A couple of good friends at work are expecting their first babies in the next few weeks, and we’ve been talking about buying those all-important baby essentials before the big day.  It’s possible to spend an absolute fortune on every baby gizmo and gadget known to mankind, like a friend of mine who bought everything in one toe-curlingly expensive spree at John Lewis a week before the birth, but that doesn’t have to be the case.

Please bear in mind that this post is based entirely on my own opinion (with a bit of received advice thrown in) and there will be parents who disagree with me wholeheartedly.

So, where to shop?  We bought most of our new stuff from Kiddicare.com (by far my favourite retailer), Boots.com (especially great if you join their Parenting Club), Marks & Spencer, amazon.com (if you can forgive them for their tax-dodging, then their ‘subscribe and save’ scheme is good value for ongoing bulk items like nappies and wipes) and Mothercare.  Mothercare are really good for clothes, offer great customer service, and will price match most of the major retailers on high-ticket branded items.  For example, we spoke to their car seat specialist in-store, chose the model we wanted, and at the till they matched the price shown on amazon.com.  We are also lucky enough to live near a Fara secondhand baby shop, and have purchased some really lovely clothes from them.  I know other parents who swear by local NCT secondhand sales, too.

Now, on to the essentials.

It’s worth bearing in mind that people are extraordinarily generous when it comes to new babies.  We were inundated with gifts of new and nearly new things when she was born.  So unless you are particularly wedded to, for example, the fetching green tartan knickerbocker and cardigan set that you’ve seen in JoJo Maman Bebe, you might want to wait.  All we really needed for the first few weeks were some long-sleeved and short-sleeved vests and some babygros/sleepsuits.  Not to put too fine a point on it, everything gets covered in sick and poo anyway.  Personally I really like the packs of M&S vests and sleepsuits because they’re great value, good quality and survive multiple washing.

You can never, ever have too many muslins.  I’d say ten at a minimum, twenty if you don’t want to be forever searching for a clean one.  Not only are they perfect for endless mop-ups, but a friend told me that they’re one of the best things for teething babies to gnaw on.

Nappies are astonishingly expensive.  I had lofty ideas about using the washable ones with liners, but must confess that after a day or so of using disposables I conceded that it was one more hassle we didn’t need.  For this I apologise unreservedly to the environment (and have redoubled my recycling efforts to compensate).  We tried a few of the branded and non-branded ones and, in my opinion, Pampers are by far the best.  By contrast, my favourite wipes aren’t from a major brand (‘Little Bundles’ sensitive wipes) and are a fraction of the cost, with Sainsbury’s ‘Little Ones’ coming a close second.  Bear in mind that you don’t need wipes to start with and cotton wool pads and warm water will do (unless it’s poo-mageddon, of course, in which case you’ll have to bung them in the bath anyway).  Good quality olive oil is great for any sore or dry patches on their skin.

Unless you love the smell of stale baby faeces, a nappy bin is a great idea.  We were given a Tommee Tippee Sangenic one.  OK, it’s probably not an absolute essential, but I’ve been mighty grateful for it.

You will need a changing bag and mat for when you are out.  There are zillions of branded changing bags on the market.  My issue with those is that they tend to be very expensive and very girly … I like to think that N has ‘new man’ credentials but it’s rather mean to send him off to the loos with a large bag covered in daisies.  We bought a simple satchel-style canvas bag (pockets are useful) from M&S and it’s served us very well.  That said, I’ve just bought a pair of ‘hamster bags’ which can either be carried over your shoulder or clipped to the side of a buggy which may supercede our current bag.  If they’re good, I would probably have used something like that from the outset.

Probably my favourite and most useful item is my Skip Hop Pronto changing mat.  It’s a mat with a removable nappy pocket and wipes pocket attached, with an additional external zip pocket that could hold, say, a wallet and mobile phone.  When rolled up it’s not much bigger than a large clutch bag.  It will hold about six nappies, which is enough for a normal day, and we never leave home without it.  Bearing in mind that a lot of venues have inadequate or dirty changing facilities, it’s great to have something clean and comfortable that can be rolled out almost anywhere.  I love the design and practicality of this and can’t recommend this more highly.

For feeding, I bought a Tommee Tippee set that had several bottles, a steam steriliser and a bottle warmer.  The steriliser is brilliant and we still use it now.  With a bit of creative thinking it will fit other bottles too.  The bottle warmer seemed a luxury at the time, but turned out to be incredibly convenient.  Heating bottles in the microwave isn’t advisable (you can get hot spots) and faffing about with boiling water is a pain (and quite tricky if you’re holding a baby that you’d rather not scald).

We used the Tommee Tippee bottles to begin with, but quickly ended up getting Dr Brown’s bottles (the anti-colic ones) because poor little M was taking in so much air that she was in a lot of pain.  These bottles are a bit fiddly to wash, but the milk flow is beautifully smooth and bubble-free.  Again, we still use them now, although over time we have migrated from stage 1 teats (perfect for the first few months) to Boots’ own-label wide-necked ‘variflow’ teats that fit perfectly and allow for faster flow as their consumption increases.

I’m going to write a separate post on the subject of feeding, because we had some issues with that, but I’ll just make a quick observation about formula.  You may intend to breastfeed exclusively for as long as possible.  I certainly did.  However, it makes sense to have some formula at home, just in case.  You can get little cartons of pre-mixed Aptamil, if you don’t want to buy a huge tub of powder, and having a couple of those in the cupboard will prevent a midnight dash to the chemist when you’re exhausted, you have no more milk and the baby is screaming blue murder.  70p well spent, in my opinion.

I mentioned in the previous post that I found the whole issue of sleep very nerve-wracking.  That fear was alleviated by a few purchases.  Our baby monitor is excellent.  It is a Tomy one with a sensor pad that goes under the mattress and monitors the baby’s breathing.  I think you can get the pad to fit with any of their monitors (and I’m sure other brands make them too).  For me this was a better choice than a video monitor (I would’ve sat up all night staring at it).

Sleeping bags are a truly wonderful invention, and the Kiddicare ‘Funky Friends’ and ‘O Baby’ ones are fabulous.  They’re comfy and cosy, wash really well, and mean that the baby can’t slip under the covers.  If you need additional covers, go for cellular blankets.  Ours came from Mothercare.

I wasn’t going to buy a Moses basket (I thought the pram bassinet would suffice to start with) and then we were given one.  As it transpired, it was brilliant to be able to carry her around without waking her up.  She slept in it really well.  I also realised that our pram bassinet wouldn’t sit flat anywhere apart from in its own wheel base, so it would have been impossible to move around indoors with ease.  After a few weeks she was already getting too big for the basket, so we migrated her to a travel cot which we set up beside our bed.  Given that the recommendation is that they stay in your room for 6 months, you need something fairly substantial.  We went for the Graco Contour cot that has a bassinet that fits in the top for when they are small.  The bassinet makes all the difference (trust me, your spine will thank you).  It was fantastic while it was her permanent bed, and it’s still great as a travel cot.  You can get a very fancy one that vibrates, but we didn’t bother … she’s a baby, not a cocktail.  The only thing to be wary of is the mattress.  It’s like a thin piece of lino and I wouldn’t dream of putting her on it.  I bought the mattresses for her travel cot and cot-bed from babywise.co.uk and am delighted with both.  They are good quality and really comfortable.

We decided on a cot-bed rather than a cot as it lasts until they’re a few years old.  I strongly recommend that you get one that has three mattress levels, and a drop side (think of that spine again!).  We got a Saplings Stephanie pine one from Boots.com and I have absolutely no complaints.  It was even easy to assemble.  Please remember that cot bumpers are not recommended as they’re dangerous (they’re also unbearably twee, but that’s just a personal thing!).

I’m sure entire blogs have been devoted to the subject of buggies, prams and travel systems.  We looked at a few models and eventually bought a Bugaboo Cameleon secondhand from a friend.  It was wonderful while she was in the bassinet (for which I bought a new mattress from from babymattressesonline.co.uk) because it’s so big and sturdy and safe.  Increasingly it has become too bulky and unwieldy for my liking, and I’ve contemplated pushing it into the Thames on more than one occasion (minus the baby, of course), but it’s all about personal preference.  A lot of people go for the Bugaboo Bee which is smaller, lighter and more compact, so it will last much longer, whereas I have conceded defeat and ordered a Maclaren Techno stroller.

Some brands come with a footmuff already (Bugaboo don’t, and their branded ones are extortionately expensive) but, if not, Buggy Snuggles are lovely and fit most buggies.  Our little monkey looks so cozy in hers that I get actively jealous.

We bought the Maxi Cosi Cabriofix car seat (rear-facing) with the FamilyFix Isofix base.  Both are easy to install and simple to use.  My only gripe with the car seat is that you cannot move the carry handle forwards or backwards with one hand; you need to release the clips on both sides do to it.  If I ruled the world, all baby items would be required by law to be operable with one hand only!  Other than that it’s brilliant, and she is very comfortable in it.  It’s also very straightforward to secure it with a seatbelt if you’re in a taxi, for example.  Because our M is quite a little baby, we’re only thinking about replacing it with the next model now.

I mentioned Gina Ford and Tracy Hogg books in the previous post.  In addition, Dr Miriam Stoppard’s ‘Complete Baby & Childcare’ is a great one-stop reference guide to the early months and years.

I think that’s about it in terms of essentials.  I could wax lyrical about baby bouncers and inflatable play nest rings (both very useful if you want to, for instance, go to the loo), bath seats (not very helpful in the bath but useful as a kind of ‘towel seat’ in which to plonk the baby afterwards and wrap them up), bumbos (M loathed hers) and all sorts of things, but I’d be here all night.  Happy shopping.