No longer can I blissfully ignore the reality that I am bringing a 3rd child into the world. As sleep deprivation, breast-feeding and bottle-feeding, frequent diaper changes, and other practicalities of having a baby loom before me, I decided to go back and revisit something I wrote almost a year ago: 36 Products Your Baby (and You) Need in the First Three Months. These are tried and true…by me, Jack (now 3) and Luke (now 19 months). Kate will get the benefit of lessons learned before, plus all the “new fangled stuff” that keeps coming out so frequently these days. I’ve changed them a bit since the “first edition” last year based on new things I’ve heard about and other things I’ve learned, so these are fresh – and now only 35 items long. Here’s the list!
WHAT TO BUY FOR BABY
SLEEPING: It is not by chance that products for sleeping are at the top of my list, and that it’s the biggest section. Training your baby to be a good sleeper is one of the most important things you can do to maintain your sanity in those early months of raising children. My first encounter with sleep deprivation was with my my first son, and almost pushed me over the edge. I went back to work at 11 weeks and was a basketcase by 16 weeks due to lack of sleep. Fortunately, all the research and practice we went through with our firstborn helped and our secondborn slept through the night by 3 months with no “crying it out”.
1. Healthy Sleep Habits/Happy Child: When I had Jack, encountering sleep deprivation for the first time in my life literally sent me off the deep end. When I went back to work, I was falling asleep at my desk and in meetings…and sometimes uncomfortably close to doing so in the car on my commute. I read every book out there on the market on infant sleep and made color coded Excel-based sleep charts so I could track every moment of sleep. The only book out there on sleep worth its salt (in my opinion) is Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child, by Marc Weissbluth. I didn’t find it particularly well-written, but he gives good practical advice in his vignettes and there are several fundamental premises he bases his sleep training on which I identified with. I now have two great sleepers – Jack from 4 months on and Luke from about 3 months on.
2. Moses basket: When my former employer sent a Moses basket to my hospital room the day I delivered my first son, I had to ask the nurse what it was for. Quickly, I learned, and it became both son’s sleeping spot until they literally grew out of it by two months old. In the early days, when they can sleep anywhere and everywhere, it was wonderful because you could bring them around room to room with you as you went about your daily activities. At night, we had them sleep in the Moses basket that we put in our hand-me-down bassinet because it seemed so much cozier. When we decided it was time to have the boys sleep in the nursery instead of our room, we introduced them to the crib by placing them in the Moses basket in the crib initially. There are a lot of options out there now, including this one, sold at Lone Star Baby & Kids ($64).
3. Baby Swing: Another book I highly recommend is The Happiest Baby on the Block, by Dr. Harvey Karp. But – don’t buy it, just borrow your friend’s or the library’s, because once you learn the 5 S’s from the book, you’re golden. Another friend I know of says 20 minutes of the video is all you need. One of his “S’s” is Swinging, and since it was the only thing that would calm Jack down at the “witching hours” late in the day right around dinner, I have to say I’m a convert. The best swing I’ve seen (sadly, not mine) is this one from Graco, the Lovin’ Hug Swing ($150).
4. Video Monitor: I remember seeing these in the store when Jim and I were registering and making the comment: “Wow. Who would need that? Isn’t that overkill?” Seven weeks later, we were back in the store, buying one because as we were trying to get Jack to fall asleep on his own, I couldn’t handle doing so while just hearing him — I also needed to see him. (Please see my essay “Judge Not…” if I’ve just offended you; I’ve learned my lessons!) We are on our second type now; the first one we bought, the Safety First Sights & Sounds Video Monitor ($192) stopped working at 11 months (which, according to reviews we’ve now seen online is not unusual and in fact is almost like clock-work). Our second, this Summer Infant Baby Quiet Sounds Color Handheld Monitor ($195), has been going strong for two years and we also have added another camera (available on the Summer website for $100) to it so that we can switch between views of Jack’s room and Luke’s room.
5. Swaddle blanket: I am a firm believer in swaddling babies, especially until they’ve outgrown their startle reflex (around 3 months or older). By the way, this is another one of the Happiest Baby S’s – Swaddle. Receiving blankets might work for the first week or so, but your baby will quickly outgrow them. The Miracle Blanket ($29.95) was the only one that worked for us; both boys were far to strong (and big) for The Swaddle Me by Kiddopotamus ($10-$13) or the Boppy swaddle blanket ($10). I’ve also heard from some Moms that the SwaddleDesigns Ultimate Receiving Blanket ($24.99) works great – at 40×40, it’s a generous size for swaddling (though you’ll have to learn how yourself versus “wrapping” your child up like a burrito like the Miracle Blanket).
6. Pacifier: I had grand plans of not giving my babies pacifiers…until I actually had children and knew what the term “strong need to suck” actually meant. Once I figured out that “feeding on demand” for Jack was actually a form of using me as a human pacifier, we quickly bought several different types of pacifiers for him to try. The one he and Luke both settled on was the Mam paci, available everywhere. A GREAT invention since the boys were born are these Pacimals, a huggable plush paci holder that your child can manipulate from a very young age (available locally at Safari Kids in Plano for $25). They help babies control the paci when their fine motor skills aren’t developed enough to manuever something so small. This is exceptionally helpful when your 4 month old wakes up at 3am and can put his own paci back in his mouth, and enough to make it worth training Baby Kate on the Pacimal paci from Day 1. (This is actually also one of the S’s from the Happiest Baby book – Sucking.)
7. Noise machine: White noise can also help babies sleep, blocking out some of the noise of the household. You can buy these anywhere, including this Conair model at Target ($25). (You guessed it – another one of the S’s – Shushing.)
8. Heartbeat CD: I learned a hard lesson about rocking your babies to sleep with Jack. Simply put, the lesson is: DON’T. You will be tempted, but don’t do it. The crying later as you try to train them to sleep on their own is not worth it. What I did like from those rocking sessions is this CD: Jesus Loves Me Fast Asleep (Amazon, $14.99). It has your favorite songs from Vacation Bible School with heartbeats playing in the backdrop. I used it at various times with my boys and just loved it, though in my experience, it does not magically make your child fall asleep (as it claims).
9. Ocean Wonders Aquarium: What did help Jack sleep (besides the paci) was the Ocean Wonders Aquarium ($38) that we hung on his crib. By four months old, he could kick it to turn it back on, so we would hear him in the middle of the night kick it back on to hear “Brahm’s Lullaby” if he woke up.
10. Room-darkening curtains: One thing I strongly believe in is that giving your child a set place to sleep (as much as you can, which can be hard when you have older kids with their own schedules and activities) can help them learn how to fall asleep and stay asleep on their own. For good naps, room-darkening curtains are key (especially in this bright Texas summer sun). Here’s a set you can use behind any standard curtains that match your nursery. (By the way, for those of you paying attention and thinking that the other S might be “shade?”. Nope – it’s side/stomach. Read more here.)
11. Dimmer switch for a lamp: In the middle of the night, you will want to keep the room as dark as possible when changing the baby. We opted for a standard lamp and added a lamp dimmer switch ($10.97) to it so we could control the amount of light and also how quickly the baby needs to adjust to it. If you are a real Sleep Nazi like me, you may even opt for a trick I found with my second baby – using a LED reading light for middle of the night changings (recommended only once you are a diapering expert).
NURSING/FEEDING: Whether breast or bottle, feeding will take up most of your time with your infant for the first few months. Investments (and a few tricks) here will pay off.
12. A breastfeeding class: This was one class I took before having my first son that really paid off. While I will never tell anyone that breastfeeding is easy, this class helped me. Hospitals in your area will offer these at multiple times; sign up for one. At the least, take advantage of the lactation consultant who will come by to see you during your hospital stay to get some instruction. And if you still don’t have the hang of it, find a good lactation consultant.
13. Boppy Pillow: A baby staple, the Boppy pillow is extremely useful for feedings, for helping your baby with tummy time, and for giving him a place to rest on his back with an improved vantage point that laying down flat. You probably already either have one or have registered for one. Smart. I have had other friends say they like the “My Breast Friend” pillow better for breastfeeding, but I personally am a Boppy fan.
14. Lansinoh cream: A friend of mine from college sent me one item when she heard I was pregnant: Lansinoh cream. When I got it (at 7 months pregnant), I didn’t quite know why she thought it was so important to send this one item, in quite a large size. After two days of trying to breastfeed, I understood. I went through that value-size plus several more during the 12 weeks I breast fed Jack. You will need this, even if your child is a natural nurser.
15. Nursing bra: While I did not buy a lot of nursing tops because I found I spent most days in T-shirts or my husband’s button down shirts, my search for a good nursing bra ended with one I wore almost all the time (a $12 cotton bra from Motherhood Maternity). At night, I slept in the basic sleeping nurse bra ($14.98), again from Motherhood Maternity.
16. Breast Pump: DON’T buy a breast pump until after you know for sure you will be breastfeeding and pumping. With Jack, I pumped a few times a day because he had a very weak suck and was not making me produce enough milk, so I pumped to get my production up. With Luke, I pumped once during the entire 10 weeks I breast fed because he was such a great eater and I was able to keep him with me constantly so I never missed a feeding time. The Medela Pump In Style was a good choice for me, but honestly I would have come out ahead if we had rented a pump (you can do so at lactationconnection.com). Or, just borrow a pump from a friend and bring home the plastic parts that the hospital will give you with their breast pump. It really works fine.
17. Breast Pump Bra: A product I heard about at a recent baby shower is a hands-free breast pumping bra. There are different types out there, but one is the Easy Expression Bustier – Hands Free Nursing Bra ($29.95 – $42.00). Basically, it holds the suction cups on your breast pump in place so that your hands are free to do other things while pumping – giving you back at least 20 min per pumping session. BUT – an even better idea is to take a sports bra and cut out small holes over the nipple area to tuck the pump suction cups into when you’re pumping. Works the same way and you can save $15-20+.
18. Nursing Pads: I heard about the Lily Padz when my second son was born, and ordered them right away. When I first tried them, I thought I had scored big. They were comfortable, breathable, felt great, and were supposed to be constantly reusable. But…they lasted about 2 weeks. I thought I had followed the usage and washing instructions, tried everything I could to get the “suction” back, but it didn’t work. Out they went. Back in came my standard washable cotton nursing pads, more expensive (4/$20) than disposable but easy to wash (you’re doing laundry all the time anyway) and much more comfortable than the throwaways due to better breathability.
19. Gerber Breast Milk Bags: If you do pump, you will need to store your milk at some point. Don’t buy the plastic storage bottles; they’re too expensive and you will likely need to many of them if you plan to freeze any of your milk. The best bags I found are the Gerber Seal ‘n Go bags (25/$7.59) they actually do stand up after you fill them, which makes storage a lot easier. They are a little more expensive than the Lansinoh option (50/$9.99) but worth it.
20. A selection of bottles and nipples: A big mistake I made with Jack was registering for an expensive “starter pack” of Dr. Brown’s bottles because that was the bottle in vogue at the time. And I got it. And then, those bottles became merely our measuring devices (they’ve got great labeling on the sides) for the water we then poured into our Playtex nursing drop-ins (by the way, the Target private label drop ins work just as well, but NOT the Wal-Mart Parent’s Choice ones of which I used two and threw the rest of the box away because they smelled so badly). My point: your baby will have to tell you what bottle/nipple system is right for them. Try a few and see what works best.
21. Bottle brush and drying rack. You will have a LOT of bottles to wash. A LOT. I personally never thought buying a sterilizer was worth it, and chose instead to wash bottles with really hot water (using a bottle brush helps because your hands don’t have to touch the water that much) and air dry them. You can get an inexpensive bottle dryer that spins for around $13, or you can buy a more fashionable one like this one from Skip Hop for $28 at Lone Star Baby & Kids.
DIAPERING – My own simple calculation suggests that you will change just over 8000 diapers per baby from birth to potty-training (at age 3). That’s a lot. So you want to get this right.
22. Diaper Bag: This is honestly one I’ve never figured out. What is the best diaper bag? With Jack, I bought a unisex-looking Eddie Bauer backpack, thinking this would be a great way for my husband or me to haul diapering supplies around. I hated it every day because it didn’t have enough organizing pockets, and threw it away gleefully when the strap broke when Jack had just turned one year old. (They no longer sell this bag, so maybe they figured out it was crap). Since then, we have been back and forth through several different bags, none of which have grabbed me enough to put a suggestion in here for it. What I can tell you is what to look for: Washability (you will be surprised at how dirty these bags can get – inside and out), organization (you need to be able to find wipes, hand sanitizer, tissues, extra diapers, extra clothes, etc. at a second’s notice, so lots of pockets are key), and – of course – style. MomFinds.com has a listing of their Top 5 Bags; for Baby Kate, I have my eye on the Bumkins Diaper Bag (creators of the BEST BIBS ever….which you won’t need until around 4 months/starting rice cereal; bag is $35 at Target) or the Skip Hop Duo Diaper Bag, pictured ($54 at Lone Star Baby & Kids).
23. Diapers: With a newborn who basically truly only eats, sleeps, and poops, diapers are an essential. The best I found are Pampers Swaddlers, although other Moms have told me that they also tried several and ended up with Huggies Gentle Care or even the Kirkland brand from Costco. You should have a pack at home for when the baby arrives (read my blog on “How Many Diapers a Day?” for an idea of quantities required, at least initially). Because both my babies were large (8+ lbs. each), we skipped the newborn size entirely and went with size 1. Plus, just like Momma likes her clothes a little baggy, I’m a fan of slightly bigger diapers than the size guide says.
24. Wipes: Due to quantity used (my record is seven in one diaper change) and the fact that I can’t tell a real difference between effectiveness of different brands, I stick with Kirkland brand from Costco. They’re a good size, so you can do simple changes with one wipe without feeling like you need a little more and also not feeling like you’re wasting anything and hurting the environment. My only complaint is the packaging; generally the plastic pack is OK, but because I keep a pack in every well-used room of my house and both cars, it would be nice to have a nice holder. (When will they come up with a wipes holder like they have for facial tissue? I can picture one with pink flowers or blue airplanes for the nursery, green/brown stripe for the mini-van, etc.)
25. Boudreaux Butt Paste: This is, quite simply, the best over-the-counter diaper rash cream I’ve (and my other Mom friends) have found. You will need Boudreaux in a large size for every changing station and a travel size for every diaper bag.
26. Changing Pad/Cover with Waterproof Pad: You will definitely need a set place to change the baby, that is not on the floor and not on the bed. Reason: you will want leverage (i.e., standing up) to change them, especially when they get squirmy around 5-6months. For both boys, we opted for a 3-drawer chest instead of the standard changing table for its height (it’s taller than standard changing tables) and because we wanted closed drawers instead of shelves. (Read my essay on Gravity if you wonder why this is important; less temptation the better.) You will want a two-side contoured changing pad with a changing pad cover that matches your nursery. Your registry list will tell you to buy more than one cover (which are $15-25 each), but skip that and just get three or four waterproof pads ($8.99 for 3, or $3 each) and throw them in the laundry as needed.
27. Diaper pail. With about 8000 diapers being changed over the course of a childhood, disposal of these often smelly things is a key consideration. My personal choice is the Diaper Champ, about $35, and doesn’t require any special trash bags. You also should keep a bottle of Lysol handy at each changing station, as well as inexpensive diaper pail deodorizers. For diaper changing on-the-go, make sure you keep plastic disposal bags handy in your diaper bag, like these Arm & Hammer diaper disposal bags that come in a handy dispenser with a clip so you can always find it.
BATHING: For both my boys, bathing was a fun ritual from the start and remains so today. Enjoy this time with them; it just might be your favorite part of the day.
28. Infant tub: We tried, no kidding, four different baby tubs with Jack. Nothing worked well, but I had settled for our third choice – until my sister (mom of two) came to visit and announced I needed the “blue one”. She went to the store for me and came home with the First Years Sure Comfort Deluxe Newborn to Toddler Tub ($17.99). Sure enough, she was right. The green hammock is great for when they are infants (even when you can only do sponge baths), and the tub itself worked for the boys until they were ~6 months. It’s now my standard baby gift basket for my new Mom friends.
29. Aveeno bath wash: I figure bathing our boys in the Baby Aveeno Wash & Shampoo ($4.29/8oz) is worth a splurge. Although it costs 15X more per ounce than my own personal shampoo (yes, I buy the good old standard Suave for me), it’s worth it when I smell their yummy clean bodies and hair when we’re reading books before bed. The Aveeno Lavendar lotion ($4) is also great for keeping their buttery soft skin buttery soft.
30. Hooded Towel: A soft, fluffy hooded towel is essential for even the earliest days of sponge bathing. Your baby can lose body heat quickly and you’ll want to keep him as warm as you can by snuggling him up in one of these fun, soft towels. Great news is, there are a ton of seriously cute styles available; you’ll probably need at least 2 so you can use one while one is in the wash.
PLAYING: The lack of play my boys engaged in early on was actually a surprise for me. I don’t know what I expected – or that I even had any expectations, in fact – but I guess when people said all babies do are “eat, sleep, poop”, I didn’t quite believe them. I do now. But – I did find a few things that kept them engaged during those (short) awake play times.
31. Bouncer chair: Another essential; we bought one of the lower-end options and have been very pleased with it. Luke spent more time in it than he probably should have (as evidenced by his late crawling at 11 months), but it kept him happy. They don’t sell his version anymore; the closest is the Fisher-Price Soothe ‘n Play for $27.
32. Play Mat: From almost day 1, we had both Jack and Luke playing on their mats. Who knows if they got anything out of it, but we felt like we were good parents for giving them lots of interesting things to look at. Eventually they learned to kick the music on and touch the different parts of the mat to make different sounds. We got the Tiny Love Gymini as a gift; it has all the bells and whistles, but several less expensive options are available. This one is $68 at Lone Star Baby & Kids. (By the way, the latest craze is the rotating “tummy time mats” where you place the baby on his tummy on a rotating, padded base. In my experience, it’s not worth the money. Save your dollars and invest in a great general mat…we bought one of these for my second son and he was either too young to hold his head up nearly well enough to use this, or by the time his neck muscles got strong enough he was too long for the thing.)
33. Peapod Travel Bed: If you are going to be traveling with your baby – either during nap time or during an awake time when you don’t want to hold them 100% of the time – this is a great option. The air mattress gives them a soft place to lay, and the “tent” effect makes it cozy for the baby. I like these better than traditional play yards because of the portability. This is the basic version for $51 at Lone Star Baby & Kids, there is also a deluxe for about $30-40 more.
34. Mirror: This was the only thing that would keep Jack or Luke on tummy time – being able to look at the “baby” in the mirror. A cheap, fun toy option is the Sassy Me in the Mirror ($12.99).
TRANSPORTING: You spend a lot of time on-the-go, so your baby will, too. Here are a couple of necessities. Please note: Because car seats and strollers are such big investments and a matter of personal choice and budget, I haven’t covered those. Do your research!
35. Infant car seat stroller adaptor. Boy, that’s painful to say, but this product is essential. It basically allows you to keep your baby in his infant carrier into/out of the car, and you can snap him into this stroller base. If you are like me, with no need for a “travel system” stroller (knowing I would be using a jog stroller most of the time), this gives you an option for quick on the go in/out trips without investing a lot in a secondary stroller. This model, the Combi, is available at Lone Star Baby & Kids for $70 and fits many different infant seat brands/models.