A Note to Expectant Mothers and a Minimalist List of Newborn Essentials

minimalist list of newborn essentials

(This is a companion to my last post on baby “essentials” you can actually live without)

Dear expectant mother:

Hooray! You’re pregnant! I’m so excited for you. I hope you’re feeling well and getting enough sleep.

I considered starting this out by telling you something trite like how your life is about to change completely, blah blah blah, but I’m sure you’ve heard it all by now so I’ll just cut to the chase. You’re here because you want to hear my take on what you’ll need in preparation for your new baby. (Either that, or you’re a friend or relative just being polite and reading my blog. Either way: thanks for stopping by!)

Before I offer my personal list of baby essentials, I want to let you in on an important secret that Babies R Us doesn’t want you to know:

You don’t need everything before your baby is born.

I know, right?! Who would have guessed?

See, your baby won’t be able to roll over for at least three months, and probably won’t be crawling for at least seven. She won’t be able to grasp toys or sit up or really do much of anything for months. Which means you actually have tons of time to get stuff like rattles, play pens, baby gates and high chairs. (You might even find you don’t need them at all.)

This also means she won’t be getting dirty for months, either. You hardly need any clothes for the first few months. (After the solids start, though, look out: the laundry will start a-pilin’.)

The other thing is this: barring a natural disaster or zombie apocalypse, stores will still be selling baby things after your munchkin’s arrival. No kidding! So if you all of a sudden realize you need a soother or a hairbrush or baby nail clippers, you can buy them then. After the baby is born.

(In fact, healthy newborns are generally very portable, so you can even take him/her with you when you go to get these items. Or you can send your husband to get them. Or request them from friends and family when they come to visit you. There are lots of options.)

What I’m saying is you can buy or borrow things as you need them.

You don’t have to do it this way, of course. I’m just letting you know that it’s an option.

The advantage of this approach is that you don’t have to clutter up your house with stuff before you need it. It also helps prevent stuff from ever getting in that you will never actually use.

I know, I know, I know: the nesting instinct is powerful. Your whole being right now is bent upon making your home a welcoming and safe place for your baby. I understand that. I went through it too, and have a closet full of useless baby crap in my basement as a result. (I freeloaded on everyone’s unwanted castoffs, feeling that it was imperative I accept whatever I could get my hands on. You know, in case I needed three strollers and two nursing pillows. Note: I didn’t).

I know it’s common practice to have baby showers before the baby is born these days. Because you need all that stuff before your baby’s born, right?

I actually had my shower two weeks after my sweet girl was born. And I fared just fine without a stroller, playpen, or clothes (aside from the few used sleepers I was given) until then.

In fact, after the shower, I just had the added chore of having to figure out what to do with all that useless stuff I would never end up using.

(Sorry, my dear, charitable friends who lovingly showered me with adorable gifts. How were you supposed to know I wouldn’t use shoes, sleepers, onesies, plastic toys, or disposable wipes, or that she’d grow out of most of the other clothes before they were in season? Or that I’d end up with eight times the number of receiving blankets I actually needed? You couldn’t have known. I was deeply moved by your generosity anyhow.)

So without further ado, here is my list of absolute baby essentials, which you will want before the baby is born. Following that is a list of items I personally found very useful in the first few weeks and months but may not be 100% necessary in all cases.

What You Absolutely Should Own or Borrow Before Baby is Born

  • 2 nursing bras

I think this is often overlooked. But they get gross really fast in those first weeks. Invest in good ones.

  • 3-4 newborn-sized outfits and a hat

You’ll probably want a few sleepers or gowns or those zipper sleep sacks. Unless you’re a weirdo starting with elimination communication right from birth, in which case some t-shirts and leg warmers would be ideal, but these are hard to come by.

  • 3-4 receiving/swaddling blankets
  • At least one pack of newborn-sized diapers (disposable or cloth)

I personally recommend the Bummis Newborn Pack for the first weeks if you’re going with cloth — most other cloth diapers, despite their claims to fit newborns, are too big for teeny-weeny freshlings.

  • Wipes

I recommend cloth (at least 20). We use those cheap baby washcloths and moisten them with a spray bottle.

  • A dozen burp cloths

These don’t have to be “official” store-bought burp-cloths — cut-up receiving blankets or prefold diapers also work well.

  • Carseat
  • Carrier or sling

So you can still do things around the house or go for walks while keeping your baby happy and close. I recommend the Moby Wrap and/or a ring sling. If possible, try to borrow a few different kinds of carriers to find out what you like.

  • Someplace safe for baby to nap

This could be a playpen, a bassinet, or a crib. You don’t need all three. Some blankets on the floor work as well, really. Lydia has done most of her napping in her stroller since birth. (UPDATE, June 24, 2012: I’ve been reading about Montessori homes, and they recommend a “child-bed” — i.e. a low mattress on the floor. Sounds like a decent idea to me).

  • Books

Don’t overlook the value of information! You should have at least one book on breastfeeding in your library to help guide you in those crazy early weeks (I recommend The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding). You should also own at least one pediatric book, so you’re not freaking out about green poop or copious amounts of spit-up. (I, of course, recommend Dr. Sear’s The Baby Book: Everything You Need to Know About Your Baby from Birth to Age Two for all things baby).

Other Items I Found Very Helpful For Those Early Weeks

  • Baby bathtub

This is not essential. Babies can be wiped down with a warm, wet washcloth. But a bathtub made the job a little faster.

  • Diaper bag

I didn’t have one for the first few weeks, so I just stuffed everything (diapers, burp cloths, wet bag, change of clothes, etc) into a fabric shopping bag, and it made going out kind of complicated. I recommend getting a good one with compartments.

  • Breast pump

I found this handy for expressing milk when I got kind of engorged. (Not essential, though — you can hand-express).

  • Breast pads

I got way WAY too many of these, but a few are handy — maybe a dozen. Breastfeeding is messy business in those first few weeks. (Update: some of the comments regarding breast pads made me realize that I didn’t clarify that I’m referring to reusable cloth breast pads. If I were talking about disposable, I’d want a lot more than a dozen!)

* * *

Anything else, you can get later. I promise.

Am I forgetting anything important?

Other awesome lists:

A Minimalist Guide to Baby Essentials – Minimalist Mom

Simplifying Babyhood: Top Items for Baby’s First Year and Beyond – Simple Mom

Baby shower gift ideas for the crunchy mom – That Married Couple

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  1. Christina says

    I agree that you don’t need most baby things until after the baby arrives, but I loved having my shower before baby came. It gave me time to organize and put everything away before having to deal with feedings and no sleep. I did return a lot of stuff after baby arrived that I realized I didn’t need. If I did it over again, I’d still want the shower beforehand.

    • I probably would have had my shower before, too, if I were to do it again, to be honest — mostly because having to socialize like that after the baby was born was pretty exhausting. I wouldn’t really recommend it. But not because I needed the stuff any earlier.

  2. bwhaha I beat you on something! we didn’t have a shower until 6 weeks after Henry was born ;) I highly recommend waiting till after for the shower and doing the bulk of purchases yourself (it’s your baby after all, you might as well get used to the expense). We got so many more useful things than I think we would have if we had done it before hand! Again, it’s another post in the works!

    p.s. I loved the post-delivery shower because I didn’t have to socialize as much – all the attention was on the kid and not on me and after months of feeling like every stranger was staring at me and giving me unsolicited advice I was more than ready to be in the background!
    Molly W. recently posted..Inspired: A Simple Living Booklist for ChildrenMy Profile

    • Wow, Molly — I’ve never heard of having a shower that late, I guess I didn’t realize that was even an option! It actually sounds like a good idea! Two weeks after the birth, I was still an emotional, sleep-deprived wreck, so the shower was incredibly overwhelming. I actually begged my mom to call it off! I didn’t need anything and I was exhausted. But after six weeks I’m sure I would have been fine, and would have known more what I wanted. Not a bad idea!

      • It helped that it was a family only get together and honestly the only reason I call it a shower is because we did get baby gifts that were from a registry. I was an emotional wreck in the months leading up to the birth and I *did* beg not to have a modern baby shower before hand because I couldn’t fathom pretending to be okay long enough to enjoy it – I probably would have spent most of it crying in a bathroom. Luckily most of the great-grandma’s to be believe it to be unlucky to have a pre-birth baby shower (seeing as they grew up in times where a safe and healthy delivery wasn’t as much of a guarantee) so no one questioned it too much. =)
        Molly W. recently posted..Inspired: A Simple Living Booklist for ChildrenMy Profile

  3. Hey, that’s my list! Thanks for sharing it, Kathleen! Your list is great – I can’t think of any other essentials that you’d need before the baby is born.

    It’s such an interesting idea to have the shower after the baby is born. I had a friend do that (unintentionally, as her baby came dangerously early), and it was wonderful because her son ended up having intense health problems, so instead of asking for useless (to them) things like an exersaucer they were able to have people help them by buying specific things like cloth covers to go over the tubes running into him, gift cards to restaurants around the hospital, etc. Obviously no one expects to have that kind of thing happen to them, but it really was a Godsend for them.

    But I still think I lean towards having the shower ahead of time. Maybe it’s a personality thing – I really liked having everything organized and all ready to go. And while I did take all the tags off the clothes to wash them (leading to frantic episodes of “hurry and have her wear this outfit because she’s almost completely grown out of it!”), I tried to leave other things as is so that I could return them when I didn’t use them. And actually, I returned a lot of things even before she arrived, and it was nice to have the store credit when something did come up so I could run out and get it without worrying about spending our own money.
    That Married Couple recently posted..Let’s start with the shoesMy Profile

  4. I see that you said you received way too many breast pads. Well I didn’t get enough!! I think it depends on your body when it comes to breast feeding. I had to wear breast pads day and night until I stopped breastfeeding my kids. I was a very full mama! And if you are like me then you need to make sure that you get a comfy night nursing bra without any underwire. I had to wear bras 24/7 while nursing. But that’s just a little side note. I also loved my rocking chair. I know that it may not be necessary but it sure is a wonderful feeling to be able to rock your kids to sleep. I spent hours a night and day on that thing. I still use it to comfort my children and even though my daughter is 4 she still likes cuddling and rocking on it :)

    • Thanks for your thoughts, Jen! The reason I got so many breast pads is because the lady in the diaper store told me I would need them. So it’s probably very common to need a lot of them! And it’s funny that you found the rocking chair so useful — I never used mine! We all just have such different needs, it’s hard to say what a particular family will find necessary!

  5. Weird fact: all showers here are between 6 and 8 weeks after the baby comes! I love it, because I never find out what I’m having, and I don’t get a lot of yellow and white. Hosanna’s I had at 2 weeks, only because my mama-in-law was here from ON, and we wanted to do it before she went home. I have a picture of each child laying on a collage of every outfit, blanket, etc. all spread out. Kind of a “find the baby” thing. Super cute, and I love it this way! That way you know what you actually need. The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding saved my life, even though I’m not an on-demand mom. You are totally right about the bras: I had one with my firstborn, and it was NOT enough. We live 65 km from the closest department store, so my husband my uncle went out on new years eve to get another one. True story. Never forget it.

  6. I also think that maybe it’s just the area I live in, but the norm is to have the shower at around 6 – 8 weeks. I’ve only ever been to one shower while the mother was pregnant. I think that here we have more of a ‘meet the baby’ sort-of party and then the mother has a better idea of the things that they want/need.

    I also needed, what seemed like, a million breast pads. The girls just leaked all over the place 24/7.

    My in-laws bought us a really nice rocking chair for our first baby. He loved cuddling and being rocked so I used it quite a bit. I think that I sat in it once or twice with my daughter, she just wasn’t interested. Every baby is different.
    Bria recently posted..Thunder-songs.My Profile

  7. I remember registering at BRU and their registry guide suggested we register for a swing, a bouncy seat, a doorway bouncer, and a walker. No baby carrier. We were given a second hand swing and bouncy chair, which we actually used quite a bit as he loved them, but the Moby is what we used the most and it wasn’t even on the registry! And don’t even get me stared on a changing table! Why not just change your baby on the kitchen table or their dresser? What a waste.
    What do you use on your wipes? We bought two boxes of wipes at Costco before Malachi was born and we are just now finishing them up a year later. I think practicing EC has helped stretch them, but I would prefer not buying anymore so I was going to look around online today to see what others use. Thought I might as well ask!
    Bekah recently posted..I’ve misplaced my fabulousness.My Profile

    • You’re right — practicing EC really helps stretch those wipes out!

      To moisten my cloth wipes, I use a mixture of: 1 cup warm water, 2 Tbsp castile soap, 1 Tbsp olive oil, and a few drops of lavender essential oil (optional) in a spray bottle. (The original recipe called for baby shampoo and baby oil, but since I don’t use those things, I made substitutions). It’s all I’ve used since birth and one batch lasts several months.

      I agree that it’s nuts that registry guides always list all kinds of swings, bouncers, and walkers, but almost NEVER a good carrier! I found my Moby Wrap irreplaceable in those first months.

      I personally found a change table handy, mostly for the shelves underneath, but I agree — you can change a baby anywhere!

  8. Kathleen, thanks A MILLION for this (and your previous) post! I’ve been dreaming that someone would make these lists and give some trustworthy advice! I would have been clueless and made it up as I went along otherwise. My husband and I are planning to start trying for our first child in a few months! Exciting. We soon-to-be-first-time mothers owe a lot to those who have experience. Thank you again!

  9. great list! and you’re right, that nesting instinct is powerful! especially when people ask, “do you have the nursery ready yet? and what about this and this?” its a newborn! it really doesn’t need that much in the first few weeks!
    i might add some nipple cream to that list though! that’s the one thing i had mike run out to get, that and a better nursing pillow since i was having too much trouble with the one that snapped behind my back every time. luckily, it was a nice trip out for him in those early days, so it did us both some good!
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  10. i remember when my mother buy a lot ot stuff for my son. i just said, thats a lot of stuff for newborn baby who only need a blanket.. my mother said, better prepare and prevent everything than run to supermarket in the night. that’s true.. haha
    lita emianita recently posted..Hello Dads Around The World!!! Keep Safe of Your Baby, 6 Important Things When Taking Care of a Newborn BabyMy Profile

  11. We have a montessori home, and my youngest son, who is 1, sleeps on a floor bed. We are expecting our latest arrival anyday and plan on cosleeping until we transition to a floorbed so we often hear people say we have ‘no place for her to sleep.’ Untrue, she is baby, and can sleep whever she feels the need to. I imagine that will be in her moby most of the day. Loved your list.

  12. After having two boys at home I learned less is more. The items I thought I needed were never used. I would add more baby clothes to your list as we went through several outfits a day. I never used a nursing bra, just went without one. Easier if you are breast feeding. I also didn’t swaddled so all the receiving blankets I had were useless. We never used a baby bathtub either. So many “things” are truly not needed.

  13. Jennifer says

    I was pleased to read “Jesus Lover” as part of your description. Mary and Joseph didn’t have a “nursery” that was prepared, pre-painted pink or blue looking picture perfect and ready to just drop a baby in the cradle when Jesus arrived on the scene. Jesus still turned out healthy and grew to become the miracle that He was destined to be. That is what I am holding on to as I try to keep my emotions on some sort of level ground throughout this pregnancy.

    My situation is a little complicated as this was an unplanned (though welcome) pregnancy and my partner had to leave the country shortly after we found out as he is not a citizen and had issues getting his work visa renewed. Well intentionned family, friends, and co-workers keep telling me they want to have pre-arrival baby showers so they can “help me as much as they can” or that I should just make a list of what I will need and they will help me. I don’t want to seem ungrateful, but I just want to keep this as simple as possible with the essentials because in reality what I really need most for this baby is for its Daddy to be be here with us so we can be a family. Any and all prayer support for warrior angels from heaven to come and join us in this challenging immigration process would be greatly appreciated.

    SO THANK YOU for this article. I will use your list as an outline for the essentials that I can not ignore, and highlight some valid points that you have made for reasons to wait on showers/parties, etc. Mine will include… that with God’s help, by delivery day (due July 5th) and beyond , Daddy will be back ‘home’ with us to enjoy all the fun and fellowship as we introduce our precious new little one to the world.

  14. My shower was when my first was about 8 weeks old. In our church it is common to make it a surprise! Thankfully my husband goofed and told me the day before so I made sure I showered and blow-dried my hair and wore actual clothes. We used much of what we got (playpen, highchair, etc.) but the buying clothes to grow into didn’t work so well. Size 2T didn’t fit my daughter until well after she was two and I still have some with tags even after two other girls in different seasons. Stored things tend to get misplaced or forgotten.

    I guess it just depends on the baby/mama for some things. My first slept only in a moving swing for months and for brief stints in the bassinet attachment on the playpen after the shower. But that was when my baby carriers consisted of horrible Snugli things. :P She was not a cuddler though, so not sure if she would have liked being carried.

    I leak when nursing. A lot. Through 4-6 layers of flannel breast pads. Day and night. I think I must have 3 dozen and still ran out before they were washed, even when my youngest was nearly two. So that means more nursing pads, and way more bras unless you get the waterproof backed or wool ones. I often used more than one bra a day, plus a sleeping bra since I had to have pads on at night too (lots of night nursing with co-sleeping). And I started out with bras from Sears. The kind in a box by Wonderbra or whatever. Horrible. Invest in some that look nice under t-shirts!

    My youngest two were pukers and the youngest a blow-out pooper too. 3 sleepers/outfits in one day was not uncommon. The pooper always needed spare pants, still carry a spare and she is two. Since I have a large front loader and the laundry isn’t done until it’s full we used a lot more clothes for her than any other baby.

    I love my secondhand Moby and bought an Ergo to try this time too. We don’t have a swing anymore, and we usually borrow a bouncy seat, etc. I do have a Jumperoo somewhere…I always hated how all the baby equipment took up so much room. I would like to invest in a new highchair for baby number five since the original from my shower is now 9 years old and huge (and doesn’t fold up) so I am watching for sales even though I won’t need it for a while. I admit to buying clothes ahead when we know the gender. I am expecting a boy this summer and my son (and his baby clothes) are going to be 7 this month. It was a change to shop for a boy after so much pink!

  15. I found this list very helpful as I’m a first time mom and my own mother didn’t know what to do (she couldn’t have her own children so they adopted me). :) i will be having the baby shower before the birth of my little one but mostly because of the weather. it will be winter time and I don’t want any colds or flu passed on to the baby. the “child-bed” seems really interesting and practical, i will definitely be looking into it. thank you for the article as it helps me create a “need-list” i hope everyone finds it as helpful and i wish everyone the best of luck on their children/pregnancy.
    Thanks again :)

    Ontario, Canada

  16. I know this is an older post, but I just found it as I was checking out other lists for my clients! (I’m a childbirth educator) I wrote a post like this, also, if you’re ever wanting to add another “Minimalist” List to your resources there! Great post! I love it. :) It’s all so true.


  17. Chelsea Young says

    I, like many of you, leak terribly for the first many weeks postpartum. For some reason, I happened to stumble upon some nursing cups very early on with my first baby. They were wonderful! Although they are not designed for this purpose, I was able to save all that leaking milk for future consumption, instead of just washing it out of my clothes. They were similar to these: http://www.amazon.com/O-Cal-ette-Nursing-Breast-Shell-0813-0099-00/dp/B002UKXLJK/ref=sr_1_5?ie=UTF8&qid=1414526793&sr=8-5&keywords=breast+cups

  18. I love this list of essentials! For me, I tell all my new Mommy friends, a zipadee-zip is a must-have too. I used it for night time, nap time and feeding time too. My son loved it and it saved me time, since swaddling takes longer than just putting him in his zipadee.

  19. Great list, I made my own newborn list that covers some of the same things, but I got a little more geeky on the gadgets. Most of my friends say the list does not make much sense till after the baby is born.

  20. I love this article. These are very important pointers. I will share this to my friend because she definitely benefit from this article. Thank you!

  21. Being a first time mom can be very scary. Babies don’t come with an instruction manual. I know when I became a mother I was terrified to bring my baby home. I didn’t know if I knew enough to take care of a baby. In the hospital you have so much help, all the nurses are willing to teach you how to change a diaper, feed the baby a bottle and help you breast feed if that’s what you choose. If you have no help at home it can be very scary. The best thing to do is educate yourself as much as possible through reading and classes. Doing this will help you prepare for the first day that you bring home your baby and it’s just you and baby.
    Alice Clover recently posted..Health and beauty benefits of cornMy Profile


  1. […] We also did a lot of research really relying on these three sites’ minimal baby guides: Becoming Peculiar, Today is My Favorite, MiniMotives. While we certainly didn’t follow their recommendations […]

  2. […] If you’d like another good read on this topic, I recommend this post by Kathleen at Becoming Peculiar. […]

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