A few months ago I found out that a good friend of mine in Barcelona (another American expat) is expecting her first baby, a little girl. We finally got a chance to catch up over lunch last weekend and she pumped me with questions about necessary items to have when you're expecting. Off the top of my head, I rattled off as many items as I could remember. But when I got home that day, I started making a more detailed list for her with links to the products on Amazon. Apart from telling her what I thought would be useful, I also told her what items I thought were totally unnecessary or which items we received and never ended up using. It occurred to me to post this same list here on the blog because I remember how overwhelmed I was when I was pregnant by all the lists of "must-haves" and "essential" items a baby supposedly needs.
Before we get into the list, I think it's important to mention that what may have been useful for the Professor and I may not be for you. Our decisions on which products to buy were based on how much money we wanted to spend, the fact that we live in a big, walkable city where we don't need a car, the fact that our apartment is small and that we are not fans of clutter, and the fact that I'm a stay at home mom who breastfeeds and co-sleeps. So my advice to you would be to think about what would work best for your life as you read this list. With that disclaimer in mind, here are my recommendations:
For feeding your little one:
- The My Brest Friend pillow was something I used several times a day every day when nursing the little one. It's a real back saver and arm saver especially when you've got a newborn who nurses for hours so many times a day. As necessary as this was, the little one outgrew it really quickly and after he was two months old, I stopped using it. Since you might not use this item very long (or not at all if it turns out you're not able to breastfeed) my advice would be to borrow this item from a friend if possible or buy it secondhand.
- The Medela Harmony Manual Breast Pump has probably been the most essential item I received. Even though I'm mostly a stay at home mom, I sometimes teach classes for a few hours a week and I need to leave the Professor a few bottles so he can feed the little one in my absence. The pump is very efficient but if you're going back to full-time work and still want to breastfeed, I would say to DEFINITELY get an electric pump. They're expensive but the manual pump that I have would give you carpal tunnel syndrome and it takes too long to fill a bottle. Apparently some hospitals allow you to rent out an electric pump from them so this might be a good option. Be sure to ask at the hospital where you plan to deliver.
- Comotomo Natural Bottles: Even though the breast pump comes with two bottles, we registered for the Comotomo bottles since they are slow flowing (meaning your baby won't chug the milk) and because the shape is meant to imitate a breast. We used the bottles that came with our breast pump to store milk in the fridge and then we poured the milk from those into the Comotomo bottles. Now that the little one is eating solids and purees, we use the old pump bottles to store his homemade baby food. They're the perfect size! Note: I have two pieces of advice for picking out a baby bottle. The first is, don't buy too many. One or two should be sufficient because you may find that your baby doesn't take a bottle or that he/she has issues with the bottle you bought. The second piece of advice is to think about how difficult it is to clean the bottle you select and also how many pieces it comes with. I have to admit that one reason I liked the Comotomo bottles is because it's wide enough that you don't need a bottle brush and it only has two pieces to clean.
- You're going to need lots of burp cloths. In the early months, I had one in every room of the house because you never knew when a spit up/vomit situation would happen. I love the Aden and Anais burp cloths because they're soft and so big but really any kind will do. Note: baby spit up really smells and it gets stuck in a baby's neck and all their folds so don't be surprised if you're bathing your baby fairly often especially in the early days.
- I didn't register for breast pads, nipple shields, or nipple cream I think if I'd have gone back to full-time work outside the home, I would have been more self-conscious of leakage and I would have bought the breast pads. I never needed nipple shields and the hospital gave me nipple cream which I only needed for a few days anyway.
- Now that the little one is eating solids, I use this Immersion Blender to mash up all his food but any food processor or blender would work. As for spoons and bowls, just make sure whatever you buy is BPA free. Also, chances are you'll receive a million bibs as gifts and you can't see why you need so many but trust me, you do.
- The little one loves his mOmma water cup and we like that it's spill proof! Since he's teething now he also likes to gnaw on the straw.
- Of course, you won't need a high chair for the first five or six months, but I thought I'd throw in that we bought the ubiquitous IKEA Antilop high chair in white. It's inexpensive, slim and extremely easy to clean. As with the baby bottles, my advice to you when buying a high chair is to consider how easy it is to clean. If it's got a fabric cushion or a lot of tiny nooks where food can get stuck, I'd pass on it. Oh, and a note about buying a white high chair. Apparently carrots, tomatoes, strawberries and pomegranates all stain. This is not a big deal if you always wipe the chair clean immediately after every meal. But in case you don't get to the stain right away, I discovered that using a paper towel with vegetable oil easily removes stains from the chair. Sounds weird, but it really works!
For putting the little one to sleep:
- We bought this crib from IKEA along with an IKEA mattress and crib sheets and we barely use it. We never thought we would co-sleep with our baby since we were too afraid we'd roll over him or suffocate him. But it turned out to be the best solution for us. Even though we don't use the crib for night-time sleeping, I will sometimes plop the little one in there for nap or when I need him to play by himself in a safe place while I do stuff around the house. Update: When the little one was around 11 months old, we sleep trained him and he's been using his crib ever since.
- I went back and forth over giving the little one a pacifier but in the end, I did and it truly did help him fall asleep. He doesn't go for a pacifier anymore but you might find them invaluable in the first few months like we did. My advice would be to buy just a few and see if your little one uses them.
- We received many swaddles and only used them the first few days after the little one was born. He didn't like being swaddled and figured out how to get out of them. Interesting tidbit: Swaddling is not big in Spain. In the hospital where the little one was born, where all they do is births, the nurses had never seen a swaddle before and had no idea what to make of it.
- We never used sleep sacks but I can see where they'd be handy. The little was born in the hottest month of the year so we didn't start covering him with a blanket until late October. At that point, I started dressing him in warm, feet pajamas at night since every time I put socks or a blanket on him, he'd kick them off.
For diaper changes:
- Hands down, the most used thing we own is the Skip Hop Changing Station. If you have the space for a changing table, that's wonderful. But if you live in a small apartment like we do, then this product is for you. It's made of vinyl so you can wipe stuff off it or wash it in case of emergencies. But when you're not using it, you can fold it up and put it away and when you need to go out, just grab it and head out the door. It has a compartment for extra diapers and it comes with a plastic container for baby wipes. P.S. I think diaper bags are unnecessary if you have a changing station. Anything else your baby might need (pacifier, bib, burp cloth) will fit in your purse or stroller basket. Update: We ended up buying a Skip Hop Diaper bag because the stroller we have has a very shallow basket and you can't collapse the stroller if there's stuff in the basket. The diaper bag has a long strap so it hangs right off the handlebars of our stroller whether it's open or folded up. As an added bonus, the diaper bag's become a very useful item to have every time we travel since we can fit so much in it.
- The little only had diaper rash when he was two weeks old and it went away as soon as we switched to perfume-free wipes. In any case, the hospital gave us a care package that came with diaper rash cream so we never needed to buy it. Update: Once he began eating solid foods, the little one got diaper rash more frequently so we always have a tube of diaper rash cream around. Our preferred one is Desitin.
- The idea of a diaper genie kind of grosses me out so we never registered for one. Also we wouldn't have had the space for it anyway. We put dirty diapers in odor locking baggies we get at the supermarket. These ones are similar. Whenever we leave the apartment we just grab the full bag and toss it in the trash.
- Another note on diapers. When the little was born, I tried to spend as little money as I could but I learned a very important lesson: There are a few things in life you should never buy cheap, like luggage or car insurance. I also learned that you should never buy cheap diapers and that there is a difference between overnight and daytime diapers. Overnight diapers save you from the leakages that cause you to do laundry so often.
For getting around:
- Your choice of stroller will be determined by where and how you live. Barcelona is very walkable and has excellent public transportation. For that reason, the most popular strollers here are the Bugaboo and the Maclaren. This is because they are both lightweight strollers that take up little space in your home when folded up and are small enough that they are easy to navigate narrow and crowded city streets. The Bugaboo was way out of our price range so we settled on the Maclaren. We like that it's suitable from birth and light enough that we can carry it up and down the stairs in our building (we live on the 3rd floor with no elevator). Note: If I lived in Miami or Los Angeles or a city where you are constantly getting in and out of your car, I'd probably buy a stroller base with a car seat attachment. The Britax B looks good for this.
- Easy as the stroller is, still easier is using the Ergo baby carrier. When we're popping out of the house to run errands or go for a walk, we strap on the Ergo and pop the little one in. He loves being pressed up against our chest and always falls asleep in it. Note: If I could go back in time I would have chosen another color besides black since you can see lint and spit up stains easier in black.
For bath time:
- We bought this baby tub and we love it. Because we're short on space, we love that you can fold it and put it away when you're not using it. We also bought the accompanying infant support.
For play time:
- I'm not a big fan of lots of bright, plastic and noisy toys so we have a very small collection of these. Up until a certain age, your baby will find amusement and entertainment in ordinary, everyday things (keys, water bottles, tissue paper, mommy's glasses, etc) so you don't need a bunch of stuff for them to play with. We got these stuffed animals because they're cute but the little one plays with them only sparingly.
- Ever since he was born, I've put him on his Activity Mat so he can stare up at the colorful hanging toys. When he got older he would bat at them and try to grab them. Now that he's seven months old, he uses this mat primarily to lie on his tummy and feel the different textures. He also likes the little mirror and the bird that chirps. I love that when he's not using it you can just fold up the mat, disconnect the arms and put the whole thing away. It's nice to not be surrounded with baby stuff all the time and take your living room back.
- I've written before about his jumperoo. He, like most babies on Amazon, loves this thing.
Other things that came in handy:
- Nosefrida: Weird but effective way of clearing your baby's stuffed nose. Tip: If your baby's congested, take a hot shower and then bring the baby to the bathroom. The steam helps to loosen the mucus and is more gentle than the Nosefrida.
- Sophie the Giraffe: Now that he's teething Sophie is a life saver. We take her everywhere.
- Aden +Anais swaddle blankets: We didn't use these for swaddling but they're perfect as a light blanket, a discreet nursing cover when you're in public or to drape over the stroller on a really sunny day.
- We received tons of clothes when Roman was born but most people like to buy a size up which meant that we had very little clothes that he could wear immediately upon coming home from the hospital. Make sure to buy yourself some of those cheap, white onesies labelled NB for newborns just in case.
- Barcelona gets pretty chilly in the winter months so we bought this bundler to go on Roman's stroller. He's so snug and warm in it. You can see a picture of him in it here.
- A last thing that I think is great and super useful. There is something called Amazon Mom I just found out about that gives you special deals and fast delivery if you subscribe. It also comes with coupons for baby stuff and a discount on diapers delivered straight to your door. We don't live in the U.S. so I'm not a member but it sounds pretty sweet. Have any of you tried it?
Things I think are unnecessary/things we never used:
- White noise machine
- Baby bottle dryer
- Baby wipe warmer
- Infant swing
- Boppy pillow
- Baby mittens
- Video monitor
- Play pen or pack 'n play
- Car seat (we don't own a car)
I realize this was quite a lengthy post but I'm hopeful that some of you may find it useful one day.