Before the baby arrives

One of the most overwhelming aspects of preparing for the arrival of a new baby is the seemingly endless list of stuff you're supposed to buy. Of course, getting the nursery ready is great fun. But when the list of things to buy seems to grow longer by the minute, preparation for baby can make even the most organized parents feel a bit out of control, especially during rough financial times, when people are trying to avoid buying unnecessary items.

This list of twelve essential baby items will help you focus on what's really important. These items need to be there before baby gets home, or in the case of a car seat - before baby leaves the hospital. There's a lot to buy beyond this list, of course, and I wouldn't dream of depriving you of the wonderfully creative process of buying nursery accessories that will transform it into a beautiful and welcoming place for your new baby. But here, I'd like to focus on the essentials.

1. Car Seat. You won't be able to leave the hospital without it, so this should be the first item on your list. For information on car seat safety, consult the American Academy of Pediatrics Car Safety Guide for Parents.

2. Crib. When choosing a crib, make sure it meets the latest safety standards and especially that there are no more than 2 3/8 inches between the slats.

3. Crib Mattress and a Mattress pad. Choose a mattress that has good back support and is not too soft. Squeeze the mattress at the edges and center to make sure it's firm. It's a good idea to protect the mattress with a waterproof mattress pad.

4. Baby Bedding and a Baby Blanket. You will need a minimum of 2 fitted crib sheets and 2 blankets.

5. Layette. The basic newborn wardrobe should include six cotton bodysuits. Buy just two in 0-3 month size, and four or five in 3-6 month size. Your baby will probably grow out of the smallest size after the first month. Get long-sleeved bodysuits if it's winter, and short-sleeved ones if it's summer. You'll also need six pairs of cotton pants with an elastic waist; six pairs of cotton socks; three receiving blankets; a sweater and a hat; and at least 12 burp cloths to protect your own clothes (an old T-shirt is fine).

6. Diapers and diapering supplies. You will probably need around 70 disposable diapers per week for the first six weeks, then 50 per week; alcohol-and-fragrance-free wipes; a diaper rash ointment; and a diaper pail for soiled diapers.

7. Bathing supplies. A baby tub is convenient, but not absolutely necessary. We used the sink when our babies were tiny. You do need gentle baby soap; a tearless shampoo; washcloths and bath towels; and rounded-tip nail scissors.

8. Diaper bag. A roomy, well-stocked diaper bag is not a luxury: it's a necessity. It's good to have one ready so that you can just grab it whenever you leave the house with baby. A well-stocked diaper bag should include a few diapers, wipes, a diaper rash ointment, a towel or pad for diaper changes, a few ziploc bags for soiled diapers and dirty clothes, a change of clothes for baby, bottles and formula if you're bottle-feeding, and Baby Tylenol.

9. A baby carrier or sling is great because it keeps your baby close to you while freeing your hands. I found that my babies were a lot happier during the first few months in a baby carrier. Later on they learned to like the stroller - but not before the age of nine months. Of course, each baby is different.

10. A stroller. Choose a model that's lightweight yet stable and can be folded easily. I see lots of fancy strollers out there that may be all the rage fashion-wise, but to me they look heavy and impractical.

11. Feeding supplies. If you're breastfeeding, you should buy a breast pump and a couple of bottles in case you need to be away from your baby for a few hours; if you're bottle-feeding, you'll need 12 bottles, bottle nipples and covers, and baby formula.

12. Basic medical supplies. Thermometer - a digital thermometer that you can place under your baby's armpit is easy to use; Baby Tylenol; rubbing alcohol to wipe around base of umbilical cord; infant sunscreen for babies over 6 months. You will also need a bulb syringe nasal aspirator to suction excess mucus from baby's nose (this is just as fun as it sounds!), but you typically get that at the hospital.

Obviously, there are many more items that are not essential but are nice to have, such as a baby monitor, a baby swing, and a rocking chair. This list is a great way to make sure you have all the essentials. Once you have those, you can add from the "nice to have" items as your budget allows.

~Amanda Wheeland