Baby Gear: What You ACTUALLY Need (and all the Stuff You Don’t), part 1: Nursery

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When we had Man Cub, I was astounded at how much STUFF a baby “needs”. Registry lists and “must have” lists were a mile long and totally overwhelming for this frugal, minimalist mama. “Surely this can’t all actually be necessary,” I would think. But until you have your own bundle of joy, it’s hard to know what should be in the bundle of accompanying stuff- and what you can skip. If you know me in real life, you’ve probably heard me joke about how babies have more accessories than Barbie (I know, I need new material). Do you have a little one on the way? I’ll walk you through the needs, wants, and probably-shouldn’t-gets.

Here are my priorities for this list:

  1. Safety. I typically follow the American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines, although I am not a fan of raising my kid in a bubble. My rule is baby proofing anything that could result in an ER/Urgent Care Visit, and not worrying about the rest. So yes, Man Cub has given himself a few bruises and a couple of goose eggs, but he’s a boy and he’s just fine.
  2. Frugality. We live on one income and are paying off student loan debt, so saving money is important. We don’t need or want the latest and greatest stuff. I’ll tell you how you can save by borrowing, buying used, or not buying at all- and when it’s time to bite the bullet and buy new.
  3. Minimalism. We have limited space and wouldn’t like to have a lot of stuff even if we did have more space. So if you’re looking for the everything-you-could-possibly-buy-for-your-precious-prince/princess list… yeah, this isn’t it. I will tell you things that can pull double duty or save space, and stuff that will just add clutter.

Oh yeah, quick disclaimer: I include affiliate links at no additional cost to you (see full disclosure here). That means you can build a registry or pick things up straight from this post, just by clicking on the links in this post. If I use something, I’ll recommend it and let you know. But since I don’t use everything, some things have been recommended by friends or are my best guess. I will not include links for things I recommend you NOT get (because that would be silly).

So, ready for the list? Here it is (this was going to be a single post for a friend who is pregnant, but it turned into a series. Here’s part one)!

NURSERY: A Place to Sleep

  • Co-sleeper. Depending on how you feel about sharing a room, this might be a co-sleeper that goes right next to your bed (or this budget version that sits on top of your bed). This is recommended by a lot of nursing moms because it gives you easy access to your baby in the middle of the night while giving them a safe space. Some people keep a baby in their bed. I am a light sleeper and a roller/kicker (my poor Hubby), so between that and the risk of SIDS, I did not feel comfortable having Man Cub even attached to our bed, much less IN it. We also decided that a playpen close to the bed was convenient enough and could be used for other things. If co-sleeping is important to you, I recommend talking to your pediatrician about how to do so safely. Should you get it used? I would be wary about buying sleeping furniture at a yard sale or thrift store, but if a friend wants to give or loan you one, that’s fine as long as you can be sure it’s in good condition- no missing parts and you can have the previous owner show you how to install it (or get the owner’s manual).
  • Playpen. If you want to keep the baby in your room but in a separate space, you can use a bassinet or cradle (WARNING: heirloom bassinets and cradles often pose a SIDS risk. If you receive one, make sure baby can breathe (no closed sides) or just use for photo ops). To me it was too much to get a special piece of furniture that he would outgrow in a few months, so we got a Graco Pack-N-Play (a brand of Playpen) with a bassinet attachment, which I totally recommend! We still use it (without the bassinet, of course) whenever we go on a trip. As the name implies, you can also use it as a safe play space for a baby-toddler up to about two years old, as long as they cannot tip it over. We also tried the Pack-n-Play with a bassinet and napper/changer attachment, which I do NOT recommend- the napper would only work for a completely immobile baby, and the changer needs to be detached to use the bassinet. If you’re traveling (or don’t have a change table), just use the bassinet or a bed. If you’re really strapped for cash or space (or both), you can even use a playpen in place of a crib (again, until your little one can tip it over or climb out). Should you get it used? Playpens are pretty common at yard sales & thrift stores, and a good bet to get used. Just again be sure it’s in good condition- no missing parts and be sure you can work it.
  • Crib. I DO recommend getting a crib if you don’t go the co-sleeper route and have the space & budget for one (they are a bit easier to clean and a bit bigger). Man Cub has had his own room since he was 2 months old, sleeping in his crib (the first 2 months he was in our room in the playpen). We never had to fight over moving him to his own room because he moved in there so young. You don’t have to move your baby right away, though. If you want to, you can start with a playpen or co-sleeper and graduate to a crib later. Should you get it used? I would be VERY wary about getting a crib at a yard sale or thrift store. This is the place to spend your cash or use your registry. If you must get it used, get it from someone you know and make sure it is: a) no more than 5-10 years old, b) not drop-down side style (they have been shown to be a safety hazard), c) naturally stained or painted with a non-toxic paint (your little angel may at some point eat said paint or stain like mine did… does), d) not missing any parts- do NOT make do with duct tape or other “DIY fixes” (your baby’s safety is too important), e) you can have the previous owner show you how to install it (or get the owner’s manual), f) not an injury risk with narrow slats (you should not be able to fit a soda can through the bars. If the space is too narrow, your baby can get his/her head stuck in it). If you can’t get it new or fulfill those requirements, stick with a playpen. It’s safe, sturdy, compact, and cheap.

Here’s what we use:
          

  • Crib Mattress. While a playpen will come with its own mattress, you’ll typically need to buy a crib mattress separately. This was one of our splurges; I found a great one with natural materials that I love. If you’re on a budget, it’s fine to get a cheaper one as long as it’s firm and waterproof (because accidents happen. A LOT), like this oneShould you get it used? That may be a little iffy if you don’t know the previous owner because of the risk of bed bugs, but if you know the mattress is bed bug free, hasn’t been in a home with smoking (cigarette smoke can leech into materials like a mattress), still firm and in good condition (and you don’t mind), go for it! Note: There are some that cite used mattresses as a SIDS risk, but I couldn’t validate it either way. If you’re concerned, play it safe and buy new.
  • Sheets. You will need sheets for either a crib, playpen, or co-sleeper. Do yourself a favor and get at least 4. Man Cub is a heavy wetter and boy do we go through sheets. Even if your baby isn’t a “super soaker,” spit up and dirty diaper explosions happen. You don’t want to run out at 3am (that has also happened to me, when we had 2 sheets. We bought another 2 the next day). Go for comfy jersey or cottonShould you get it used? Absolutely! As long as they are the right size (you don’t want loose bedding with a baby) and not fraying, take any hand-me-downs you can. If you’re buying/registering, I’d go with gender neutral and basic (though if we run out of clean ones and have a daughter, she’s totally using Man Cub’s jungle ones).
  • Blankets. You’ll want these, but not right away. WAIT until your baby is 9-12 months old (AAP recommends 12 months, but you can talk to your doctor about it once your baby can turn over reliably). I wouldn’t buy or register for them unless you find one you absolutely love, because I can almost guarantee that you will get plenty given to you.(We love this one, it’s SO soft!) Should you get it used? Sure! Hand-me-downs are great here, too!

Here’s What We Use:
          

  •  You Probably Don’t Need:
    • Waterproof Crib Mattress Cover. If you want to do layers (i.e. mattress, sheet, waterproof cover, sheet- to make easier middle of the night changes), go ahead and get one, but if not, most mattresses are waterproof now and can be simply wiped down, making this redundant. If you are using a playpen it would be a good idea as the mattress insert can stain easily (ask me how I know). The same would go for a co-sleeper if your mattress isn’t already waterproof.
    • Pillow. This can be a SIDS risk for babies under a year. For safest sleeping, keep nothing soft in your crib except your baby. After a year, go for it! It’s still not necessary, but fun if you want to. I actually made one for Man Cub with a $4 pillowform and leftover fabric (I didn’t even use a pattern, so sorry, I can’t give it to you.)
    • Matching Bedding. I get it. Bedding sets can be super cute. But they often come with items that could be dangerous- see below- and they are often more expensive than needed. And in all honesty, you can mix and match with basics and no one will notice.
    • Expensive Décor. There are so many ways you can decorate for less. We did get cute coat racks and picture frames (another fun splurge), but other than that Man Cub’s decorations are the decorations from our baby shower and the letters that spell his name (which I made out of cardboard and wrapping paper). Keep it simple and your theme broad (either a color scheme or something flexible. Man Cub’s room is cartoon jungle. Most of it isn’t from the same store, but it all goes together). You can find free printables online from bloggers like Carly at Mommy on Purpose and put them in cheap frames.
  • Don’t Get:
    • Crib Mattress Pad. This can be a SIDS risk.
    • Positioners. Ironically, while promoted to protect baby’s sleep, these can also be a SIDS risk.
    • Crib Bumpers. Wanna guess why? Yep, these can be a SIDS risk for younger babies. (The jury is still out on mesh “breathable” pads) PLUS, once your baby can stand or climb, they can use the bumpers to climb up and fall out of the crib. And in case you’re wondering, yes, Man Cub did get an arm or a leg stuck in his crib a few times. He survived with minimal drama and no actual injury- just a little fussing until mama helped him out.

And there you have it! There’s the beginning of the baby gear. Subscribe to get the rest of the list as I write it (plus a ton of freebies!).

Let me know: What did you use and love? What collected dust?

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