Tell me your baby essentials!
January 2, 2011 6:21 AM   Subscribe

I'd like to buy a baby shower gift for a couple of soon-to-be parents who are really, sincerely strapped for cash. Please help me (a non-parent) come up with a list of absolute baby essentials that they can use during the first year or so.

I'm throwing a baby shower. Yay! I'm going in with a friend to help pay for the costs of food, drink, etc at the restaurant, but I also want to get them a separate gift. Because of the other costs, I only have about $50-$75 to spend on this shower gift.

The expectant parents are both really lovely people, and they're also getting by on very little right now. She's in graduate school, and he's adjuncting at a nearby college. Rather than getting them a fancy or decorative gift, I prefer to spend the money I have on items that they will sincerely need during the first year. I'm sure they will get plenty of clothes, and my budget isn't enough to afford a large ticket item. So, are there a bunch of small things that you needed as a new parent that I could collect into a gift basket? The every day stuff, stuff that most people probably won't buy for a shower? I'd like to be as useful to them as possible. Thanks for any advice you might have!
posted by theantikitty to Shopping (33 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Diapers. Baby wipes. Baby books (the kind that babies can hold, chew, and have read aloud). More diapers.
posted by WaspEnterprises at 6:27 AM on January 2, 2011

Do you think it would be possible for you and some of their friends to pool money for a car seat? As for the little things...babies go through a lot of diapers, so that might be a good choice. A set of bedding, washcloths or baby shampoo seems pretty everyday :-)
posted by Calzephyr at 6:32 AM on January 2, 2011

A baby first aid kit that includes stuff like infant tylenol, diaper rash ointment, a thermometer, a bulb syringe, nail trimmers, lanolin if she's nursing and some baby lotion would be useful. If they're doing cloth diapers, a gallon of Allen's detergent will wash all their diapers for at least a year.

Really, the essentials are a safe car seat, some diapers, something to feed the baby (nursing or formula) and some clothes. The rest is convenience and cuteness.

One of the best non-purchased items I got while pregnant was a laminated list for the fridge of the following phone numbers, websites and information:

Poison Control 800 number
Local Le Leche numbers and meeting times
Pelvic floor Physical Therapist
Urgent care numbers & locations
Infant med doses
Postpartum Doula number
Local playgroup contact
Carseat check locations
posted by Nickel Pickle at 6:34 AM on January 2, 2011 [4 favorites]

If there's a CostCo in their area, I'd get them a CostCo membership and a gift card. They have packs of wipes (like 700+) that are pretty cheap.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 6:39 AM on January 2, 2011 [6 favorites]

I'm a firm believer of getting something small, cute and useful (onesie, your favorite book when you were a kid) and putting the rest of the cash in an envelope.
posted by sciencegeek at 6:54 AM on January 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Get them $50-$75 worth of diapers and give them the receipt. That way they can change the brand if they need to or return them if they decide to go with cloth.

spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints's idea to get them a Costco membership is a really good idea. They have huge boxes of diapers that only cost a little more than the little packages you get at a grocery store.
posted by TooFewShoes at 6:54 AM on January 2, 2011

The IKEA Antilop and tray! It's easy to clean, fits in even the tiniest kitchen without dominating it, and you can pick it up with one finger and move it around. When the child outgrows it in 3 years, you can give it to a friend or pop it into the recycling bin. Plus it's $19, so you can throw in a pack of diapers as well!

One of the most useful gifts I got was when a friend called about a week after I got home and said, "I'm standing in Babies R Us! How are you doing? What do you need?" I sat in my rocker nursing my daughter, and she and I had a nice conversation while she wandered the aisles, picking up things like nasal syringes and scratch mittens. It was nice to have both the company and the last-minute items!
posted by apparently at 6:58 AM on January 2, 2011

A bunch of rechargeable batteries and a battery charger. Especially D batteries. Even if you don't know what kind of baby gear they will get, batteries are always useful. There are lots of second-hard swings and bouncy seats and so forth floating around, and those things eat up batteries like nobody's business. It's not a shower-type item, but it's extremely useful.
posted by ambrosia at 7:20 AM on January 2, 2011

Do they have much furniture? The last baby shower I was at, one of the soon-to-be grandmas bought one of those inexpensive bookshelves (the small 3-shelf kind) and filled it with plastic bins and boxes. (and then some of the containers had small things in them, rattles, teething rings, etc.)
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 7:27 AM on January 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

There are lots of standard items (car seat, diapers, wipes, the classic books "What to Expect the First Year", "Baby Bargains" and "Baby 411"), but chances are others will get those.

Here are two things that come to mind.

One, an Amazon Prime membership. This can really make a difference for when they need diapers, formula, etc.

The other, the classic baby sling, the ellaroo.

Congratulations on doing such a nice thing for your friend.
posted by math at 7:29 AM on January 2, 2011

Seconding that Ikea highchair and tray. $25, cleans easily, not too big.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 7:59 AM on January 2, 2011

One the lifesavers that we had when Baby Leezie first arrived were swaddles. There are some inexpensive ones (and BRU sometimes has them on sale). I would count them up there with diapers in terms of importance and necessity at the very beginning.
posted by Leezie at 8:04 AM on January 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 8:10 AM on January 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

As a note, amazon has been offering free prime memberships to parents lately-Amazon Mom.

Diapers! Wipes! Gift card to a local resale store, where the money will go a long way.

We did cloth diapers and they can be expensive to start up-if that's what they are doing, covers would be great. I'd ask about their diaper plan-cloth really is cheaper after the initial investment. Chipping in for a few months of diaper service, or for something insanely useful but expensive, like an Ergo baby carrier, would be great.
posted by purenitrous at 8:10 AM on January 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Some might consider this a luxury item, but to me a baby swaddle was critical for helping a baby -- and hence, parents--sleep. I used (and loved) the truewomb swaddle. It is new and has won a big award for new innovative products in 2010. And it is in your price range ($40). It is different from the other swaddles because it does not bind a baby like the others (which I liked) and deals with the arms and legs. Their website shows how it works in a 3-D animation.

Disclosure...I do legal work for the company and used a prototype from the time he was a week old. But my son has always slept like a champ since very early on so I am a true believer!
posted by bigwoopdeedoo at 8:12 AM on January 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

a bouncy seat, or a swing. as a mother of a ten-week-old, both are honestly lifesavers.
posted by woodvine at 8:21 AM on January 2, 2011

Typing with my newborn on my lap. I agree with the swaddle idea. Our baby girl loves to be swaddled and is every night. I recommend both the Miracle Blanket and the Kidopotamus.

Disagree on the high chair unless they have room to store it.

Going in on a gift card to Babies R Us or the local equivalent would always be appreciated. And my sister showing up with nipple cream at the hospital was smart and very helpful.
posted by amanda at 8:47 AM on January 2, 2011

I would club together with a friend and split the cost of a car seat. And of course give it to them with the gift receipt so that if they get two they can exchange for credit. Anywhere you get a car seat will also have other baby things they might need; I would probably use a place that has a brick and mortar store near where they live, so they can physically go in and see what's available.

The reason I would get a car seat rather than a swing or swaddler is that those things are really individual to babies, but everyone needs a car seat. (My second baby FREAKED out when I tried to swaddle her, and we've never used or had the floor space for a swing. Ditto slings - they are only useful for small babies; my back would not let me use one past one month or so.)
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:49 AM on January 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

As the mom of a new baby, I'd like to chime in...

for the most practical of practical, size 1+2 diapers (you don't know how long they'll stay in newborn sizes, and the hospital gave us a lot of newborn diapers to take home, and as soon as they ran out, we went straight to size 1)

a giant pack of wipes (we like Target's sensitive skin)

babies r us or target gift certificate (to use for formula--if they're not BF) or anything else they might need.

There were a lot of things we didn't end up using at all--including lots and lots of clothes. If they have a washer/dryer, they won't need as many onesies as they think they will.

My ultimate favorite most useful baby thing was a Boppy Pillow (though they could probably get by with regular pillows easy enough). Also, if you wanted to go in with someone, a Fisher Price Papasan Swing. They're about 150 bucks, but they swing in 2 different directions, and they double as a safe place for naps, and really, it's by far the best swing on the market.

Happy baby!
posted by katypickle at 8:56 AM on January 2, 2011

Gift certificate to a baby store ( would be good because they can then shop online and have everything delivered to their door), or cash. I also LOVE the idea of calling from Buy Buy Baby about 10 days after the baby comes home and saying "I'm here, what do you need?" They will figure out a million things they need those first weeks, and it will be difficult to go shopping.

(Diapers are a good idea in theory, but you or they have no way of knowing which diapers and which sizes will work for their baby). Speaking as a seriously cash-strapped parent of a baby, cash and gift certificates are way more useful than stuff, especially big stuff (car seats, high chairs, etc.) which can often be obtained second-hand from friends.
posted by agent99 at 9:56 AM on January 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

You could always throw in some handmade coupons for babysitting or to come by and clean their house or cook for them. I remember being embarrassed that my house was a mess when family and friends wanted to come over and see the new baby. Of course, family and friends don't CARE that your house is a mess at a time like that, but I was still a bit crazily hormonal.

Other little things:

* thank you notes and stamps (and a list of everyone's names and addresses? Or even pre-addressing the envelopes for them?)

* nursing pads for mom

* a DVD or two for late-night watching when baby is fussy or mom is too tired to get off the couch

* laundry detergent that is safe for baby (Dreft is one) - also a lingerie bag for keeping little socks from getting lost in the wash

* Good breast pumps are out of your price range, but you could get a supply of breast milk storage bags and a few bottles with various kinds of nipples. If she is able to pump an extra feeding's worth of milk from time to time, the milk can be frozen for later use, so Dad can give baby a bottle of breast milk when mom runs an errand or sleeps in.

* I'm out of touch with today's formula options, but I remember being really grateful that someone had given us a can of formula powder that we kept around even though I was breastfeeding. I got delayed out of town, and the breast milk from the freezer had been all used, so my husband was able to give our daughter formula during that time and it worked out fine.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 10:54 AM on January 2, 2011

Most people have it covered above. It costco is around you, the membership is great, diapers and wipes are stupidly cheap there (having just bought more myself). I also like to get the swaddleme swaddles from Kidpotomas (mentioned above, though the truewomb one looks interesting), some butt paste diaper cream (that stuff is fantastic) and if you know they are breastfeeding the hydrogel breast pads for sore nipples (breastmilk storage bags are great too in this case). Diapers really end up being personal to the kid where some brands work better with some kids than others, so gift card or costco membership would work better than a big box of diapers in my opinion.
posted by katers890 at 11:26 AM on January 2, 2011

Do they have a registry? Lots of times soon to be parents have already given a bunch of thought to what they will need and what will work in their space. I was really grateful to the thoughtful relativevwho boughtvup crib mattress covers off our registry. I mean, it's such a boring gift to give someone, but you KNOW your baby is going to pee through their diaper occasionally and you're not going to do laundry at 3 in the morning, so you need at least 2 and maybe 3 for times of illness etc.

We have this fisher price swing and our 2 year old baby still insists on crawling into it now and then when she WANs to wind down a bit. It was wonderful for naps when she was younger or for starting out her night in before moving her to her crib. As the link shows you can get it used for $20 on your local craigslist, which is a steal. Other sellers are offering it on craigslist by you for $70 or $80, and there does not seem to be anything wrong with it as far as I can tell (you could put a few scratches on it just by assembling it, so that's not a big deal). Of course if someone else is getting her a swing or she would hate the idea of a used one you shouldn't do this, but $20 for a swing of this quality is pretty cool and very thoughtful given what houngan afford.

Other items that were especially useful for us but not no brainers: I breastfed and thank god another new mom gave me lansinoh cream to reduce soreness -- it's amazing how quickly and badly I needed it, a real lifesaver. A good, FAST reading, under the arm thermometer, because there are so many times you need to take their temperature tom figure out if they're sick or just cranky, and they don't usually want to sit still for it so the quicker the better (and under the arm because ours still won't let us put a thermometer in her mouth, though YMMV).

Hurry up and grab that swing! :) Good luck to you, and kudos for being such a thoughtful friend!
posted by onlyconnect at 12:02 PM on January 2, 2011

I'm starting a one-person campaign to circumvent the Babies R Us machine and just give new parents money.

Is there a reason you don't want to just give them 75 bucks in an envelope? If they're broke, I can promise you that your gift will be their favorite. (Even if they aren't that broke. People gave our baby kind, expensive gifts, and I still feel bad that most of them went into the donate box unused, either because we wound up not using that stuff, or because he outgrew the clothes too fast, or because he didn't like the toys, etc.)
posted by thehmsbeagle at 12:10 PM on January 2, 2011 [5 favorites]

Also, my husband has gotten a lot of use out of the Peanut Shell sling. He likes that he can hold the baby, keep his hands free to do stuff and the baby loves being close. It's really helped them bond and gives me a break.
posted by amanda at 12:39 PM on January 2, 2011

Parent of a three-week-old here. So far all we have needed and used are:

cloth diapers -- and laundry detergent
wipes (we're using just washcloths unless we're out somewhere)
a few footie pajamas and elastic-bottomed nightgowns, and a hat and blanket for travel
a waterproof pad to change the baby on
Lansinoh nipple cream -- but I only needed it for the first week, now I'm fine
car seat

and that is literally it.

a few other things we've found useful but not strictly necessary:

boppy pillow
moby wrap
pack n play -- he's only in it when I'm showering though, I could use the car seat if I didn't have it
posted by rabbitrabbit at 1:06 PM on January 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

The Happiest Baby on the Block DVD. It worked like magic. I became a swaddling ninja.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 1:38 PM on January 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

I also should add, even though we really tried to keep the baby stuff to a minimum, we ended up being showered three times and got it all: swing, bouncy seat, crib, several kinds of swaddling blankets, a metric butt-ton of clothes (including a ridiculous assortment of baby socks, which wtf, you need like one or two pairs MAYBE) and on and on and on... and like 95% of it has not been used. My son HATES being swaddled, is not impressed by swings, and has ended up sleeping with me (seriously, if the baby is breastfed, it's the only way to go if mom wants to get any sleep)... there is no way to predict what the baby will like and what he/she will loathe, and no way to predict what will work for mom and dad. Aside from the very few necessities, it's all a crapshoot and your very special gift might not end up being used/useful. I would go with either cash or something intangible and flexible (like coupons for babysitting, setting up a friend network for meal delivery, etc.)
posted by rabbitrabbit at 3:48 PM on January 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

I can't second rabbitrabbit's advice enough. I've got a five day old baby as well as a toddler, and there's not a ton I've found imperative, and both my kids are very different in what they like and hate, there's no universal "babies love x", unless x is food or clothing. We also cloth diaper, if your friends are super strapped for cash they may choose to do that as well, I know I've saved thousands over the last 2 years.

Honestly I'd just get a Target gift card if you want to make your money the most useful. I'm broke, and yeah, some of the shower gifts I got were very, very special and thoughtful of the giver - but went unused just because the sizing was wrong, or he didn't like it, or other people gave us similar items - and I felt horrible about that. Someone did get us a random Babies R Us gift card, and that was great for the small stuff we needed.
posted by kpht at 7:24 PM on January 2, 2011

I want to second ambrosia's idea of a battery charger and a variety of rechargeable batteries. This is seriously a brilliant idea. No, it's not as cute as a baby bonnet or stuffed animal, but everybody at the shower will think you are a genius.

Also, whatever you get, include the gift receipt and let them know you have no problem if they want to exchange it. (Even if it is diapers - they might get too many packs of newborn size and then go on to deliver a 10 pound baby.)
posted by Knowyournuts at 8:15 PM on January 2, 2011

baby essentials that they can use during the first year or so

People that give baby clothes tend to stick to the first few months of sizes, but babies grow so fast that when I give someone clothes I pick practical items like onesies in the 6-12 month range instead (and include a gift receipt in case). Those crazy growth spurts are when we found ourselves having to suddenly shell out $$ for a whole new wardrobe.
posted by girlhacker at 8:18 PM on January 2, 2011

My husband was out of work when our baby arrived. It is scary. It is very nice of you to throw them a shower. We relied on those shower gifts and they are still seeing us through now that our baby is 14 months old.

Ask her to register for ANYTHING and everything she wants/needs, regardless of price. She'll know what she wants and giving her that will save them money.

If they're really strapped for cash, give them cash! But if you can't do that, gift certificates to restaurants that deliver (include a menu) or Babies 'R Us or Target are really useful.

Babies don't really need very much. Some things that really helped us were...
*the food people brought when they visited.
*the big ticket items like the car seats and a stroller.
*hand-me-downs. I'd rather have a lot of used baby clothes than one new outfit.

Here are some things I found extremely useful:
*for nursing moms - The Breast Friend nursing pillow. It saved my back and made nursing much, much easier.
*a video baby monitor. It may seem excessive, but it kept us from being stuck by the crib when he slept to make sure he was breathing. It was also something we would never have spent money on.
*We always used the Fisher Price Healthy Care Deluxe Booster chair instead of a high chair. It travels easily and grows with them.
*socks for different ages. The Circo ones from Target are my favorite. Grippy soles, long, so they can be pulled up when it is cold, and they don't fall off. They cost about $1 a pair.
*things that grow with the child. Convertible car seat, Baby rocker that turns into a toddler rocking chair, etc.
*If they live in a cold climate, a bunting for the baby. Lands End has a nice down one.

Here are some things I wished I had at first:
*Smart Choices First Day Kit for New Mothers. I didn't realize what recovery would be like and I didn't have anything to sooth everything that is sore. Offer to pick up girly things like maxi-pads and nipple shields that her husband may be shy about buying.
*Itzbeen Baby Care timer

Don't forget them after the shower. Visit and bring a complete meal after the baby is born. New babies are exhausting and not having to worry about breakfast/lunch/dinner is a huge gift. Make your visits short and encourage others to visit. Especially after the first month, when visits start to taper off and parents get weary.

A list of of free things to do when the baby is 8 weeks old and older. Find out when the free storytimes are at the library, the low-cost swimming lessons or toddler open gyms, the free festivals or concerts that you can bring a baby to. These things helped me feel less poor because we weren't stuck at home and unable to afford something fun. Babysitting!

Find out if a hospital or something offers a support group for new mothers. My hospital offers a free one that has been wonderful. It provides mental support, a way to meet other moms, and a place to go each month with the baby. Being strapped for cash can be isolating.

No matter what, your friendship is the best gift of all. Listen to your friend and let her talk and talk and talk about the baby. I didn't want to talk about anything else and it was great when people would listen and I didn't have to worry about boring them. Tell them their baby is beautiful and wonderful and amazing. Listen to their worries. Smile with them and bask with them in the fantasticness of their new infant. It is wonderful and it doesn't matter how much money you have. All a baby needs is parents who love him/her...and diapers.
posted by k8to at 8:49 PM on January 2, 2011

Response by poster: Thank you so, so much for all of these thoughtful answers. Your perspective(s) have been really helpful to me already. These answers allowed me to think of some really great questions to ask the expectant parents (diaper plans, feeding plans, etc) that I probably wouldn't have even thought to ask.
posted by theantikitty at 7:30 AM on January 3, 2011

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