button-down shirt both work nicely. Our favorite nursing pajama recommendation is provided in the nice-to-have section below if you want to splurge for your hospital stay. The hospital will provide you with disposable maternity undies but it can be nice to have a few pairs of your own "grannie" cotton underwear that you won't mind getting stained. And, because hospitals tend to run cold, cozy socks to keep your tootsies nice and warm are a must. In addition, slip-resistant slippers like the popular and cozy UGG Women's Ansley or slip-on shoes for walking the halls during labor and postpartum are key. Lastly, a comfortable outfit like stretchy sweats for your trip home is essential. Your belly will probably look about 6 months pregnant leaving the hospital so don't make the mistake of packing your pre-pregnancy clothes.
- Motherlove Nipple Cream is a great naturally-based soothing balm that can be just the ticket to keeping those gateways to baby bliss intact and healthy.
In Hospital Nice-to-haves
There are a number of other items you might want to bring with you to the hospital, but none of them are absolutely necessary. In this section we'll walk you through the list of items we think are worth considering, organized by their categories, along with our take on why you might find them helpful.
Labor and Birth
When packing your hospital bag consider the things you'd like to have during child birth to make the experience more comfortable for you and your spouse. Whether for positioning comfort, relaxation, hydration or a few light calorie bursts, there are things you might really need and even crave that you won't be able to find at the hospital.
- Birth Plan — Though not essential, many mothers find that creating a birth plan for their delivery can make them feel more in control and less nervous about the big day. The important thing about having a birth plan is to maintain flexibility as to labor's course so as to avoid disappointment. After all, the most important thing in the end is a healthy mother and baby.
- Water Bottle — Having an easy to use, large, and insulated water bottle on hand will help remind you to stay hydrated. And, you'll be glad you have a nice reusable spill proof vessel to quench your thirst during labor. Eco Vessel SUMMIT is a triple insulated, stainless steel beauty available in 17 or 24 ounce sizes with a flip-straw spout and internal silicone straw.
- Gown — If you aren't a fan of hospital-issued, open-back, gaping gowns, then you might consider a labor gown. The 100% cotton Pretty Pushers Cotton Jersey Labor Gown has multiple ties in the front and one at the back to help keep you covered, but still offer necessary and convenient access for medical caregivers during labor.
- Leachco Snoogle is a budget-friendly pregnancy pillow that you will feel comfortable taking to the hospital and home again whether you have natural childbirth or a C-section. Also, if you have a favorite regular pillow at home bring it! Though it may take up extra space in your hospital luggage, it will make things that much more comfortable for you during labor and postpartum and better yet, it will smell like home.
- Eye Mask and Ear Plugs — If you need to get some slumber during your labor, it can be difficult with bright lights and beeping surrounding you. With Dream Essentials Snooz Silky Soft Sleep Mask over your eyes and Silicone Ear Plugs in both ears, you may feel relaxed enough to get some zzz's.
- Lip Balm — While huffing and puffing your way through labor and delivery, Earth Mama Angel Baby Lip Balm is great for keeping your lips smooth and chap-free. It comes in Mint Herbal, Lavender Meringue, and Coconut Smoothie.
- Snacks — You may be allowed to drink or eat small snacks in early labor. We encourage you to take advantage of the opportunity even if you aren't hungry at that moment as labor and delivery requires stamina. As such, it is a good idea to have a few very light, easily digestible snacks on hand. Nature's Kick Honey Stix and YumEarth Organic Lollipops are tasty and easy to pack and consume. Dates are also a nice natural snack with an accessible energy punch. If have been relegated to only clear liquids, bringing some broth is super soothing. Lastly, don't forget your to bring heartier items for your birthing partner as this experience is also a marathon for them.
- Tea — Traditional Medicinals Organic Raspberry Leaf Tea is nice and soothing, clear liquid option with the potential benefit of raspberry leaf touted as a labor aid.
- Gymnic Fitness Ball. The following is some general advice about birth balls and how they can be helpful during labor.
- Heating Pad — A rice pad that can be heated in the microwave is a great tool for the aches associated with labor. Earth Therapeutics Microwaveable Comfort Wrap is a nice option. You might also consider "out of the box", homemade items for easing discomfort, like tennis balls loaded up in a long sock, to provide great counter pressure on the back when pain strikes.
- Electronics — Preference for the extent of this category will vary, but commonly included items are cell phone, camera with video feature, laptop, and chargers. With a laptop, you can easily stream music from either Pandora or your own created play lists to hit your mood just right.
- MP3 Player — If you don't have a laptop, an MP3 device with speakers will be handy. We recommend that you load a variety of tunes. You never know what mood will hit you during labor and sometimes great music can help take your mind off harder parts of the experience.
- Reading Material — You might think that labor is all about huffing and puffing and making squished up faces, but a surprising amount of time during labor for a lot of women is down time. Having some low key, light reading material like magazines can help keep you and your birthing partner(s) in good spirits and take some focus off of pain.
- LED Lytes Wax Flameless Candles have a similar soothing effect without smoke, fumes, or potential hazards. Made with ivory-colored wax and flickering flames for an authentic look and feel that will have your nurse telling you to blow them out, they are easy to use and long lasting without exposure to noxious fumes.
- Essential Oil Aromatherapy — Essential oils such as Aura Cacia Lavender Essential Oil can be used during labor for aromatherapy to help soothe and relax the body. The belief is that their scents help trigger the nervous system to release natural endorphins for tension reduction and pain relief. Diluted oils can be used in massage or added to a bath. Alternatively, they can be used with a vaporizer to lightly scent the surrounding air. It is important to clear any essential oils with your health care provider before use during labor to ensure that they are suitable. Lavendar, Peppermint, Clary Sage, Neroli, Jasmine, Clove are touted as helpful essential oils during labor, however, it is important to become well-educated on the potential side effects (pros and cons) they may have prior to using. For example, while the digestive peppermint is touted to help labor-induced nausea with a nice cooling sensation, it has also not recommended for use postpartum as it has been known to diminish breast milk supply.
- Massage Oil Diluent — There are many essential oils that can be used as a diluent to reduce the concentration of essential oils for massage. Common ones include olive, coconut, avocado, and grape seed as they all work nicely for a medium; we like Molivera Organics 100% Pure Fractionated Coconut Oil. Fractionated Coconut Oil (F.C.O.) is a nice carrier because it absorbs well into the skin and is odorless with a long shelf-life. For those with tree nut allergies, F.C.O. is unlikely to cause a reaction, although it is highly recommended to spot test first.
- BellaSentials Premium Essential Oil Diffuser in dark and light bamboo is a small, easy to transport option that doesn't need an outlet so can be unobtrusive within your birthing room. Before baby's arrival, turn diffuser off.
It is recommended for a mother to nurse her baby as soon as possible after birth, preferably within baby's first hour of life. We recommend postponing baby's first bath until after the first nursing session so that mom and baby can naturally bond as much as possible. Do not be shy to elicit help with breastfeeding from your nurse and if you have any questions or concerns in the slightest, do not hesitate to request that the hospital's certified lactation consultant come to pay you a visit. Getting off to a good start early on can make all of the difference for both mother and baby.
- Best Nursing Pillow Review sets 8 popular and common nursing pillows side-by-side which should help you make your choice based upon your preferences, needs, and budget. Our favorite is the Blessed Nest Organic Nesting Pillow $94 with organic cotton and a filling of organic, pesticide-free buckwheat hulls. It is malleable and comfortable to use with babies and mamas of many sizes. At $49 less, the Boppy Nursing Pillow with its Best Value award stands out by having two contrasting sides in both material and firmness and an adjustable belt for a nice fit.
- Nursing Pajamas — Pajamas designed specifically for nursing can make late night feedings a snap. After all, wrestling with uncooperative clothing in the middle of the night is something sleep deprived mamas don't really need on their plate. Pajamas like Majamas Genna Pajama Set are designed for comfort both during pregnancy and postpartum with easy access, pull-away panels for breastfeeding.
- Nursing Bra — Eventually, a supportive and comfortable nursing bra is a must. Typically, they are designed without constricting underwire not only for comfort but also to facilitate lymphatic drainage. For daytime use, we like the Bella Materna Anytime Nursing Bra (below left) $48 for its luxe, oeko-tex, quick-dry fabric and great design with adjustable straps and pull aside access. For mom's with a fuller bust, this bra is also available in Bella Maternal Full Cup (below second to left) for $10 more. For daytime variety, another popular and comfortable nursing bra to check out is the Bravado Body Silk Seamless Nursing Bra (below second to right) $49 with a 4-way stretch material that adjusts to fit mom's changing shape during pregnancy and postpartum nursing. It has a optional, removable foam cup that will hide pads and nipples. For nighttime, another option besides nursing pajamas is the Belabumbum Bamboo Sleep Bra (below right) $44 to wear with cozy sweats or to hold in nursing pads. Made of moisture-wicking 97% rayon from bamboo and 3% spandex, it offers a more relaxed support of the ladies while resting and sleeping.
- Nursing Pads — Once that milk comes in, most moms find that they need nursing pads to soak up breast milk leakage. We like Bamboobies Nursing Pads Variety Pack $35 because it includes 3 pairs of heart-shaped thin pads for daytime and 3 pairs of thicker, softer circular pads for nighttime or heavy leaking. These little gems will keep your clothes dry and free of the tell-tale milk stains that let the world know you are a mom in need of a baby. Their machine-washable natural fabrics of bamboo rayon velour outside and an blend of hemp and cotton inside make it both soft to the skin and absorptive. We particularly like that they don't contain Super Absorbent Polymer SAP and are re-usable. In addition, there is a trademarked external lining which helps prevent leaks.
It really isn't necessary to worry about purchasing disposable diapers for the hospital as the following supplies are typically provided for you while you are there: conventional brand disposable diapers like Pampers Swaddlers and soft, large gauze squares to wet with warm water. However, if you have a strong preference toward a particular disposable brand or wish to cloth diaper from the get-go, you will need to bring your own supplies with you.
- Disposable Diapers — If you plan to use disposable diapers, or just need time to prep your cloth diaper routine, The Battle for the Best Disposable Diapers article can give you all the advice you need on which brands we recommend. Editors' Choice Bambo Nature and Best Value Earth's Best Tender Care both perform well and are greener than most.
Earths Best Tender Care. Baby will be pooping black, tarry, meconium initially and this will transition to more greenish, dark transitional stool by about days 3 to 4 when mother's milk is coming in. By a week of life, mustardy, grainy yellow breastfeeding stools establish which conveniently rinse right out in the washing machine. Waiting a week before you start cloth diapering will alleviate early issues with stains and also relieve you of the burden of storing dirty cloth diapers at the hospital for laundering at home. Because it is recommended that you launder cloth diapers every other day, a longer hospital stay may find you sitting on a load of dirty nappy laundry longer than you should.
If cloth diapering interests you, we encourage you to take a look at our Cloth Diaper Review and also our companion article, Cloth Diapers vs. Disposables: How and what to choose?.
Newborn Cover with Infant Prefold — Absorptive prefolds can be paired with a water-resistant cover for a lower cost newborn diapering system. You will need around 10 Newborn Covers and 36 Infant Prefolds which with our recommendation below will run you about $185. We like the Rumparooz Newborn/Preemie Snap Cover (4 to 15 pounds) because they are each reasonably-priced at $14 for solids and $16 for prints and use TPU waterproofing. Thus, if you get 5 solids and 5 prints to liven things up, they will run $110 total. These covers can be paired with prefolds for an economical option or fitteds for a much more expensive route. A well-priced yet soft and functional prefold is the Osocozy Better Fit Infant Prefold (6 to 16 pounds) that are available in 12-packs. A total of 36 prefolds will run about $75 (including shipping) for a cost of around $2.07 each. These are absorbent and to be used tri-folded so they are intuitively easy to use and do not require a Snappi Diaper Fastener. And, if you should decide to move on to another system once your baby gains and grows (and pees more!), the prefolds can still be used for extra absorption in a pocket diaper for heavy wetters and overnight use, as spit up cloths, or as multi-purpose rags.
- One-Size System — If you have a larger newborn, you may be able to get by with a One-Size cloth system like Best Value Flip Hybrid (8 to 35 pounds) or Top Pick GroVia Hybrid (8 to 30 pounds) from the get-go, but these typically fit much better once a newborn gains weight and fills out. The Flip Hybrid system is a great introductory system as there is no folding, snapping, or stuffing. We are big fans of Flip's Stay Dry Inserts as they performed excellently in our absorbency testing with an 8 of 10 meaning so they do a good job of keeping baby's skin dry. We recommend purchasing 10 of the Flip Snap Cover for $150 and 30 Flip Newborn Stay-Dry Inserts for $75 for an initial total of $225. When baby is ready to size up to the regularly-sized Flip Stay-Dry Inserts, this will cost an extra $150 for an estimated lifetime cost of $375. However, you will already have your covers! Afterwards, newborn inserts can continue to be used for extra absorption when needed.
- Cloth Safe Diaper Cream — Baby probably won't need any diaper cream in the hospital, but we are listing cloth safe diaper cream here because as described in the above tip box, using zinc or petroleum-based diaper creams without a reusable liner is a bad idea. Our favorite is Thirsties Booty Love which is gentle, moisturizing, and natural with an organic base of extra virgin olive oil and beeswax combined with oregon grape root, myrrh gum, yarrow herb, and calendula flower.
- Cloth Diaper Liners — If you do cloth diaper from birth, we recommend using disposable liners like Eco Sprout Eco-Bottom Liners (below left) are highly recommended to help lift meconium and transitional stool off the cloth for disposal before putting the diaper into the wet bag. In addition to keeping things more sanitary, this will help somewhat with staining and the need to dunk and swish or use a sprayer to remove solids. If any diaper cream is used, we highly recommend using a washable liner like Kanga Care Reusable Diaper Liner (below second to left) in between baby and the cloth.
- Cloth Wipes — For wipes, we recommend using the hospital's gauze and water or getting a few packages of WaterWipes until transitional stool has passed and you are home with your washing machine. If your preference is to use cloth wipes as well when baby is born, we recommend GroVia Reusable Cloth Wipes (below second to right). Available in a 12-pack for $10.95, they are durable, large, and soft enough for a newborn's bottom, yet thick enough for when baby starts to put out some serious solids.
- Cloth Diaper Wet Bag — The Planet Wise Hanging Wet-Dry Bag (above right) is a good option for cloth diapering in the hospital because it can hang from a hook or doorknob and has zippered compartments for both wet and dry cloth accessories.
- Best Stroller and Car Seat Combo Review. A frame stroller is lightweight, smaller in size than a traditional stroller, and folds relatively flat. We suggest waiting to purchase a traditional or more substantial stroller until baby is bigger and/or you have a better idea how you might use a stroller going forward. New moms will be able to manage this frame better than bulky, heavy traditional models that require much more space. In addition, if you end up having a C-section, frame strollers may be the only stroller you are allowed to lift within the prescribed weight limit after surgery. Our Editors' Choice Award went to the Graco SnugRider Elite at 13 lbs 6 oz, however, this stroller only functions with Graco infant car seats which didn't do as well in our Best Infant Car Seat Review. Thus, we highly recommend pairing the Editors' Choice Chicco KeyFit 30 $200 infant car seat with the considerably lighter Chicco KeyFit Caddy at $100 and 11 lbs 7oz (which overall scored only 6 points under the Graco SnugRider) for great performance in the early days.
- Full-Size Stroller — See our review of the Best Baby Strollers. While our opinion is to consider holding off on purchasing a traditional, full-size stroller until baby can sit up on their own, some parents may want to register for this big ticket item before baby is born. And, these days, most full-size strollers accommodate infant car seats for a fairly elegant one-stop solution that isn't as clunky and overweight as the quintessential travel system. Stay tuned for our upcoming review of The Best Stroller and Car Seat Combo which compares 3 car seat frame strollers to 11 full-size strollers and 1 umbrella stroller for use with an infant car seat. In the meantime, we recommend considering the UPPAbaby Cruz (List $500) and the Bugaboo Bee3 (List $719) for an all-in-one approach. Both allow for complete removal of the stroller seat and as such, weight much closer to an infant car seat frame strollers than most full-size stroller systems at about 15 pounds each. To carry an infant car seat, the Cruz and Bee3 rely solely on the chassis frame to carry an infant car seat which clicks-in rather than relying on a strap for security. Depending upon the infant car seat used, an adapter may need to be purchased separately.