Baby Registry 101: Tips from a BabyGear Nerd

baby registry tips baby registry tips

Creating a baby registry sounds like the most fun thing you’ll ever do — until you actually sit down to do it and realize it’s totally overwhelming. Where do you register? How much stuff do you put on your list? Is everything too expensive? Is your grandma going to be able to figure out what to do? Luckily, when I was a new mom, I amassed ALL THE ITEMS (useful, pointless, and in between) so you don’t have to. Here’s a quick-n-dirty guide to help you get the most bang for someone else’s buck. And if you still end up registering for a few fancy blankets to use exclusively for Instagram photo ops, I am definitely not here to judge you.

Choosing a Store or Site

These days, you can create a registry just about anywhere. But why register anywhere when you can register everywhere? Babylist lets you add items from any store, and now even allows you collect contributions for a college fund and even ask for “service” gifts like bring us a home-cooked meal; come walk our poor, neglected dog we promised we wouldn’t treat any differently after baby arrived; or hold my screaming infant while I shower and shave my legs. When I created my registry, I chose Target because, well, Target; I liked that friends and family could easily shop for gifts IRL or online, and the “add from anywhere” button let me add products from any online store to my Target registry.

When making your decision, consider how your friends and family prefer to shop (especially the more generous ones, like Grandma, who may not want to bother with a website at all), the store’s return policy, and what kind of discounts you’ll get on items people don’t end up buying for you.

The Basics

I know, I know. You need *all* the baby things, and you should get ‘em right quick while other people are paying. But the truth is, you really only need a few things in those first few weeks. Soon enough you’ll probably find yourself a part of a dozen online mom groups, which will introduce you to peoples’ favorite strollers, breast pumps, baby carriers and other gear and gadgets. Hugely valuable.

So, the must haves from the get-go: Diapers and wipes, soft newborn and 0-3 month clothes, and a safe space for baby to sleep. And even if you plan on exclusively breastfeeding, it’s a good idea to have a couple bottles on hand because nursing isn’t always easy (the formula samples will come whether you want them or not). And you’ll definitely want a place or two to put down the baby, whether it’s a swing or bouncer seat or something similar.

Those muslin swaddle blankets that everyone has seem like a must-do, but to be honest, I liked them better as burp cloths and plain old blankets and felt much better about life (and sleep) when we switched to a stretchy, zip-up version of a swaddle. Oh, and giving the baby a pacifier does not make you a bad mom, so buy a few different kinds and see what baby likes, if any. A white noise machine is great, but a retired iPhone with a white noise app is just as good, and you probably won’t need a monitor the first few weeks either, because good luck going into any room without that baby attached to you.

Car Seat

Whether you own a car or not, you’re going to need an infant car seat, also called a “bucket seat.” Many hospitals won’t even let you leave the maternity ward until they’ve inspected your seat and see that you know how to properly use it. But before you add any seat to your registry, do a quick Google search to ensure that it’s compatible with your vehicle. Like, will it fit in your back seat with enough room for passengers up front? Because that can be a whole thing.

Stroller or Travel System

Car seats and strollers are expensive, so obviously you want someone else to buy them for you. Duh. It may seem appealing to register for a “travel system” — an infant seat that comes with the same brand of stroller, often at an reasonable bundled price — when picking out your infant seat. But it often turns out that after a few months the stroller doesn’t fit your family’s needs, and then you’re stuck shelling out for a better one down the line. I’d suggest that in those early weeks and months, you wear your baby and/or use a cheap, simple stroller frame that your car seat can snap into. In coming weeks and months you’ll have a better idea of what kind of stroller will work for you. If you do want to put a stroller on your registry, read lots of reviews, and do some test driving IRL if you can.

Leave the Tags On!

I know it’s bananas to tell an expectant mother to cool it with the nesting, but really, don’t open everything — especially if you won’t need in the first six weeks. Some moms use their travel cribs non-stop from day one; I had a crib, bassinet and Rock ‘n Play (a lot, I know), so it wasn’t until my son was about seven months old and we traveled that we even had a chance to use our travel crib, and by then I wished I’d registered for a different version instead. But it was too late because I’d unpacked the original gift long before before my due date, and it had already collected a nice layer of dust in my basement. I also ended up selling my wearable carrier to a friend at a huge discount after three wears because I’d relied on reviews instead of actually trying one on when building my registry. And as tempting as it is to wash and hang all those cute little outfits while you still have energy to do laundry, leave tags on most of the clothes, shoes, and accessories so you can return the ones you don’t use (no, your baby is not going to wear all of those formal baby clothes — really).

But definitely do open your car seat, read the manual, and make sure it’s properly adjusted for a newborn weeks before your due date so you’re ready to go when the time comes.

It’s Okay If You Don’t Get Everything

Don’t freak out if you don’t get everything on your registry at your shower. Many places will offer you a decent discount or coupons for anything you buy off your own registry, and you’re likely to get gift a handful of gift cards, too. (Thank you, last-minute shoppers!)

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Emily Farris lives in Kansas City, MO with her burly husband, toddler son, and two rowdy rescue mutts. She's written for Bon Appetit, Food & Wine, and The Cut. When not busy cleaning up somebody's pee, she's posting about drinks and home decor on Instagram @thatemilyfarris.