Being a first time mom is overwhelming, to say the least. Even before your little bundle of joy enters the world, you will likely be bombarded by a barrage of choices to make about what you may or may not need to care for your little one, and frankly, those choices are hard to navigate. To say nothing of the number of hormones pulsing through your body, clouding your mind, buying things for your first baby is the first and possibly only time in your life you’ll have ever had to buy so many things to prepare for something with which you have no prior experience. How are you supposed to know what you’ll need when you’ve never done it before?
If you’re like me, you’re probably relying a lot on the wisdom and experience of other moms who have come before you and spending a lot of time on What To Expect, The Bump, or Babylist reading every article and product review you can to try to make the best decisions you can and keeping your fingers crossed that it all works out. Our little man just turned one month old, so believe me, I understand. What I found frustrating when shopping for these items was that most blogs start from a place of assuming that you need all of this stuff and focus on recommending specific brands rather than explaining why you need the item in the first place. On top of that, if you read enough of these sites, you’ll find that each one has a different idea of what the “best” fill-in-the-blank is and the guides that were meant to help you narrow down the endless series of choices before you instead give you more choices and very little guidance on why this or that product is better or worse than another, or why it’s even necessary in the first place.
I want to clear the air and tell you the truth about what I found to actually be essential for mom and baby in the first two weeks, and more importantly, why.
WHAT YOU NEED FOR BABY
Infant Car Seat
Needing a car seat is a no-brainer. In fact, they won’t let you leave the hospital without one. But, if you’re concerned about budget or storage space (like me), you might be tempted to skip the infant car seat and graduate right to a convertible car seat. Don’t do it.
Firstly, unless you have a lot of experience getting kids in and out of car seats, they take a little while to get the hang of. We had a baby in July, and I cannot even imagine having to deal with trying to figure out how all of those straps worked in the middle of a parking lot in 110-degree heat. It’s way easier to get the baby situated while you’re in the comfort of your own home than trying to mess with the car seat when you get outside. Even if you don’t give birth during a season of inclement weather, it’s a convenience that’s worth the extra cost.
Secondly, in case you didn’t know, newborns often cry a lot. Maybe you’ll get lucky and get one of the magical angel babies I’ve heard tales of who sleep, eat, and giggle through all hours of the day with nary a tear in sight, but if not, or if heaven forbid you get a particularly vocal and unhappy baby (like ours), any moment you can get where the baby isn’t crying is to be treasured. And our baby LOVES his car seat—perhaps more than he loves us. Since the car seat is one of the only places where he will independently calm himself down and fall asleep, there is no way I would want to have to wake him up to get him in and out of the car at the doctor’s office or when we get back home. Just, no way. So although we never let him sleep in his car seat for extended periods (due to safety concerns), the 5-15 minutes of calm the car seat gives us while we wait to be seen by a doctor or get ourselves situated when we get back to the house are golden.
Our Pick: Nuna Pipa. We picked this car seat because it was pretty to look at, easy to install, had great safety ratings, and could be installed without the base (which is great if you switch cars a lot or plan to take it when you travel). We also love the dream drape, which shields his face from the sun.
A Place (or Places) for Baby to Sleep
Although during the first two weeks the baby will likely be doing most of his/her 16-18 hours of sleep per day on you, you still need one or two places where you can safely set the baby down to sleep. I recommend two: one place for them to sleep at night and one place to take a nap during the day.
At night, our baby sleeps in a bassinet, but we don’t put him to sleep in the bassinet during the day because we are trying to help him learn the difference between day and night. Babies are born with their days and nights mixed up, so keeping them in a room with normal daytime lights and sounds during the day, even while they are napping, helps them learn the difference between their days and nights.
We live in a small apartment, so a crib and pack and play were too big for us to use in our room at night or in the living room, where we spend most of the day. For us, a bedside bassinet for the bedroom and a co-sleeper basket for the couch were the winners. I’ve also heard good things about Dock-A-Tot and other similar newborn loungers. Since our baby spits up a lot, the basket has been better because of how easy it is to clean.
For Nighttime: Halo Bassinet (we have the Glide, but I think the Swivel would be easier to get the baby in and out of). If you have the money, I think SNOO is definitely worth a try (we spend hours at night rocking him back to sleep in our arms instead).
For Daytime: We used the SwaddleMe By Your Side Sleeper, but it’s hard to find now. The Snuggle Nest Dream is a good alternative.
Apparently, the womb isn’t a quiet place. So contrary to what you might have thought, babies actually like sleeping with a fair degree of noise—in particular, white noise. You’ll likely find that throughout the day your baby is lulled to sleep by the sound of the car, the air conditioner, the shower, the vacuum, the dryer, etc., but you can’t live your whole life standing under the A/C intake or driving around the block in the middle of the night (believe me, we’ve tried). When your baby is upset and won’t calm down, white noise machines can help a lot!
Our Picks: Baby Shusher Sleep Miracle (to save your breath) and the Rohm Portable White Noise Machine (small, rechargeable, fits right in the bassinet).
A Variety of Swaddles
Not all babies like to be swaddled, but our little guy won’t sleep unless he is wrapped up tight in his little burrito straightjacket, and when he’s really upset, it’s often the only way to calm him down. We were given a bunch of swaddles and swaddle blankets to try, which is lucky for us because the Velcro ones are the only ones that work for him. Your baby might be different, so it’s critical to have options. Our little guy is a kicker, and there is no blanket that he cannot unravel in seconds, so swaddle blankets have been a no go for us. When he’s upset, we literally can’t even get him into a swaddle blanket (the first 10 hours at home figuring this out were a nightmare!). We also tried zip-up sleep sacks, which he liked but got too hot in, and the Love to Dream SwaddleUP, which I was really excited about, but he didn’t like because it kept his arms up.
Our Picks: SwaddleMe Original Swaddles or Halo SleepSack Swaddle
You’ll be surprised by the number of bodily fluids that come out of your newborn. While you might be prepared for the ones coming out of the bottom end, it’s important to also be prepared for the ones coming out of the top. For vomit and spit up, you’ll want a bunch of burp rags to have around. Look for ones that are large, quick-drying, and extra absorbent. We started with the Burts Bees Baby burp rags, which are made from 100% organic cotton, but they got soiled way too quickly and didn’t dry fast enough, so we switched to a muslin cloth diaper style instead.
Our Pick: Muslin Burp Clothes like these ones (you need 5-10).
WHAT YOU NEED FOR YOU
Postpartum Care Essentials
Full disclosure: your body is about to go through some weird stuff and it’s going to need some special supplies to deal with it. If you have a vaginal delivery, expect to have significant pain, swelling, and bleeding after you give birth. For me, the pain and swelling lasted about a week, and the bleeding lasted about four weeks. You may also have some hemorrhoids from pregnancy and/or pushing, which are further exacerbated by constipation you will likely have from any anesthesia or pain medication you receive during and after delivery. While you are at the hospital, they give you pretty much everything you need, but there are several things you’ll want for when you come home. The one item I really recommend taking with you to the hospital is the Frida Mom Upside Down Peri Bottle because it’s so much easier to use than what they will give you at the hospital.
My Picks (get all of them):
Frida Mom Hospital Packing Kit (take the gown, socks, and peri bottle with you to the hospital, save the rest for when you get home)
A Cotton Robe (or Two or Three)
During the first couple of weeks, I pretty much lived in a cotton robe. They are comfortable, convenient for nursing and perineum care, and easy to wash when they get milk stains or spit-up on them. I brought one to the hospital with me and it felt so great to have something clean and fresh that was mine to wear after being in a hospital gown for a couple of days. When I got home, I bought a second one right away, so I had a backup on laundry days.
No-Bake Boobie Bites
These aren’t really something you buy, so much as something you make, but they basically saved my life during the first month of breastfeeding. They help with milk supply (really, they do) and they are a great snack to have any time of the day. During the first week, especially, it’s hard to find even a minute to sit down and take care of yourself, even to eat. These are easy to just pop and go. Even if you’re not breastfeeding, they’re a great snack with plenty of energy-increasing nutrition. If you’re trying to build your milk supply, look for recipes like this one that contains brewer’s yeast and ground flaxseed (the flaxseed will also help with any residual constipation from any pain medications you received during or after delivery). When I found out I needed to cut out dairy, soy, eggs, and corn from my diet because of James’ food allergies, these kept me full and satisfied both my sweet and salty cravings. Seriously, they’re amazing.
WHAT YOU NEED IF YOU’RE BREASTFEEDING
A Nursing Pillow
I am a minimalist, and I hate buying specialty items that seem to be able to be filled by items I already own (you won’t find any pineapple corers or avocado slicers in my kitchen!). I thought the nursing pillow fell into this category. I felt like I already had plenty of pillows and I had already bought a pregnancy pillow (after a similar moment of caving and realizing I really did need one), so I tried to skip the nursing pillow. I was wrong.
The reason you need a nursing pillow is that although you can “technically” use normal pillows to prop up you and your baby while nursing, you will need a ton of them and they are hot and slippery, and trying to finagle three to five pillows into the ideal nursing configuration is simply something you don’t have time for when you have a screaming baby biting at your chest at two in the morning.
Thankfully, my step-mom bought me a Boppy as a Welcome Home present, because I would have died without it. It made life much easier because it was just one pillow to navigate around. I will say, the only downside to the Boppy is that it doesn’t fasten in the back, so it tends to slide out away from you as you’re trying to get the baby adjusted. I’ve learned how to work around that though. The My Brest Friend Nursing Pillow is probably the best-designed nursing pillow because it fastens around you (so it can’t slide off) and it has helpful pouches for some of the things you are likely to want with you (e.g. phone, water bottle, snack, remote), but it may not have as many uses as the Boppy after the newborn stage.
A Breast Pump (or Two)
Breastfeeding can be a challenge for several reasons. One of those reasons is that your milk doesn’t always come in right away. To boost your supply, have a breast pump at home—both an electric single or double pump and a handheld manual pump are great to have on hand. I started pumping about four days after birth and it really helped me as my milk was coming in and the baby was learning how to latch.
Also, in case you didn’t know this (I didn’t), when you have your let down, both breasts leak milk, simultaneously. This is where the Haakaa is so great. You can pop it on the breast that isn’t being fed from to catch all of the milk from your let-down. I regularly get 1-2 ounces from a single feed. Without the Haakaa, that milk would have ended up on the baby’s onesie or in my bra.
My Picks: Spectra S2 (go through your insurance), and Haakaa Manual Breast Pump or Medela Harmony Breast Pump
While your baby and your nipples get adjusted to breastfeeding, they might be sore for the first few days, and if they are, you need something to prevent/treat any cracks or sores that may arise. Make sure whatever you get is also safe for the baby.
My Pick: Earth Mama Organic Nipple Butter I love that it smells like coconut and has all-natural ingredients.
WHAT YOU DON’T NEED
Diapers (Hear Me Out)
Okay, so you definitely need diapers. What you don’t need, though, is to buy a bunch of diapers upfront. At the hospital, they will almost certainly give you diapers to try while you are there—including both Huggies and Pampers. It’s a good idea to wait to stock up on diapers before you’ve tried both major brands because you will almost certainly have one you prefer. Before James was born, I thought we were going to be a Pampers family, but Huggies were much better for us. They had a more comfortable fit for him and the absorbency areas were better placed for his body.
Our Picks: Huggies or Kirkland (which are very similar in style to Huggies) (Update: About 2 months in, we switched to an Honest Diapers subscription because they were the only diapers that didn’t lead to blow-outs every time he pooped.)
Cute Newborn Outfits
I know it hurts but keep the tags on those cute little newborn sized outfits everyone buys you and swap them out for a 0-3 month equivalent (or older). During the first few weeks, our little guy spent almost the entire day in just a diaper so we could have plenty of skin-to-skin time and minimize accidents and tantrums during frequent diaper changes. We put him in clothes to go to the pediatrician and for pictures, and that’s about it. We tried to make sure he got to wear every outfit at least once, but by three weeks, he had grown out of most of them. We got a little more life out of the rompers and shirt/pant separates, but the newborn onesies and bodysuits really didn’t last long.
WHAT YOU NEED IF THINGS DON’T GO ACCORDING TO PLAN
God willing, you will have a smooth transition back into life at home and you won’t have to worry about any unexpected issues. However, if you do, it’s a really good idea to have some of the following items around in case of unexpected issues or an emergency.
The first time our baby had a full-on tantrum, he turned bright red like a tomato, was hot to the touch, and started sweating out of all of his pores. It was terrifying. We thought we might need to take him to the emergency room if he didn’t calm down and cool down soon. At that moment, we were so glad we had a thermometer, so we could check his temperature. We first checked him with an axial thermometer but eventually decided to check rectally (the recommended way for babies) as well, to see whether or not we needed to go to the hospital or not. Luckily, he did eventually calm down and was okay. Fevers are rare for infants, but when they do occur, they are emergencies, so do yourself a favor and make sure you have at least one thermometer at home (we like having both an axial and an oral/rectal thermometer).
Did you know that 85% of babies are diagnosed with a tongue or lip tie nowadays? Regardless of whether or not this is an overdiagnosis, it’s becoming common knowledge that a lot of babies have a hard time with breastfeeding in the beginning. This can be for a variety of reasons including ties, milk coming in late, food intolerances, infant reflux, etc. We had all of the above. During that time, we first had to supplement with formula and then had to supplement with pumped breastmilk. Because we wanted to avoid nipple confusion, we fed James with an oral syringe instead of a bottle.
Unfortunately, we weren’t able to use a syringe until we saw our pediatrician on the baby’s fourth day of life and he had already lost 10% of his birth weight. At the hospital where we delivered, they didn’t do any cup/syringe feeding, so we had to decide between feeding the baby formula out of a bottle or not feeding him formula at all and letting him continue to not get enough to eat. It was a really difficult position to be put in as someone who had always intended to exclusively breastfeed and who never anticipated having any issues with it. I wish I had known that my milk might not come in right away and that I could have brought a syringe with me to the hospital to make sure my baby was adequately fed in a way I felt comfortable with.
Having a baby is a wild adventure, especially during those first few weeks at home. Every mom will probably have their own ideas about what you need or don’t need during that crazy time. These were what worked for us; I hope they are helpful for you too. If you’re a mom, what have been your must-have items during the first two weeks? Please share in the comments section!