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 8 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 highly recommend.
- Nice-to-haves — These are things that some parents find very helpful, but aren't strictly necessary.
First of all, relax. You do not need that much stuff in the first three months.
If you are planning on breastfeeding, baby's most essential need, nutrition, can be provided naturally. Nursing is a lot of work for mom and baby initially, so focusing on the basics of making sure mom has enough fluids and nutrition for milk production and has the proper support to help with latch and breastfeeding ergonomics is incredibly important. With mom well cared for, baby's most basic building blocks are present. Add a few packages of newborn diapers, a couple of swaddle blankets, and bassinet, and you are ready to go. So, do the best you can to take care of your and baby's most basic needs in the beginning, 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 ready and waiting for your trip to 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 only five items that we consider to be must-haves for the hospital.
- The single most common cause of death in children over four years of age are car accidents. Fortunately, infant mortality (0 to 1 year) as a result of car accidents has dropped dramatically in the last two decades thanks in large part to safety standards for rear-facing infant car seats. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends having your baby in a rear-facing car seat until they are at least two 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 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 typically dresses newborns in white long-sleeved kimono t-shirts that have built-in mittens. However, if you want your baby leaving 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 personal care items for your stay in the hospital to help you feel more at home and relaxed. Recommended items for your kit include a 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 your 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 recommendation for a great set of nursing pj's is listed in the nice-to-have section below if you want to splurge for your hospital stay. The hospital will provide you with disposable maternity underwear, but it can be helpful to have a few pairs of "grannie" cotton underwear that you won't mind getting stained. And, because hospitals tend to run on the chilly side, cozy socks to keep your tootsies nice and warm are a must. Also, slip-resistant slippers like the comfy UGG Women's Ansley or slip-on shoes for walking the halls during labor and postpartum will be a hot commodity. Lastly, a comfortable outfit like stretchy sweats for your trip home is essential. Your belly will probably look about six 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 some other items you might want to bring with you to the hospital, but none of them are 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, think about the things you'd like to have during childbirth 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 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. And, while having a birth plan can be helpful, it is important to maintain flexibility during labor so as to avoid disappointment. And remember, when all is said and done, a healthy mother and baby is everyone's goal.
- Water Bottle — Having 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 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 Butterfly Sleeve 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 to caregivers during labor. Another cute option is the Baby Be Mine 3-in-1 Labor Gown with an empire waistline, front panel, elasticized neckline, and snaps for shoulders and back, it transitions well from labor to nursing.
- 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 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 nagging beeps 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 perfect 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 meals 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 require 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 you 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 a 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 like the Earth Therapeutics Microwaveable Comfort Wrap warmed in the microwave is a great tool for the aches associated with childbirth. You might also consider "out of the box," homemade items for easing discomfort, like tennis balls loaded up in a long sock, to provide counter pressure on the back when pain strikes.
- Electronics — Preference for the extent of this category will vary, but commonly included items are a cell phone, camera with video feature, laptop, and chargers. With a laptop, you can easily stream music from either Pandora or your created playlists 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 the 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 without the safety issues that traditional candles present.
- 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 sparingly with a vaporizer to scent the surrounding air lightly. 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 known as beneficial essential oils during labor, however, it is important to become well-educated on the potential side effects (pros and cons) they may have before using. For example, while the digestive peppermint is touted to help labor-induced nausea with a pleasant cooling sensation, it has also not recommended for use postpartum as it has been known to diminish breast milk supply.
- Massage Oil Diluent — Many different types of natural oils 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 an optimal 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. 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 eight of them side-by-side which should help you make your choice based on 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 Two-Sided Nursing Pillow with its Best Value award two sides, differing in material and firmness in addition to an adjustable belt for fit.
- Nursing Pajamas — Pajamas designed specifically for nursing can make late night feedings a snap. After all, wrestling with uncooperative clothing is something sleep deprived mamas don't need on their plate. Pajamas like Majamas Genna Pajama Set aim 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 without underwire, design is geared toward comfort and 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 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 an 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 comfortable 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 three pairs of heart-shaped thin pads for daytime and three 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 a 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. Also, there is a trademarked external lining which helps prevent leaks.
It 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 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 one week of life, breastfed babies develop yellow stools resembling grainy mustard. Breast milk stool conveniently rinses 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 cloth diapers need cleaning 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 pre-folds will pair with a water-resistant cover for a lower cost first 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 five solids and five prints to liven things up, they will run $110 total. These covers can pair either with pre-folds for an economical option or with fitted cloth diapers for a much more expensive route. A well-priced yet soft and functional pre-fold is the Osocozy Better Fit Infant Prefold (6 to 16 pounds) that are available in 12-packs. A total of 36 pre-folds 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. Once your baby grows and begins to urinate more, you may decide that it is time to move onto another cloth diapering system. Your money has not been wasted, however, as pre-folds serve many purposes: added absorption in a pocket diaper for heavy wetters and overnight use and as spit up cloths or multi-purpose rags.
- One-Size System — If you have a large newborn, Best Value Flip Hybrid (8 to 35 pounds) or Top Pick GroVia Hybrid (8 to 30 pounds) may work at birth. However, one-size systems typically have a much better fit once a baby fills out a bit. The Flip Hybrid system is an excellent introductory system as there is no folding, snapping or stuffing. Flip's Stay Dry Inserts performed excellently in our absorbency testing with an 8 of 10. In other words, they do a good job of keeping baby's skin dry. We recommend purchasing ten of the Flip Snap Cover for $150 and thirty Flip Newborn Stay-Dry Inserts for $75 for an initial total of $225. When your baby is ready to size up to the regularly-sized Flip One-Size Stay-Dry Inserts, this will cost an extra $150 for an estimated lifetime cost of $375. However, you will already have your covers! Afterward, 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 not recommended. 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 using diaper cream, 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 your baby is born, we recommend GroVia Reusable Cloth Diaper 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. They are much more manageable postpartum, and if you've had a C-section, this may be the only stroller type that fits within the prescribed weight limit for lifting. We suggest waiting to purchase a full-size stroller until your baby has grown. In doing so, you will are more likely to have a better idea of what your needs are. 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 excellent performance in the early days.
- Full-Size Stroller — For a good summary review The Push for the Best Full-Size Strollers of 2017. 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 the baby is born. And, these days, most full-size strollers accommodate infant car seats for an elegant one-stop solution that isn't as clunky and overweight as the quintessential travel system. However, if you are hankering for an all-in-one approach from the start, we recommend considering the UPPAbaby Cruz (List $500) and the Bugaboo Bee3 (List $719). Both allow for complete removal of the stroller seat and as such, weigh much closer to a frame strollers than most full-size stroller systems at about 15 pounds each. The Cruz and Bee3 rely solely on the chassis frame to click-in and carry an infant car seat rather than on a strap for security.
NEXT: In the Bubble (0-8 weeks)