minimalist baby gear: 17 newborn essentials

Creating a baby registry is a minefield. Without any past experience or formal training, how can you be expected to keep a baby alive, much less fed, swaddled, strolled, rocked, and happy? Moreover, when you’ve spent hours KonMari-ing your wardrobe and discarding anything that doesn’t spark joy, you dread the impending Fisher-Price siege of your living room. (And car. and every other nook and cranny in your house.)

Before Baby K arrived, I (like virtually all other mamas I know) spent many late hours reading Amazon reviews and scouring Craigslist for second-hand deals. To save you time and anxiety, I’m sharing the minimalist baby gear that was absolutely essential for us the first 3 months. (Much of it we still use now at 11 months; some Baby K outgrew.)


1. Sleep sacks – In the Bringing Home Baby hospital classes they teach you to swaddle with a receiving blanket. WRONG. At 2 AM with precisely zero sleep, you will not only have forgotten how to tie the d*** swaddle, you will be desperate for anything that will buy you one hour of sweet rest. The gods of the Baby Gear world have your back. For newborns, the Summer Infant SwaddleMes are swaddles with Velcro. Buy at least two, since one will always be in the wash.

You will find yourself marveling at the magic of Velcro, until the night arrives when you awaken in a panic to check on the baby and discover that he’s broken free of his swaddle. Tuck him into a Merlin’s Magic Sleep Suit and soak up the moments of your peaceful babe bundled up like a miniature sumo wrestler. Once Hulk Baby is rolling, the Halo Sleep Sacks are the perfect armless swaddles. (For hot Houston weather, we love the Aden + Anais muslin sleep sack.)

2. Pack and play – Every family is different, but for us, the easiest nighttime arrangement was for Baby K to sleep in a pack-and-play next to our bed until we were comfortable moving him to the nursery. The Nuna Sena is our go-to portable crib (it’s easy to open and close with one hand, and very sturdy); for long trips, we bring along a Phil&Teds Traveller Cot, which is much more lightweight and packs into a compact carrying bag. This plush quilted pack-and-play sheet fits the Nuna Sena like a glove.

3. Bouncer/swing – Maybe you’ll give birth to one of those unicorn babies that sleeps through the night at, like, 5 days old. Or maybe you will proclaim your Mamaroo the best invention since Netflix. There are a lot of bouncers and swings out there, but the Mamaroo is our jam. We also scooped up a battery-powered Snugapuppy rock-n-play for our living room when we realized how much we needed a safe place to set the baby down for each room of our house. Most of the babies we know have strong preferences for and against bouncers and swings, so I recommend borrowing them or buying second-hand until you’re sure what your kid needs.

minimalist baby gear secondhand bouncer

4. Blankets – Aden + Anais are the gold standard. The muslin blankets are like a Shamwow for wiping up baby messes. If you tie one around your shoulders, it’ll double as a nursing cover. Buy three of these. You’re welcome.

5. Crib – We transitioned Baby K out of our room and into his crib in the nursery right before I went back to work, when he was 3 months old. I spent far too long pining after Pinterest nurseries and coveted the Stokke crib ubiquitous in designer homes. We settled for another midcentury-inspired crib, the Babyletto Lolly, which was a third of the price, and Amazon Prime-eligible. Isn’t she pretty?

minimalist baby gear zero waste nursery crib


6. Bottles – Be forewarned that many babies have specific bottle preferences. I’d advise you to squash those nesting instincts and not stock up on All The Bottles. We have a variety of glass bottles (we try to avoid plastic, plus the glass bottles don’t get that awful milky film over time). Baby K’s favorites are the Lifefactory bottles and I’d be lying if I said I don’t love to match my water bottle with his. With the silicon sleeves, they’ve survived many drops on hard surfaces. Bonus: they’re compatible with my Medela pump, so I pump right into them. Lifefactory also makes sippy lids so you can convert the bottles into sippy cups when your babe grows into a toddler.

minimalist baby gear glass Lifefactory bottles

7. Bottle washing – If you’re a working mom, bottle washing will be the bane of your existence. Sorry, sister. All of those bottles and pump parts won’t wash themselves. A good bottle brush (we love our OXO Tot brush – it has a built-in nipple cleaner) and foaming soap (Babyganics here) make it a bit easier. The Boon Grass is as functional as it is cute; it’s the perfect solution for drying bottles the tiny bottle parts that otherwise get lost in the kitchen shuffle. I suggest picking up a dishwasher basket, too, for those lazy nights when you just want to dump it all in the diswasher and press “Go.”

8. Nursing survival kit – If you plan on breastfeeding, do your postpartum self a favor and stock up ahead on nursing supplies. (Pst – these also make the perfect shower gift; no one really needs more onesies or stuffed animals.) Motherlove nipple cream doubles as diaper balm; the Lanisoh Soothies gel pads are heaven on earth (especially when paired with a Bed Buddy for hot/cold relief); the Milkies milk saver will catch your extra milk during a fast let-down; and a pair of Bamboobies will save you from public humiliation.

And those are just the basics. I also became best friends with my Boppy nursing pillow and my Milksnob nursing cover. I wouldn’t say my pump and I are on the best of terms; it’s better classified as a modern-day torture device.


9. Diapers & diaper rash cream – I’ve blogged previously about our cloth diaper routine. We have about two dozen all-in-one cloth diapers, and several packs of Grovia cloth wipes. When a rash flares up, I alternate between jojoba oil or coconut oil (both of which I buy at the grocery store), and the Earth Mama Angel Baby balm, which smells great and is safe on cloth diapers. We also keep a Grovia Magic Stick stashed in the diaper bag just in case.

10. Changing pad – You have enough laundry to do with a newborn without washing changing pad covers on the daily. Invest in a foam changing pad. They’re wipeable. Need I say more? Check out the rave Amazon reviews.

11. Diaper pail – K, I’m going to recommend another expensive baby item that may cause an eyeroll or two, but I’m sticking to it. The Ubbi diaper pail is a stainless steel workhouse. After an intensely hot summer in an under-airconditioned house, I can safely conclude that it excels at blocking diaper smells.



12. Stroller – I’m far from a stroller expert; there are pros and cons to any stroller. After memorizing the section on baby strollers on Lucie’s List and testing them out in-person, I convinced Dara that we needed an Uppababy Cruz. This was our big splurge, and I regret nothing.

13. Car seat – Because we are simpletons (and lazy), we opted for an Uppababy car seat that’s compatible with our stroller. We found a Mesa gently-used on Craigslist and it was Baby K’s cozy little nest until he turned into a beanpole and outgrew it. (At some point, these bucket-style infant car seats become too heavy to lug around, anyways.) We now have a fleet of three Diono Radian R100 convertible car seats, chosen for their reputed ability to fit 3 side-by-side. (We might want three kids. Are we crazy?)

minimalist baby gear secondhand Uppababy carseat


14. Diaper bag – There’s this whole tribe of mamas out there who are steadfast devotees to high-end diaper bag brands. I’m not one of them. We started out with a Skip Hop Duo, which got the job done. Once Baby K was on the go, though, I wanted a hands-free option, so we switched gears and scooped up a backpack instead. We currently have a Fawn Designs backpack. I like it fine. (I’ll write a review soon, promise!)

I’m holding out for the self-organizing diaper bag that doesn’t look like a miniature tornado inside, and that re-stocks itself every time we come home.

minimalist baby gear backpack diaper bag



15. Soap – Baby skin is extra sensitive, so it’s probably best to buy baby her own bath products. The Burt’s Bees baby shampoo smells like honey (yum!) and lathers nicely. In spite of all the tempting baby-care gift baskets out there, I suggest starting out with a small bottle of soap as a trial until you’re sure your babe won’t have a negative reaction.

16. Cold care – No matter your best efforts to wash your hands frequently, keep sickos at bay, and drape a blanket over the car seat during public outings, your kid is going to get sick at some point. Every parent should have a Nosefrida when that times. I won’t lie, it is a bit nauseating of a process to suck out your child’s boogers, but someone has to. We also relied on a rectal thermometer (provided by our hospital) and Infant Tylenol to ride out those early colds.

17. Tub – Once your baby’s umbilical cord falls off, it’s time to start a bath routine. In the great old days, parents bathed their babies in kitchen sinks. I planned to do this, but when the time came, I was terrified of some kind of head-to-faucet accident. We used a gift card to spring for a Puj tub, which gave me peace of mind and conveniently folded up to fit under our small bathroom vanity. Once Baby K was easily sitting unassisted (around 6 months), I moved him to the regular bath tub.

…And those are our zero waste baby essentials. Are there enough baby toys and play gyms and bouncers out there to entertain a whole kingdom? Yes. Do you need them? No. My kid’s favorite playthings consist of: spatulas, remote controls, CDs, adult shoes, and toothbrushes. Santa’s bringing him a brand new potato masher for Christmas.

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