Being a new dad can be overwhelming. First, you’re faced with the responsibility of caring for another person’s life. Not a goldfish anymore, but an actual human being. And not just any human being, but one that is entirely dependent on you to meet her every need. You’re looking at spending the next couple decades giving that little girl everything she needs to succeed in life–from shelter and food to a sense of morality. It’s a huge commitment, and will require seemingly endless amounts of time, money, and dedication.
So you have a baby on the way. You’ve read all the books (and all of the things that can go wrong–it’s a wonder any of us turns out “normal”), and–while terrified–you think you’re as ready as you can be. And then you go to the baby store. There are aisles stacked to the ceiling with a bewildering array of formula, baby clothes, diaper bags, strollers, car seats, nipple shields (ask your wife), and thousands of other items you never knew existed. You walk past the wall of bottle nipples, in hundreds of sizes and shapes, and begin to doubt yourself. And for good reason; new parents are a great target market for almost anyone looking to make a few bucks. There’s an innate sense of insecurity that accompanies your newfound responsibility, and there’s the power to make you feel guilty for not giving your child “the best.” Just be careful; you can spend a fortune (I have–twice).
Allow me to demystify–here’s what you really need (should you find yourself in the unlikely position of shopping alone):
1. A car seat- You’ll need this to get home from the hospital. The kind that you can carry with you and snap into another vehicle is convenient; the convertible kind will fit your child for longer. It’s up to you. They all meet minimum safety standards, and it’s really more important to install it correctly than to buy the most expensive one out there. Your local hospital, fire department, or school district may offer free installation checks.
2. Diapers- I’ll leave the cloth vs disposable debate to someone else. Really, your baby doesn’t need these at all; they just keep your furniture and your new car seat cleaner. You’ll use about 8-12 a day at first; plan accordingly. Grab a couple packs of wipes while you’re there.
3. A place for your baby to sleep. This can be a bassinet (Greek for “small baby bed”) beside your bed, a pack-and-play with a bassinet attachment, or an crib. The bassinet is great for the first few weeks when your baby is waking every 2-4 hours to eat. If you haven’t picked out a crib yet, just get a bassinet and take your time.
4. Blankets/clothes- Let’s be real; you’re not taking that baby out for a while. A few onesies, sleepers, and some swaddling blankets are enough to get by. They make cute dress-up clothes, but your newborn will probably outgrow them before you take him anywhere. Shoes for newborns are ridiculous–they can’t walk.
5. Something to feed your baby- If you’re planning to breastfeed (which I would highly encourage), your wife will make this herself. Otherwise, you’ll need some formula and bottles. Pick some bottles and see how you like them. Your wife will probably change her mind, so just get a few. You’re feeding a baby, not an army. Grab a can of powdered formula–this is more overwhelming than choosing motor oil, but not even the GoodStart sales rep could tell me the difference between the 3 varieties she was selling (“No, but what is the actual chemical difference between formula for fussy babies and formula for babies that we would like to be healthy?”).
6. A rectal thermometer…just in case. Kind of like carrying an umbrella to keep it from raining.
7. Stop on the way home and grab some flowers, chocolate, a bottle of wine, or something sparkly for your wife.
That’s really it. Your new baby won’t play with toys, try to crawl down the stairs, stick her finger in the outlet, sit in a high chair, or eat baby food until long after you make it back to the store. Remember, this is a minimal list; I’m certainly not claiming that I never bought anything else. You’ll be back, and you’ll spend more money. But a handful of items will get you by until you wife goes back and helps you pick out what she really wanted.