The first time round being pregnant, I walked out of a baby shop in my third trimester empty handed because I was so overwhelmed with all the options and things I didn’t even know I might need. I didn’t buy anything and told myself that people the world over do this with a blanket and I just didn’t need everything in that shop.
There are absolutely a lot of things that can make your life easier, potentially, but when we live in a society of consumerism, we can be easily convinced we must have a lot of things we might not actually “need.” Your parenting choices, lifestyle, baby, and other factors will obviously affect what is “needed” but if you’re looking for a more minimal list of needs, I’d say remember that most things can be bought as and when you discover you need them… If you even do!
So I’d start minimally, really questioning why you believe you “need” each thing and ask if it’s actually a “want”. There’s not necessarily anything wrong with a “want” item, I just like knowing where each thing sits so I can evaluate the purchase. And remember, everyone is so excited to tell you another must have item, but remember, it’s probably just one that really helped them – which is great, but it doesn’t mean YOU need it.
Here are the things WE found essential with options with hopefully a true assessment of who needs or doesn’t need each one!
1. Somewhere to sleep
The above is just ONE picture of what a sleep situation can look like! You may need nothing new if you plan to co sleep. If you do plan on having a second space side from your bed for baby to sleep then this is probably the place I’d put the most money in equipping a home for baby. Baby is going to spend more time in bed than anywhere else for a long time and so in terms of healthy options it’s where I want to invest.
Why? Good question. Mattresses can often be items that are hard to dispose of at the end of their life contributing to massive waste. But they can also be filled with chemicals potentially harmful to baby’s health as they lie there for half their lives! The biggest thing I look for is a flame retardant free mattress. To still keep it less pricey my suggestion is to buy a used wooden unpainted crib (which are widely available for very little and can even be painted – I suggest milk paint, a good brand like Little Green or Farrow and Ball or a simple bees wax treatment) and invest in a good mattress. Non toxic mattresses are also the ones that are more eco friendly and a win win. They are made from more natural materials that are more likely to be biodegradable and have a lower impact but are also naturally flame retardant removing the need for added chemicals. Coconut fibers, wool, latex… there are different ways to go and where mattresses are VERY expensive to do well, baby ones aren’t which is a gift! Especially when balanced with a used crib/cot.
My personal suggestion:
- In the US: we went for the Babyletto CocoCore mattress (US link) and loved it.
- Here in the UK: Naturalmat (UK link) is what we’ve bought here in the UK and it’s actually a very affordable option for crib/kid mattresses with a made to measure cot coming in at £70.
2. A Car Seat
This won’t be essential for everyone. You can legally wear a baby in a taxi or go without a seat depending on where you live, but for lots of people it is needed. Here I’m looking at safety in terms of impact and collision but also in terms of the hours that the child will spend sitting in it and the main thing for me there is again chemical flame retardants. When you get a seat with no chemical flame retardants it doesn’t mean it’s not flame retardent but that it’s made of materials that are naturally flame retardant – things like cotton and merino wool. Which are again, more eco friendly than plastic based fibres. This is particularly challenging in the UK, with places like Germany, Sweden and the US actually being much easier. In the US each year there are always multiple models from multiple brands so you won’t have trouble. UK readers: Be aware that a car seat you may find to be FR free in the US or Europe isn’t necessarily FR here – you need to find the exact seat in the UK and see if it’s FR free as some are the same model but treated for UK laws. At the time of writing in June 2021, Nuna confirmed to me that their full car seat and push chair range HERE in the UK is free from chemical flame retardants.
My personal suggestion:
The brand Nuna is my favourite for UK, US and Europe. They are not just flame retardant free but committed to sourcing and eco friendly practices throughout manufacturing which is what I want. In the UK none of their car seats or pushchairs are treated with chemical flame retardant which makes them probably the easiest brand to shop here.
3. Nappy/Diaper system
Again if you do elimination communication you won’t even need this – but for the majority of us, we’ll need a diaper/nappy system! The most eco friendly and by FAR cheapest too is to go with second hand cloth diapers and air dry them. If you’re in the UK, see if your local area has nappy reimbursement UK HERE.
What do you need for cloth nappies/diapers? The cheapest way to go is:
- A wrap style waterproof cover (UK HERE and my fave US one HERE)
- Simple prefold organic cotton inserts (UK link here and my all time fave ones for the US here)
- Cloth wipes (a cut up old T shirt actually works well!)
You’ll need 10-12 refolds a day for newborns and a few less as they grow. Then think about how often you’ll be washing them to work out how many you need. I’d suggest laundry every 2-3 days and then they won’t be dry for a day so that gives you an idea of how many you need!
It isn’t possible for everyone to use cloth though so you need to figure out what’s best for you and do the best version YOU can with it. It might be disposable diapers, disposable wipes, and a diaper pail, a mix of things, or using a washing service.
4. Clothes + Swaddles
…but not too many! Babies need fewer clothes than a lot of people buy. Yes they might have blow outs and need a few changes in a day – but they can also be dressed simply and minimally and inexpensively. Especially as they grow and won’t wear each item of clothing for long at the start. Where you can, rely on hand me downs and second hand – we use facebook marketplace and charity shops for 95% of our kids clothes and it works so WELL! I’d also say balance planning ahead so you have what you need with buying as you go so you know what you need! Depending on the season, to start with you really just need a good selection of onesies/babygrows (along with anything weather specific like an outer suit or sun hat) to get you from wash to wash and you’ll be fine! Of course you can go in for more stylish items, but if we’re talking minimal, the ease of slipping baby into simple clothes each day is a win!
Swaddles again might be unneeded but 2-3 organic (if you can) cotton swaddles do a multitude of things and are really useful. From wrapping them to sleep, to being a towel, to laying them on on the floor, they’re something I’d definitely suggest. Aden and Anais are maybe the biggest organic brands but we actually didn’t love them as they don’t swaddle too well with a wriggly baby – try Modern Burlap for one with less give and much better swaddling power.
Some of my favourite baby brands for new things and Lov’d baby (USA), Boody (UK/USA/AUS), Beaumont organic for treats and gifting (UK), Modern burlap (international and the BEST swaddles), and really anything else that’s fair-trade, organic, ethically made or second hand!
5. Feeding system
This will potentially mean buying nothing if you’re breastfeeding and don’t need to pump. My personal advice if you plan to breastfeed and don’t want to bottle feed is to still do some research on pumps (even just a friend who could lend you one if needed!) even if you don’t buy one. No one knows what their feeding journey will be and to be well equipped with knowing the options is a great idea. Some insurance companies in the US provide a free pump so find out what you have to do to get it, or just research what would you get if you did or who you could borrow one from.
I’m not a pro on pumping, storing milk or bottle feeding but if you plan to go that route, I personally looked at glass bottles, natural rubber teats (UK option HERE // US option HERE), then freezing milk in stainless steel ice cube trays (like THIS – it can take a bit of searching but they exist!) and transferring to labelled silicon bags like Stasher bags instead of storing in individual disposable plastic bags.
6. Baby Carrying Device
Again, not essential for everyone but if we’re going to talk about baby paraphernalia used widely around the world, then something that can be used to free the arms while carrying a baby is high on the “widely used” list. My favourite for the early newborn stage is the Solly Wrap (international availability) and as they grow and are more weight to carry, the Ergo 360 (international) is the one we’ve used up to 4 years old! Those links are both to new ones but honestly search around and they’re pretty easy to find used!
A stroller or pushchair would also fit here and it’s something I debated not getting this time, but we did get one and went for the Nuna Mixx travel system for sourcing and lack of flame retardants. THIS US link and THIS UK link are both for new but we went second hand which is a great option!
More normal “extras” and what we did!
House proofing equipment like stair gates: you just don’t need that to start with. See as you go!
Baby bath – just put a towel in a sink!
Baby monitor – we didn’t use one for Roey we just listened! You can also download an app on your phone (and an extra phone) called Baby Monitor if you need one once in a while which we use occasionally.
Baby bouncer – just put a blanket on the floor! We were gifted a pricey mamaroo and it didn’t do anything for us really that a much cheaper one or a floor and blanket wouldn’t have done.
Baby gym – I made this one for about $10 with a few things from a craft store and it was brilliant. Then I lent it to a friend, and had it back for Roey; $10, so much use!
Tons of toys – use things from your home! We’ve always been more minimal on kids toys. We never bought a big baby walker or anything like that. They love to plan with spoons, measuring cups, a makeup brush, a jam jar lid and things you already have in your home. As they grew we’ve had a big box of trains, and a big box of lego (all second hand!) and then simple wooden toys, and books. But we’ve kept it minimal – and non existent really at the start. Also a one in one out system is a GREAT way to go!
Tons of books – join a library!
At the end of the day, your journey is your own and parenting is wholly individual and unknown at the beginning and you need to do what works or you – but I hope this serves as a smaller list than the big store I walked into that left me overwhelmed! Remember, people the world over parent with very little and don’t miss so much of what we’re told we need.