By Renee Bond
Six weeks before my due date I lay in a hospital bed listening to my doctor tell me that even though 40 hours of testing had proven that everything else in my pregnancy was normal, my blood pressure was so high that I would have to be induced if it didn’t go back down. Of course, neither my doctor nor I had any hope that the kind of news I was getting then would have a positive influence on my blood pressure.
In fact, the news turned me into a giant ball of stress. I hadn’t even been ready to stay overnight at the hospital; I was miles away from being ready to bring a baby home. Literally miles away—my parents had purchased a car seat for us, but they hadn’t yet made the 4-hour car trip to our apartment to deliver it. The collection of baby items I actually had in my possession at the time included:
- A handmade cradle with a mattress but no sheets
- A couple of tiny outfits and pajamas
- Receiving blankets from my mom’s box of saved baby items, plus one a coworker had made for me
- Some sample cans of formula, milk storage bags and a pacifier I picked up at an open house at the hospital
There it is. Obviously that list wasn’t going to cover my baby’s needs. And if I believed the checklists I had found at the baby websites and stores, buying all of the essentials was going to cost me about a month’s salary, just when I would be going on a partially unpaid leave from work.
My baby was born in the early hours of the following morning, and though I was hazy for a while, I knew she was a miracle. She was strong and healthy for a preemie, showing that all that exercise she got by kicking my insides before she was born was for a good reason. My life became focused on the goal of helping her get strong enough to come home from the hospital, and being ready for her when she got there.
Fortunately, I had a lot of help. Within a day my mom was there (with the car seat!), putting together baby blankets and towels and shopping the clearance shelves for little pants and socks. My in-laws came through with a truckload of stuff from my wish list, along with some adorable clothes. Neighbors came by with meals and gifts. Nurses and lactation specialists at the hospital loaded me up with bottles and formula samples.
Two weeks after her birthday, my Kicky came home. I hadn’t been able to get everything I had been hoping to find for her, and I did have to tell my husband to pick up one final thing on his way home that day, but we got the essentials. And it wasn’t nearly as extensive a list as those checklists made it out to be. Not only that, in the months since then, I’ve been glad that I didn’t buy some of the expensive items I was wanting, because I don’t think I would have used them at all.
The checklists from most magazines and registries are loaded with expensive items that may or may not fit with your personal routine.
Of course everybody’s experience is different, which is one reason I think those long checklists are useless. It’s hard to plan for what you’ll use as a parent when you’ve never been one before. You just don’t know how you’ll do things yet. But here are the few things that I think are essential no matter what:
- Car Seat. Or whatever safety device you need to get the baby home, to your pediatrician’s office in 2 weeks, and all the other essential traveling you do with the baby.
- Diapers. Lots of diapers. I use disposable, and had to try a couple brands before I found the one that fit my baby well. And a package never lasts as long as it sounds like it will when you look at how many diapers it contains.
- Feeding items. I’m afraid I can’t get very specific here, because some people will really need bottles and formula, while others may only need a nipple cream for those first awkward latches.
- Crib with a couple changes of bedding. Or cradle or bassinet. Whatever it is, have a safe place for the baby to sleep, and extra sheets for when something leaks out of one end or the other in the middle of the night.
- Four or so sets of warm pajamas. You need to have something to keep your baby warm at night in the crib without a blanket. My newborn stayed in her pajamas all day more often than not, so these are the only clothes I’m calling essential.
- One or two blankets. I’ve gotten baskets of blankets for gifts over the past few months, so don’t feel the need to buy yourself too many, but they are something I use a lot for wrapping baby up warm or setting her down to play on the floor.
- Waterproof changing pad. No matter where you do diaper changes, you’ll want some kind of waterproof, easily cleaned layer between the baby’s bottom and anything else. Consistent no-leak diaper changes take luck, practice, and more sleep than baby lets you get at first.
- Towels and washcloths. You can skip soap at bath time for the first few weeks, but you will need something to wash and dry the baby with.
We’d all love to have a fully-coordinated and beautifully decorated room for our newborn, but it’s not something the baby needs.
That’s my list of essentials. For everything else, feel free to wait until you establish your routine and find out what you and your baby are likely to actually use. Extra preparation isn’t going to hurt, but if the only things you can put together are the ones on this list, you’ll be good to go for a little while. Don’t stress that your soon-to-be-born baby doesn’t have a fully-stocked, catalog-perfect nursery, especially if worrying about it is going to raise your blood pressure.
Every Thursday, Red Barn’s resident new mom Rene Bond shares the challenges and joys of being a parent.