Baby gear for the first-time parent: the definitive list for 2010

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21 March 2011

(Yes, I know, it’s 2011. Read on and the title will make sense.)

Before Benjamin was born, I did a lot of research into all the “stuff” we’d need for him. A lot. A LOT. (You’ll see… keep reading.) I read books, reviews, and websites. I made spreadsheets and budgets. I comparison-shopped.

And in the end, I think we actually did a really good job with the stuff we bought. Only rarely did we get something that we didn’t end up needing and/or loving, and usually those ‘mistakes’ were because we rushed into a purchase.

My family knew about all this research, so when Benjamin’s aunt was pregnant, she asked me to pass my information along. I did so, with some advice about things we’d learned in hindsight. And then a co-worker was having a baby and asked for the information. And just today, an extended family member heard about this info and asked for it, and another family member suggested I just publish it, so…

The information below is an amalgam of lists, emails, and spreadsheets that weren’t written with publication in mind, and that have only been somewhat cleaned up. And I gathered most of this information in 2009, in preparation for an early-2010 baby, so it’s rapidly becoming out of date. But I’m guessing that it will still be useful to some, so here it is:

Some advice for new parents

Above and beyond all the advice about “stuff” that I give below, here’s the three most important pieces of advice I have for you. (It’s my blog, so I get to insert these, even if you didn’t want them!)

  1. Love your spouse, first. Love for your baby will grow naturally out of that.
  2. Buy and read The Happiest Baby on the Block. Just do it. Everybody says we have the calmest baby ever. Probably some of that is “nature”. But a bunch of it is because of that book. (Many thanks to friend and co-worker Nate for that one.)
  3. Regardless of all the information below, you really only need a few things to keep a baby alive:
    1. Blanket / clothing
    2. A car seat
    3. Boobs
    4. Diapers & wipes
    5. (even a crib is optional, if you have the baby sleep with you)

The spreadsheet

Start with the spreadsheet. It was my best guess (before having a baby!) of all the things we’d need to buy in the first two years, summarized (with a common estimation formula) into how much would be spent before the birth ($3,168) and the total cost of the first two years ($35,704, including daycare). I have no idea if those numbers were/are right – they’re just my guesses. I know I guessed wrong in some places, and I know the list is missing some things, and we haven’t spent any money on daycare yet (estimated at $24,000) so obviously the numbers are wrong. But the spreadsheet is still useful to get an overall sense of perspective, and see things you might have missed.

I don’t remember what all the highlights mean :)

The registries

From there, check out (ugly) printouts of our Amazon and BuyBuyBaby registries. Again, these aren’t exactly endorsements for all those things (see below), but they’re a good place to start to think of things you might have forgotten.

The “stuff” advice

Stores and general information

  1. Buy and use Baby Bargains (it’s a book). It is independent, comprehensive, honest, and updated every year. I read the one from 2009 in great detail; a lot of what’s here is courtesy of that book. But you should get a newer edition and read it yourself :)
  2. Sign up for Amazon Mom. See my earlier post about Amazon Prime for why.
  3. One more book: Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child. I can’t endorse this one nearly as strongly as the other two, just because it’s hard to read and not very well organized. But the information is gold.
  4. Check out Kids Woot every day, for deals.
  5. Check out for some of the big-ticket things; they had the best prices, when we were doing this.
  6. Target usually has a good selection and good prices; we trust them to have good stuff and a good price, so if they have something we need, we usually just buy it there.
  7. I hate Babies R Us, largely because their customer service sucks, and if you do your research on the best products, they often don’t carry them. They usually only carry whatever is cheapest for them to get in whatever category and price point they are trying to cover. But the only real alternative is the boutique stories, which tend to be hugely expensive. There’s no perfect answer. (We were pretty happy with BuyBuyBaby, but I don’t think there’s one near where we live now.)
  8. Be cautious about Pottery Barn; check out their stuff in the Baby Bargains book. In the majority of cases, the PB stuff was overpriced for the quality of the item. But the PB stuff looks good, and you can get a really consistent set of stuff in terms of look/feel and reasonable quality. We really wanted to register with them, until we started researching individual items in the Baby Bargains book. It depends on how much work you want to do to find the perfect item, vs. quickly finding stuff you’re sure is good.
  9. Consider getting a good camera and learning to use it. It matters a lot to me (and I think to the rest of my family) that we have such good photographs of Benjamin.

Specific things

  1. Don’t put any clothes on your registry, unless there’s really specific stuff you want.  People will get you lots of clothes, even if they aren’t on your registry, and will ignore any clothes that are on your registry.
  2. We got our bassinet as a hand-me-down, which is why the cost is so low on the spreadsheet.  But we really liked having it, and having Benjamin in the room with us.
  3. It’s possible to spend a LOT more on a crib than we did.  And I wanted to.  But when I thought it through rationally, the one we got was exactly the right one, and I think it was about $200.
  4. If you do your research, there is NO reason to get a baby mattress with springs.  Get a foam one, specifically a Colgate Classica (I, II, or III).  They are the best on both quality and price.
  5. We never got a bumper pad.  We eventually did get a thin bumper-guard thing (a Breathable baby safety bumper) that we really like, because it keeps Benjamin from getting his feet between the bars, and from throwing his pacifier out of the crib.
  6. Benjamin’s dresser is also our changing table, and we got it used at an antique mall.
  7. 2 changing pads is a must (one upstairs, one down).  I don’t think I’d spring for the fancy covers if I was doing it again, but they look and feel nice, so I’m happy we have them anyway.  I would get at least 4 of the little washable mats that go on the changing pad.
  8. We like our baby swing a lot, but it wasn’t one we asked for (it was a (good!) gift).  But the advice from the BB book is to wait until you have your baby before buying one, so you can test-drive them.  Apparently some babies hate them.  
  9. We also got an un-asked-for bouncy seat thing from Boppy, that was one of the most-used things in our inventory.  
  10. You won’t need a high chair until at least 5 months after the delivery, so you don’t have to include it on your registry.  We love ours (a Boon Flair), not at all because it is ‘designer’ but because it’s really easy to use and to clean.
  11. You’ll get a ton of free formula before the delivery – don’t plan on buying any until you actually need it.
  12. Everyone who uses them (including us!) says that you can’t ever go wrong buying a better breast pump. Get the best one your budget can afford.
  13. The Brest friend is by FAR the best breastfeeding pillow.  The Boppy line is terrible, as are the knock-off ones. They look nice, but they suck when you actually try to use them.
  14. I wouldn’t buy bottles ahead of time – you’ll get a bunch of free ones, and then you’ll just want to try various types until one works.  So I’d just try the ones you get for free, then if those don’t work, buy more.
  15. You won’t need baby dishes for at least 5 months after the delivery.
  16. The Aden and Anais swaddling blankets are awesome.  But we gave some to a friend for their latest, and they seem to have actually switched to other blankets. But they are still swaddling :)  (AGAIN: READTHE HAPPIEST BABY ON THE BLOCK”!)
  17. We like our Baby Bjorn bibs A LOT, and we really only need the two we have. Regular bibs are harder to wash (or have to be laundered), so I think you end up needing a lot more of them.
  18. We got a gift that we didn’t ask for, but love: a Bumbo seat.  Great for feeding or short-term baby storage, and very convenient.
  19. Get at least 4 sets of crib sheets, and at least two mattress pads.  We saw advice somewhere to actually double-layer them when you make the mattress (pad + sheet + pad + sheet) to make it easy to take off a soiled sheet in the middle of the night.  It’s good advice, although we’ve really only needed it once or twice so far. Same applies if you’re using a bassinet.
  20. Don’t put diapers on your registry, or buy any.  You’ll get plenty to start with.
  21. Get a newborn car seat (the kind that separates from the base) and two bases, one for each car.  Don’t try to go straight to a convertible car seat (like we did). Don’t worry about future car seats, yet.  Buy them new, no matter what.
  22. We like our Baby Bjorn carrier a lot, but don’t actually use it that much, but when we do, we’re really glad we have it.
  23. Our stroller is the UPPAbaby Vista. We love it, but it may have been the single most expensive item we got. But it was important to us to have one that could optionally face the parents, and that would fit in the Mini, and could handle multiple kids in the future. Ours was the best one that met all those criteria, but if you have different criteria, it might not be the right one for you.
  24. We don’t have a “pack and play” – we have a Baby Bjorn Travel Crib Light.  We love it.  It doesn’t have all the accessories (like a changing table) of a Pack n Play. It also doesn’t weigh a million pounds, and take a long time to set up and tear down, and take up a ton of space.  But it’s expensive, and the baby sleeps on the ground (which they don’t mind… it’s just the adults who worry).
  25. Kristina likes her diaper bag a lot (it’s a “JJ Cole”), but says it is ripping (which is a common complaint), and everybody says you’ll go through a lot of diaper bags. You’ll also get free cheapy ones. 
  26. Thank carefully about the baby mobile – most of them are meant to please the adults, not the baby.
  27. Our monitor is the “Graco iMonitor Mini” – and it seems to have gone out of stock online.  I can still find it on eBay for $100.  We got ours from for $40. It’s a great monitor, but I’m not sure I would have paid $200 for two of them. (You’ll need at least two “parent units”.)
  28. We like our Diaper Genie II Elite, a lot.
  29. Our baby gym (the mat that they lay on, with stuff suspended in the air) was a big hit, and we did the research on price/value.  
  30. You won’t need baby gates until at least 7 months after the delivery.  There’s a lot of variability in price, features, and quality.  Use Baby Bargains.
  31. You won’t need a bathtub faucet safety thingy until well after the delivery.  (We still aren’t using ours.)
  32. The swaddle blankets double as good nursing covers.  But we have a few purpose-specific nursing covers also. They’ve only been used a few times.
  33. We did our research on our tub, and love it.  
  34. Get some sort of sleep noise generator!  Especially one that does a heartbeat and white noise.  There are also apps for iPhones and such, if you can dedicate such a device (and speakers) to the baby’s room.
  35. Car mirrors don’t have to be fancy to do the job.  We ended up buying ours in person at the store, and that was a good way to do it.
  36. The Sassy Linking Letters were a big favorite for a long time.
  37. A kiddopatamus is critical.
  38. I did a bunch of research on humidifiers, and my big take-away is that there’s no perfect answer for everybody. My personal conclusion was “use a warm-mist one” (it’s less likely to spread germs and it won’t spread dust – although some people are afraid of the heater). Once you have that basic decision settled, the choice of an actual brand and model depends more on preference, and I used the Amazon reviews to decide. Bigger capacity is better, and you want one with a variable humidistat (but it doesn’t have to be digital). The ultraviolet light made us feel better, but I’m not sure it was totally necessary. You should clean it every week, no matter what you get.

(I numbered all the items so commenters can reference them more easily, just in case the internet cares to weigh in on this post.)

Good luck :)

  1. Suzanne Culp (Szabo) says:

    Thank you sooo much for sharing this! Jim and I really look forward to going through your notes, advice, spreadsheet, and registries. I think you and Jim are pretty similar—he is a big researcher, and we’ve spent alot of time so far looking up a ton of stuff on the internet! We also do have the latest version of Baby Bargains—a gift from his brother. Unfortunately, we do not have a Buy Buy Baby near us, and we have alot of older relatives who are not savvy to computer use, so we cannot do too much registering online! The one Babies R Us by us that we went to actually surprised us, because they had 2 salespeople on the floor that actually knew what they were talking about when we asked for advice! This was odd for me, cuz i remember in the past shopping for a baby shower, and it was a bunch of teenagers working there who knew nothing! So we are going to register for some things there, and some at Target. That’s the thought so far. Having said that, everything that we do register for will be fully researched for safety, quality, ease of use, etc. Your info and links to things you and Kristina used will be a great help! Our shower is on June 12, so we have some work to do!! Again, thank you SOOO much for this advice! Hope you guys are doing well?! The pix of Baby Benjamin are just amazing—he is such a gorgeous, peaceful-looking baby! Hope to see you guys sometime soon! Thanks again, Suzanne & Jim

  2. mattmc3 says:

    Really handy list. A few additional contributions from the dad of baby #3. First, the Baby Bjorn stinks. Especially for the tall guy. We had that for Ian and it was not nearly as nice as the Ergo Baby Carrier which we now have for Alison. Also, I disagree with your advice about the crib bumper as it’s too easy for your tiny one to get stuck (you and I have the exact same crib). By the time they get a little older, the slats are too close for it to be an issue, but I recommend getting one for when they’re tiny unless you always plan to swaddle. It’s also nice for pulling the decor of the nursery together. Having had two diaper genies, we strongly prefer the Diaper Champ as it’s held up much better and you don’t have to buy special plastic bags. The diaper bag was something we cared a lot about because that’s something you get a ton of milage out of. Interestingly, Beth decided to wait on purchasing one this time to see what we got at the hospital, and we ended up loving that free bag. Very nice. Who knew?! Most everything else is dead-on. It’s interesting to see all the things we cross pollinated on. I think we suggested to you a few things (My Breast Friend) on your list, and certainly you contributed a lot of the things (Graco iMonitor Mini from W00t) for our list. Great writeup.

  3. mattmc3 says:

    Oh, and one more thing… best advice we EVER got (next to the Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child book). Make your crib up like this – bed skirt, mattress, water proof pad, fitted sheet, water proof pad, and finally another fitted sheet. Then, in the middle of the night when you’re dealing with a diaper blowout or spit up, you just rip off the top sheet and waterproof pad and the bed is still made and ready to go. So nice for the 3AM crib disaster. Anything you can do to make those night times go smoother…

  4. Beth says:

    This is great Nathan! Makes it easier for me to share my advice, since we use the same books, crib, monitor… and beyond… I already shared the link with a friend.

    My only addition, having used both the baby bjorn and an ergo baby carrier extensively now, is to GET THE ERGO CARRIER. It has been an absolute lifesaver for me, especially having back problems and taking care of multiple kids. A splurge for sure, but well worth it. She is 20 pounds now and I still can use it with ease.

    I think we might be the friends mentioned in #16 – and we did use those swaddling blankets a LOT. We just went through a phase where we needed to get her swaddled tight in her carseat as well, and the Kiddopotamus swaddleme did a FANTASTIC job for that. It was also easier to pass on to grandparents and other care providers because it was foolproof. They didn’t have to learn anything like with the blankets, and could get her settled and asleep with it.

    We have used a simple fan in the nursery for white noise for all 3 of ours. Simple, cheap, and effective.

    Thanks again for putting all this together!

  5. Nathan Arthur says:

    Thanks, guys, for adding to the advice :)

    One comment on the carrier – I think it’s impossible for there to be a single perfect carrier. We also have the Ergo carrier; we’ve had it and the Bjorn since before Benjamin was born. I read a million reviews on carriers, and finally decided that those two (the Ergo and the Bjorn) were the best, but that there wasn’t any way to choose between them without using them, so we got both. And Benjamin refuses to go in the Ergo :) He went in it once or twice when he was tiny, but never since then. We haven’t tried it in a long while, though, so maybe he’ll like it again, now that he’s bigger. (We also have the Baby Bjorn “Active” which has more back support than the regular Bjorn – maybe that makes a difference for the parents. I carried Benjamin around for about 8 hours one day in it; he was probably 12-13lbs at the time, and I was OK.)

  6. Suzanne says:

    me again! i may have some questions as we go along and play with our registry! hope you don’t mind!? we’re definitely looking into swaddling… I’ve looked at the Aden & Anais blankets, and ones similar like the Living Textiles muslin wraps, etc. Then there are also the ones mentioned above (by Beth), like the SwaddleMe & the Halo sleepsack & swaddle. My questions around this are: what’s the difference? what’s best? do the SwaddleMe sacks & other sleepsacks really swaddle the right way? is it really difficult to wrap a baby in the huge 47 X 47 blankets/muslin swaddles? What do you guys think—-any info would be greatly appreciated! Thanks!

  7. Nathan Arthur says:

    Don’t mind at all :)

    My experience is that it’s really hard to find square-shaped swaddle blankets that are big enough for babies past the first few months – that’s why we like the Aden and Anais ones so much. But they were huge when Benjamin was first born. (We just folded them in half, into a triangle, and they worked perfectly.) But the “normal” swaddling blankets you find in stores won’t be nearly big enough after a few months. They’re also many-purpose blankets – he is still using them today to sleep with at night, and they make good burp cloths, etc.

    We also have one of the swaddling wrap thingies, and we never really used it, but we were very committed to swaddling with a regular blanket. Beth’s right that we might have had more success getting the parents and such to try swaddling if they had less to learn to do so.

  8. April says:

    Hey, did you have any updates to this? I noticed you included the phrase “rapidly becoming out of date”.
    Do you have Arthur Baby List 2.0?

    With all the spare time you have, I’m sure you wouldn’t mind providing some reviews on how things have weathered over the few years?

    “Oh, April, you just wait…” *Evil laugh from Nathan. Krissy reads this post and laughs until she cries.

  9. Nathan Arthur says:

    Congratulations, April!

    I wrote that phrase when I first wrote this blog post, but honestly most of it is still spot-on, based on baby #2. I did just do a careful review, though, and I have a few additional comments:

    * We’ve been using overly-expensive Tommy Tippee sensitive-tummy bottles with Liam. They are very well designed. They also have many little parts which get lost and can’t be individually replaced.

    * The Aden & Anais swaddle blankets come in two flavors: good, and suck. The good ones are expensive ($50 for 4) and are 47” by 47”. The suck are any other configuration, and usually come from Target. Don’t buy the suck.

    * Note that we didn’t buy a bottle sterilizer.

    * We haven’t used the Baby Bjorn bibs with Liam; they are just too clunky, and the cloth ones are like $0.25 for 1,000 of them. (Just kidding.)

    * The free diaper bag the hospital gave us is the one we use all the time now. On long trips we pack the bigger diaper bag that we already had. If you don’t buy a diaper bag, you’ll probably want to buy a changing pad.

    * We still haven’t used that tub safety thing that you’re supposed to buy. We used it a bunch when Benjamin was tiny; it never mattered and kept falling off.

    * The earlier comments to this post are also helpful :)

    * I agree with Matt that putting the crib bumpers on earlier was a good idea.

    * We used the Ergo carrier a lot more with Liam than we did with Benjamin, but now that Liam’s getting older, we’re switching to the Bjorn so he can face out. The right answer? Both of them.

    * For Benjamin, we bought an antique chair that didn’t rock. For Liam, I promised Kristina that we’d get a better chair. We got a nice rocker from Pottery Barn Kids that will eventually convert into living room furniture. Kristina loves it.

    * Remember to include some money in your budget for after-delivery clothing for mom :)

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