I’ve always been a fan of lists, so when I was pregnant with my first child I was in my element – I could make lists to my heart’s content. There was one list for nursery equipment, another for baby essentials, another for my hospital bag, one detailing meals for the first week home. I could go on.
What I hadn’t realised was just how confusing the planning stage can be. Everyone chips in with advice about how many blankets you’ll need, whether you should buy a dummy (pacifier), how many nappies (diapers) you’ll get through in a day. The lists of all the ‘stuff’ we had to buy grew in length as my brain became proportionately more muddled with information overload.
The thing is, we all want to make sure we do it ‘right’. If wealth was calculated according to the number of vests people owned, my son was arguably the richest boy in the world when he was born; I’d been so worried I’d run out of clean ones, I went a little bit crazy when it came to stocking up. (Okay, a lot crazy.)
So here’s a reality check. This isn’t an A-Z list of everything you need, but rather a way to simplify things. When you read about the next must-have gadget no new mum can live without, take a deep breath. Remember not everything is a ‘need’ – some are just ‘wants’, or ‘nice to haves’.
And even if you do find a glaring gap in your baby essentials, it’s not the end of the world – the internet, today’s shop opening hours and express delivery services mean you won’t have to struggle for long.
In the meantime, here’s my own pick of must-have items for the first six months, based on my own time served in the new-mum trenches.
It’s mandatory to use one of course, but the choice is overwhelming. You can get everything from a basic model to one that cleans up juice spills and converts into your child’s first bicycle.
Ok, that might be an exaggeration – but there are so many different options. Some integrate into a whole travel system, while others have modification options that means they’ll last until your child is a few years old.
Here’s what I found. You want something you can pick up easily during those early months. One in which your child can sleep happily on when you arrive at your destination, rather than being disturbed as you wriggle them out from under the safety straps.
2A baby carrier
A lovely friend gave me a baby carrier as a gift when my son was born, and I’ve never thanked her enough for it. Whether you can’t put your baby down or simply don’t want to, this is perfect for keeping them close while leaving your hands free.
It’s also easier than manoeuvring a pram when you’re on the top floor of a 14-storey shopping centre car park and for some reason the only way to reach the shops on the ground floor is to switch lifts halfway, climbing a flight of steps and crossing a bridge in the middle. True story.
3A folding stroller
This one was learned through hard experience. With our first child, we started off with a snazzy 3-in-1 combo – a carrycot that turned into a pram that turned into a pushchair. It was big, heavy, and cumbersome. I hated it.
Then we were introduced to the world of the umbrella stroller…wow. It was lightweight! It didn’t take up much room! I could even open and close it with only one hand! It changed my life.
There are different styles depending on age (no, not yours – your child’s) so choose one that’s suitable and enjoy some relative freedom.
4A V-shaped pillow
I inherited mine when my grandmother moved house, and it was one of the best things she ever gave me. Nursing pillows are great for their purpose, but one of these is much more versatile.
It helped when I was feeding my kids. It made me more comfortable in those early days when the whole childbirth experience had left me in less than prime physical condition. It supported me at night. As my kids got older and could sit up, it even protected them on either side and behind in case they toppled over. Seriously, they are brilliant.
5Cloths. Lots of cloths.
Just in case nobody’s told you, babies leak like nobody’s business. They dribble from their mouths, throw up on a regular basis, and there’ll be many occasions when even the most industrial-grade nappy will fail to contain the latest explosion.
You might dream of plucking a freshly-laundered muslin square from the pristine pile on the nursery shelf each morning. The reality is, you’ll find yourself grabbing frantically at anything close to hand.
You’ll need around ten per day, minimum, so do yourself a favour – bulk-buy economy flannels, dishcloths and small towels, and keep one in your pocket and one over your shoulder at all times.
Really, when your baby is small this is pretty much all they need in their wardrobes. They’re warm, lightweight, comfortable for your baby and easy to get on and off quickly.
All those colourful, adorable little outfits people buy for new babies are beyond cute, I’m not denying that – but personally, I’d recommend keeping them for special occasions or trips out. For everyday wear during the early months, when your child spends its time eating, sleeping or dribbling, you can’t beat a sleepsuit.
If your baby doesn’t suffer from colic, you have my congratulations and envy. My son was the most placid baby I’ve ever met, but he screamed like a banshee for a couple of hours every night. He was inconsolable, in pain, and it was distressing for us.
Then we discovered Infacol. Other brands and formulations are available, so shop around – but this one worked for us and arguably saved my sanity. We never looked back.
8A digital thermometer
Babies run a temperature on a regular basis, and every time you’ll wonder whether you should call the doctor, take him or her to the hospital, or give them some infant paracetamol and ride it out. Digital thermometers are wonderful – quick and easy to use, especially if your child is wriggling around. It’ll help you decide whether something is seriously wrong.
You’ll be amazed at how quickly a small baby’s nails can grow – and if yours is a scratcher, you’ll need to keep them short. It’s unnerving to approach something as tiny as a baby’s nail with something sharp – I put my husband in charge of this particular duty – but clippers are the easiest way. These clippers, in particular, were a lifesaver – the peep hole eliminates the possibility of any unfortunate accidents. You can also get versions with a magnifying glass and even a light to help you see more clearly.
10A bag with many pockets
The baby stores are full of beautiful changing bags, often in soothing pastel colours – and bearing a hefty price tag due to their specialist nature. It’s entirely up to you, but I found non-baby versions were often far more useful.
You can never have too many pockets to store that eye-watering array of on-the-go baby essentials and, of course, a waterproof version is good. Backpack straps distribute the weight of all those goodies more evenly and help keep you balanced if you’re using a baby carrier or pushing a buggy. Throw in a portable changing mat, and you’re good to go.