It can be tempting to buy all kinds of stuff for your baby. But there are only a few things that you absolutely need.
Here are the essential items you need when you have a baby:
- A baby capsule or reversible infant car seat: by law, you must have one to drive your baby home from the hospital. You can rent one for the trip if that’s the only time you’ll be driving your newborn around.
- Something for your baby to sleep in: bassinettes, small infant cots (sometimes called Moses cots or baskets), baskets, cribs and portacots are good, portable options. Or you can choose to skip these options and go straight to using a full-size cot. With cots, it’s better to use one with a mattress base that’s at least adult waist height – it’s better for your back.
- Maternity pads for mum: these are extra-long and extra-thick sanitary pads. Take lots to the hospital because you’ll need several for every day you’re there. You’ll also need more for when you get home.
Nappies: even if you plan to use reusable nappies, it’s a good idea to have a few disposables on hand just in case.
- Nappy bag: having a nappy bag is convenient for when you’re out and about.
- Three or four baby jumpsuits and a selection of singlets or vests for underneath: jumpsuits are legless suits that fasten at the crotch and are worn under other clothing (or by themselves in very warm weather). You might also need cardigans or jumpers, depending on the time of year and where you live. For more information on baby clothes, see dressing your newborn and dressing your baby.
If you’re breastfeeding, you’ll need nursing bras and breast pads. You might want to think about a breast pump if you plan to express any milk or return to work soon.
If you’re bottle-feeding, you’ll need bottles, teats and bottle-washing items.
- A few baby wraps: muslin wraps are lighter and better for summer.
- A waterproof change mat or table: even a makeshift change area is fine as long as it’s comfortable and your baby can’t roll off.
After you have these essentials, you might decide to do without or hold off on buying a lot of extras. Some equipment can be quite expensive, so it makes sense to base your decisions on what you think you’ll use, rather than what advertisers or others tell you.
Here are some other items you might find helpful:
- A baby bath and some soft towels for wrapping and drying your baby after each bath. Otherwise, you can bathe your baby in a deep sink or basin, providing it’s safe and clean.
- Nursery toys: a musical mobile can help your baby settle and provide something colourful to look at.
- Nappy rash cream and other baby skin care products, such as sorbolene or non-perfumed bath oil. Talcum powder isn’t recommended because it has fine particles that your baby might breathe in. It can also get into your baby’s genitals and cause damage to internal structures.
- A nappy bin with lid. You can also buy individual disposable nappy bags (or use old plastic grocery bags), which are handy for when you’re out with your baby.
Researchers advise against buying your baby an infant ‘walker’ to move around in. There are dangers associated with this equipment, and children left unattended have been hurt. Read CHOICE magazine’s guide to baby walkers
Transporting your baby
Car seats and capsules
When borrowing or hiring a baby capsule, you should never use one that’s been in an accident. This is because the capsule mightn’t be safe any more. You also need to have it fitted correctly (you can get this done at a motoring association fitting station or an accredited private one).
When you’re learning how to use a baby capsule or convertible car seat, it helps to know:
- how to position your baby in the capsule or seat
- how to alter and check the straps to fit children who are growing bigger (capsules with velcro straps aren’t recommended)
- the manufacturer’s and road traffic authority’s recommended weight restrictions for use of the capsule or car seat. Most baby capsules are suitable up to 8 kg, but each model will have a different requirement.
Your baby is ready for a car seat when she reaches 8-9 kg and can hold her head up well (usually around 6-9 months old). Keep the car seat and your baby facing the rear window for as long as possible.
For more information, you might like to read our article on car seats and restraints.
Try not to:
- take the capsule from its frame then out of the car – they’re usually not replaced properly in the frame and are then unsafe
- leave babies asleep in capsules
- leave babies in the capsule for longer than the journey – this isn’t good for their skeletal development.
There are many convertible car seats that are suitable for babies and toddlers. If you can get one of these for your car, it will save you buying a car seat for when your baby is small then another one later. By law, your child must have the right car seat for his age.
Never carry your child on your lap in a car, even if you’re wearing a seatbelt. Always use an approved car seat, suitable for your child’s age and size.
Prams and baby carriers
Your pram or pusher needs to be safe and sturdy, but it’s also a good idea to choose one that best suits your needs. Do some research, because there’s a huge range to choose from. If you enjoy long walks, choose a pram that suits this purpose. If you use a lot of public transport, find one that’s easy to fold down quickly. And be practical – be sure to check that the pram will fold down and fit in your car boot before you buy it.
Using baby slings or harnesses is an easy way of getting about and being hands-free with your child. But try to avoid carrying your baby upright for more than a couple of hours – for longer periods, lying flat is better for babies.
You can read more about using prams, strollers and carriers safely.
You can save money by buying pre-loved toys and some furniture (although it’s generally not recommended to buy second-hand cots, because they might not comply with current safety standards). You can find second-hand goods in lots of places, including:
- websites such as eBay
- trading papers
- parents’ groups
- local community advertisements and garage sales
- local markets
- second-hand shops.
Other ways to save include buying only what you really need. Some new baby products are based on gimmicks. Talking to other parents about what they’ve found useful can be a good guide.
You can look out for sales and special offers on items like nappies and wipes, and stock up when they’re cheap (taking care to check use-by dates).
You might have friends or family who can lend you baby equipment. Sharing gear with other parents can also save a lot of money. Many public libraries lend toys as well as books (but remember that borrowed equipment or toys should still comply with Australian Standards).