Q: Our baby arrived ahead of schedule and we feel completely unprepared right now - what do we need?!
First thing I’m going to say to that is, “Don’t Panic!” Whether you’re in New York or New Jersey, you can get everything you need in a heartbeat, and besides, that’s exactly what Amazon Prime is for.
You need a car seat to get the baby home in - though in some cases when couples are walking distance to their hospital the mom can take a cab while partner puts baby in a stroller (bassinet style, laying flat.) But you’ll need a car seat for other reasons inevitably, so make sure you have one. You can check out thecarseatlady.com for excellent information on car seats and strollers.
The hospital will send you off with a baby cap, receiving blankets, pacifiers, little kimono shirts, diapers, (be sure to grab the disposable mesh underwear) so here’s what you really need:
1. Bassinet. Baby needs a safe place to sleep. Though a crib will be your baby’s bed for years to come, initially babies prefer bassinets. Why? Because they prefer to be in an environment that is cozy and makes them feel cradled. In a crib a baby can’t feel the walls around him, so he feels less secure. Even some bassinets come with inserts that make them feel even more comfy, like the very popular Halo Bassinet has its own “newborn insert” safely designed to create the feeling of body contact all around baby. Some parents, in a pinch, have their baby sleep in the UppaBaby bassinet that snaps on their stroller frame. Other parents will choose the Snoo, which comes with its own swaddle and lock-in system.
You will also notice your newborn sleeps soundly ON you, but less so off you. Again, they prefer to have human touch. They are biologically programmed to be near humans, or they can’t survive - so they will sleep more soundly when they are on you. However, it isn’t safe to let a newborn sleep on you when you’re asleep - so we replicate that feeling in various ways, like swaddling.
2. The Swaddle. Swaddles are essential. They keep babies from throwing their arms up constantly and startling themselves. They keep babies cozy and tightly squeezed just like they were in utero. Babies universally sleep better in a swaddle when they sleep on their backs, which is the only safe way for a baby to sleep. The “Swaddle Me” brand is inexpensive and for babies under 8 lbs they make a simple swaddle called the "POD". You can use the receiving blankets they give you from the hospital, but a velcro-type swaddle is easier to manage, especially in the middle of the night. Remember no hats for overnight sleep.
3. Diapers/Wipes. Do not stress this one - diapers are everywhere. Pampers, Huggies, or Coterie are perfect for newborns—more eco-friendly brands (Honest) are better for day use, because they are slightly less absorbent than the more commercial brands. Note: the line that turns blue on Pampers & Huggies does not mean “you must change me” - it merely indicates the baby has peed. In the first two or three weeks you’re counting pee and poop diapers so this makes it easier to tell (try the MammaBaby or Huckleberry app for tracking feeds & diapers). You can use “Water Wipes” which are essentially wipes with no other ingredients but water. Another thing you’ll need (but certainly not the first night) is some diaper cream - the clear kind (like Aquaphor or Vaseline) and the zinc barrier cream kind (Butt Paste, Desitin, Burt’s Bees.) You don’t need to use cream with every single diaper change. Many parents don’t use it at all, unless the baby is looking a little red. If you don’t have a changing table yet, don’t sweat it - you can change a baby on any flat surface, just use something waterproof underneath. If you have a boy baby prepared to get peed on - expect all babies to let loose once their diaper is opened. They also hate having their diaper changed in the beginning because they do not like being undressed or cold. So do it quickly and consider using a pacifier for those few minutes, so they are soothed by their sucking reflex. Best pacifier for breastfed babies, the Avent Soothie or Dr. Brown's. Best changing pad: Everyone loves the Keekaroo because you can wipe it down instead of laundering a cloth cover.
4. Formula. Because many NYC hospitals are on the “Baby-Friendly” track, they no longer give free formula in your discharge bag. The last essential to have in the house for possible immediate use is some “ready-to-feed” formula. Just in case your milk takes a little longer to come in, or you have other challenges with breastfeeding, your baby still must be fed. Babies who don’t receive enough milk in the first week will become dehydrated, lose weight, and often become jaundiced. Many moms have offered formula in the first week to supplement while they sort out breastfeeding. If you are having any issues at all with baby’s latch or inability to settle and sleep soundly - you’ll need to see a lactation consultant outside the hospital. The ones in the hospital do a more cursory check, while a private visit will take your health history, examine oral anatomy, and determine transfer (how much milk the baby gets while nursing.) So having formula around is important. Using a quality bottle is also important, so it would be great to pick up some Dr Browns bottles with preemie nipple from a quality drugstore for the first night home just in case. Don’t use the disposable bottles & nipples that Similac sends you - the flow is super fast and that will confuse a baby who is learning how to breastfeed.
EVERYTHING ELSE CAN WAIT.
Other items to acquire or not acquire are as follows:
Pump. You don’t need to start pumping unless a lactation consultant advises you to pump after feeding in order to increase your milk supply. If that happens you’ll need your pump ready to go. The Spectra S2 is the choice of most new moms - it’s the most efficient and comfortable pump out there. For breastfeeding it’s not essential to have a support pillow, but many moms feel that it helps with positioning. Brand of choice is the “Brest Friend” for its flat supportive surface that let’s baby rest in the ideal position for aligning with breastfeeding. I also recommend a low stool to raise mom’s feet - just helps with ideal body positioning. Very helpful to have a Haakaa or similar soft silicone no-parts pump. You can attach the Haakaa to the breast you're not feeding on and the extra milk will pour into it. This can be used later to supplement your baby or for another person to practice feeding.
A place to “park” your baby. They can’t always be in your arms and you don’t always want them snoozing in the bedroom or wherever your bassinet is. So a Snuggle Me and/or Dock-a-tot are excellent places to put your baby down while she’s in your sightlines. Further, the Dock-a-tot helps babies sleep soundly because it creates that feeling of being touched on all sides, as though they are being held. Many parents put the Dock-a-tot IN the crib to help baby sleep better even though the warning label states not intended for overnight use.
White noise. Babies are used to continuous noise and intermittent motion in utero. But the outside world is both very still and very quiet. So white noise helps them sleep more soundly. It shouldn’t sound like the womb, or ocean waves, or rain falling on a tin roof. They are soothed by the sound of something closer to what a vacuum cleaner sounds like! Get a Marpac Dohn Sound Machine or the tower - perfect gift, if you want to nudge a friend or relative. The first night home if you don’t have one set up a white noise app on an iPad or other speaker will do. Ideally, we want “pushed air” rather than exposure to an electronic device.
Bottles. Brands of choice are the Dr. Browns with preemie nipple EVEN if you don’t have a preemie, it’s the slowest flow and will be less likely to “confuse” your baby going from breast to bottle. Other quality brands are Lansinoh Momma and Como Tomo. Also, the bottles and nipples the Spectra comes with work nicely too. Do you need a bottle warmer? NO. Babies don’t mind milk at room temp, or even cold - that’s an unnecessary marketing gadget. You can warm up cold milk by putting it in a pan of hot water, if you have time - never a microwave. Do you need a bottle sterilizer? NO. Throw bottles, pump parts, nipples and pacifiers in a pot of boiling water for 5 minutes every other week or so. In between just wash in a bowl of hot water, use a gentle natural soap (Dr. Browns makes one) and let them air-dry (they make a plastic grass-like item for that).
Getting Around. You’ll need a car seat that either snaps into a stroller frame, or a stroller that has a flat-style bassinet. But you’re only going out in the beginning with your baby to the pediatrician’s office. Carriers are great, but babies have to be 8 lbs to be safely put in one (Ergo, Baby K’tan, Solly Wrap) plus the mom should NOT be wearing baby until she has healed from birth and vaginal bleeding has subsided. Speaking of which - plenty of Witch Hazel, pads, and a peri-wash (Frida makes a great kit with all of things you need) is important for mom’s recovery. Doula’s trick - soak the pad in Witch Hazel, put in a plastic bag and stick in freezer to make a soothing ice-pack.
Items like nail-clippers, thermometer, a baby monitor, bath tub, bouncy chair, MamaRoo, clothes, toys, blankets, room darkening shades, the Owlet, a fancy rocking chair, etc. ALL can wait. Best bet - inherit items from friends and relatives - use neighborhood Facebook “mommy groups” for tips on nannies, night nurses, postpartum resources, and all sorts of gadgets, gear and hacks you’ll want to know about or purchase, gently used. Learning your baby is all you really need to do - so trust your instincts, you know more than you think you do. And try not to worry - they’ll do just fine.