First, let’s get the obvious out of the way: it feels weird to be writing about seemingly normal things amidst a global pandemic and racial justice crisis. However, I am still getting messages from pregnant friends asking for what to add to their registries as baby must-haves, so here we are.
I don’t claim to be a parenting expert, but I am a second-time mom on a budget. I don’t have $1,500 to spend on a bassinet, and I’m not about to purchase a $40 onesie for my baby to have a blowout in. I do have a list of my favorite tried and true must-haves for the newborn months, none of which will break the bank. This isn’t absolutely everything you’ll need (I skip the basics like diapers, wipes, and bottles), but it’s a few ideas to get your shopping list started with affordable newborn must-haves.
Newborn Must-haves For Mom:
Water Bottle – Whether you’re nursing, pumping, or using formula, staying hydrated is important for your recovery. Some people have preferred brands, while I could write an entire post as a love letter to my free hospital water bottle. That frosted plastic mug, with a straw and blue lid, was my most beloved item of both postpartum experiences. I don’t know why, but I just drank more water with it. Plus, it’s a free gift with the delivery of a new baby! Who doesn’t love free gifts?
Hair Ties – You really don’t want spit-up in your hair when you’re already not showering regularly.
Gel Breast Pads – These babies can go in the microwave or freezer and are great for relieving engorgement when milk comes in.
Pumping/Nursing Bra Combo – With my first, I had pumping bras and nursing bras. Quite a few companies now make them a two-in-one product so you don’t have to change multiple times per day. Genius!
Carrier or Wrap – Wearing babies is the only way I ever accomplish things, which is why it’s one of my newborn must-haves. Whether it’s eating a meal, working from home, or playing with my toddler, wearing almost always makes it easier. I recommend something soft like a wrap for the early days, but also love the support that comes with a structured carrier. Check out your local babywearing group on social media – they almost always have buy/sell/trade threads where you can get a deal on something gently loved.
Newborn Must-haves for Feeding:
Nursing Pillow – There are quite a few on the market, and I like the Boppy for its multipurpose use. You can use it for feeding, as a lounging pillow for baby, or sitting support as they grow. I have also used it as a neck pillow for myself on a long road trip. As a plus-size mom, I recommend the MyBreastFriend for its adjustable waistband.
Milk Catcher – Particularly in the early days, if you’re nursing or pumping, you could leak a lot of milk. Keep all of that liquid gold by using breast shells or something like the Haakaa. I was passively catching up to two ounces of breastmilk per day for a few weeks that I froze and used to start a small stash, and I’m an under-producer!
Formula – Even if you plan on exclusively breastfeeding, it’s important to have a small amount of formula on hand, just in case. With both of my babies, my milk took a long time to come in and supplementing with formula helped keep all of us happy and sane. If you go to both Enfamil and Similac’s website, they will send you free samples of their most popular formulas.
Newborn Must-haves for Diapering and Hygiene:
Pre-Fold Cloth Diapers – The absorbency of these make the best burp rags. If you give birth in a hospital, it’s usually what they provide for rags. At the end of your stay, you’re welcome to clean out the drawers and take them all with you, too!
Diaper Clutch – This seemed excessive when I was gifted one with my first child, but as she got older it’s been great. Essentially, a diaper clutch is a carrying case you can remove from a bag that holds diapers, wipes, and a portable changing pad. You can throw in the car for a quick trip to the store, or to carry around the house. The convenience factor alone has made this one of my most loved baby products with both kids.
Clothing and Blankets:
One word: zippers. If you get jammies, you want zipper jammies, not snaps. When you’re up multiple times per night for diaper changes and feedings, you want them to go as quickly as possible. Skip fussing with snaps and opt for pajamas that zip, preferably opening from the bottom up. If your baby uses a medical device that requires the use of a hole provided by snaps, try the double-zip jammies that a mom friend recently told me about. These open and close from the bottom and the top. There are lots of adaptive clothing options at the previous link.
Swaddles – Confession time… I am a muslin blanket hoarder. They are so soft and come in so many cute patterns and designs, I can’t resist them. I have a problem. Lots of people don’t like them for swaddling and find the velcro options easier. I personally like these for their multi-purpose functionality. We use muslin blankets for swaddling, playmats, car seat covers, nursing covers, burp rags, and more.
Sleep Sacks – When the baby can roll over, it’s time to ditch the swaddle. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no loose blankets in the bed with baby, which is why we use wearable blankets with zippers.
Nose Frida – This thing is gross, but it sure works, which is why I give it to every friend and it’s one of my baby must-haves. This snot sucker works so much better than a bulb syringe. We give one to every friend that has a baby, and all of them are horrified. Within the first few weeks, they’re texting us to say they’ve changed their minds and it’s amazing. Trust me, you need one.
Swing – I am a “less is more” type when it comes to baby gear. I hesitate to put this on the newborn must-haves list, but I learned the hard way the first time around that it’s so important to have a soothing place to put the baby down. Especially during this work-from-home era, I have found the swing to be helpful when I need 15 minutes to make work calls or lunch for my big kid. I was able to find one on Facebook Marketplace for just $30.
Sleeping Space – You can use a crib or a bassinet, but you need a safe place for your baby to sleep. Many folks use a play yard, which you can find for under $40 used online. My favorite affordable new option is the Stow N Go bassinet from Fisher-Price.
Yoga Ball – an exercise ball has been a lifesaver for me with both of my babies. We had a rocking chair in the nursery, but the yoga ball was a portable option for soothing a grumpy little one. Grab your water bottle and a snack, put the baby in a carrier, get bouncing in front of your favorite show on Netflix during the witching hour, and you’re good to go! A yoga ball while wearing a baby in a carrier is also great for working at the computer when your baby needs a nap or wants to be held.
Activity Mat – Some people love these, and some hate them. Essentially, an activity mat is a padded surface with toys dangling above the baby to keep them occupied. This is a great one to buy used. I got one with a kick piano for $5 on Craigslist that’s been through both of my babies, and two friends’ children, and I haven’t even needed to change the batteries.