Prior to having our first child nearly two weeks ago, my wife and I were fairly oblivious to the vast world of baby-related retail products. As we prepared for our little one’s arrival, we ambled blankly through Babies-R-Us and other stores, wondering, at times aloud, “do we really need all this stuff?” It’s kind of like an improv game - choose a verb that describes something your baby will do, and a noun that describes where they will do it, and I guarantee that A) there’s a product designed for that specific situation, and B) it’s probably got Elmo on it.
Of course, no one needs everything at the store. But we did pick up some things that we now can’t live without, and some other things that haven’t proved particularly useful. Besides obvious things like jammies and a car seat, here are some nursery essentials.
1) Changing table. Initially, it seemed absurd to me to have a mission-specific piece of furniture for a job that, fundamentally, only requires a horizontal surface, like the bed or the couch. But I lucked out and found a nice one at the Habitat surplus store for $20, so I brought it home. It is now officially my favorite piece of furniture in the house. You really need something that’s the appropriate height and that the baby can’t roll out of. Also, I’ve learned that baby boys love to pee all over everything at inopportune moments (there are four or five brands of Elmo-themed cups you can use to contain these outbursts), and whether the baby pees all over a $20 table (as opposed to my bed) frankly doesn’t keep me up at night.
2) Cloth diapers. Don’t get me wrong - as long as we’re still in double-digit diaper changes per day, we’re using disposables and refuse to feel guilty about it (though we’re open to doing the “green” thing later on). Meanwhile, the cloth diapers are the ultimate all-purpose rags - we use them for burping cloths and keep a couple handy by the changing table for body-fluid management. We got some really nice burping cloths as a gift that do the job, but not so well as to justify the expense.
3) Straitjackets. OK, not really. But when our doula explained to us that babies are most comfortable when they’re wrapped up tightly like a burrito, we dug through the clothes and found the swaddle-sleeper that some friends gave us. Basically a cloth bag with flaps that velcro around to hold the arms in place. It looks (and functions) a lot like a little straitjacket. Baby’s snug and secure, mom and dad get a little sleep, everyone wins.
4) 25-watt bulbs. Don’t buy a night light. Just get a low-power bulb and put it in one of your lamps, and keep the light on all night. It’s a lot easier to get used to sleeping in soft light than it is to fumble around for the light switch with a kid in your arms at 3 a.m.
5) Music device. It seems counterintuitive, but babies don’t like silence. We’ve got a cheapo set of speakers hooked up to an iPod in our room. As we calm baby to sleep, we keep some relaxing music going. Helps calm parents as much as it does the kiddo.
6) Backpack. We’re using my wife’s old school backpack as a diaper bag. Very handy, and makes dad feel less dorky than he would lugging around one of those gigantic shiny purses they sell in the stores.
What about you? What are some nursery items you couldn’t live without? Are there things you bought that you found out were completely useless?