Preparing for a new baby doesn't have to be an overwhelming experience. Experienced parents have learned that newborn babies just need some basic items at first—a warm and safe place to sleep, food, clothing, and diapers.
Many baby stores offer a gift registry service so that you can list the items you prefer for others to consider when buying a baby gift. Although there are many baby products now available, listed below are the essential items you'll want to have ready for your new baby.
Safety is an important issue when choosing your baby's new furniture, especially for the bed and bed linens. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) offers the following recommendations:
Crib. Baby cribs must meet federal safety standards which include:
Slats should be spaced no more than 2-3/8 inches (60 mm) apart.
All slats should be intact, not missing, or cracked.
Mattress should fit snugly—less than the width of two fingers between the edge of the mattress and the side of the crib.
Mattress support should be securely attached to the head and footboards.
Corner posts should be no higher than 1/16 inch (1.5 mm) to prevent entanglement of clothing or other objects worn by child.
The head and footboards should have no cutouts, which would allow for head entrapment.
Drop-side rail cribs are no longer considered safe.
All screws or bolts, which secure components of crib, should be present and tight.
The CPSC recommends against placing a crib near draperies or blinds where a child could become entangled and strangle on the cords. When the child reaches 35 inches in height, or can climb and/or fall over the sides, the crib should be replaced with a bed.
Crib mattress and bedding. According to the CPSC, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), and the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, soft bedding may be a major contributor to sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). These organizations offer the following recommendations for infant bedding:
Place your baby on his or her back on a firm, tight-fitting mattress in a crib that meets current safety standards.
Remove pillows, quilts, comforters, sheepskins, stuffed toys, and other soft products from the crib.
Consider using a sleeper as an alternative to blankets, with no other covering.
If using a blanket, put your baby with his or her feet at the foot of the crib. Tuck a thin blanket around the crib mattress, only as far as the baby's chest.
Make sure your baby's head remains uncovered during sleep.
Don't place your baby on a waterbed, sofa, soft mattress, pillow, or other soft surface to sleep.
Bassinet or cradle. These small beds are helpful and portable in the first few months. The CPSC recommends following the manufacturer's guidelines on weight and size of the baby in determining who can safely use these products. For safety reasons, be sure to look for a bassinet or cradle with the following:
A sturdy bottom and a wide base for stability
Smooth surfaces (no protruding staples or other hardware that could injure the baby)
Legs with strong, effective locks to prevent folding while in use
A firm mattress that fits snugly
Changing table. Changing tables offer a convenient place to change your baby's diaper. The CPSC recommends not leaving a baby on the table unattended. Always use the straps to prevent the baby from falling. However, straps are not a substitute for constant supervision. For safety reasons, be sure to look for a changing table with the following:
Safety straps to prevent falls
Drawers or shelves that are easily accessible without leaving the baby unattended
Rocking chair or glider. For comfort, look for a chair with arms that are wide enough for you to hold your baby, especially when breastfeeding.
Playpen. Playpens are large enclosed beds where a baby can nap or play safely away from pets or other children. The CPSC recommends never leaving an infant in a mesh playpen or crib with the drop-side down. Even a very young infant can roll into the space between the mattress and loose mesh side and suffocate. Only playpens that meet federal safety standards should be used. These include:
Drop-side mesh playpens or cribs with warning labels to never to leave the side in the down position
Mesh with small weave (less than 1/4 inch openings)
Mesh with no tears, holes, or loose threads
Mesh securely attached to top rail and floor plate
Top rail cover has no tears or holes
Wooden playpen with slats spaced no more than 2 inches (60 mm) apart
If staples are used in construction, assure they're firmly installed and none are missing or loose
Strollers and carriages. These are helpful in transporting babies on outings. The CPSC recommends always securing the seat belts with the stroller or carriage is in use. Never leave a child unattended in a stroller. Keep children's hands away from pinching areas when stroller is being folded or unfolded, or the seat back is being reclined. For safety reasons, be sure to look for a stroller or carriage with:
A wide base to prevent tipping
The seat belt and crotch strap attached securely to the frames
A seat belt buckle which is easy to use
Brakes that securely lock the wheel(s)
A shopping basket which is low on the back and directly over or in front of rear wheels for stability
Leg hole openings which can be closed when being used in the carriage position
Car seat. All states have laws requiring babies and children to travel in an approved car safety seat. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration offers recommendations for choosing a car safety seat, which include:
Purchase the car seat well in advance of your due date.
The simplest and least expensive model usually will work as well as one with fancy features.
Choose a seat that you find easy to use and that fits in your vehicle.
If you choose a convertible seat, try it facing both toward the front and rear.
Look for a seat you can use as long as possible that faces the rear. Read the labels to check weight limits, as some are made to carry a baby over 20 pounds facing the rear.
Keep up with child safety seat regulations recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics. A new policy was issued in April 2011 that advises parents to keep their infant in a rear-facing child safety seat until age 2, or until the infant has reached the maximum height and weight of the car seat's manufacturer.
If you buy an infant-only seat, you will need a convertible seat later. Most babies need to use rear-facing convertible seats as they get larger, because they outgrow their infant-only seats before age 2.
When you purchase a car seat be sure to receive instructions on proper installation.
Nearly every car seat and most vehicles manufactured since Sept. 1, 2002, are required to have the Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children (LATCH) system. The LATCH makes it easier to install the child seat correctly.
It is recommended that you have the following items on hand before you bring your newborn home. However, you can purchase the minimal amount and always add more.
Choose simple clothing that's easy to get on and off, without long strings or ties that might be a choking hazard. Make sure sleepwear is flame-retardant. You may want to buy mainly size 6 to 9 months clothing and a few newborn items.
As you prepare your home for your new baby, look for sturdy furnishings and equipment. Be sure that all products meet current safety standards. This is especially important if you're borrowing or buying items secondhand.
Here are recommendations from the AAP on how to reduce the risk for SIDS and sleep-related deaths from birth to age 1:
Breastfeed your infant. The AAP recommends breastfeeding for at least six months.
Make sure your baby is immunized. An infant who is fully immunized can reduce his or her risk for SIDS by 50 percent.
Place your infant on his or her back for sleep or naps. This can decrease the risk for SIDS, aspiration, and choking. Never place your baby on his or her side or stomach for sleep or naps. If your baby is awake, allow your child time on his or her tummy as long as you are supervising, to decrease the chances that your child will develop a flat head.
Always talk with your baby's doctor before raising the head of the crib if he or she has been diagnosed with gastroesophageal reflux.
Offer your baby a pacifier for sleeping or naps, if he or she isn't breastfed. If breastfeeding, delay introducing a pacifier until breastfeeding has been firmly established.
Use a firm mattress (covered by a tightly fitted sheet) to prevent gaps between the mattress and the sides of a crib, a play yard, or a bassinet. This can decrease the risk for entrapment, suffocation, and SIDS.
Share your room instead of your bed with your baby. Putting your baby in bed with you raises the risk for strangulation, suffocation, entrapment, and SIDS. Bed sharing is not recommended for twins or other higher multiples.
Avoid using infant seats, car seats, strollers, infant carriers, and infant swings for routine sleep and daily naps. These may lead to obstruction of an infant's airway or suffocation.
Avoid using illicit drugs and alcohol, and don't smoke during pregnancy or after birth.
Avoid overbundling, overdressing, or covering an infant's face or head. This will prevent him or her from getting overheated, reducing the risks for SIDS.
Avoid using loose bedding or soft objects—bumper pads, pillows, comforters, blankets—in an infant's crib or bassinet to help prevent suffocation, strangulation, entrapment, or SIDS.
Avoid using cardiorespiratory monitors and commercial devices—wedges, positioners, and special mattresses—to help decrease the risk for SIDS and sleep-related infant deaths.
Always place cribs, bassinets, and play yards in hazard-free areas—those with no dangling cords or wires—to reduce the risk for strangulation.