When it comes to new motherhood, the learning curve has been steep. That’s to say, it’s sometimes grueling but so swift that I pretty much always have things mostly figured out before I have time to dial the phone and scream Uncle.
Figuring out what kind of equipment is necessary for the journey can be a daunting process, but if we’re being honest, the stuff also serves as something of an assurance. Even for the minimalists among us, the urge to gather an arsenal of gear to help with the transition can be a powerful force. I liken the process to the first time I packed for a backpacking adventure and found myself with an urgent need to head to the local outfitting store and stock up on long underwear, a dozen pairs of wool socks, and emergency hand warmers for my mid-July weekend away. Thankfully, when it came to newborn essentials, I didn’t have to figure it out all on my own. Here’s a list of five newborn essentials from my sister, Cait, a mama who’s had a little more time on the job:
I should probably start with a disclaimer. When it comes to parenting, “essentials” are in the eye of the beholder. One mama’s trash is another mama’s treasure, etc. And this mama, to be sure, is of the pared down, minimalist, perhaps-overboard-suspicious-of-chemicals sort, which may not be your bag.
Even so, babies be babies. Our budgets and bugbears may be unique, but our babies are a lot alike. They keep their own schedules; they poop a lot; they wake in the wee hours; they snuffle around on our shoulders like puppies. And there are a few tools that make all that baby business a bit easier. If I’m being totally honest, I know I could have survived the first three months with nothing more than my pair of boobs and a copy of this album playing on repeat. In retrospect, this shortlist of baby paraphernalia made the job that much easier:
Five Must-Haves For the Early Days
1. Prefolds. We chose to cloth diaper for its gentler environmental footprint, but whether you cover that tiny bum in reusables or disposables, you’re likely to find ample uses for a dozen or so extra all-cotton prefold diapers in the first few months. Reserved as burp cloths, they’re perfect for keeping on a shoulder during postprandial patting; for wiping spit-up and other unmentionables from floors and counters; for lining a bassinet or changing table; and for rolling behind the small of the back or under an elbow for more comfy nursing or feeding sessions. We inherited a stack of these from my sister-in-law in Oregon, and then passed it on to Erin a week or two before Faye was born. They launder easily, get softer with wear, and basically last forever.
2.Cotton swaddles. A girl could get panicky choosing among the swaddle options on the market. Specifically, this girl. Happily, Oliver’s West-Coast Granny and Connecticut Great-Aunt chose for him the simplest of them all: the basic muslin cotton swaddle. No Velcro, snaps or tabs in sight, and easy as pie to wrap your baby in once you’ve done it a few times. We swaddled Oliver from Day One through his seven-month birthday, and the snug coziness put him right to sleep (usually). Swaddles also come in handy for: the aforementioned impromptu wiping; privacy while nursing or changing diapers in public; blocking sun from tiny faces; an extra layer if the wind picks up while you’re on the go. You kind of can’t have too many (though we felt well equipped with eight).
3. Sheepie. I remember thinking of sheepskins as slightly creepy when I first encountered them as a young child. And if you’re vegan, these are probably not for you. But Oliver’s beautiful lambskin, a gift from his grandma, has proven one of our most versatile baby items. Tanned without chemicals and using methods the manufacturer vows are environmentally friendly, sheepskins are a natural, old-fashioned alternative to baby mats that contain foam, and that by extension, may have the chemical flame retardants that are linked to health problems. Even better, they’re naturally water repellent and machine-washable because, as the proprietor of our neighborhood laundromat eagerly explained, “sheep live in the jungle… and it rains in the jungle!” In the pre-rolling months, we used ours on the floor for tummy time and naps; now, we use it as an alternative to a foam changing table pad.
4. Wipes. Before Oliver was born, I lovingly cut up a small pile of well worn and freshly laundered cotton dishcloths to be used as reusable baby wipes. Oh, how I righteously imagined the landfill space I’d be saving by eschewing disposables! Aaaaaand….then Oliver turned out to be the kind of baby who pooped every single time we changed his diaper, upwards of 10 times each day. Those reusable wipes got used exactly once, and we switched to disposable wipes for the long haul. We tried basically every single brand of “natural” baby wipe out there, and finally found our favorite. They’re made with just two ingredients: water and grapefruit seed extract. Unlike the other brands, these didn’t smell like a Sephora outlet (or worse), wad up like tissues, or come out of the package 30 at a time. We use them sparingly and buy in bulk.
5. Onesies. I didn’t know that “Onesies” were a brand-name until Oliver was born, since the name is now emblematic of this baby wardrobe essential. And to be sure, Oliver wore all manner of snap-up one-pieces in his infancy, most of them beautiful gifts from friends and relatives. My favorite for their gender neutrality, economy and simplicity turned out to be the white Gerber Onesies. The newborn size is, strangely, the highest-quality (the cotton is thicker and softer than in the larger incarnations), and they come in organic cotton, if that’s something you’re into. They also run a bit small, which was perfect for our little peanut. Still, any brand will do. Just keep a half-dozen on rotation (if not more). Oliver enjoyed working (pooping) through at least two a day in months one through three.
Other essentials? Since our apartment is teeny-tiny and we live a ten-minute walk from all crucial amenities, we spent the first six months doing without most of what the infant-industrial-complex deems indispensable—including a crib, a stroller, a bouncy chair, a baby gym, a pack-n-play, a highchair, a pacifier, a car seat and a baby monitor—and we didn’t miss these items at all. If you live in a more spacious abode (not hard), have to drive to get places (likely), or just plain love shopping for baby gear (understandable), you may need or want these items. Lest you think we were strangely spartan (read: crazy) in the early months, rest assured that we did also find the following helpful, though they’re not listed above: a baby carrier; a cloth diaper service; a manual breast pump (I froze surplus milk in small Mason jars); coconut oil; a basketful of baby blankets; and coffee. Lots of coffee.
What about you guys? What are the must-haves on your lists?
PS. The links in this post were updated before the birth of Erin’s second child (January 2017).