If you read my last post, you know that we spent $24,032 during our first 12 months with Henry. To some people, we spent a ton. To others, we didn’t spend much. For us, it was the right amount. I didn’t track this spending for any reason other than I was really curious.
When we were getting ready for Henry, we were focused on being as lean as possible with our baby list. We live in the U.K., away from family and friends and didn’t have a shower (which made it easy to not get too many things). We also live in a small, two bedroom flat and didn’t want it to be overtaken with baby things. And we’re planning to move back to the U.S. and the idea of carting baby things around the world didn’t appeal to me.
We needed a minimalist baby list. But my trusty advisor (google) wasn’t turning up a helpful list. I wanted to know what were the essentials and what things we could wait to buy.
After consulting friends who nicely shared their lists, I was still having a difficult time separating out what was crucial to have in the early days and what we could wait to get. Luckily, our post-natal doula offered to come to our house and walk us through everything we would need for those early days and create a shopping list for us.
When I was 32 weeks pregnant, she came over to do an assessment of what we had and give us a shopping list of what we needed to buy.
We had one bag of diapers sitting in the corner.
I thought she would chastise us for being woefully unprepared, but instead, she said we only needed a few more things. She quickly wrote out a list of 9 other items to get and told us not to buy anything else. Her rationale: all babies and parents are different. When the baby shows up, you can figure out what works. Anything that we buy before that would be a guessing game.
I was nervous about this advice, but she ended up being right. There were very few things outside of that list of 10 that we needed for the first couple of months.
Below I’m breaking down her list, what I added onto it, and a few items that we were gifted that we used almost right away.
The 10 Newborn Essentials
Here are the 10 essentials our doula suggested we have on-hand:
- Muslins: we used these large ones and these small ones.
- Diapers: we started with Pampers but are testing out some better, eco-friendly options.
- Cotton wool: cotton round pads that we used instead of wipes for the first 12 weeks.
- Undershirts: these worked the best for us.
- Onesies: we got basic ones with zippers (the zippers were so helpful!)
- Blankets: we bought these breathable blankets and were gifted this one.
- Bassinet and sheets: we started with this and then switched to this. See my note below.
- Hat: a lot of the onesies came with matching hats, so we used those at the beginning
- Car seat: we bought this one because our car is tiny (only available in the EU) and recently upgraded to this.
- Pacifiers: these glow in the dark ones were great.
My additional pre-baby purchases
There were actually 13 other things that I purchased before Henry was born. Some things I’m glad I had on hand, others were a waste for us.
- Diaper bin: We got this one, but I wish we wouldn’t have purchased this. It was a waste of money for us.
- Breastfeeding pillow: I got this one but it wasn’t for me. I used it once, donated it, and went pillowless.
- Baby wrap: We used it every day for the first month. We bought this one, but I’d get this cheaper one in the future.
- Baby bath: We used this twice and then tossed it. Bummer.
- Swaddles: We bought a set of three of these swaddles and loved them.
- Baby carrier: we went with the Ergo baby 360 with newborn insert, but didn’t start using it until he was 6 weeks old or so.
- Stroller: we bought this lightweight stroller and I’m obsessed with this purchase. We bought a very lightly used one with a newborn pack for $200. But we didn’t really start using it until he was 12 weeks old and we still wear him more often than put him in the stroller. This is probably one of the only items that will make the move to Hawaii with us.
- Changing pad: we bought a basic one like this, which you can see in the picture above. It was great! We used it from day 1 and we’re still using it.
- Portable changing wallet: we use this in lieu of a diaper bag. We took Henry out and about early on, so it was helpful to have this to throw into our bag or carry on a walk.
- Bottles, sterilizer, and brush: we started using these occasionally when Henry was three weeks.
- Misc health items like nail clippers, saline spray: we didn’t need these right away, but used them eventually. We got these clippers and Henry actually likes this saline spray.
- Room thermometer: we probably didn’t need this, but it helped calm my nerves early on.
- Baby chair/bouncer: we definitely didn’t need this for months and probably should’ve waited on this purchase. Henry ended up liking a different chair more (though he did like the wooden toys that attach to it) and this one didn’t really get much use.
From the list above, the only things I was really happy to have on-hand when we came home from the hospital was the baby wrap, swaddles, changing pad, and changing wallet. We could have easily waited on — or not purchased — everything else.
And we were gifted a few things that we started using right away:
- Baby blanket for the floor (handmade by a relative)
- Books: reading books to him early on was probably more for our benefit than it was his, but we enjoy it. We all love this book.
- White noise machine: we started using this the first night and still use it, but his night nanny never used it and he slept just fine. So I don’t know if it was necessary for him, but it makes us feel better.
- Baby play mat: I liked how thick this one was, but we didn’t use any of the light or sound features.
To me, our bassinet situation was a prime example of not knowing what your baby will like until they arrive. For the first few weeks, Henry happily slept anywhere we’d put him. But eventually, he began to hate his bassinet at nap time. It was an exhausting struggle. We learned that he liked to be rocked to sleep, but not in our arms. So we spent what felt like hours each day jiggling the side of his bassinet.
Eventually, we decided to spring for a bassinet that would help with the rocking. I had friends rave about the Halo bassinet so we went to look at it. But we knew Henry well enough to know that (1) the vibration wasn’t his thing. He liked to rock. And (2) he is a squirmy sleeper so he’d often end up with his head stuck against the side and start crying.
We ended up springing for the even more expensive SNOO, which I never would have bought before he was born. It’s not the right bassinet for every baby, but after eight weeks of learning what he liked, we knew this was a perfect fit. It rocked at different speeds and the swaddle clipped to the side so he no longer ended up stuck in the corner crying. He slept in it until he was 5 months old and moved to his crib. Then we sold it for nearly what we paid for it. Win-win. That said, if we have another baby I won’t rush out and buy it because it might not be the right solution for them.
I hope that was helpful! If you have anything to add to the must-have list, let me know in the comments!
Erica Gellerman is a CPA, MBA, personal finance writer, and founder of The Worth Project: personal finance and family travel. website. Her work has been featured on Forbes, Money, Business Insider, The Everygirl, The Everymom, and Lifehacker. When she's not writing about personal finance you can find Erica exploring Europe from her temporary home base in London.
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