There are many recommended product lists and resources out there for expectant mothers, but since I have several friends who are pregnant and loading up their registries I thought I'd offer up a few of my personal favorite baby items. Of course this is not at all exhaustive, as there are other important things like diapers, high chairs, etc. that I haven't touched on. Because those other lists exist, I thought I'd just focus on the main things that stand out as "essential" for us.

So here you go, clockwise from the top left...

California Baby Skincare

All three members of this pasty family have extremely sensitive skin. (No kidding, over the weekend I hugged a delicious-smelling relative and my cheek broke out in a rash from her perfume.) If it weren't for California Baby products, we'd all be up a creek and with terrible dermatitis to boot. These all-natural products smell great and feel wonderful on your skin. They are pricier than normal baby products, but I'm willing to pay a little extra for things that don't cause us to break out in hives, you know? Our family favorites include:
  • Calendula Cream (for our faces and extra dry spots)
  • Super Sensitive Everyday Lotion
  • Super Sensitive Shampoo and Body Wash (I myself use normal shampoo, but this works great with my Clarisonic!)
  • No-Fragrance SPF 30+ Sunscreen 
NOTE: Something in the California Baby Diaper Cream does not agree with Johnnie when she has diaper rash. (She screams and writhes until we wipe it off. Sad!) The better natural option for her was Burt's Bees Diaper Ointment.

HALO Micro-Fleece SleepSack Swaddle

During her first five months of life, Johnnie wouldn't sleep at night unless she was snugly swaddled. I tried all sorts of burrito-ing methods including double swaddling, and she would still manage to bust out within a few minutes. That meant the flailing of tiny arms, which would inevitably wake her (and us). This thing = lifesaver. If the HALO SleepSack Swaddle ever becomes illegal or something, that would seal the deal that I won't be allowing any more infants into our home. Bonus: Babies look unbelievably cute while snuggled into this thing, even at the various hours of the night when they wake up hungry. (Also conducive to sleep was our good friend the Sleep Sheep and his "spring showers" button. I am sleepy just thinking about it...)

Backpack (with lots of pockets)

Forget diaper bags. When you're trying to get out of the house with the baby, the diaper bag, your purse and whatever else you may end up carrying, the last thing you need is a bag that swings around or dangles from one shoulder. My husband maintains that the random cargo backpack we use as Johnnie's diaper bag is the best baby gear decision we ever made. Tons of pockets to keep random small things + easy to schlep around = we will never own a diaper bag no matter how many kids we have.

American Baby Company Organic Cotton Interlock Crib Sheet

While these sheets aren't 100% perfect, I am very happy with them for the price ($16 each). Undyed organic cotton sheets aren't the easiest items to find, let alone in a reasonable price range. Pros: they are incredibly super soft and have fewer unnecessary chemicals than other options. Cons: they do shrink a bit in the wash, so wash and dry with extra care. (You can also buy them in pack-n-play size, which we used and loved.) 

The Nursing Mother's Companion

If you plan to breastfeed, which I hope every mother will at least consider giving the old college try, you'll need to actually learn how to do it because it's not entirely instinctual. In addition to attending a course with a lactation consultant -- which I highly recommend for both you and your husband/partner/babydaddy -- I kept this book nearby throughout the first several weeks. (Kellymom.com was a great online resource for me as well.) A Boppy and a baby feeding log phone app are also helpful to have nearby for nursing as well.

Evenflo Classic Glass Bottles

Despite the fact that Johnnie used one to thoroughly chip my tooth not long ago, I loved these bottles. Not only are they CHEAP CHEAP CHEAP, they are also easy to clean and sterilize, they fit perfectly on my wonderful Medela Pump in Style breast pump and are better for the environment than plastic. (I'm also not totally convinced that BPA-free plastic is as safe as glass, so that gave me some peace of mind as well.) I would recommend buying a silicone sleeve to protect the bottle if it falls on a concrete floor. This happened to us twice.

Pediped Baby Shoes

If we're talking about style, these wouldn't necessarily be my first choice... but Johnnie got these as a gift, and they are the best shoes she's had for functionality. There's not much to them, but they have a nice little grip on the bottom (great for the early walker), are made with babies' foot development in mind, are flexible/very thin-soled, and are leather. She often stumbles over her Minnetonka moccasins and her adorable pink Chucks, but when wearing these things she's like a little mountain goat. Note: they make boy and unisex styles too.

Chicco Keyfit 30 Car Seat

This was another purchase my husband gave two enthusiastic thumbs up, which is why I included it in this list. In addition to Johnnie being quite happy in it most of the time, everything about this car seat was great. In particular, the straps were easy to manipulate and never got twisted, unlike the infuriating Evenflo convertible seat we upgraded to when Johnnie outgrew the Keyfit. We were sad to see it go.

Miscellaneous Advice:

  • Don't worry too much about the nursery. Nursery photos are adorable and really popular online these days, but a finished nursery isn't all that important before the baby arrives. We ended up rearranging her room multiple times in the past year to accommodate her (and our) changing needs. If you're stressing about the nursery, don't worry. I found that all we really needed in her nursery was a comfortable spot to nurse and a convenient place to change diapers (preferably with a dim lamp) at night. 
  • Borrow or buy used. As an infant Johnnie hated anything that felt unstable beneath her, including her baby swing and the beautiful Jenny Lind rocking bassinet that were given to us. We were glad we didn't spend a ton of money on these items, only to realize they wouldn't be used. Babies don't use these items hard, so I recommend borrowing them from a friend to see if your baby likes it before you buy a swing, bouncer, vibrating chair, etc. or just buying used. You'll surely want something to strap your baby into for a few minutes while you shower or whatever, but it's impossible to know in advance which thing your kid will tolerate. 
  • Don't buy an expensive crib (unless you really want to). I really don't think a more expensive crib gets you anything other than style points. Johnnie sleeps in the $70 Sniglar crib from IKEA, and despite being one strong little girl she has yet to raise any concern in me about the sturdiness of her crib. So unless your nursery budget is particularly flush, or you have your heart set on a specific style, I personally don't see a reason to spend a whole lot on a crib. 

So that's really it. We took it pretty easy with all the baby stuff, and we have no regrets about that -- I think a lot of the baby things marketed to well-meaning new parents are really unnecessary. But then again, I tend to be a less-is-more kind of person. What I think is a gimmick might be someone else's total lifesaver. 

Mamas, what were your essentials? 

PS - I was not paid or otherwise compensated to endorse any of these products. But California Baby, if you are reading this we are willing to be your spokesfamily if you are interested. ☺


  1. Well, this is awesome. I'll just go ahead and bookmark this for reference. My question is - how soon do you start buying all this stuff? Because I have friends already asking me when my nursery will be done and I think to myself "um, I'm not even having the baby until June!"
    I mean, is this all stuff you just acquire in the month before you have the baby or did you have it early just in case Johnnie came early?

    1. We had a baby shower about 6 weeks before Johnnie arrived, and after the shower we picked up whatever else we needed. Prior to that we had almost nothing. We did not do an elaborate nursery though, so I'm sure I'd have started collecting things earlier if we were repainting or following a theme or something. So I guess the timing of it is personal preference?

      The main thing I'd buy a little earlier than the rest is the car seat (because you can't leave the hospital/birth center without it and you want to make sure you know how to install it properly). The rest you can pick up literally on the way home from the hospital, should the baby arrive earlier than expected. Newborns really don't need that much. The first couple weeks it's all about diapers, wipes, pajamas and eating.

      I'm a deal hunter though, so I would recommend signing up for babysteals.com, zulily, gilt and the other flash sale sites now because you can keep an eye out for things you want at a discount. I got our ergo carrier for 60% off on babysteals early on, so it doesn't hurt to keep an eye out from the beginning.

  2. Aaaaaaaah baby shoes .............

  3. This post could not have come at a more appropriate time! This is JUST the advice I (we) needed as we are slightly panicking about baby boy's impending arrival. Thank you so much for your insight! I'm going to check out all of these items. I did add the Halo sleepsack swaddle to the registry per your previous recommendation :)

    1. No need to panic! You really do have time. Like I told Jen above, you only REALLY need a handful of things before the baby is born. It's those pesky nesting hormones that make you feel like everything must be done NOW and done perfectly!

  4. Oh and we did register for a jogging stroller/carseat travel system. With as active as Jas and I are, it was advised for increased mobility. The idea of not having to disrupt the baby to take him out of a carseat and into a jogging stroller made more sense for us. The downside to this is that there are VERY few options as far as colors and options, but those that do exist received great reviews which we're all about :)

    1. That seems like a good idea to me! I'm guessing you will use your stroller a lot since you have a dog to walk and such. We were handed down a regular drop-in stroller, but we didn't use it enough for me to think of it as an "essential."

      We did buy a regular Schwinn jogging stroller this spring, and it gets some use... though we use ours more for long walks to the local pizza shop than for jogging. Both of us find it really difficult/unpleasant to actually run and push the stroller at the same time! That was a bummer of a discovery, but we still use it for family walks, outings, etc.

      I definitely think the stroller/travel system thing is totally dependent on your lifestyle!


Thanks for reading! I love your thoughts, feedback and suggestions. Keep 'em coming!