Whether you’re a expecting a child of your own or you’re gifting to expectant friends/family, here is a list of absolute must-haves for new parents:
1. Sleeping receptacle
Whether parents plan on co-sleeping with the popular DockATot or opting for the luxury bassinet Snoo, babies need a place to sleep. If you live in an apartment or are just keeping it simple, opt for a Pack 'n Play (Pack & Play mattress sold separately). Unless your baby is in the 99th percentile in length, this can easily serve as their crib until for up to 1 year. Ikea's crib is also a tasteful, safe, and affordable addition to any nursery (mattress sold separately). Depending on which route you choose, you'll need some bedding. I recommend 4 sets of sheets. If you do your laundry once a week, that should give you enough slack for nighttime accidents/leaks. You can buy waterproof sheets but keep in mind that a lot of mattresses are also waterproof.
2. Travel system
If you're driving home from the hospital, you won't be released unless you have a car seat. Do not buy your car seat at the thrift store or even "lightly used". This is not the baby item you should be trying to save money on. These also have a lifespan so don't use an old dusty one your aunt fishes out of her storage unit. There are a multitude of companies who manufacture safe car seats. We personally went with a Chicco Travel system, the easy pop-out feature made travelling a breeze. If you opt out of a car seat (maybe you don't own a car and only use cramped public transit systems) then you can also "wear" your baby out in a carrier. Popular options include a sling, wrap, or front pack. There are a ton of different options for baby carriers depending on your own preference so shop around and do your research.
3. Diaper bag
You can use pretty much any kind of bag as a diaper bag so just put some thought into what you find most convenient (tote, backpack, messenger, etc). Of course, bags intended as diaper bags have very convenient pockets for organizing so if you plan on using a daycare or just taking your kiddo place to place, a diaper bag is an excellent investment.
4. Baby wipes
Here's where it gets complicated. Many babies have sensitive skin and you won't really know if your baby will react to a certain brand of wipe. So I recommend buying a couple small packs of wipes before you go buying a Costco value box. However, if you're the type who likes to have apocalyptic preparations then consider stocking up on sensitive skin wipes such as the popular Water Wipes.
A note on diapers - unlike wipes, these have sizes which your child will rapidly outgrow. Your baby shower may likely be flooded with value boxes of diapers. Some parents stock up the Newborn size diapers only to find that their baby outgrew them in just a few days. I recommend buying/registering for a small pack of the newborn and a single larger pack of the size 1 fit. I personally like the Honest diapers (cute prints) but if you're on a budget, generic brands at Target or even Aldi's will work just as nice.
A note on clothing - this is probably one of the most popular baby shower gifts and you'll receive a lot of different outfits. Some baby clothing can be soooo adorable but also be an absolute nightmare to get on and off. I recommend have 7 easy, everyday outfits (with mittens for sharp clawed newborns) that you use in rotation. The zippered sleep n play style is particularly easy. Also, take your local climate in consideration before you stock up. Is your 6 month size fleece snowsuit going to be useful when your child is 6 months in July? We were gifted so many cute outfits that our baby just didn't have time to wear.
7. Swaddling/burp cloths/breast-feeding covers
As a catch-all for this category, muslin blankets are just absolutely perfect. These are so large and useful, I recommend have 6 as you'll want one in the diaper bag, the bedroom, and the play area at all times. They also make excellent little play mats when you're outside or at a friend's house (aka aren't sure about putting your baby down, carpet looks questionable). The popular Aden + Anais brand has many cute design options and are very well made and durable.
8. Night light
You are going to be getting up at all times of the night and if you don't want to have the abrupt shock of turning on your overhead lighting, you'll definitely need a night light. There are so many different designs and brands so you really have so much freedom to choose what you like.
9. Bottles and pacifiers*
A note on bottles and pacifiers - if you plan on breast feeding, it may be difficult to convince your child to switch from one or the other. Consult your local hospital's breast feeding consultant more on this matter. However, if you're on maternity leave, you'll eventually have to return to work so you'll need a nice set of bottles. If you hate the idea of washing bottles, you can also opt for disposable pumping bags like Kiinde ones that your baby can directly drink from. When your baby starts solids, you can also pack these pouches with baby food for on-the-go snacks. We use the Comotomo bottles (4), they tumble around a little in the fridge but we love how easy they are to clean. We also use the BIBS pacifiers, they are truly a lifesaver and other parents at our daycare have asked about them and switched.
The Boppy newborn lounger is just a super easy place to set your baby down, comfy and convenient. The original Boppy is great for breast-feeding and for propping up baby while they learn to sit-up. If you want just one, I have to say that I'd go with the newborn lounger. It was so great and she loved napping in it so much. And its also pretty comfy to use as a pillow for adults if you want to steal it for a bit.
11. Changing pad
There's a good amount of accidents that can occur while you're changing your baby and a waterproof changing pad is a good investment. Also, our little one loves to sleep on her Ikea changing pad for some reason. She absolutely hated being in the Snuggle Me Organic but she'd relax and doze off immediately on her changing pad. Kids are strange.
12. Baby bathtub
There's nothing more anxiety inducing than giving your baby a bath for the first time so do yourself a favor and get a simple baby bathtub.
13. Towels and washcloths
Getting 3-4 towels and 8-10 washcloths is more than enough since you won't be bathing baby everyday. The towels and washcloths can also play double duty as burp clothes or to clean up messes, especially when they start on solid foods.
A baby wash, sunscreen, and baby ointment are the bare necessities. Due to allergies, you may not want to stock up on these before you figure out if your little one will have a reaction. Our hospital recommended Johnson's baby shampoo so we've used that and we swear by Aquaphor Healing Ointment for diaper rash and just skin irritation.
15. Baby first aid and grooming kit
You can register for a kit or compile your own. The first thing I would add is the number for Poison Control (800-222-1222). The second thing you'll need is a baby thermometer so you can check for fevers. You'll also need nail clippers/grinders, a hairbrush, and snot removal device (like the snot-sucker). Consult your doctor for the use of baby pain management and fever reducers (acetaminophen etc).
16. Changing table/station
17. Bathtub kneeler
18. Baby swing/bouncer/rocking chair
19. Baby white noise machine
20. Diaper bin
21. Baby monitor
There are so many things that will depend on your baby's temperament, likes, and dislikes so if at all possible - REGISTER FOR GIFT CARDS. Of course this request depends on your baby shower guest's temperament, likes, and dislikes. But this way, you can react more flexibly instead of having crippling buyer's remorse for that one expensive baby swing that your child cries at the sight of. A cluttered house filled with baby gear can be stressful and anxiety-inducing, especially if the baby doesn't like to use any of it.
Good luck and best wishes!