To my dear pregnant friend:
First let me describe how I parent and use stuff so that you can see if any of this will be helpful to you. We live in a 900sq foot 3 bedroom home. My house has the bedrooms divided with the master bedroom on one end then on the opposite in two very small bedrooms. We decided early on that we would breast feed, and I still do breast feed my 2 year old son. As such, we felt it was extremely useful to be near the baby at all times. This means that we have the crib in our bedroom, and did not set up a nursery room. At first I was very opposed to some of the stuff I do, but after we were parents for a while, I began to embrace a much more attached parenting style. I don't wear my kids (with slings, mai tais, or wraps) as much as I would like, but I do try to keep my sling accessible when we are going to be gone for a while. Also, there were several things that have changed since we made our first parenting decisions. For example, cloth diapers were not more environmentally friendly when my first child was born, than disposables. So we went with disposables. By the time my second came along that had switched, but we did not switch because our daycare would not use cloth and I was commuting for work at the time. By the time my third came along we just couldn't afford to switch (well we could have, but not while still paying to get the middle out of diapers.)
So what are my must haves:
Everyday I use my good sturdy crib that my mother and mother-in-law bought. I also splurged with my baby shower money and got a bassinet. I love the bassinet, because when I first got home from the hospital I could put the bassinet in the living room and sleep on the couch. This was easier for me to get up and down to nurse and let me fall asleep faster after the baby was back in bed. I do not sleep in bed with the baby because, I couldn't side nurse until the baby was at least 2 months, and usually closer to 3 months. Also my husband has sleep apnea, so even when we do start nursing in bed in the middle of the night, he has to get out of bed and sit on a chair or sleep on the couch because he can't tell where the baby is in the bed when he falls asleep. A good crib is essential, don't skimp, especially if this is your first of many.
My diaper table. My diaper table has been in heavy use since the second month of my oldest daughter's life, and that's only because for the first month we changed her in the bassinet or playyard as often as we did at the diaper table. Once the bassinet wasn't being used as much and had gone to our bedroom (prior to putting the baby in the crib), the diaper table is essential until that wonderful day when the potty training can be declared a success sometime between their 2nd and 4th birthday. Keep in mind you will be changing diapers 10 times a day in the beginning. This will taper off to about 6, but you don't want to be bending down to the floor or a half height table, make sure the table fits you! Also my husband claims some diaper tables come in a smaller size, avoid those, you want one that will fit a 2 year old. We found our diaper table at a rummage sale. As such it was free to us. It is extremely sturdy. We have it against a wall so we put cardboard backing on the sides that face the wall so stuff doesn't get pushed off the end. Bulk diapers go underneath and we have a couple drawers for socks/shoes/booties and diapers. Wipes go on a shelf next to the table at hand height. You don't want to have to bend down when you change a diaper. If you have shelves you can mount on a wall over a dresser, most people prefer that, but I love the table because it organizes all of baby's diaper and bedtime needs. Our diaper table is not in the bathroom or a nursery, it's actually in a nook in a hallway, so it doesn't have water. We do have a pail that has a lid and foot lever (from Bed Bath and Beyond) we got that to replace the Diaper Genie which broke when our oldest was 5 months old (sitter didn't know how to open it), and really just didn't hold much. The pail as long as it's taken out regularly does a great job and soon (hopefully) it will just become a garbage can. If you can afford, start pre-buying your diapers now, cloth or disposable - get a variety of the sizes you will need (unless you are going cloth, then just get the first two sizes, and lots of fillers.) Pampers makes the Target generic brand, both are scented like baby powder. Huggies has a different scent, and the last time I checked white cloud was unscented. Name brands tend to be snugger than generic which are wider. Kirkland brand is very wide. I have extremely skinny babies so this is a factor to me, but some people have chubby rolley babies, so they have the opposite issue. Any unopened box can be returned and exchanged at most retailers.
An excellent car seat. When I first had my daughter I knew nothing about car seats. I highly recommend talking to a car seat specialist or going to a car seat clinic. There are lots of great websites out there. They are going to recommend some really expensive stuff, but a car seat is like a crib, one of the daily essentials and the simplest safety step you can take for your child on a somewhat daily basis. The more expensive car seats are going to be worlds easier to install and take out. Gator clips on the latch are much easier than the hooks. Those cute infant carriers are great, just remember not to leave your baby in them any longer than necessary. Also don't plan on them lasting more than 6 months. Some kids can stay in them longer, and I know they've made them bigger than they used to be, but height for us was the big issue with them, my kids were too tall by 6 months. Realize that even if you buy a carrier you will want a larger convertible car seat before you are ready to turn your baby around. Rear facing as long as possible is really just so much smarter. My one mommy regret with my oldest was turning her around at 18 months because of peer pressure. Do your own research, but in my family, my kids love being backwards and the only one that wants to turn my son around is his sister, who is tired of him being able to kick her. I used a Graco Snugride for the kids when they were infants and then moved them into Britax seats which get very snug in my van. ALWAYS fit the car seat to your vehicle before you buy! If you can't fit the brand you want, get online and see if anyone else has gotten it to fit in your car. Also you will need tether points when you get to forward booster age, if you don't have them in your car you will need to get them installed. Your car seat should not move side to side, it can move marginally up and down. It also needs to be positioned correctly. Look for an adjustment line or level. Additionally, make sure you are comfortable with the way you tighten and loosen the car seat. Never put anything other than clothing (not even coats or warmers) between the seat, your baby, or the under the seat straps. Soft clothing compresses in an accident and your child will not be properly restrained. We flip coats over and the kids wear them like blankets (sometimes upside down so their feet can go in the hood).
Frivolous things I love:
I love blankets I can throw over the stroller, or use on the floor. Until we are crawling I use lots of blankets. Swaddle blankets are too small to use, don't bother. Master your swaddle technique with a bigger blanket, some babies love it and my oldest had to be swaddled until she was a year old (it was hard to find blankets big enough). My next two didn't care for it as much. If they don't like to be swaddled, sleeper blankets are great, like Halo.
I used many boppies and even basic pillows to put the baby on my lap and for nursing. I like the my breast friend for the first few weeks the best, after that I just switched to a regular bed pillow or body pillow. I don't have any advice on bottles or binkies, my kids barely used them, my son was happy with any bottle for the 2 months he had to use one, my daughters hated all bottles.
I had a Moses basket, this is totally frivolous, but I loved it because I could throw it in the back of my car and have a safe place for the small baby to sleep that had them fully laying down where ever we were going. It also worked as a great baby laundry basket and just handy spot. It's safer to have the baby laying down all the way as the incline of the car seat or bouncer constricts the airway until the baby is big enough to hold their head really well. Eventually the basket lives in my bathroom, because then I don't have to hold the baby while I use the toilet. You have to take baby with you, even when they sit up, I just set them in the basket with a toy for the time it takes me to go and wash my hands. You need something for the bathroom. Some people use a bouncy seat. My kids didn't like the bouncer I was given, my youngest used it the most out of all of the kids. With older kids though we had to be very careful that they didn't bounce him too hard. They didn't like the incline and they didn't like being strapped into a device. If they wanted to be still they usually preferred laying down or being held. As I said earlier I like holding my kids, so that wasn't an issue and my husband is even alright at cooking while holding a baby.
I really like my playyard - it has a full length bassinet insert so that is actually what my oldest slept in so she could be next to the fireplace until she was maintaining her body temp with just blankets. But I have to be honest, as much as I love it our house is too small to leave it set up and I only really use it when we travel. My mother has her own playyard, so we don't even always take it when we go to Boise. We have used it camping though, and that was fun! These are easy to find on garage sales. Make sure you can set it up and take it down without the instructions, and imagine doing it in the dark.
I don't like onsies. I have tons I never used because I was given them at showers. For the first couple months my babies live in sleepers. I had cute sleepers for the day time and soft ones for at night and sometimes they wore the same one until it just had to be changed (which was usually more than once a day). Some people love onsies and they put them under everything. It's just personal preference, with a summer baby you may like them more, as it may be too hot for sleepers, but your are probably going to want to keep baby's feet covered.
If you are using sleepers you don't need socks, which is great, because unless you get brand new socks they don't stay on, and if you've used them a couple times they aren't new anymore and you end up losing them. Don't worry about socks until they are out of sleepers and into outfits. Don't worry about shoes either. We used booties until they started to stand and step (around 9 months) then we bought some Robeez or other very soft soled walking shoe. Stiff shoes are harder to walk in. Then be prepared to buy new shoes every 3 to 6 months until they slow down to 1-2 times a year.
You will get cute outfits at your baby shower, don't worry about it. You will also find them all over the stores and will have too many before you know it. 9 sleepers are more than enough to get your through the newborn to three month size. In fact unless your doctor says your baby is running small, one newborn outfit for first pictures is all you probably need. If you buy something cute buy the 3-6 or larger size, your baby will probably be able to wear it by 6 weeks old. Count on the sizes running small, if you want to buy seasonal items ahead of time. My son is closer to the labeled size than my daughters were.
All the Little Things:
We used quite a few burp clothes, we use the ones that look like old style flat diapers. You can also use large wash clothes, they need to be big enough to cover your shoulder.
We use my Graco stroller (that came with my snugride) more than even I like to admit. It's huge and clunky and takes up most of the trunk, but I LOVE it for shopping, it drives really easy on almost any surface, and it holds a ton. Test drive strollers. If you are going to be out and about - a jogger or a Phil and Ted or something of that nature will be worth it, if you are just going to indoor stores, you don't need something that fancy, or big (it's hard to get them through doors and in elevators). Make sure that if you are using a stroller with a newborn that it fully reclines. Propping up a baby in a stroller is dangerous! Having the baby able to face you is great especially for the first, as they will be more bonded with you.
On the same note you don't need a super fancy carrier, there are tons of online directions for making a Moby - which I've never used but always wanted. I have a basic ring sling, and I like that, but it takes practice and you really need to get one that fits you. The infant carriers my husband wore and he didn't like them that much and the kids didn't like them as much either. You can also get a long piece of cloth and tie the baby to your back (African style). This is awesome, but it takes a bit of practice. My husband loves the backpack carrier for outdoor events when the kids are bigger.
You want either infant clippers or nail scissors that mimic what you yourself use, I use clippers, so I got some that are similar to use to what I have. You have to be quick in the beginning so keep that in mind. Getting your husband to trim nails while you nurse, or one of you holds a sleeping baby and the other clips are great solutions, but it does come back to bite you as you eventually have to train your kid to tolerate it (although if they are awake and nursing or having a bottle that can be enough distraction.
The nasal aspirator is going to get used more than you want to think about. Keep the one they give you at the hospital and replace it if it gets bad.
On that same note, keeping some infant Tylenol and their own thermometer (we got one from the hospital) is going to be important. My doctor is fine with temperature taken under the armpit.
You will want some kind of diaper ointment for bad rashes. I don't use powder, nor do I apply cream every time. I only use Butt Paste or Desitin if there is a rash forming. If you get a really really bad rash, change diaper brands, make sure you use a free and clear detergent (Dreft is scented), and then if it doesn't clean up, keep a food log (if you are nursing) because you are probably dealing with an allergy.
Diaper bags are purely personal. It's your Mom purse. I hate purses so my diaper bag is a backpack style. I've had two different styles. My husband had his own diaper bag, it was a sling style and he loved it (I hated it, it didn't fit me well). You don't need a huge bag, just something to carry your diaper pad (which you will continue to carry after you are tired of the diaper bag), a change of outifit, and any ointments or nursing pads you need - I liked to put my phone and wallet in the bag as well. I moved all my important cards to one wallet so I could switch it between my going to work bag and my diaper bag.
For the diaper pad, you want a large flat pad (because you will be using this on floors and counters when there isn't a diaper table, and they aren't as everywhere as they should be.) I have a pad with two flaps on either side that have zippered pockets (GR8X brand). I use my pad still, I haven't taken my bag in at least a year. Getting a stand alone pad and using a shopping bag is better than get a pad you don't like and a bag you love.
If you nurse, Lansinoh. A handful of the free samples should be sufficient, unless you pump, in which case you want a double pump AND you want more lansinoh.
Also if you are nursing, go get fitted for some nursing bras, sometime right around the middle of your pregnancy. Your breasts will reduce back to about that size shortly after you get nursing established. I like cami's to bras, but it's all personal preference. You will have to sleep in one until the leaking stops, so find something you can sleep in as well. Some Moms get away with using sports bras that they just pull down. Anything is ok as long as it doesn't have wires (wires can block milk ducts and that causes infections, which you really want to avoid.)
We've really enjoyed having a rear-facing mirror mounted on the seat the baby faces. We only used sunshades when we had a car without tinted windows.
You need a good water bottle, it's vital to stay hydrated during labor, while you are healing, and whenever you are nursing. If baby is drinking you should be having water or juice too.
The mobile goes on the diaper table. It keeps little eyes and little hands distracted while you work the other end. Unfortunately, as soon as it is captured it has to go away. Find one with the tallest arm you can or mount it to your wall.
My husband says his favorite nighttime tool was an LED book light that pushed on and stayed on. He used it for changing diapers in the middle of the night, getting water for me, seeing what the random baby noise was, etc. He says a smart phone also works if you use an app to keep the back light on. My husband also claims every mom needs a smart phone to keep connected with the world so she doesn't get depressed by the isolation of being needed as "Mom" all the time. Whether you are nursing, rocking, or just up in the middle of the night.
On a sanity note: Budget a small amount for picking up new random board books. You will memorize EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM. I recommend Eric Carle and Sandra Boynton.
Last thoughts on stuff that probably isn't necessary:
I'm mixed on the need for a high chair. I have one, we used it, but it's huge for what it does. There are lots of nicer smaller ones now, and unless you are putting baby in it just to join you at the table, you don't need it to recline at all. If you are feeding your baby, unless they have a medical condition, they need to sit upright before you can start solids. I have a travel chair that works great, food time is going to be messy no matter what you do. Some good kid sized silverware and a few plates and bowls and you will be fine. Don't feel like you need anything fancy, get what works with the space you have.
If you make your own baby food (I did), you don't need a bullet, or magic wand, or any of that, unless you want one. You just need either a blender or food processor to get a puree. It is handy to get an extra ice cube tray or two as freezing extra baby food is just smart. Make your food, keep 3 or 4 servings in the fridge, freeze the rest. Your baby will be eating with you before you know it. The baby food stage is very fast. I highly recommend http://wholesomebabyfood.momtastic.com/index.htm - I'm fairly sure that's the site I used to get started in baby food. It has great introduction charts too. Don't rush solids, there is plenty of time and your baby doesn't even start to depend on solids until a year or so old.
Swing, bouncer, exersaucer, etc.... I touched on the bouncer, but in my mind all of these are unnecessary. Walkers are flat out dangerous. The purpose of these devices is so you can set your baby down and walk away. I'm not that kind of mom, but also all of these devices really need to be supervised when in use so they don't even work for the walk away part. Some babies really love one of these things, and that's great, wait until your baby is big enough, find a friend with one, and try it out. Then get one. Odds are your friend will be just about done with it and you can have theirs. My son would have loved a swing, but we've never had the space for one. I did try him in one at my shower - which was very late because of everything that happened when he was born. Always be aware of how your child's head and spine are supported before putting them in any new device.
I hope this list isn't overwhelming. There are lots of things I've talked about, but many don't have to be expensive.
To help with the shopping, I recommend http://www.babycheapskate.com/ and http://babyhalfoff.com/blog/ Both of whom I follow on Facebook. http://slickdeals.net/ is a great general deals site and they have a very active Mom watch group. I just set alerts for the items I am looking for.
Feel free to contact me if you want to talk about anything in particular. Don't worry, you won't hurt my feelings if you are a different kind of mom than me.
I'm so happy for you!