Ahhh, sleep: the first leg in the holy trinity of babydom.
As a new parent, this is the part of your life that will be most affected by having a newborn baby (I've written extensively about sleep in the Life section, so here I will just stick to gear).
No matter which sleeping method you choose, your little lamb will need a safe sleeping venue. Of course, I recommend a crib for your nursery for the long-term, BUT... don't be surprised one bit if you don't use it at all during the first few months. In fact, most of the mommies in my group ended up with the baby in our room for the first few months, which I highly recommend (as does Dr. Sears).
You certainly can, by all means, use the crib right away if you choose, but most mommies in my group found that the first time we put our tiny, helpless newborns in their giant, spacious, jail-like (yet well appointed) cribs, something just didn't feel right: it's a bit of overkill for a newborn. Therefore, I highly recommend a temporary newborn sleeping venue, perhaps one that is more portable and nest-like.
Newborn Sleeping Arrangements
Because most people end up with the baby in their room for the first few months, it begs the question: a bassinet? a Moses basket? I say neither. Sure, those will do the trick, but I'm not a big fan of expensive items that only get used for a few months. Instead, I recommend a newborn Pack N' Play (the generic term is "play yard", but it's like Kleenex; everyone refers to it by the brand name).
You want to look for a Pack N' Play model that comes with the "Newborn Napper" feature. The Napper (pictured left) sits on top of the Pack N' Play and cups the baby on all sides; it's like putting an egg into the carton.
In my opinion, the PNP is better than a bassinet or cradle because you can use it for years to come AND it's a must-have for travel. In fact, I don't know a single parent who doesn't own one. By comparison, you will use a bassinet or cradle for 3-4 months (max), and then what? Store it away, sell it... use it as a planter?
You can move the Pack N Play around your house very easily and it assembles and disassembles in about 30 seconds. When taken down, it folds into a nice, portable, rectangular package that you can easily take anywhere. By far and away, it's the most useful baby item we have bought to date (and no, Graco doesn't pay me to say this stuff). At $99, this is definitely a best buy.
Ok, I digress.
If you want something that attaches to your bed like a "sidecar", check out the Arm's Reach Co-sleeper. It's a play yard that attaches to your bed so you can grab your baby to nurse at night without even having to get up (score!). Update 7/12: I am using one right now for Alice (because our Pack N Play is at daycare for Lucie) and it's fine, but I am shocked by how large and HEAVY this thing is, gah! If you want something smaller and more manageable, check out the Arms Reach Mini Co-sleeper. [Just for the record, I would still choose the Pack N Play between these two, just wanted to give you some options.]
-- Graco also makes a smaller version of the PNP called the Travel Lite Crib. My friend with twins has 2 of these and they fit nicely in her bedroom. There is also the Twins Pack N Play, which has 2 newborn nappers for twins.** I've read that the Twin PNP has a problem with sagging in the middle, so beware.
-- If you are a grandparent, this is a must-have for VISITS!!!
Rock N Play
Another awesome invention of late is the small and very portable Fisher Price Rock 'n Play. The awesomeness of this product lies in the fact that it serves the purpose of a portable sleeping venue and a seat to hang out in and play – all in one; and y'all knowwww (makes exaggerated gesture with index finger) how I love multi-taskers. See it in action here.
Up in tha Crib
Without getting too bogged down in furniture, I'll mention a few favorite cribs that I see over and over (below).
Most moms keep their munchkin in a crib well into the second year before transitioning to a big bed. The majority of cribs on the market are regular, non-morphing cribs, while others can transition from a baby crib to a "railed" crib to a regular bed, which means you can use it well into your little one's childhood.
The DaVinci 4-in-1 crib is an example of such a "convertible crib" (below):
If you're more of a modern gal, check out baby cribs by Bloom (below)
If money is tight, check out the ever-popular Gulliver from IKEA.
* It's true that drop-sided cribs are being phased out in the US altogether due to defects that led to suffocations. You see, a few years ago, many manufacturers switched from metal hardware to cheaper plastic hardware and less-expensive wood (ahem, "wood"). The plastic hardware gave way which caused the sliding gate to come apart from crib which allowed babies to fall between the mattress and gate and suffocate.
If you are considering using a hand-me-down drop-side crib from someone else, check the quality of the hardware and wood. If it's cheap, plastick-ey stuff, just say no (of course, if you're buying a new crib, this is all a moot point).
Swaddle or else.....
You must swaddle a newborn if you have any hope of sleeping. Yes, MacGyver, you can tie a swaddle with a regular blanket, but as a practical matter it just doesn't work very well. First of all, 97% of the baby blankets out there simply are not big enough, are not shaped correctly (rectangular, what?), and/or do not have the right amount of stretchiness to tie a proper swaddle.
Second, your baby just has to squirm a little to break out of a blanket swaddle. To re-tie the mother effer (the swaddle, that is), you have to turn the lights on, re-position her, blah blah blah -- it's not something you want to be fumbling with at 3am when you're sleep deprived and ready to get the potato back in the oven.
Therefore, I highly (highly, HIGHLY) recommend one or both of the following...
1. Velcro swaddlers: The Kiddopatamus Swaddle Me (pictured right). It's a pouch with wings on either side that velcro together to create a tight, fool-proof swaddle. You can get cotton or microfleece depending on the season. Size small fits up to 3 months and is even a little big for a newborn. That's ok -- just fold the neck part down so it's not over the baby's face. Please RTFM on this one: it's important that you properly velcro the LEFT flap to the middle part, otherwise your little Houdini will bust out with the jail-break maneuver. Seriously -- get 2 or even 3 of these things so you always have one handy. You won't regret it.
2. The Miracle Blanket: Like rolling up a fat burrito (...or something), this blanket makes for a pleasingly tight swaddle (below). It may even be better than velcro swaddlers because there are fewer opportunities for busting out. At $30, it's a little pricey for a blanket but sooooo worth it.
Sheets N' Things
For your crib, you will need:
1. A mattress
People often ask me which mattress to buy. The answer is: it doesn't really matter. I swear: ask any baby if their mattress meets their expectations for firmness or causes lower back pain and they will give you a blank stare (try it, I promise!), so just get one that fits your budget.
Here are a couple I recommend:
a. Safety 1st Heavenly Dreams ~ $55ish
b. Sealy Baby Firm Rest Crib Mattress~ $90ish
3. Crib sheets, Qty: 2 or 3 (the fitted kind) -- Get some good quality crib sheets because you'll need them for 2 or 3 years and they'll take a lot of abuse along the way. I love Pottery Barn crib bedding - it's pricey but high quality. The Land of Nod (a Crate and Barrel company) has cute, original designs. And then of course, there are the usual suspects: Babies R' Us, Amazon and Target.
4. A "breathable" crib bumper, for 5+ months (*read below....)
5. If you get a Pack N' Play, you can get a play yard sheet. You can also just put down a regular baby blanket. Your choice.
Listen up. People tell you not to use a crib bumper because it could cause suffocation (jesus, again?!!!). In fact, the AAP just came out and said "don't use crib bumpers" [you should also read this article on SIDS].
You don't need a crib bumper for a newborn...., BUT at around 5 months when they are flipping over vigorously and breaching like Shamu, they will get all manner of body parts stuck in between crib slats (someone should make a crib without slats, but I digress). This leads to the high-pitched "help me, I'm stuck and the wolves are going to come eat me" cry, which leads you to sprint into their room, extract said limb from the slats, dry their tears and promise it will never happen again. That's why you need bumperage.
I don't want to cause any babies to suffocate, so I recommend the *Breathable Bumper. We have it. It does the trick. It's not the most glamorous thing in the world, but who cares. No worries about suffocation, no appendages stuck in crib, everyone's happy. Yay.
* Update 7/12 ~ The AAP just included breathable bumpers on the "do not use" list. Why? Their answer, "why not"? I'll tell you why not! Because babies get their limbs stuck between the slats, that's why. Annoying. So, yeah. Use at your own risk. Whateverrr.
What NOT to buy:
* Sleep positioners may cause babies to suffocate (oh, please stop).
Yes, you'll want a lot of blankets. Half of them will be in the wash covered in spit-up or poop at any given time.
All blankets are not made equally. Here is a cute article about the 6 best baby blankets (although the mention of celebrity babies makes me gag). I tend to agree with these findings. I will add my favorite to the list, the Zutano Owl blanket.
Muslin blankets are a must-have, they're very thin and stretchy and great for warmer weather. If you're going to tie a swaddle with a blanket, this is probably your best bet (let your husband know, he'll be super excited!).
For the first 3-4 months, your baby will [most likely] be swaddled to sleep. This swaddle also serves as a blanket. You can also drape another blanket on top of that if it's cold. When your baby is post-swaddling age (about 4 months), you're not going to be putting blankets on them to sleep because they'll get kicked off in about 30 seconds (and, OF COURSE, they are a suffocation hazard when placed in the crib -- mwwwaaaaaa).
Instead, most mommies use a sleepy sack, which is a wearable blanket. Think of a Snuggie with a zipper up front. These are a must-have.
These are completely indispensable, although probably not something you need right away.
If you have some distance between you and your baby, you probably want to invest in a baby monitor of some sort. However, if you have a small house or apartment, it may be fairly unnessecary.
Nowdays, you can get a regular voice monitor or a video monitor.
Overkill? It depends...
Many people like being able to see why baby is crying. Maybe her binky has fallen out or there is a leg stuck in the crib. If there is a lot of distance - or even a flight of stairs - between you and your baby, the video monitor may be well worth it.
You also have to decide between an analog monitor and a digital one, analog being more susceptible to interference with other electronics in your (and your neighbors!) house.
Analog: The best basic analog monitor out there is the Sony BabyCall Nursery Monitor (about $35). This one costs less than a digital monitor and the 27-channel range makes for (fairly) interference-free audio. We have this at grandma's house and it works just fine.
Digital: The most highly-rated digital voice monitor is the Philips Avent Basic monitor with DECT technology. If the human to computer ratio is as obscenely high in your house as it is in ours (ahem), this is the one for you ~ about $100. They also make a video version which also rates well ~ about $150.
The most highly-rated digital video monitor is the Motorola Digital Video Baby Monitor.
FYI: If you ever need a baby monitor in a pinch and you have an iPhone... there's an app for that! It's called Baby Monitor & Alarm. You use the iPhone as the "monitor". It then places a call to another phone (presumably, your partner or friend's phone) if sound reaches above a certain threshold. We've used it on many occasions and it works very well.
* A crib and a crib mattress (not right away, you can wait a few months if you want)
* A Newborn Pack N' Play (I HIGHLY recommend)
* Swaddlers: SwaddleMe and/or the Miracle blanket
* Linens: a mattress cover, crib sheet(s), a crib bumper, baby blankets, a PNP sheet (optional), a cute bedskirt to match (optional)
* a Sleepy Sack
* a monitor (maybe?)
Ok good. Let's talk about poop. You know you want to.