Registering for Baby: What Do You Really Need?

registry-graphicIf you’re starting to think about registering for baby gear and look at online or retail store Baby Registry checklists lists (like the one shown at right here), your first reaction might be “Oh, that’s a long list.” Your second thought might be “Wow, I didn’t think of this. Or that. Or that other thing I never knew existed. Thank goodness I have this list.”

But keep in mind that most of those lists are put out by the very businesses that are trying to sell to you (and to your friends and family) as much as they can to bump up their bottom line. So, if you’re interested in starting to critically analyze what you DO and DON’T need, and what you DO and DON’T want cluttering up your home, read on!

The First Step

My best suggestion is to first figure out in what manner you intend to parent: do you want to go full mainstream, do you want to parent instinctively, or somewhere along the spectrum in-between? This can be hard to figure out if you are expecting your first baby and haven’t thought about this question and don’t really have any practical experience to draw from. Sometimes you have a better idea by watching how your friends parent to see what resonates with you. Or you may be the first of your peers to be having a baby and this all seems very new, as you are the ones paving the path.

I’m not going to get divisive here, I just want to give you a basic overview of the two basic manners in which most North American parents raise families, so you can get your bearings, in case this is a new concept for you.

Mainstream parenting:

This is most likely the kind of parenting that your parents and grandparents did. In the mid-20th century, parenting advice started to come from outside the family. Doctors and scientists started giving advice. One large cornerstone of this advice was that science had developed baby formula, and it was advertised as being better than breastmilk. Another piece of advice was that being too doting on your infant led to a child who might be manipulative or insecure. Thus were born the practices of separating parents and infants: sleeping in separate rooms, using cradles and play pens while mother did what she needed around the home, formula feeding, feeding on a schedule, sleeping schedules, restricting displays of affection towards your child.

Instinctive parenting:

This is more the kind of parenting of listening to your instincts and intuition. If we think about humans as we would other mammals (think a cat or a dog, for example), these are animals who respond to what their young need as just part of their routine. They tap into the instinctive wisdom of parenting they possess. Keeping their young calm includes keeping the young in close proximity, feeding when hungry, sleeping when tired, and otherwise responding to their needs.

Realistically, most people are going to fall somewhere in the middle between these two types of parenting. My goal with this post is to explain how different gear is or isn’t needed with these two extremes. Hopefully that will give you some practical insight into how, when and why a particular item might be used. Then you can assess whether it seems like you may or may not need an item based on where you anticipate you might fall on the parenting spectrum and some of the other insights I’ve provided below. That way you can have a more streamlined and targeted registry list, and hopefully a less-cluttered home.

Feeding a baby

I won’t go into all the myriad permutations of feeding and associated gear, because many of them are for very specific/special circumstances, needs or goals, but the basic categories are:

  • all-formula feedings,
  • combination feeding formula and breastmilk,
  • all breastmilk from nursing/at-breast, and
  • all breastmilk feeding but not exclusively nursing/at-breast.

If you have any specific questions about feeding options, you can always feel free to reach out to me at

Typical Requirements

In most cases, feeding all formula will require formula and bottles.

In most cases, combo feeding (feeding a combination of milk and formula) will require formula and bottles. For some, they may also need a pump and bottles, or they may choose to nurse while they are with their baby and formula feed when they are away, and not pump. Or they may be using a combination of formula and donor milk and not need a pump, either.

In most cases, exclusively breastfeeding (only milk) from nursing/at-breast will require no formula, no bottles, and no pump. This is most common if you are planning to stay home with the baby. Exceptions to this could be if you may occasionally need or want to be away from your baby — you may want to have a couple of bottles on-hand. You could hand express for the milk you would need, or use a hand pump. Outfitting yourself with a double-electric pump is unnecessary in that case. If you would consider being a milk donor, then a double-electric pump would be very handy.

In most cases, all breastmilk feedings that are not exclusively nursing/at-breast will require a double-electric pump and bottles. This is most often a working, pumping parent, OR someone who is exclusively pumping. Exclusively pumping is sometimes done because there are issues that make nursing impossible or very difficult (often not known until after the birth), but sometimes it is a personal decision that is made prior to the birth that can be planned for. Someone who is pumping while at work should look for a retail or insurance grade double-electric pump + accessories. Someone who is exclusively pumping should look for a hospital grade pump + accessories.

If you think you might be in need of an electric pump and would like to read more about choosing a pump and seeing some points of comparison, read “Choosing the Best Breast Pump: You Have Options Beyond Medela.”

Additional Info on Bottles

As mentioned above, many feeding options include bottle use.

If you will be feeding breastmilk bottles, then you will only be feeding a max of about 4 oz. at a time. This is because the milk digests quickly and babies will generally go no more than 3 hours between feedings, and the composition of the milk changes over time so that it keeps up with the nutritional needs of the baby as they age without having to increase volume. Each bottle feeding will use about 1 oz. to 1.25 oz. for every hour since the last feeding. If you (or a care provider) are feeding roughly every 3 hours, that means each bottle will be roughly 3-3.75 oz. Not the giant 8 oz. bottles we are used to seeing.

If you will be feeding mostly or exclusively formula, then you will need those larger bottles. This is because formula is made with a static nutritional profile; it does not increase in calories/fat/protein/etc. per oz. over time, so the way to increase the intake of these components is to increase volume over time.


Aside from a few special outfits which may (or may not) be important to you (coming home from the hospital, newborn photo shoot, religious ceremony), it’s most practical to have onesie and and sleeper type clothes for the first few months.

That special lace-collared dress that your sister gave you for your precious little girl is probably going to get spit-up on about 20 minutes after it is put on. The adorable culottes, suspenders and vest from your mother-in-law for her handsome grandson may well end up being stripped off from a diaper blow-out (poop up the back, for the uninitiated) in 3-2-1…

While you can’t stop others from buying these outfits, don’t feel the need to register for anything beyond the basics for everyday wear: onesies (short-sleeves and no legs) or sleepers (short- or long-sleeves with legs). You will be lucky if YOU get a daily shower in the first few weeks after birth. Dressing up the baby will likely fall WAY down on the priority list. Practical — easy to wash, easy to store, easy to grab, easy to get OFF — are what it’s all about. And if you happen to leave one of these practical, inexpensive garments on the changing table in the Target bathroom, you won’t feel too bad about saying “F- – – it. I’m too tired to go back for it.”

And by the way, 0-3 months doesn’t really mean it will for sure fit for 0-3 months. Chances are you’ll be in 3-6 month clothes in just a few weeks, so register for 3-6 month onesies and sleepers — and larger sizes, too. Also, if you’ll be cloth diapering, you’ll likely be sizing up to accommodate the bulk of the diaper.

Baby furniture


This is really one that you’ll want to think about. Humans, as land-based mammals, evolved to sleep near their young. Co-sleeping is an umbrella term that means sleeping near your baby. This could be a crib or bassinet in the same room with you (room-sharing), or it could be sleeping in the same bed with you (bed-sharing). But it doesn’t have to be bed-sharing. (If you are interested in bed-sharing, just make sure you are ready to bed-share safely. Co-sleeping, whether room-sharing or bed-sharing, is shown to increase the amount of sleep that parents get. Parents get even more sleep if they are co-sleeping and nursing. So, if you think you may want to bed-share long-term, you may not need a crib at all. If you are thinking about bed-sharing or room-sharing for the long-term, you may not need to register for a baby monitor either.

There are many parents who do not feel comfortable with bed-sharing, or who are not able to meet the safety recommendations for safe co-sleeping, in which case a baby sleeping in their own safe space like a crib is the best option.

We registered for a crib. I thought that I would have to get my baby to sleep in her own room, in her own crib, because I was going back to work. Turns out, my instincts the night she was born told me that she would be better off sleeping in our room. She never used the crib in her room. We did get a mini-crib for our room, though. If you intend to have a family bed, you probably don’t need a crib at all. If you’re interested in reading more about our unexpected journey with sleep, read “Co-Sleeping vs. the Great Quest for Sleep.

Changing Table

This isn’t about parenting styles, but more about knowing yourself and your habits plus evaluating your home’s layout. If you are someone who always wants to go to a specific location to change diapers, or you mostly live on one level, you might want a changing table where you put all of your changing supplies. If you prefer to change wherever you are in the home, or if you have a multilevel house and might prefer more than one changing “station” you might want a basket with a few diapers, wipes and a changing mat in several places.

“Contain & Entertain” gear

I don’t know what else to call this group, but it’s basically items that keep your child safe/occupied/sleeping.

Swings/Rock & Play/Play yards

This is another type of item that you will want to carefully consider with regards to what you think your parenting style will be. If you are going full mainstream, this is pretty standard gear as babies are expected to spend increasing amounts of time on their own, although you may decide you don’t need, want, or have room for all three of these items.

If you are thinking more instinctive parenting style, babies will be spending more time with you, usually being carried or held. So, you may have less need for all three of these items taking up space in your home. A play yard is helpful if you think you might have a need to quickly put a baby down in a safe space. A swing can be helpful when the baby is having a rough day and you need a break for your own sanity, or even just to use the bathroom. But swings are generally good only until about 6 months old, and they do take up a bunch of space. So maybe looking for a gently-used one or a space saving one, if you feel you really want one, is a better option for you. Give it some thought. You may decide you don’t need any of them, or perhaps only one.


Babywearing carriers and wraps are more common among instinctive parenting families, but many families of all types are  drawn to the convenience of being able to free up their arms. An alternative to a swing is to wear your baby in a wrap or carrier and sit on a birth ball/yoga ball and bounce. It can cost less, the ball can easily be deflated and stored, and there’s no upper age or weight limit on bouncing (vs. the general upper limit of 6 months for swings). Babywearing is also a way you can soothe a child and still have your hands free to get stuff done around the house, take a walk, or go shopping. See more about babywearing in the section below, “Getting Out and About Gear.”


It used to be that cloth diapers were the realm of crunchy or stay-at-home parents. But with so many modern options, as long as someone is willing to do an extra load of laundry every 2-3 days, cloth diapers are being embraced by a wide range of families. There are plenty of families with working parents who cloth diaper, and there are plenty of families with a stay at home parent who don’t use cloth. So, diaper choice no longer necessarily aligned with parenting style.

But, if you think you want to cloth diaper, this would be a great thing to register for, since it’s a bit more of an upfront cost if you want new cloth diapers. (There are plenty of options for buying used diapers out there, too: Craigslist, Facebook buy/sell/trade groups for baby gear or cloth diapering, and there are some resale shops that deal in diapers.)

There is a huge range in cloth diaper costs and styles. An overview of different styles of cloth diapers is available here. If you are wondering how much cloth vs. disposable diapers cost, you can check out this sample the cost comparison chart here. One thing I will also mention with regard to cost (because I didn’t consider this when I started) is that most of the cloth diapers and related accessories you buy can be resold after you are done with them so you can recoup some money afterwards, too.

I will say thought that even for cloth diapering families, having a few newborn size disposable diapers might be a good idea. Many one-size cloth diapers aren’t small enough for a newborn, unless you have big newborns. And I haven’t seen many cloth diapers that accommodate the umbilical cord. And meconium, a baby’s first few poops, are very dark and thick and may stain cloth. So, you may just want to cut yourself some slack and instead of getting on the learning curve of cloth diapering while trying to figure out how to be a new parent, give it a few days/couple of weeks.

If cloth doesn’t interest you, look into cost-saving ideas for disposables, like a scheduled automatic delivery service. Before I switched over to cloth, I was signed up for automatic monthly delivery of diapers and wipes. SO much easier than running out of diapers at 3am because I forget to stop at the store after work. But of course, you can also register for disposable diapers as well. And just like with the 0-3 month clothes, you’ll likely outgrow the tiny diapers more quickly than anticipated, so register for several sizes.

“Getting out and about” gear

Car Seat

I know, including car seats in this list seems odd, right? It’s a required piece of equipment for any baby traveling in a car, so why would I include it on a list of “what to buy or skip”? However, there are so many options on the market. Nearly everyone I know started with a pumpkin seat, then moved to a convertible seat. I never questioned it. The pumpkin seat seemed convenient: we could buy one seat and two bases, and then bring the seat to daycare and it didn’t matter who dropped off or picked up, we always had coverage for 2 cars for the low cost of one seat plus an extra base.

However, beyond that, I didn’t use the pumpkin seat much. I preferred to use a carrier to wear while running errands. That way I had 2 free hands, was carrying less weight, it wasn’t as awkward, and it didn’t take up all the room in my shopping basket. (Note: shopping carts handles are NOT made for clicking pumpkin seats into. It could be a dangerous mistake, even though it seems like they are supposed to fit, they are not.) And before long, we had to size up to a convertible seat anyway.

In retrospect, I really wish we had registered for or put the money towards the convertible seats right from the beginning. (Note: if you decide to register for a convertible seat for a newborn, be sure to check this min size requirements for the seat. Some are ok for newborns, but not preemies. Some aren’t quite small enough for newborns. If you’re looking for great information on carseats, check out the Facebook group Car Seats for the Littles — the admins are car seat techs.)

Also worth mentioning is rear-facing car seats. Recommendations and laws have been in flux lately. Recommendations for safety (based on skeletal development and physics) are to keep children rear-facing until 4 years old. Many state laws now require children to rear-face until AT LEAST 2. Consider that if your child’s genetics on either side might suggest they have the possibility of being taller than average, you may want to look for a seat that has a taller rear-facing height range than average. I’m pretty short, but my daughter outgrew her rear-facing height on her car seat before she turned 4, which then sent us looking for her THIRD carseat, which I never anticipated. I could have saved myself almost $200 from the first 2 seats and put it towards the cost of the third, extended-rear-facing car seat we currently have.

But, if you really really want to use a stroller with a newborn, then a pumpkin seat (with a compatible stroller frame) may be the right choice for you.


Whether using a carrier like an Ergo, Tula, Bjorn, etc., a stretchy wrap like a Moby, or a woven wrap, babywearing is an old practice likely followed by most cultures all over the world at some point. Dominant western cultures mostly abandoned this practice, but many families are coming back around to the idea, as they are finding the physical touch and connection to be both meaningful and easier.


Strollers are useful if you don’t have any desire to babywear so that you have an alternative to tired arms. If you are drawn to babywearing, you probably don’t need anything fancy. A simple, inexpensive stroller can be a helpful, but not necessary, backup — you wouldn’t need a bulky, expensive travel system or pumpkin seat snap-in frame (see the above section on Car Seats) if you plan to use a carrier most of your time out and about. But if not, and you really like your gear to match and be part of a functional set, maybe you love the idea of a travel system.

Anything else I’ve left out that you want to know about? Drop a comment and I may continue adding to this post.













About Becca Marshall

Becca is a postpartum doula and a CLC (Certified Lactation Counselor), offering in-home, customized support for babies and families. She also teaches Pump Prep, a class designed specifically for those who need to pump. She has been with Purple Lotus Doulas since 2013.

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