I’m going to tell you a secret: Babies don’t need a lot of stuff. Now, if you are a compulsive shopper and you’re excited to be buying for two, bless you and move on. But I remember standing in the giant Babies “R” Us here in New York City, holding one of those registry guns and wondering if I could use it to shoot myself. The breaking point was crib sheets. I was the first of my friends to have a kid, and none of my nieces or nephews lived nearby. So I didn’t know what size crib sheet to order. And nobody was there to tell me, “Dude, the crib mattresses are standard size. Just pick ones you like and the sheets will fit.”
So, here I am to tell you, “Dudes, pick the ones you like. And choose ones that will make you smile when you’re changing them at 3 a.m.” If you’re ready for the secret cheat sheet of essentials that only gay dads get to know — whether you’re pursuing surrogacy or adoption — behold: The List.
Poop Here Often?
Room Set-Up: The design secret is to treat the baby’s room like the triangle of a kitchen. The ideal kitchen has short movements between the stove, sink and fridge. So you want a quick movement from crib, to changing station, to glider (the rocking chair used for feeding and soothing). Secondary points are a diaper disposal system, clothing storage so new clothes are in reach, a hamper and a clock so you can time/track the feedings.
For us, what worked is a changing pad on top of a dresser with an open shelf. On that shelf goes, left to right: 1. A small basket that holds a stash of diapers, wipes and anti-diaper rash cream; 2. Folded receiving blankets; 3. Bibs; 4. A clock. The top drawer is for clothes that fit now. Bottom drawer holds sheets, pads for spit-up that go in the crib, and changing pad covers.
Diapers: Newborn size goes up to 10 lbs. (which is such a lie — more like 8) and then Stage 1 goes to 14 lbs. So nota bene, depending on how big your little one is at the grand arrival, you might want to not get too many NBs.
Wipes: Not all wipes are made alike. I made a very earth-conscious choice and bought a ton of one brand and could not wait for them to be over. I switched to another brand and have stayed with it. Maybe hold off on bulk orders in the beginning. As for a wipe warmer, that’s your call. My kids and I are on the move a lot, so I knew I would be changing them in no-frills men’s bathrooms. You’re lucky to even get a changing station in those, so I didn’t want them getting used to a wipe warmer at home.
Anti-diaper rash creams: Our son was born premature, and in the NICU a nurse told us they like to make a paste of Destine and A&D ointment. (More on that miracle salve later.) Just half and half in an airtight container. Using it every time really helped prevent diaper rash from ever happening.
Changing pad: Like crib mattresses, they come standard. Warning: You have to LOVE your diaper changing pad cover because it takes up a lot of visual space in the baby’s room.
Diaper disposal: We used the Diaper Genie, which some people don’t like because you have to keep buying the special bags for it. (Like a printer with expensive ink.) There’s a competitor that brags “You can use your own bags!”
Glider: You will want something that will hide spit-up stains, frankly. We don’t have an ottoman because the boys’ rooms are small, and I would have loved to have one at 4 a.m.
Bottles: If you don’t have a dishwasher, get more bottles than you think you’ll need. A lady at the store told me glass bottles are the secret to stopping spit-up, so I bought two as a test. Guess what’s the last thing you want to futz with at 4 a.m.? A glass bottle. Also, I wish I had skipped the smaller sizes (4 ounces) and went right to buying the larger (8 ounces) We had to rebuy everything when my oldest went up to 5-ounce formula-feeds.
Bibs: I love terrycloth ones that catch everything and prevent milk or formula from getting trapped in neck folds. (You don’t want to know.)
Bottle warmer: Since I’m, uh, assuming you won’t be breastfeeding, you will want one of these for sure.
Bedding: I know we have city gays and country gays here, so I want to address you both: If you have a washer-dryer or one readily accessible, you need less bedding. If you don’t, you need more. We started with four crib sheets, but I only used my favorite two since we do so much wash.
Crib: A crib that converts to a toddler bed is a fool’s game. Toddler beds are cheap, and trust that your kid will prefer a more fun race car bed or princess bed when they’re toddling around. Whatever you do, don’t get a bumper, which is padding running along the edge so the baby doesn’t hit her head on rails. The padding is unsafe.
Mattress: The rectangular ones are all the same size. I had no idea they were standard, generally 51-52 by 27 inches.
Mattress pad: You want a waterproof one. Babies pee like the drunk girls you were always helping in college. Amiright?
Receiving blankets: If you plan on swaddling – which I recommend because they love it — these are important purchases. Go for rectangular so you can wrap your little one like a burrito. They make velcro-snap ready swaddlers and my kids always balked at first but then slept like rocks in them.
Multi-use pads: Seriously, that’s what they call them. Their branding stinks because they’re actually quite useful. They are like 2-D pillows you put under the kid so it catches all the spit-up and you don’t have to change the sheets. Anything smaller than 25 inches across isn’t worth it. (Size matters!)
Baby monitor: I preferred the audio one, because otherwise I would obsessively check the video monitor. That said, one of my girlfriends swears by the video monitor and FaceTimes with her nanny to see her child sleep while at work. Whatever you do: DO NOT FORGET IT IS ON WHEN YOU DISH SOMEONE.
White noise machine: The womb is loud so that when babies are out, all that quiet freaks them out. My cousin gave me a teddy bear that has a noise machine inside. It attaches to the crib and looks less clinical than other noise machines.
Mobile: Nope. Nope. Nope. You may as well tell your kid, “Hey, you’re not really tired are you? Let’s watch this cool thing over your head…”
Tub: I got this huge one to put in the tub but it took up a lot of real estate in a New York bathroom. The manufacturer made a big deal that eventually you could use it as a stepstool, but I wanted to burn it as soon the boys were big enough for the real tub.
Towels: Get a thick hooded towel because the pictures are awesome. Oh, and because it is nice when you lay your baby down on the bathroom floor when you are readying the bath or drying them after. Get a bunch of washcloths as well. You use these to wash their faces, which can’t have soap. You wet different corners of the cloth for each eye so you don’t accidentally transfer unseen eye infections.
Bath toy thermometer: You will see these, usually in the form of a duck. It changes color according to the bath temperature. You don’t need it. You can dip your elbow in the bath like your forefathers.
Have Baby, Will Travel
Car seat: Even if you’re adopting and waiting on a birthparent match, go buy one now. You might have an emergency placement and the hospital will not let you leave without a car seat.
Stroller: I live in the city, so it was important to us that it be light for stairs and have a short turn radius for sidewalks and tight NYC stores. A drawback to its lightness and rounded handle is that you can’t hang a diaper bag on the handle. I see some moms in my neighborhood who hold a mini-van worth of stuff in and on their stroller — ask yourself how light you’ll want to travel.
Baby Carrier: It was so nice to have this to take the baby for a walk or to the store. In the beginning he would fall asleep immediately. Someone gave me a wrap carrier but I was always scared to use it because it’s basically a bandage and I can barely wear a scarf correctly.
Pack ‘n’ Play: Lightweight mobile crib made by Graco. Buy one, because inevitably at some point you’ll have to stay some place other than home. (I had to stay in a hotel while I waited for our adoption to clear.) You have to buy sheets for it separately. Skip the stupid mobile, which only prevents you from easily putting the baby in and out.
Attention, Costume Designers
Clothes: Don’t buy more than a few things in really small sizes, because your kid will grow out of them before you know it. Besides, all your friends will buy you clothes anyway.
Kid-sized hangers: You’ll need them. And get some that have clips to hold pants too.
Detergent: Babies can’t handle your heavy-duty detergent. And the upside of baby detergent is that it makes your kids’ clothes smell like, well, baby clothes.
Fabric softener: Do NOT use it on the kid’s clothes. A mom told me this before I had kids and said it like it was voodoo on babies. I Googled it once and the computer machine said it was because it leaves residue, which then gets on your baby’s sensitive skin. So, kinda close to voodoo.
What’s Up Doc?
Find a pediatrician you like who is part of a large practice (so you can always be seen by somebody) and has weekend hours. When my oldest was a newborn he developed a hernia on a weekend. He would have had to go to an ER if my practice didn’t have a schlub on call on a summer day. If they have a sick waiting room and a healthy visit waiting area, that’s a plus for the germ averse like myself.
Useless things people will get you
Stuffed animals. You will want to sell them for diapers.
These little satin handkerchief security blankets with a dumb stuffed animal head in the center.
Baby shoes. What baby needs shoes? “Oh, I’m just going to run to the store.”