I'm a little bit of a baby gear nerd. I love following the Baby Guy on Facebook and reading about new products. At the same time, I've learned about what's truly necessary, what is nice to have, and what's less than useful. When it comes down to it, babies don't need that much. They need a place to sleep, something to catch waste, clothes, and a way to eat. However, there are a few things that can make life a little bit easier. Adjust this list as needed to fit your own plans and lifestyle. (This post contains Amazon affiliate links)
Don't forget to download your printable registry checklist at the end of the post!
The American Association of Pediatrics recommends room-sharing with baby for the first six months to reduce the risk of SIDs. Some families decide to bed-share from the beginning, while others are more comfortable with baby on a separate sleep surface. If you've been following me for any length of time, you might have caught on that our sleeping arrangements are flexible. Here's what's worked for us:
Favorite products: We loved the Arm's Reach Cosleeper, although we ended up part-time bed-sharing. For the portable crib, we went with a Graco Pack 'n' Play, sans accessories. We chose the SUNDVIK crib from IKEA for the price and its compact size. Skip the fancy bedding sets: the padded crib bumpers are a suffocation risk, as are thick blankets. Instead, register for a couple of fitted crib sheets and waterproof mattress covers. Instead of cotton flannel receiving blankets, register for muslin swaddle blankets like those from Aden & Anais. These large swaddle blankets do double and triple duty as burp cloths, nursing covers, carseat shades, and changing pads. The bamboo blankets are extra soft but the cotton ones served us well. If you are looking for items to round out your registry, I love the Dream blankets, loveys, and sleep sacks made by Aden & Anais too.
Your registry might look different depending on your feeding plans. You might be planning on nursing at the breast exclusively, returning to work after your maternity leave, or bottle feeding from the beginning. If you plan on staying home and don't see yourself pumping, register for a manual pump in case of emergency. If you plan on returning to work or building an emergency stash, or if you plan on pumping much at all, go for the electric pump. No matter your feeding plans, plan on having at least a few bottles on hand just in case. Feeding pillows are useful no matter how you feed baby.
Favorite products: I went through a lot of nursing pads trying to find ones that kept me dry, didn't irritate my skin, and managed heavy leaking. Milk Daze pads were the only ones that met all of the above criteria. If you opt for disposable pads, the Lansinoh pads worked well for me. For breast pumps, check to see what your health insurance covers. If you are planning on pumping, check out the Kiinde system. Breastmilk storage bags screw directly to your pump using brand-specific adaptors, and then snap into a bottle with nipples that work with a breastfed baby's latch. If you plan on formula feeding, the Dr. Brown bottles worked great for us. There are also fabulous glass and stainless steel bottle options now. We've used Boon's Grass drying rack for 3.5 years now, and found it useful long beyond the bottle days. Finally, for a feeding pillow, the My Brest friend is great as a breastfeeding pillow, while the Boppy works great for either breastfeeding or bottlefeeding.
Before registering, think about whether you plan on using disposable diapers, cloth diapers, or both. If you aren't sure where to start with cloth diapers, schedule a one-hour consultation with me!
Favorite products: I don't have a lot of knowledge about disposable diapers (we used what we got from the hospital and baby showers) but I have a long list of recommendations for cloth diapers, depending on a lot of different factors. Way too many to list here! For wipes, I like the BumGenius wipes, but baby washcloths do just as well. I could write a dozen posts about cloth diapers (and probably will), so I'll keep this one short! I will say that I recommend wet bags whether or not you plan on cloth diapering because they are great for swimsuits, soiled clothing, and gross burp cloths. You can, of course, just use plastic bags, but cloth wet bags won't develop holes at inconvenient times. If you use cloth diapers, make sure you register for cloth-safe diaper creams.
Although I'm including clothing on this registry checklist, don't expect people to give you the exact clothing you register for. Most people buy the clothes that they think are cute. That being said, most places offer a completion discount for items that remain on your registry.
Favorite products: I love the Halo Sleep Sacks for swaddle escapees. I also like the sleep sacks from Aden & Anais because they are nice and lightweight over pajamas in the winter and a onesie in the summer. Whether you have a boy or a girl, nightgowns are way easier for nighttime diaper changes. During the day, opt for bodysuits (onesies) and pants or baby legwarmers, or footed pajamas in cooler weather. You'll need socks but not shoes. And finally, even before babies are ready for solid food, they often drool or spit up and bibs can help save outfits.
Babies don't need a whole lot of bathing in the beginning, and sponge-bathing will often do the trick. Many bathe baby in the sink, while others love a baby bathtub.
Favorite products: To be honest, I didn't have a lot of brand preferences in this category. I was really all about keeping it simple.
Your essentials list might be different than mine, but you will definitely need a carseat.
Favorite products: For carseats, I'll direct you to a far more qualified source: The Car Seat Lady. Bucket seats are useful if you want to be able to use the carrier to transport baby in and out of the car or snap it into a stroller frame, especially for colder weather. A convertible seat will work from infancy and well into toddlerhood and beyond depending on the size of your child, and works great if you know you plan on using baby carriers when you are on the go. We got into babywearing pretty early, and found that bulky travel systems didn't work for us. We preferred using the stroller frame that worked with our bucket seat, and then using a lightweight stroller after the bucket stage ended. For the most part, though, we stuck to baby carriers, and that's all about finding the right carrier for you. I can help you with that!
With my first, the Nosefrida grossed me out and I passed---but then I realized bulb syringes were much grosser. The Nosefrida is the way to go. Along with that in the health category, you need a baby thermometer.
A carseat mirror isn't an essential, necessarily, but it's been helpful for me to know when my babies were asleep or awake. And finally, you need a dresser or something for baby's clothes. We put a changing pad on top of the dresser and skipped the changing table entirely.
For nursing bras, I actually had great luck at Target. Register or purchase nursing bras after getting fitted between 34 and 40 weeks pregnant. You may increase in size even more after birth, and may experience other fluctuations as your supply regulates. Why nursing bras at night? You need something to hold nursing pads in place.
Even if you are not planning on breastfeeding, or are a non-gestational parent, your baby will benefit from kangaroo care. You can register for a kangaroo care shirt, like the Nuroo, to facilitate skin-to-skin cuddles, or use a Baby K'Tan.
I loved having all of these things, but could have lived without most of them. My glider remains my favorite chair, and I will be holding onto it for a long time. The bathtub is useful but not required. The need for a baby monitor depends on your house size and how sound carries in your house. We actually have enjoyed using the Cloud Baby Monitor app, with our iPad or an old iPhone as the camera, and my current iPhone as the monitor. For the swing, chair, and play mat, some babies love them, and some hate them. It's better if you can borrow rather than buy. For pacifiers, don't invest in too many but get a couple. You might swear you will never use them (I didn't plan on it) or you might want to, but your baby won't take it (I couldn't get mine to take it when I wanted him to). We used what we called "Rain Lamb," the Sleep Sheep extensively to create sleep associations. We now use a more robust machine.
What did I miss? What would you recommend? What's on your registry?
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When I was pregnant with my first, I diligently prepared a set of freezer meals for after the baby came. Relatives agreed on days to bring dinner.
Then, two or three weeks went by, and the easy dinners disappeared. I was left wondering what to do next. How could I manage to grocery shop, cook, take care of a baby, and do it all on a smaller budget now that we were a single income family? Then I had to adjust again when I went back to work a year later.
I've now been doing all three jobs for three and a half years, and I've figured out a few things. First, let me share a little bit about our family.
We have two adults in the household, a 3.5 year old, and a voraciously hungry 21 month old. We prefer organic food, but prioritize fresh and unprocessed food. We usually buy organic meat, but eat a largely vegetarian diet. On top of that, I recently went on a gluten-free diet for personal health reasons (the rest of the family still loves and eats gluten). Our monthly grocery budget is $300, which includes a $60 milk share at a local farm. So, I spend about $60 a week on groceries.
Full disclosure: we raise some of our own food. We have 10 hens for eggs, and I didn't account for their feed as part of the grocery budget. In the spring, summer, and fall, we spent less than $60 a week on groceries because we have a garden. But, in the winter, we buy most of our food, still within that budget.
Here are a few things I've learned.
1. You have to prioritize.
Healthy food can be fast, easy, or cheap, but is rarely all three. If you have a higher grocery budget, you may be able to afford healthier convenience foods. If you are on a tight budget, you may end up making food from scratch which may be easy but time consuming. We ended up prioritizing organic meat over organic vegetables, when the budget makes us choose. If you have extra demands on your time, like a full time job outside of the home, you may make time a priority. When I was working, we designated one night a week for eating out or ordering in, to ease a little bit of the pressure to do it all. We also bought a rotisserie chicken once a week.
2. Weekly, or even monthly, meal planning is key.
Every Saturday or Sunday (depending on how busy of a weekend), I sit down with my calendar, and meal plan. I make note of any days that need to be fast meals or slow cooker meals (more on that in a minute). I think about common ingredients across meals, so I can use up fresh ingredients, like a bunch of cilantro. Recently, we even added breakfast and lunch planning into the equation. I'm a big foodie and I used to try new recipes all the time, but I've learned that we need to have a few favorites that we use regularly. I try not to do new recipes more than once a week. Flexibility has been a key part of menu planning. I'll schedule a night of either leftovers or stir fry. If we have leftovers, we use them up. If we don't, I make a stir fry with on-hand ingredients, like leftover vegetables, frozen vegetables, rice, and sauces that we keep on hand. Then, if we end up being out of the house for any reason, I didn't buy extra ingredients for a meal. When I worked full time, I sat down once a month and made a gigantic meal plan, with weekly grocery lists. We always planned on eating out/takeout the same night and eating rotisserie chicken on grocery store day. We also ate at my in-laws weekly (sadly we no longer live close enough to do so). Although it took a long time, especially in the beginning, it saved so much stress and time later that I though the effort was totally worth it. I'll throw a sample weekly plan at the end.
3. Learn to love your slow cooker and freezer
I mentioned making freezer meals when I was pregnant. Well, you really need freezer meals when you have two children under three with a tendency to get cranky just before dinner. I love to do batch cooking, although I don't do it every month. I'll gather up a list of slow cooker recipes and toss the ingredients into gallon bags in the freezer. Then, on cooking day, I just throw them into the slow cooker in the morning. I also have a rice cooker with a delayed start. Because of meal planning, I know which mornings I need to put something into the slow cooker. (Slow cookers are great time savers, but not if you are scrambling for dinner at the last minute!).
4. Find ways to make grocery shopping easier as a parent.
We've tried a couple different strategies for grocery shopping over the past few years. We've tried going as a family, but that always ends up putting us over budget. I've tried going by myself, especially after bedtime, but I'm often exhausted. We discovered something amazing. Harris Teeter Home Shop. I order my groceries online (really easy with meal planning!), and pick them up at the store. I don't even have to get out of my car. They do a great job selecting produce. It's also saved me money. I've eliminated impulse buys, it's easy to price compare and shop sales, and if a sale item is out of stock, they give you the more expensive option for the sale price. They left something out of my order once, and drove the ten miles to my house to deliver the item...after their regular hours. Many grocery stores have similar options, but I can't speak to the quality of any other store. I do pay a fee, but I choose to pay it annually, and it comes out to less than $2 per week. It's also unlimited, which means that I can do an order for a single item if I need to (I don't usually). Harris Teeter is the most expensive grocery store in town, but I feel like the savings of time and money of shopping online are worth it. I live out in the country, ten miles from the grocery stores, and it's great to be able to pick up groceries on the way home from an outing, even if the kids are asleep in the car.
When I do need to go into the store, I look for the fun carts. They are bulky and unwieldy (my husband calls them embarrassing) but the kids enjoy driving the "racecar" enough that it keeps them entertained and a little bit distracted. When my son was younger, I usually wore him in a baby carrier in the grocery store. (Safety reminder: never put a baby seat on the child seat portion of the cart--they are not meant to click in and it can damage the car seat or the seat can fall off).
5. Babywearing is your friend.
With a tiny infant, babywearing is really helpful for grocery shopping and some food preparation. Just be cautious about using the stove, and definitely avoid cooking foods that might splatter. You can definitely make yourself a smoothie, at the least. It also means you can eat!
With older babies and clingy toddlers, you can put baby on your back. I've cooked many meals with a child on my back, and often put on upbeat music so that we dance around the kitchen. It's super helpful during the evening "witching hour."
6. Use toddlers and older children as helpers
My kids are often underfoot when I'm trying to get dinner on the table. I've learned to let go a little bit, and will ask them (even the 21 month old) to set the table. Or the three year old to wash vegetables or chop them with a crinkle cutter. It does take a little longer but it can soothe frazzled moods and make things go more smoothly.
7. Ask for help.
About a month after returning to work full time as an elementary school teacher, I had a complete and utter meltdown about the adjustment. I posted an emotional outburst on Facebook (very atypical for me), and wonderful advice came pouring in, including some of the above ideas. We were also fortunate at the time, as I mentioned, to be able to have weekly meals with the in-laws. On top of that, when I asked for help, a dear friend did bring me a dinner. Certainly, that wasn't going to be a regular solution to the problem, but it helped me get my head above water. If possible, ask your partner for help. Until recently, my husband had a lengthy commute and wasn't home for dinner three nights a week, and got home just in time to eat the other two. But on weekends, I asked him to entertain the kids or grab things for me. And there are some meals that he likes to cook, like chili and tacos, so he makes those a couple of times per month.
8. Use Pinterest wisely.
This is my last tip. I love my cookbooks, dearly, and have several that I use regularly. But with my new adjustment to eating gluten free, Pinterest has been an amazing resource. It's also a great place to look for freezer meals because often you can find whole collections complete with grocery lists. But, don't get sucked into Pinterest Ambitionitis, where you think you have to do amazing lunch boxes and beautiful dinners every day (unless that brings you joy).
Sample Weekly Meal Plan
Breakfast: Fried Eggs
Lunch: Frozen Pizza or Mac 'n' Cheese from a box (we have a babysitter on Mondays)
Dinner: Healthy Black Bean Casserole
Lunch: Egg Salad
Dinner: Slow Cooker Buttered Chickpeas
Breakfast: Cereal and Smoothies
Lunch: Tuna Salad
Dinner: Salmon Teriyaki (homemade teriyaki sauce made with gluten-free soy sauce, frozen salmon from Costco)
Breakfast: Yogurt and Frozen Fruit
Lunch: Sandwiches (leftovers for mom)
Dinner: White Bean Salsa Verde
Lunch: Cheese, crackers, and fruit
Dinner: Stir Fry or Leftovers
Breakfast: Pancakes (Gluten Free Oatmeal Pancakes for Mom)
Lunch: Leftovers or rice and steamed veggies
Dinner: Beef and Black Bean Tacos in Corn Tortillas
Breakfast: Rice Flour Dutch Baby
Lunch: Hard boiled eggs and fruit
Dinner: Roasted chicken with roasted vegetables