It seems like most baby checklists are a mile long. Most of the retailers who author them, after all, are just trying to sell you stuff — and many sleep-deprived parents are only too willing to shell out big bucks for the promise of an extra few minutes of peace. Babies do require a lot of stuff, but let’s face it, a lot of parents overbuy too. For those who prefer a more minimalist approach, this article will outline the bare minimum essentials that you need for baby’s first six months — and will also provide advice from moms who’ve been there on what you don’t need. (PS: For those of you who are decidedly NOT minimalists, also check out our Ultimate New Baby Checklist 🙂 )
Nursery & newborn sleep
Crib (must have)
For most families, this is a must have. But hold on — a select few families who go with the “family bed” hardly ever end up using theirs. If you think this might be you— wait until after baby arrives to invest in a pricey crib (a playard or travel crib might suffice for occasional usage instead).
Bassinet, cradle, or co-sleeper (optional)
Many families buy a smaller, cozier place for baby to sleep in the first few months, especially if they plan to co-sleep in the same room. This is definitely a nice-to-have if you have the extra cash, but if you’re a minimalist, you can definitely avoid buying a separate piece of furniture. A playpen with an adjustable height mattress or a “newborn napper” type station is a good solution that can be repurposed later for use in the living room. Or, hey, you could go even more bare bones. Consider that many babies in Finland sleep in a cardboard box for the first few months of their lives, and Finland has a much lower SIDS rate than the U.S.
Favorite brands/products: The Arms Reach is the most popular co-sleeper in the US; it can feel a bit flimsy, but does the job. Moms also rave about the Rock ’n’ Play, which is even more affordable. More TotScoop parent favorites here.
Swaddles and/or receiving blankets (must have)
You just need 2-3 blankets with which to swaddle your baby and/or keep her warm. Don’t go nuts — lots of parents go overboard buying dozens of swaddles and receiving blankets even though they don’t even really know what they’re for. Exercise common sense and just get a few items. Wait until you see what baby likes and what you find easiest to use (e.g. regular square swaddle blankets, swaddle “aids” with velcro, regular blankets) before buying extras.
Favorite brands/products: Aden + Anais swaddle blankets, SwaddleMe velcro wraps, Under the Nile swaddle/receiving blankets. Check out our more detailed guide to best swaddles and receiving blankets here. Also, more TotScoop parent favorites here.
Wearable blankets / sleep sacks (must have)
After baby transitions out of a swaddle (usually around 2-4 months), you’ll need some wearable blankets (a.k.a. sleep sacks) to keep her warm. (Recall that the AAP does not recommend use of any loose blankets in the crib until after at least 12 months.) TIP: Babies outgrow sized sleep sacks quickly. Consider looking for an adjustable sleep sack. They may be more expensive, but they are higher quality and last much longer.
Favorite brands/products: Halo sleep sacks, Baby Deedee Sleep Nest, Merino Kids and Woolino adjustable merino wool sleep sacks. Check out our in-depth guide to best wearable blankets here. Also, more TotScoop parent favorites here.
Worthwhile if you don’t have any other chairs in your house that can offer you good head/neck, back, and arm support while you’re sitting with baby for hours on end (particularly if you plan to breastfeed). If you’re going to buy new furniture, you might as well get something ideal — look for one with a tall back that reclines.
Favorite brands/products: Dutailier is one of the biggest, baddest names in nursery wood gliders. See also the Monte Design Joya for our favorite modern rocker. See more TotScoop parent favorites here.
What you DON’T need
- A full crib bedding set (including dust ruffle, window valance, diaper stacker, comforter, crib bumpers, etc.): Loose bedding is not recommended by the AAP until the age of 1, and crib bumpers are frowned upon for all ages. And well, diaper stackers are just plain silly.
- A changing table or changing table topper: These are only useful for a short time, and a really not necessary anyway. Just get a changing pad and put it on a dresser (if you have one at the right height) or on the floor (that way you don’t have to worry about baby falling off!).
- A fancy diaper pail: A fancy diaper pail is not by any means a necessity. Just get a trash can with a tight-fitting lid (to contain odors), and plan to take out the trash every 1-2 days to keep odors to a minimum.
Infant car seat (must have)
This is one of the few bare bones essentials that you absolutely must buy before baby arrives — in fact, most of the time you won’t be able to leave the hospital in a private car without one.
Favorite brands/products: The Chicco Keyfit and Graco Snugride are among the most popular. For a higher-end seat, our favorites are the Cybex Aton Q and the Nuna PIPA. Also consider the highly rated Britax B Safe or UPPAbaby MESA if you are looking at full-size strollers from the same brands. See our detailed buying guides and parent reviews here.
Car seat stroller (must have)
You definitely want to have a car seat-compatible stroller of some sort so you pop baby’s infant car seat in and out of the car. You can either get a car seat stroller frame or a car seat adapter for your full-size stroller to accomplish this. If you don’t mind getting an extra piece of gear, we’re very partial to the stroller frame, as it’s much lighter weight and more convenient. But, if you’re a committed minimalist, you may prefer to just get the adapter.
Favorite brands/products: For car seat stroller frames — get the Chicco Keyfit Caddy if you have a Chicco car seat, the Graco Snugrider Elite if you have a Graco car seat, and the universal Safety 1st Clic It! or Joovy Roo (whichever one is compatible with your car seat) otherwise. Try to get one with a click-in rather than strap-in connection. See our full set of editors’ picks here.
Full-featured stroller (must have)
Yep, you pretty much need one of these, unless you plan to wear your baby in a carrier all the time (and never want to be able to cart around groceries, etc.).
Favorite brands/products: For lightweight full-size strollers — our top picks are the City Mini (GT) and Britax B-Agile. For luxury strollers — we are absolutely salivating over the upcoming 2015 model (shipping Nov./Dec. 2014) of the UPPAbaby Vista. Our top pick for an all-purpose jogging/full-size stroller is the BOB Ironman. See our full set of full-featured stroller editors’ picks here, and parent stroller reviews here.
Umbrella stroller (optional)
Nice to have for in-and-out of the car and plane travel, but not strictly required. Consider just getting a lightweight full-size stroller instead. (Also, note that most umbrella strollers can’t be used until 3-6 months, when baby develops good head/neck control. So consider holding off buying until later, until after you’ve figured out what’s really important to you in a stroller.)
Favorite brands/products: Our top picks include the UPPAbaby G-Luxe and and the Maclaren Triumph. For a cheap travel stroller, check out the First Years Ignite. See our full set of umbrella stroller editors’ picks here, and parent stroller reviews here.
Newborn carrier (must have)
Whether you need one of these depends in part on your parenting style, but we view it as a necessity for all but the most easygoing babies. Be sure to get something that works well for the newborn stage — many standard infant-size carriers are simply sized too big, and/or require the use of bulky inserts.
Favorite brands/products: Stretchy wraps such as the Moby and Boba Wrap are the most popular for this stage. Woven wraps (e.g. Didymos, Girasol, etc.) are pricier, but will last through infant and toddlerhood. If you prefer a Soft Structured Carrier, our favorite newborn-to-infant options are the Beco Gemini, Boba 4G, and Lillebaby. For ring slings, we love Maya (basic) and Sakura Bloom (luxe). See our full buying guides and more TotScoop parent favorites here.
Infant carrier (must have)
This is a must for most families — for times when your baby seeks closer contact than a stroller can provide, and/or you need to navigate tighter spaces or uneven terrain (think festivals, narrow store aisles, hiking, etc.).
Bouncer/baby seat (must have)
Strictly speaking these are not necessities, but unless you are a super hard core minimalist, you will probably find at least one “baby holder” to be a worthwhile investment (just ponder how else you’re going to take a shower!).
Favorite brands/products: Our favorite is the Baby Bjorn Bouncer Balance Soft. Fisher Price bouncers are also incredibly popular — they can be eyesores, but they’re cheap and the brightly colored toy bars are very effective at holding baby’s attention. Another alternative is something like the Boppy Newborn Lounger. See all TotScoop parent favorites here.
Floor mat and/or activity gym (optional)
It’s nice to have one of these for tummy time and/or playtime during the non-mobile stage (~2-8 months). While commercially available floor mats and activity gyms are convenient, they aren’t essential; a blanket or towel on the floor will do the job just fine. However, gyms with arches are handy because they conveniently position hanging toys right above baby.
Diaper bag and/or changing kit (optional)
You do need something that you can carry dirty diapers and lots of little accessories around in. You don’t necessarily need a dedicated diaper bag, though — if you already have a roomy bag with plenty of organizing pockets that can be easily cleaned, you’re all set. You can consider getting a small changing kit with a portable changing pad to organize diapers and wipes within your bag and simplify trips to the bathroom.
Playard / travel crib (optional)
To contain baby at home, or as needed for sleeping while traveling or at Grandma’s house. Minimalists might consider getting a travel crib to use as either their primary crib at home, or as their co-sleeper for room sharing, in order to avoid buying yet another piece of gear.
Favorite brands/products: Top budget picks include the Joovy Room2 and the popular Graco Pack N Play series. Our top premium picks are the Baby Bjorn Travel Crib, Guava Family Lotus Travel Crib, and Nuna Sena. See all TotScoop parent favorites here.
What you DON’T need
- Swing: For many babies, these are unnecessary — many babies will sleep just fine in lots of other places. Plus, they’re huge and they’re eyesores. However, if your baby has trouble sleeping anywhere else, don’t feel bad about breaking down and trying one.
- Baby seat (e.g. Bumbo): These are popular, but totally unnecessary, and according to some doctors and physical therapists they can actually be bad for baby’s spine and gross motor development. If used incorrectly, they can also result in falls and injuries. Just use a bouncer or floor mat to hold baby instead.
- Exersaucer/jumper: These can serve as additional handy “baby holders,” and can offer some incremental stimulation for baby, but if you’re already got a bouncer or a floor mat, they aren’t strictly necessary.
- Shopping cart/high chair cover: Though favorites of first-time moms, these are totally unnecessary, and washing the cover after every use is totally impractical. Worried about germs? Just wipe down public surfaces before use, or avoid them entirely by using a carrier or bringing your own travel high chair instead. Think you need the extra padding? If baby is so wobbly that she can’t sit up on her own, she shouldn’t be sitting anyway; try carrying her around in a carrier or leaving her in her car seat instead.
Clothing, shoes, & accessories
Newborn & infant clothing (must have…in reasonable quantities!)
Clothing is another area where it’s easy to go overboard. Yes, baby clothing is adorable; there’s just no getting around it! But, if you are a committed minimalist, you can get by with a lot less than you think. Many parents end up overbuying clothing, and end up giving away (or selling at a huge loss) tons of like new or even never worn clothing (keep in mind that early on, clothing is outgrown in only a few months). Just use your common sense to guide how much you actually need to buy: for example, if you plan to do laundry every three days, then you only need three days’ worth of clothes (taking into account a few changes per day, due to spit-up, accidents, etc.). At the very beginning babies can wear pretty much the same thing night and day — so no need to invest in distinct daytime outfits vs. sleepwear, etc.
Tip: Pick clothes that will keep baby comfortable
What’s most important in the first few months is that the clothing you buy is loose and comfortable (e.g. not constrictive at the waist), and is weather-appropriate. In hot weather, a simple short-sleeve onesie may be enough; in moderate or cool weather, one-piece sleepers or long-sleeve onesies along with stretchy pants/leggings/footies may be appropriate. In cold weather, you’ll obviously need additional layers, particularly for going outside. For the first month or so, until the umbilical cord falls off — consider side snap tees that won’t irritate the umbilical area.
Tip: Shop for easy dressing and diaper changes
For the first few months, when baby is small, consider side-snap tees and onesies so you don’t have to pull them over baby’s head. For easy diaper changes, consider sleepers with full-length zippers (instead of full-length snaps) or gowns. For ease of dressing, consider tops with built-in newborn mittens, and pants with built-in footies. Also, make sure you get a few skull caps to keep baby warm through the newborn stage.
Tip: Don’t buy too much NB clothing
A note on sizing: Most babies need NB sizes for a month or so, but not all do — consider buying mostly 0-3 month clothing ahead of time, and only a few NB size pieces, before baby arrives.
Favorite brands/products: There’s no shortage of baby clothing stores. Just a few of our favorites include Under the Nile, Kate Quinn Organics, and Kushies for organic cotton basics; Gap, Old Navy, and H&M for cute, dependable basics; Mini Boden and Janie & Jack for splurge pieces. See all TotScoop parent clothing favorites here.
What you DON’T need
In the first six months, you should have absolutely no (legitimate) need for…
- Jeans, stiff pants, or pants with buttons: Too uncomfortable and/or impractical for newborns and infants. You want loose, non-constrictive clothing with stretchy waists.
- Shoes: You don’t need any real shoes until baby starts walking (or, at the earliest, cruising). Companies sell “crib shoes” for non-mobile babies, but they’re just for show. Footies, booties, or socks should be sufficient for keeping baby’s feet warm. If you absolutely can’t resist some adorable crib shoes, make sure to get ones with soft soles that will not impede natural foot development.
- Baby formalwear: Adorable, but totally impractical. Even if you have a wedding or formal event — nobody cares if your six-month-old baby is in a cotton onesie and pants. So whenever you see those seersucker or gray flannel suits, even on the sale rack — move on by!
Nursing pillow (must have)
This isn’t strictly a necessity (plenty of moms get by without one), but honestly if you aren’t on a super tight budget, we think it’s more than worthwhile. Nursing is hard enough as it is, and you’ll use it enough to make it pay for itself many times over!
Favorite brands/products: The Brest Friend is the top recommendation of most lactation consultants, and therefore is our top pick. The Boppy is also very popular, and can also be used for propping up baby, etc. See all TotScoop parent breastfeeding favorites here.
Nursing accessories (must have)
If you plan to breastfeed, you will almost certainly need nipple cream/ointment at the beginning. A few good nursing bras (including at least 2 daytime bras and at least 2 comfortable nighttime bras) and some nursing pads to stop leaks are also must haves. A nursing cover is a nice to have, but not an essential; if you want to cover up, you can also use a swaddle blanket or similar.
Favorite brands/products: See all TotScoop parent breastfeeding favorites here.
Basic burp cloths and bibs (must have)
For burp cloths, you’ll need something soft and easy to wash that you won’t mind getting spit-up on. But that doesn’t mean you need to pay a lot for fancy dedicated burp cloths. This could be something as simple as an old t-shirt, a multi-purpose swaddle blanket, or (our favorite) a cloth diaper. For bibs, you’ll probably want to get some basic, waterproof bibs once baby starts feeding from a bottle and/or drooling heavily (most babies start teething around four months).
Favorite brands/products: See TotScoop parent bib & burp cloth favorites here.
These aren’t necessities, but many parents find them helpful in the first few weeks or month. They’re so cheap that it’s probably not a bad idea to have one or two on hand. Don’t invest in any more, though, until you figure out whether baby will take a pacifier at all, and if so which type she prefers.
Favorite brands/products: See TotScoop parent pacifier & teething favorites here.
Baby bottles (must have)
If you plan to ever be separated from baby at mealtime during her first year, you’ll need some bottles and nipples. If you’re breastfeeding, pediatricians recommend waiting to introduce a bottle until around four weeks old, to avoid nipple confusion. If you want to minimize how much gear you have to buy, skip the smaller 4oz. bottles (which babies can only use for a few months anyway) and go straight to 8-9oz. bottles. Also, we recommend you buy one or two bottles from several different bottle “systems” to start; avoid investing in any one system until you see what baby likes best (many babies are very particular). For breastfed babies, consider getting wideneck bottles with more natural nipple shapes to ease transition between breast and bottle.
Favorite brands/products: Our favorite general bottle systems are Born Free, Avent, and (for colicky/gassy babies) Dr. Brown’s. For breastfed babies, here are wide-neck bottles from Avent, Tommee Tippee, and Dr. Brown’s. If you prefer glass, here are top options from Born Free and Dr. Brown’s. See all TotScoop parent bottle feeding favorites here.
Breast pump & accessories (must have)
If you plan to pump, a good breast pump is worth its weight in gold. It’s worth it to get a double-electric pump (as well as a hands-free pumping bra) if you plan to do anything other than very occasional pumping. You ‘ll also need milk storage containers if you plan to freeze milk longer term, and cleaning wipes if you plan to pump anywhere where you won’t have access to soap and running water.
What you DON’T need
- 4oz. bottles: Babies can only use these smaller bottles for a few months anyway. Save some bucks by going straight to the 8-9oz. bottles.
- Specialized bottle drying rack and bottle brush: Unless you’re planning to do very heavy bottle feeding, a normal drying rack and bottle brush will suffice just fine.
- Bottle warmer: Unnecessary (though you may choose to splurge on one if you’ll be bottle feeding a lot).
- Sterilizer: Unnecessary (unless your doctor tells you otherwise, of course).
- Pacifier pouch, clip, and wipes: Unnecessary.
- Designer burp cloths and bibs: Cute but unnecessary.
Bath & diapering
Diapers (must have)
Well, there’s pretty much no way getting around needing diapers (unless you are super crunch and are doing full-time Elimination Communication…). Diapers should be changed promptly upon being wet or soiled, so you’ll go through quite a few in your baby’s lifetime. Newborns go through 10-12 diapers per day; older babies fewer.
Tip: Save money by cloth diapering
If you are so inclined, you can save some money over your child’s diapering career by opting for cloth diapers. As a bare minimum (if you can consistently do laundry every 1-2 days), you can get by with a stash of ~15-20 cloth diapers and ~5 diaper covers. You can find several guides related to cloth diapering here.
Tip: Don’t buy too many NB size diapers
If you’re going disposable, consider buying just a single large pack of NB size diapers to start. Some babies go straight to size 1 diapers, so you don’t want to overbuy.
Favorite brands/products: For disposable diapers — our favorite premium, green, non-toxic diapers are Bambo, Naty, and Earth’s Best (our value pick). You can find a number of more detailed guides on diapering as well as TotScoop parent favorites here.
Wipes and accessories (must have)
For newborn wipes — you can hold off on the regular, solution-based disposable wipes for the first month or two. Most pediatricians recommend using only wipes with water for the first few months anyhow. For older babies, wipes with water will still do the job, or you can graduate to traditional solution-based wipes. Reusable cloth wipes are also a great alternative at any age.
Diaper cream is also a must-have to treat rashes (once they appear; some babies are more prone to rashes than others, so no need to stock up prematurely).
Favorite brands/products: For newborns — dry wipes like these work great (just add water), or you can get premoistened Water Wipes (which contain 99.9% water and 0.1% grapefruit seed extract). For regular baby wipes, our top picks for safer baby wipes (including fewer questionable chemicals) include Honest Company, Naty, and Earth’s Best. Find more diapering guides & TotScoop parent favorites here.
Changing pad (optional)
A changing pad is not a strict necessity, but it sure is handy (to provide a soft surface and keep baby from rolling away). If you want to go the strict minimalist route, you can just use a towel on the bed or on the floor too.
Favorite brands/products: Our top pick for a safer (e.g. no vinyl), but reasonably priced changing pad is the Oeuf. If you have a bit more to spend, check out the Naturepedic and the Keekaroo Peanut. More diapering guides & TotScoop parent favorites here.
Baby bathtub / bath support (must have)
Some sort of safe place to bathe your newborn/infant (before they can sit up themselves in the big bathtub) is a must. The best option for most parents is to get a infant-to-toddler tub, which have both a reclining newborn sling/position as well as an upright seated position for toddlers. If you’re a minimalist, you’ll skip the newborn bucket tubs and sink inserts that will be outgrown after just a couple months. If you like — and you have a suitable bathroom setup (e.g. a huge sink, or a tub that is comfortable to kneel over) — you can also consider skipping the infant tub and just using a bath support like one of these in your sink or big bathtub.
Favorite brands/products: If space is at a premium in your bathroom, get the The First Years Infant-to-Toddler Tub. If you have a bit more space, get the Primo Eurobath. See more baby bathtime buying guides and TotScoop parent favorites here.
Baby shampoo/wash and lotion (must have)
Unless you already use a very gentle shampoo/body wash and lotion for yourself, it’s worth getting a specialized baby shampoo/wash and lotion, especially for the newborn stage when skin is super sensitive. Look for products that are gentle and fragrance free.
What you DON’T need
- Wipe warmer: Simply not necessary. Life is rough, kid. Get used to it 😉
- Specialized baby bath towel, bathrobe, and/or washcloths: A hooded baby towel and dedicated washcloths are definitely not necessities. If you are a true minimalist (and this is the true test, my friend, as baby towels can be truly irresistible lol), any towel or washcloth you already have sitting around the house will get the job done.
- Tons of bath toys: One or two carefully chosen baby bath toys should be sufficient. Baby doesn’t need much to be entertained, and any more won’t fit in an infant tub anyway.
Health & safety
Baby monitor (must have)
We consider a baby monitor to be in the necessary category — and preferably video rather than just audio. But before you splurge on an expensive dedicated unit, definitely check out smartphone apps such as Cloud Baby Monitor, which may satisfy your needs (you do, however, need to have an extra device that can be left as the broadcasting unit in baby’s room).
Favorite brands/products: Our top budget video monitor picks are from Infant Optics and Levana. For a bit more, you can upgrade to an Infant Optics model with interchangeable lens, the Motorola MBP33/36, Samsung SEW-3037W, or Dropcam. See more TotScoop parent favorites here.
Baby thermometer (must have)
MUST HAVE. A necessity, unless you already have a forehead/aural/rectal thermometer at home. Rectal thermometers are the most accurate, but minimalists may be able to squeeze by with just an aural thermometer (which is more useful as baby grows). Just be prepared that you may need to run to the drugstore to get a rectal thermometer as well if baby gets a high fever as a newborn.
Favorite brands/products: Braun ThermoScan Ear Thermometer
Bulb syringe/nasal aspirator (must have)
A necessity until your child learns to blow her own nose. Trust us, it’s worth it to upgrade from a bulb syringe (the kind they give you at the hospital) to a suction-powered nasal aspirator like the popular NoseFrida (MUCH more effective at removing snot).
Favorite brands/products: NoseFrida
Optional. Helpful to decrease congestion and/or treat dry skin. Note that cool mist humidifers are preferred to warm mist versions for mobile babies for safety reasons.
Favorite brands/products: Crane
Baby-safe cleaning products (optional)
If you don’t already use “green”/“safer” (i.e. EWG “A” rated) cleaners — such as all-purpose and bathroom cleaners, laundry detergent, stain remover, dish detergent, etc.— consider switching to them during pregnancy or when baby is born. They’re safer not just for baby, but also for the rest of your family! NOTE: Do your homework — don’t buy a product just because it markets itself as “baby-safe,” because often those are just as bad as conventional cleaners. For example, Dreft laundry detergent and most Babyganics products get terrible EWG ratings. Check ratings on EWG first — see here.
What you DON’T need (at least not yet)
- Cradle cap treatment: Not all babies need this — wait to buy until needed.
- Colic relief treatment: Not all babies need this — wait to buy until needed.
- Special baby nail clippers/scissors: Not necessary. Just be careful when using normal nail clippers.
- Sunscreen: Not recommended by the AAP for use on babies under six months of age unless no alternative is available.
- Infant Tylenol/Advil: Use of a pain/fever reducer is not recommended by the AAP for babies under six months in age, unless directed by a physician.
- Babyproofing gear: You won’t need to deal with this until baby can crawl, starting around 6-8 months.
Toys & books (optional)
Babies need a pretty minimal assortment of toys and books in their first six months. You don’t really need anything for the first month or two; if you like you can get one or two high-contrast items to encourage visual development. After baby starts being able to focus on objects other than faces, a thoughtful selection of a handful of soft toys/books, grasping toys, and/or musical toys should be sufficient. You don’t need to go overboard buying dedicated baby toys — as generations of parents will attest, simple household objects (try kitchen objects such as wooden spoons, whisks, mixing bowls, etc.) will do the job as well!
Favorite brands/products: Some of our favorite basic infant toy brands are Manhattan Toy, Wimmer-Ferguson, Sassy, Lamaze, and Infantino. For premium, non-toxic (e.g. wooden and organic) toys and teethers, our go-to brands are HABA, Camden Rose, Maple Landmark Toys, Under the Nile, and miYim. Also see our editors’ picks and TotScoop parent favorites for toys and books.
What did we miss? Tell us in the comments!
Note: All featured products and brands are editorially selected by our editors; we do not accept compensation in exchange for coverage. This post does contain affiliate links, meaning we may receive a small proportion of any purchases you make after clicking on them (at no cost to you); thanks for your support! See our full Editorial Policy & Affiliate Disclosure here.