Shopping for baby – the minimalist baby gear list
The “baby shopping list”, next to “packing a hospital bag list” is probably one of the hottest topics of pregnancy, at least in the list writing department…
As expecting parents we want to be prepared, have some control over the whole slightly uncontrollable situation and we have usually some time to spare while waiting for baby to arrive. This is when many of us go on the internet for inspiration and the internet is a slightly crazy place I must say. You will discover products you have never imagined existing, needing or wanting. Now you are being told you can’t possibly have a baby without purchasing all of these items, available in all shades of pink and blue. All this might be a little overwhelming if you don’t love shopping so much, or might break your account and clutter your home if you do! Then come the gifts, some tiny and cute, but sometimes whole bundles of gear, that does not quite align with what we’ve planned.
I got caught in this a little with my first baby, brainstorming for weeks on end what we need, but since I’ve learned that babies really don’t need much and that if you really need something you can always buy it later! Quite a few of the “absolute must haves” are actually not necessary at all and some are not so great in supporting baby’s development if used in excess or their safety is debatable.
So here is my list of bare essentials – advice on this will vary of course, but it’s a good starting point. It’s a lengthy post for a minimalist list though! I can’t seem to just rush trough without some explanations on each section, so feel free to jump trough them if you don’t need the info, or scroll right to the bottom for a printable PDF list, without all the talking!
This list does not include car seats, strollers or any other baby holders for various reasons. You will definitely need a car seat to bring baby home from a hospital or Geburtshaus (I strongly recommend skipping any attempts to do that on public transport, and you definitely need a seat in a taxi too) I guess not everyone has a car and you might be able to rent or borrow a newborn seat.
I don’t want to advise on strollers – there are too many on the market and we have different priorities when choosing one and then not everyone wants a stroller at all. And I am not a fan of baby seats and bouncers etc at all. These can be handy when you want to take a shower or cook a meal and need baby entertained (and contained), but they also don’t do any good for their motor development, and used in excess can actually hinder it. Before baby is able to crawl you can just put them on a blanket on the floor with a couple of things to explore within hands reach (or just out of reach to encourage movement) and that should do the trick.
The absolute essentials:
Baby needs some clothes, but remember they grow really quickly, so don’t buy too much in one size. Depending on the weather the first wardrobe will vary, but newborns should be kept relatively warm. You definitely don’t want to overheat them, but for the first few weeks they can’t regulate temperature very well on their own and need to be kept quite warm. They might fuss very lightly or really cry if the temperature is not just right. A baby that has to expel a lot of energy to stay warm will also put weight on slower due to balancing the energy expense and how much they can get from food.
Using wool clothes and layering clothes and if needed choosing between a couple of blankets or swaddles of different thickness should do the trick. Some babies love being contained in a swaddle, some might prefer to be able to move freely though.
It’s also hard to guess the size baby will be at birth and often the clothes we get are a little big at first but babies will catch up soon. A good size to start with is European size 56. Some babies will need smaller clothes for a couple of weeks, other will grow to the next size very quickly. You can always ask someone to bring some more in a desired size when baby is born or order online.
When it comes to fabric think natural and breathable, like cotton, linen, silk, bamboo and especially wool. Some babies might have wool sensitivity, but if you are not sensitive yourself the chances are small and wool is great at keeping baby warm and is breathable. In Germany you will also find baby clothes made of pure merino wool and in a wool and silk mix (wolle mit seide) and they are really lovely.
There are several brands for wooly clothes available here, including Cosilana, Disana, Pickapooh, Schlüttli, Engel Natue, Frugi and many more. They are quite expensive compared to high street shops but like everything else in Germany, and especially if looking for kids gear, you will find plenty available second hand. Because they are only worn for a short time often will look like new. You also don’t need too many pieces of the wooly clothes as wool is self cleaning and doesn’t need to be washed all the time.
For preloved baby clothes and toys you can look online (Mamikreisel.de, ebay kleinanzeigen, facebook parenting groups) or in local second hand shops – there are many, often only with kids stuff. Flea markets with only kids stuff (kinderflohmarkt) are also held regularly all around Berlin.
Baby clothes – What you will need:
• 3-6 bodies, short or long sleeve, I love the kimono style for easy changing with newborns, a mix of all cotton and wool/silk blend
• 2-4 footed pajamas with a long front opening or sleeping gowns (top part looks like bodies, bottom like a pillow cover – makes for easy diaper changes at night)
• 3-5 footed trousers with a wide elastic band for the belly area – easy on the tummy and cord stump (and/or stockings and a couple of leggings)
• 1-2 cardigans, I like to avoid hoods in newborn clothing – makes no sense since they are on their back a lot
• 1-3 soft thin hats, I go for ones without strings
• 1-2 sleeping bags
• a few pairs baby socks – look for longer ones that stretch nicely but are not too tight, they have a better chance staying on, a pair of wooly ones would be great too
• 1-4 bibs or bandanas – for a baby that spits up a lot, or later drools when teething
*midwife tip: Alternatively you could start with just a couple of merino shirts and thick merino trousers (generally intended as covers for cloth diapering) plus a hat and some socks and keep baby in this outfit for a couple of weeks.
That would be enough for indoors. I omitted baby scratch mittens on purpose – babies’ main learning and discovery of the world in the first weeks is putting their hands to their mouth. This is a very powerful sensory stimuli and it’s important for their latch, eating, gag reflex and swallowing, later motor development and speech. Of course if they are chilly and asleep and scratching their face with those super soft yet somehow very scratchy baby nails you can cover their hands, but it’s something you don’t necessarily have to do.
Going out with baby:
In summer it’s relatively easy. You will want to protect your tiny baby from direct sunshine, using a thin hat with a wide rim. Even if it’s very warm you can leave them in a long sleeved body and light trousers to avoid sun burns and be able to skip sunscreen.
One very important thing is not to cover the pram with a blanket or gauze. You will see people do this but it’s very dangerous – under any cover, even very thin and airy it gets very warm very quickly and you are risking a heat stroke. There are special shades and sun covers for prams that do not drape over the bassinets and allow air flow.
For outdoors in cooler months you will want a warm hat or balaclava, warm overalls and mittens – again if you use wool you will find some great outfits from Pickapooh, Hansnatur, Disana or small hand made brands like Petit Cochon. The sizes run large or very large on wooly overals! The idea is to have one of those last a long time, so you would get an oversized one to start with and have baby grow into it. Some even have spacial sleeve and leg binds designed to be rolled up and unrolled when baby grows.
Depending on how cold it gets and how you intend to transport the baby you can get special very warm overalls for the pram or a wooly or padded footmuff (Fußsack) – you would have to check what fits into your kinderwagen. You might be able to skip that if you decide to wear your baby – that is carry them on your body (and in winter under your own jacket) in a woven wrap. I could add a stretchy wrap or a baby carrier to the list of babywearing aids – but as a babywearing consultant I don’t recommend using these for newborns. You will find more about that in a separate post soon.
That brings us to the other part of the baby list – the baby gear.
Babywearing – The woven wrap
My absolute essentials list starts with a woven wrap (or woven ring sling). The list could also end here! Babywearing is definitely making a comeback – humans used to carry their babies always and in all cultures! A generation ago though we were all probably transported in prams, now it’s very popular to use a carrier of some sort. The subject is never ending, but the basics are simple.
Babies need and want a lot of physical contact, especially in the so called fourth trimester – their first three months after birth, and after the (highly recommended!) lying in period after birth (when you really just stay in bed, no excuses, and your partner takes care of you and the home) we want or have to come back to some of our daily routines. Some babies are quite happy to stay in their bed or on a blanket on the floor with some toys, some will complain, very loudly at times. Having your baby wrapped snugly in a carrier keeps them happy and allows you to move around and do stuff. Stuff like fixing yourself a meal and eating it with both hands, putting a load of laundry in the washing machine, going to a doctor or shopping, so a carrier comes in very handy, especially when your partner goes back to work and there is no family, doula or midwife at hand at all times to hold the little one.
Heading out with a carrier is also quite comfortable, especially on public transport, stairs etc. You will be quite self sufficient, will not have to manoeuvre over cobblestone and curbs with a heavy buggy and baby will be snug and away from uninvited touching and other peoples germs. As I mentioned above, in winter you will keep each other warm in a wrap under your jacket – be it a specially designed pregnancy and babywearing jacket, an oversized regular one or a jacket with a special zip-in or clip-on babywearing extension or cover.
Using a woven wrap has a little bit of a learning curve to it but it has so many benefits it’s really worth learning. It’s also a good idea to do it with a babywearing consultant. They will usually come to your home, or you can go to a workshop or class. You will be able to practice on a special demo doll and they will advise on best positioning and techniques for each parent/care taker – baby couple, taking into consideration any special requirements, baby’s age etc. And it will be a lot more pleasant than googling it! A youtube video will not tell you where your wrap could use a bit more tightening nor will reassure you’re doing a great job. Babywearing consultants are most often experienced parents passionate about bonding and closeness with babies, so meeting one can be really nice. There is also important safety information, so it’s really beneficial to contact a specialist in this matter.
One subject that is a long one and divides both parents and experts is how to arrange sleeping.
It‘s advised for baby to sleep on a flat and firm surface without any loose bedding, pillows or toys nearby, with good airflow (maybe skip rail bumpers) in a well ventilated room and for baby to sleep in the parents bedroom until the first birthday (co-sleeping). They should sleep on the sides or on the back when in a bed, varying the position to avoid the head shaping flat at the back. If they sleep on your chest during the day then of course they can sleep on their tummy. Older babies with good head control and ability to turn around on their own can sleep in any position they find comfortable.
This can be done by placing baby in a separate bed or sleeping in the same bed. Bed sharing is proven to be safe if you strictly adhere to safe sleep guidelines. If you do like the idea, it can promote more sleep for the nursing mom and less risk of falling asleep accidentally while holding the baby on the sofa for example. Avoid bed sharing if you or your partner are a smoker, drink alcohol, are under the influence of drugs and medications. Again, some people don’t feel safe while bed sharing and are not able to get a good night’s sleep that way at all. Definitely do your research, do what feels best for your family, and if things don’t work one way, try another!
I will write more about all that in a separate post. Here I would like to mention it just for shopping purposes – you have a choice of not buying any gear at all and bed sharing, using a so called baby nest in your bed, getting a Moses basket (a big basket with a mattress and handles that often comes with a rocking stand – handy for day time naps and moving around the house but doesn’t last very long), having a side sleeper that attaches to your bed or a separate crib. From all of these though I would narrow the choice down to bed sharing, and if you don’t want that, then having a crib for baby, and having it next to your bed to start with. Any other solution very often means investing more money and baby not really using the gear at all, or baby outgrowing it very fast.
In any of those setups a firm mattress and no toys, curtains or strings of any sort hanging around apply for safety reasons. Also get fitted sheets for the correct size of the mattress. To keep baby warm use a sleeping bag rather than duvets and no pillow. They don’t need a pillow actually later on as well, try to skip having one until about age two or later. One thing I like to add here is a waterproof bed sheet or liner. Ikea has good and simple ones (Len), you can place them only under the lower half of the bed so the rubberised surface does not limit air circulation bur saves the mattress from getting wet and dirty. It’s good to vary how you place your baby in their crib – change top and bottom around so they get to see a different perspective and turn towards stimuli (what’s happening in the room) not always to the same side.
Baby care essentials:
Number one in my opinion is a very good and reliable fever thermometer. You can measure baby’s temperature in the ear or rectally. I have both types of thermometers just in case, though babies outgrow the rectal temperature taking stage quite quickly. After testing a few models (and getting extremely frustrated with very inconsistent measurements, long measuring times etc) I am a huge fan of Brown Thermoscan series – measuring the temperature in the ear. The newest model as of today is Thermoscan 7. It costs about 40€ but is worth every cent. If you go for a more classic shape electronic one (and take measurements in mouth, rectum or under arm) make sure the thermometer is fast – babies and children don’t have the patience for long measuring times, and has a flexible tip.
Next in line are precise and safe tip (but still intended for adult operation) nail scissors or clippers. Baby nails grow really fast, and even though they are soft, they scratch! You can skip cutting the nails in the first weeks to avoid injury of cutting them too short. They will actually peel and brake off themselves a lot. If you do want to clip them, the best way is to do it when baby is sleeping.
Third piece of baby equipment I couldn’t live without is a nasal aspirator. That’s probably one thing you have never heard of before becoming a parent and it seems very weird and maybe a little gross at first but hear me out. It’s a contraption designed for you to clear baby’s nose in case of a cold by suctioning it out. It comes in different shapes, but general design is a plastic part you put to baby’s nose, a filter, and a thin tube part. You take the tube in your mouth and suction the clogged nose. Some models of nasal aspirators are designed to attach to a vacuum cleaner, magically reducing suction to a safe level. I’ve never tried one like this, but some parents swear by this solution. Don’t worry, you will not aspirate nor have any baby snot in your mouth, it stays in the container and you then rinse it out with water. It’s a really very fast and effective way of clearing a blocked nose. And you want their nose to be clear to help them feed and breathe at the same time, sleep well and avoid an ear infection when they have a cold. It can be used after loosening the snot a little with some saline spray. Babies are unfortunately usually not happy with the procedure, but it really helps.
A few flat cloth diaper squares made of muslin or flannel will come very handy. They are great to lay under baby’s head to both protect their face from the surface and to protect the surface from eventual spit ups. You can use them as burping cloths, they are great to catch any milk that might be leaking when nursing and are a great impromptu nursing cover if you want to cover a little. They come in plain white and an array of patterns and colours, as well as different sizes, some big enough to be used as a swaddle too (tip – saves you money on swaddles).
Smaller flannel pieces or specially made cloth wipes will be great for cleaning the bum instead of disposable baby wipes that may cause increase in diaper rashes. Newborn poop when exclusively breast fed is totally water soluble and washes perfectly clean. Any remaining stains will magically disappear when you leave them in direct sun light. You can also use large cotton pads and just warm tap water for disposable but safe bum hygiene, or rinse baby’s bottom under the sink tap if need be.
Diapers and changing
Touching on diaper area care above I will add just a bit on that.
What type of diapers to choose requires another post too I guess. Basic choice is either disposable diapers or washable cloth diapers. The first ones are quite straight forward I guess, though there are many sizes and variations and many many brands. Some are more eco friendly and with fever harsh chemicals, but a little more expensive. You will need a size 0 or 1 or newborn depending on the brands sizing. Some will have a special cut out not to cover the bely button or will have a line appear on the front to indicate how wet they are. When baby grows and their poop changes you should be emptying the diaper into the toilet before disposing of it – not many do that, but that’s what we should do.
Cloth diapers have so many systems and models it might make your head spin at first, but basically they are made of a part that holds the liquid and a part that prevents it from escaping the diaper. In the beginning you will have to invest some money to buy a few designs to try what works best for you and then expand your collection, but when you have enough to circulate being used and washed you will never have to buy more diapers. You can reuse them with future kids of your own or sell them (as well as buy preloved ones to lower the initial investment). The remaining cost is water, electricity and detergent and of course the work you put in doing the laundry. There are plenty of debates, blogs, Facebook groups and calculators out there pondering the economical and environmental aspects of cloth diapering if you like to know more.
Last thought on cloth diapers for now from me – if you are not devoted to exclusively cloth diapering from day one and maybe don’t have help staying with you after birth, let yourself settle into your new life as a parent for a couple of weeks with disposables before jumping into figuring out cloth.
So now you have your diapers figured out – where to change baby?
Again, minimalist approach – you can do it anywhere with very little gear if you want to. In early postpartum I changed my babies in my bed a lot, just used a chuck pad or a rollable changing pad to protect the bed. That said, it is quite comfortable to have a changing table of some sort. And as with anything baby related the market is huge. From really big and fancy changing stations, equipped with shelves, drawers, containers, bins, warming lights, wipe warmers and all the bells and whistles, to simple ones you can place over a crib, on a washing machine in your bathroom etc. There are wall mounted and foldable models too. I like my main changing station near a sink and the toilet in my bathroom, especially that I wanted to limit disposable wipe use, so access to running water was great. There it will also serve as post bath care area. For changing around the house I had a basket with some wipes, diapers and a change of clothes I moved around with me.
Safety note – prepare everything you need in advance and always hold one hand on baby and never leave them on a changing station above floor level unattended. They might seem like they are going nowhere one day, and decide to show you a rolling trick the next. Even a tiny baby can grab and pull on something or do a kick that will cause a fall, and these are very dangerous. They have a reflex that when they touch a surface with the sole of the foot they push away from it.
You can get a portable (or even foldable) baby bathtub or a so called tummy tub/shantala bucket for bathing the baby in a more seated position in very little water, or just take baby into the bath with you. Bathtubs come in a myriad of shapes and designs, with special contraptions holding the baby, with stands you can place anywhere in the house or over your regular tub. I used one with my first regularly, and only maybe ten times with my second – he was so heavy I found it difficult to hold him safely in the tub, so we just bathed together. If you are unsure of the water temperature you can always get a special bath thermometer, they not only show temperature, but will usually have a range of safe temperatures marked, again, not necessary, but might be handy. I like using cotton hooded baby towels, and older kids like them a lot too, so I have a few, but any cotton towels you have will do the trick for sure.
And just as a side note – look into not bathing your newborn at all for a while after birth – there are some very good reasons to postpone the first bath. Generally you don’t have to give them a bath everyday and it doesn’t have to be done in the evening either. Babies tend to be tired and overstimulated after a long day, even if they slept trough a lot of it, and a bath at the end of it all might be the one thing that then sends them into a very fussy evening or night. A bath in the morning though might be a nice sensory and learning experience and tiring enough for them to then fall asleep for a longer mid day nap. Win-win.
One thing I strongly believe in is that it will help you a lot in the future if you get your baby used to oral hygiene almost from the start. Teeth will not show up right away and if baby is breastfed – human milk actually helps maintain desired ph levels and has antibacterial and tooth mineralising properties, but if you suddenly introduce a toothbrush and start poking around their mouth when they are bigger, it might not go down well. You can start with massaging their gums with a corner of a muslin cloth wrapped over your finger, or get a silicone gum and tooth brush that covers your finger like a thimble, or just a very small toothbrush and do a little mouth cleaning session in the morning and evening. There most probably will be drama later on anyway, but at least for the first year it won’t be too bad. You don’t have to use paste until first teeth come out and then use one without fluoride until they can spit the paste out.
One last thing I like to have is a soft newborn hairbrush made of natural fibres and wood. I had one of those from my own childhood and used in on all my teddies and dolls and remember if vividly, so that might be why I love them so much. Your newborn might not have any hair to brush, or the hair will not require brushing but apparently it’s healthy for the future hair to stimulate and massage the skin to promote hair follicles growing. I have no research for that, hmm, might need to do a little search actually.
Creams, lotions, and other cosmetics?
Newborns have a very sensitive skin and are also very sensitive to smell. It’s best to keep the range of products used to an absolute minimum. Water and some oil is your basic set! Their skin is trying to work out the ideal levels of natural moisturising, adding creams can damage that developing balance.
If baby has dry skin you can rub them with a low scent oil mixed in your hand with some water – you can use olive oil, sweet almond oil or coconut oil (this one actually can dry some peoples skin more). You can add an emollient or also just oil into their bath, if you want to use soap – chose a very gentle and low scent/unscented one and use just a bit.
To battle or prevent a rash you can use olive oil when changing the diaper. Instead of baby powder (that we now know is harmful) you can use potato starch. It works wonders on skin anywhere where there might be moisture and rubbing – so all baby rolls. You can also add a table spoon or so of potato starch to a small pot of water and boil on medium heat stirring continuously until it thickens and add that to baby’s bath water for a soothing solution.
Another natural remedy to diaper rash is pure wool – available in Aphoteke as Heilwolle. You just take some and put it on the red area and leave it there for a while.
Another step would be a diaper rash cream with zinc and/or Panthenol. Remember anything with zinc will dry the skin as well, so be careful with these and only use when necessary and not too much for too long. Generally preventing a rash is easier than curing one! So regularly changing the diapers, especially quickly changing poopy ones and keeping the area dry and oiled, and if possible aired too, will help to avoid problems. There are many creams available but not all work on all babies and all kinds of rashes. If you have a Hebamme it’s always great to ask her about her recommendations. A nice one is Calendula Babycreme from Weleda for example.
If the rash seems to have a circular shape around the anus of the baby and the skin is really irritated and red and braking/bleading that might be a sign of a candida infection and will require a special anti fungal cream to heal and a prescription from your pediatrician.
In winter you can add a cold and wind protection cream. Sunscreen is another subject of division among parents and specialists. Best would be to avoid direct strong sun exposure, look into mineral sunscreen and always put a hat on them. Sun is a source of vitamin D production in our bodies so it’s also good to have some.
That’s it! I hope this comes in handy, it turned out a lot longer of a read than I planned, but hopefully it’s useful.
There are a few more lists coming up – mom care and hospital bag packing, nursing essentials and postpartum plan, so keep an eye out for those.
For a printable version of the list click below:
If you have any questions or feedback leave a comment below or write me an email!