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Maternity Monday: Top Baby Shower Gifts & What Babies Really Need

Buying a gift for a baby shower? Making a baby registry? Read this before you buy or make your list.

I will never forget coming home with my first child and discovering this tiny little being needed more time, energy, resources and accessories than it seemed someone that new and small should require.

preconception, pregnancy and childbirth
Join us as we journey through preconception, pregnancy, childbirth and beyond in a series we call Maternity Monday.

And socks. She lost a lot of socks. She didn’t even walk, and we were always running out of socks.

But let’s not even talk about the necessities: The available options for baby’s first year abound.

There’s What You Can Stick Your Baby In category: Carriers, bouncers, baskets, papasans, seats, chairs, rockers, swings, play mats, baby gyms and five million strollers, some of which do just about everything but make coffee in the morning. (And really, you could use a stroller that made coffee in the morning!)

Then there’s What You Can Stick On Your Baby: Ruffled pants, bows that slip off their bald heads, hats, mittens, tennis shoes, soft shoes, fancy shoes, fancy dresses, fancy pants, onesies, two-piece bathing suits, sunscreen, lotion, baby oil, baby shampoo, diaper cream, rash cream, sleep sacks and a million types of diapers, disposable, reusable, biodegradable and generic.

I’m exhausted just thinking about it. And we haven’t even gotten to toys and books and decorations and bottles and pacifiers and nail clippers and thermometers and the rest of it — their own special-sized, specially made pack of accessories for every activity.

All of it costs a lot of money to buy, a lot of time to consider, and by the time you get the hang of keeping track of and using all of it, the baby has become a toddler and all those wipe warmers and bottle brushes and swaddling blankets are obsolete.

Baby Item Essentials

According to UVA experts Ann Kellams, MD and Lynn McDaniel, MD, we’ve been overdoing it. All of this stuff is not only unnecessary, but many of the baby-holding devices and chirping toys interfere with the most important thing a baby needs in his/her first year of life: to be held and talked to by caregivers.

So what items do you really need?

  • Car seat
  • Safe place to put baby down
  • Safe sleep environment
  • Milk
  • Clothing and blankets
  • Nasal syringe
  • Rectal thermometer

That’s it.

Baby Items to Avoid

But, of course, no matter how much you intend to keep it simple, you may see the advertisements for safety gadgets and pretty accessories and put them on your baby registry.

Before you do that, Kellams and McDaniel want you to know that some “safety” items actually pose dangers to your infant. Guidelines for SIDS prevention, for instance, specifically instruct caregivers to put babies to sleep on flat surfaces with no accessories that could interfere with breathing.

Worried about SIDS?

Kellams and McDaniel say nix the baby monitors and, for the first six months, have your baby sleep in your room with you, in their own safe space.

So, along with your list of what you need for your baby you need this list of items to avoid—and if you get them for a gift, return them (politely, of course).

Leave these dangerous and unhelpful baby accessories at the store:

  • Special accessories that claim to prevent SIDS, like heart and breathing monitors (not proven)
  • Sound machines (not regulated)
  • Anything with wires (entrapment risk)
  • Bumper pads in the crib
  • Walkers (interfere with development)
  • Fold-out cradles (not a flat surface)
  • Boppy pillow (ok to sit on, but not for propping up your baby)
  • Stuffed animals (should be kept away from infants)

Best Baby Shower Gifts

Ok, so now we know about the bare necessities and the no-nos. But you’re going to a baby shower, the basics have been bought, and you still need to buy a gift.

Kellams and McDaniel suggest the following “timeless and practical” items that, while not absolutely necessary, every new parent would welcome.

  • Diapers
  • Bibs
  • Onesies
  • Pack and play
  • Wearable blankets/sleep sacks
  • Thin receiving blankets
  • Washcloths/towels
  • Rattles, teething toys
  • Books
  • Flat play mat
  • Gift cards

Best Baby Shower Gifts: According to You

As part of our research for this article, we asked our Facebook fans to tell us: When you had a baby, what was the one item you couldn’t live without?

The responses included creative, surprising answers that you may find useful whether you’re shopping for yourself or for another expecting parent.

Practical Life-Savers

“A laminated list of every phone number a parent could possibly need, and another list of tried and true sitters you are willing to share.” – Palma Pustilnik

“Nipple cream.” – Beth Wright Robbins

“An assortment of bottles to try so that the parents don’t invest too much in one system that winds up not working for the baby.” – Elaine Lund

“Family-size battery recharger and rechargeable batteries. Energizer makes a fabulous one I’ve been using for nearly 7 years. It’s insane how many batteries you need for kids items! Saves $ and the planet!” – Amy Mulhern Ensinger

“Nature’s Miracle. While meant for pet accidents, it has been a life saver for the variety of accidents babies have.” –  Marla Melito

“College savings account.” – Christian DeBaun

Presents for New Parents:

“Coupons for some time out for Mom, even if it’s just to take a bath and get an uninterrupted nap in.” – Jennifer Ormond

“Babysitting coupons. That you actually force the new mom to redeem!” – Mo Nichols

“Gift cards to restaurants for take-out for frazzled new parents.” – Elaine Lund

“I second the gift cards for take out and gift card for cleaners or laundry service.” – Hope Smith LeGro

“Massage, mani/pedi gift certificates for the mom. She’s worked hard for 9 months and now has a crying infant to deal with. She needs a break.” – Amy Mulhern Ensinger

“Some sort of primer on all the sudden decisions one has to make.” – Taylor Greenwood

“Anne Lamott’s book ‘Operating Instructions.’” – Susan Scofield

“Serotonin and coffee.” – Elaine Lund

Go-To Specialty Items

“Socks, socks, and more socks!” – Marla Melito

“For winter babies, wool sweaters for infants.” – Heather Warren

“HALO SleepSack Swaddle.” – Kate Rhamey

“Aden and Anais blankets. And the miracle blanket was a complete life-saver for me. My son broke out of the swaddle no matter how tight I did it, and the miracle blanket was the most amazing item that I ended up buying myself that actually got him to sleep more than an hour at a time after 8 weeks.” – Megan Yaniglos

“Piyo nail scissors instead of clippers.” – Hope Smith LeGro

“Infant Tylenol!!!!” – Kelly Blumenthal

“Ergo Carrier.” – Erin Conger McElwain

“I loved my rocking chair especially for 3am’ish nursing.”– Heather Warren

“We have a glider and it was AMAZING to have. I spent more time in that chair than I realized. And we still use it to read before bed and sometimes rock my 2-1/2 year old. This is one item I didn’t realize how much I would love.” – Jenna Katherine Massie

What’s Missing? Let us know!

Tell us in a comment below what baby item you called essential.

Going shopping?

Download, view or print this list to take with you, our baby shower shopping guide (PDF).

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