For such small beings, babies seem to need an awful lot of ‘stuff’! Before you spend a fortune on baby kit though, read our guide to the real essentials.
If you have any questions or worries, have a chat with your health visitor who will happily advise you.
If you plan to breastfeed your baby, it’s best to wait and see how things are going before spending a fortune on breast pumps, storage bags and bottles. You may not need or want to use a pump, and even if you do, you may be able to loan one through your health visitor. They’ll be happy to talk you through expressing and storing breast milk.
If you decide to give your baby formula feed, you’ll need bottles and first stage formula milk as well as sterilisation equipment.
Until your baby is a year old, it’s important to sterilise all their feeding equipment, including bottles and teats, dummies and pumps to protect against infections, particularly diarrhoea and vomiting.
The cheapest and easiest option is cold water sterilising – all you need is a container and sterilising solution/tablets. You can also try steam sterilising (either using an electric steam steriliser or microwave) and boiling. Make sure you follow the manufacturer’s instructions at all times.
For the first few months of their life, your baby will need a crib, carrycot or Moses basket to sleep in, placed somewhere safe, warm and not too far from you. The mattress must be firm, flat, clean and waterproof. It’s important to check that the mattress fits without gaps so that your baby can’t trap their head and suffocate. If the crib or cot is second hand, health professionals recommend buying a new mattress.
You’ll need several sheets to go over the mattress as they’ll need changing regularly. Fitted sheets are easy to use, but can be expensive. Flat sheets are fine, providing you tuck them tightly under the mattress. You may want to use light blankets for warmth, but again make sure they’re tucked in firmly below your baby’s shoulder level.
Don’t use pillows or duvets – there’s a risk of suffocation and overheating. Cot bumpers are also not advisable as your baby could get tangled in the ties. Baby sleeping bags (also known as ‘gro bags’) are a safe alternative to blankets, but make sure you choose the right tog rating for the time of year. The ideal room temperature is between 18 and 20°C.
When buying a cot, look for the British Standard kitemark (BS EN 716-1). Your baby will be spending many hours in their cot, so it needs to be safe with a good, firm fitted mattress which is flat, clean and waterproof. The cot bars need to be smooth and securely fixed in place. The gaps between the bars should be at least 25mm (an inch) but not more than 60mm (2.5 inches) so that the baby’s head can’t be trapped.
Baby baths are convenient and not too expensive to buy, but you can bath your baby just as well in the sink or in the bath with an adult. Of course, the most important thing is to keep your baby safe at all times. What you will need to hand is a changing mat, towels, nappies and clean clothes.
For the first six weeks, you should avoid using soaps, oils or bubble baths on your baby’s sensitive skin. Cotton wool and cooled, boiled water are fine for keeping your baby clean. You can buy a ‘top-and-tail’ bowl which has two compartments that you fill with lukewarm, boiled water. You use the water in one bowl to wash baby’s face and body, and the other to thoroughly clean their nappy area. You can just as easily use a plastic tub or bowl though.
This is one thing you must ensure you’ve bought before your baby is born. Get advice from a trusted retailer where staff have been trained to help parents choose a seat which is appropriate for a newborn and suitable for your car. They’ll also demonstrate how to fit it to ensure it’s safe.
It is a good idea to practice fitting the seat correctly before the baby is born as it can be a bit fiddly and take some getting used to.
Always choose a baby seat that’s suitable for the age of your child. It’s not recommended that you buy them second hand, in case there is damage which you can’t see. There may also be parts missing or they might not be suitable for your car.
Keep the car seat just for the car, rather than using it to carry your baby around in. Babies shouldn’t be left in a car seat for more than 30 minutes at a time as the position may affect their breathing. Prolonged use can be damaging for a baby’s health and development. Avoid taking new babies (especially premature and low birth weight babies) on long car journeys.
More advice on car seat safety:
- The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (ROSPA) – the website includes short films to show you how to choose and fit a child car seat and further advice on car seat safety and the law
- NHS Choices – guidance on buying a baby car seat
Pushchairs, prams and buggies
Prams are great because they give your baby lots of room to sit or lie comfortably, but they do take up an awful lot of space and are hard to use on public transport. Pushchairs are only suitable for young babies if they fully recline to allow your baby to lie flat. Many parents opt for ‘travel systems’ – carry cots/car seats which click into a buggy frame and convert into a pushchair as your baby grows.
Whichever choice you go for, make sure you choose a travel system that’s the right height for you, that you can dismantle easily and that fits in your car if you have one. If you’re buying a second-hand pram or buggy, always check that the brakes work and the frame is strong.
While their eyesight is still developing, babies respond particularly well to black and white toys or those with strong colours and patterns. In the early weeks though, what your baby really needs is for you and other family members to respond to them and encourage their efforts at communicating. This growing relationship is key to language development and starts right from birth. In fact, in their first six months, your baby’s brain develops faster than at any other time in their life.
If you remember to ‘respond, cuddle, relax, play, talk’, you won’t go far wrong!
- Respond – interacting with your baby and responding to their needs encourages brain development
- Cuddle – babies are social beings and like lots of contact with others
- Relax – a calm adult helps a baby feel relaxed and reduces the stress hormones which interfere with brain development
- Play – smiling, eye contact and facial expressions encourage babies to respond to what they’re seeing and hearing
- Talk – singing to and talking with your baby will teach them communication skills
Bouncers, walkers and rockers
Well supported, fabric baby bouncer chairs are great for short lengths of time, although it’s not a good idea to allow your baby to sit in them for too long as it can lead to them developing a ‘flat head’. Avoid motorised vibrating bouncers – babies don’t have to move for themselves when seated in one of these, so don’t develop good muscle tone.
Health professionals also don’t recommend the use of baby walkers or door bouncers. Firstly this is for safety reasons – even with an adult keeping an eye on them, accidents happen and little ones can fall or trap their arms or legs. Secondly, it’s important to give children plenty of opportunities to move about on the floor so that they learn about their bodies and explore their environment. Because they have to be lifted in and out of a baby walker, it can delay development of the skill of moving into a standing position independently. Baby walkers can also encourage children to walk on their toes, a habit they may continue as they start to walk independently.
Find out more in this parent leaflet from the Association of Paediatric Chartered Physiotherapists.
Baby slings come in all different shapes and sizes from fabric wraps to front facing carriers, and can be a great practical help in terms of you getting out and about with your baby. Many parents find their babies are happier and more settled with the close contact of being in a baby carrier, whether it’s worn by mum or dad. If you choose to use a baby sling or carrier, do check out the safety advice: