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The ultimate nursery checklist of everything you need (and nothing you don’t)

Nursery essentials babies need when they come home from hospital

Baby nursery

There are so many exciting moments during a pregnancy, but one which many parents-to-be look forward to is planning the nursery. Putting together baby’s nursery is such a thrilling time. It’s packed with important decisions like the color of the nursery, and of course, the theme. Then, there’s the shopping for all the necessities baby will need when your little one comes home from the hospital.

Getting ready for the birth of your child is exhilarating, but it’s also overwhelming. Deciding on the nursery essentials can be daunting, especially if this is your first baby. Shopping for baby is expensive as well. Before heading to a baby store or shopping online, it’s prudent to have a nursery checklist. Using a checklist to outfit the nursery will ensure you’ll have what you need and won’t waste money on things you don’t. So, let’s get shopping because we’ve got the nursery checklist must-haves along with the items you don’t need.

Nursery checklist

White nursery
Berg Dmitry / Shutterstock

When you start shopping for baby, you will undoubtedly want just about everything you see. Baby items are absolutely adorable, and it’s super easy to get carried away. Using a nursery checklist helps to keep parents-to-be focused and on budget when getting prepared for their baby’s arrival. These are the nursery essentials you’ll need to have for that special day when baby comes home from the hospital.

Crib or bassinet

Your baby needs a safe, flat firm sleeping space. A crib or a bassinet both fit the bill. Do not put any blankets, pillows, stuffed animals, crib bumpers, or decorations in the crib with your baby. Only use a fitted sheet in your baby’s crib.

Crib mattress

You’ll also need to buy a crib mattress to go with the crib. Don’t register for just the crib and then forget you need the mattress, too. Waterproof mattress protectors are also good to have when those diapers leak. Have at least two on hand so you can change them out when needed.

Crib sheets

When it comes to sheets for baby, it’s better to have too many than not enough. Between spit-up and diaper leaks, you may need to change the sheets more than once a night. It’s best to have at least three fitted sheets for those moments.

Changing table and diaper items

If you have space for a changing table, try to find one that can do double duty as a dresser later on. Don’t worry if you don’t have the space for a changing table. You can easily place a changing pad on top of a dresser. Outfit your changing area with a caddy to keep diapers, wipes, and diaper cream close. If you don’t have space for a diaper caddy, you can use a drawer in a pinch. Two changing pads are a huge help because diaper changes get messy.

Rocking chair or glider

Having a comfy chair to rock in is necessary for feedings and for rocking your baby to sleep, especially in the middle of the night. The matching footstool isn’t essential, though, but can be nice to have. A nursing pillow is very good to have on hand, too, and works when bottle-feeding.


When you’re changing your baby’s outfit on the changing table, you’ll want to be able to drop the dirty clothes right into a hamper. You’ll want one that doesn’t take up too much floor space like a tall, narrow hamper. Try and pick one that’s easy to carry to the washer. A hamper with a removable bag is a perfect pick.

Diaper pail

Next to the changing station, you’ll need somewhere to dispose of the dirty diapers. Ideally, a trashcan that is covered and sealed, like a Diaper Genie, to keep the smells contained, is a great option.

Baby monitor

A baby monitor is a must-have so you can be alerted whenever baby needs you. Make sure it’s one that you can take with you throughout the house and outside. You don’t just use a baby monitor at night when you’re sleeping.

Clothing storage

You’ll need either a dresser, closet, or both for baby’s clothes. If space is limited, you can always choose a changing table that doubles as a dresser. Consider organizing your baby’s clothes in bins by size to keep track of your baby’s wardrobe.

What’s nice to have in a nursery

A chair and dresser In a nursery
virtua73 / Shutterstock

Once you have the nursery essentials, of course, there are baby items you’d like to have in the nursery. These items you can purchase yourself or put on your baby shower registry. These are not must-need items.


If you live in a dryer climate, or if your baby struggles with congestion, you may find a humidifier helpful addition to the nursery. This is a great shower gift idea since when baby’s get sick, the doctor usually recommends using one.

Baby-proofing items

Of course, these are essential months down the line, but for now, you don’t need to worry about any latches or doorknob covers because the baby isn’t mobile. If you are struggling to think of things to add to your baby registry, baby-proofing items are ideal since they’re must-haves you’ll need within the baby’s first year and they can be pricey.

Extra diapers

Register for some size one, two, and three diapers to get a head start. They’ll definitely get used, and you never know how big your baby will be when they’re born. Diapers are a nursery essential you always seem to run out of at the most inopportune times and are expensive.

Blackout curtains

Any window dressings will do in a nursery, but blackout curtains will help to make sure your baby isn’t woken up by the sun during nap times and in the early morning hours in the summer.


Your baby will do just fine without a mobile, though they are really nice to help put them to sleep. This is another item to place on the baby shower registry.

Decor items

Decorative baby items like crib skirts, canopies, or bright blankets and pillows are not necessary, but they certainly do dress up the nursery and give it a cozy, warm feel. Let family and friends know your color scheme or theme. Decor items are earmarked for as shower gifts.

Nursery items you don’t need

Modern nursery setup
Sidekix Media / Unsplash

You really don’t have to overstock the nursery for your little one. As long as you have the essentials, your baby has everything he or she needs to get settled in. If you’re limited on space and on a budget, try to avoid impulse buys for baby items that aren’t a necessity. They take up room and put a dent in the family budget.

Wipe warmer

This is a non-essential item that will just get your baby used to warm wipes and make diaper changes on the go with cold ones tougher.

Baby swing

Babies should only sleep flat on their backs on a surface, like a crib. While you can use a swing to get them to fall asleep, you’ll need to transfer them out of it once they are asleep. A baby swing is an item you can skip since it’s used for such a short number of weeks and takes up a lot of space.

Crib bumpers

These are not safe, so skip any bumpers decorating the inside of a crib.

What nursery essentials you can get used

A nursery with moon and stars decorations.
mtlapcevic / Shutterstock

Outfitting a nursery is expensive. That’s why using a nursery checklist helps keep parents from making those impulse buys. Not every family can afford to go brand new with nursery items. If family and friends are offering to let you have used items on your nursery checklist or you’re shopping for baby items in thrift shops, it’s important to know which nursery necessities are okay to use secondhand.

Items you should never purchase in a thrift shop or reuse from well-meaning friends and family are car seats, crib mattresses, and breast pumps. Car seats actually have expiration dates. A car seat should never be reused if it’s been involved in an accident. Crib mattresses and breast pumps shouldn’t be reused because of sanitary reasons.

Before buying or receiving strollers, bassinets, play yards, swings, bouncy seats, cribs, or changing tables secondhand, check them out to see if there have been any recalls. Most of the time, these items are safe used, but many of these baby items are recalled for safety reasons. Always make sure these items have a manufacturing number to check for recalls and have all the pieces before taking or buying. If they don’t, pass.

When friends and family are offering baby clothes, receiving blankets, and bibs, take those if you have the storage space. It’s a money-saver, and sometimes you never have enough onsies, blankets, or bibs.

When should you start decorating the nursery?

Couple painting a nursery
Jelena Zelen/Shutterstock / Shutterstock

Let’s face it, decorating the nursery is something most expectant parents look forward to doing. According to the experts at Nursery Design Studio, most start to plan the look they want for their nursery at about 18 weeks. Whether you’ve always known what you want your nursery to look like or have started a Pinterest board with lots of inspiration, this is the time to start deciding on what aesthetic you’re going for.

It’s also when you should start to set your budget and decide on the color scheme you want. Experts typically suggest that between 20 and 22 weeks, you create a mood board and decide on the layout of the nursery. Between weeks 22 and 28, get your furniture, decor, and painting done, so that by week 30, you can have your nursery set up and ready for your little one’s arrival. Now, you have the rest of your pregnancy to relax knowing the nursery is ready, especially if your baby arrives earlier than planned.

Limited space and budget all come to mind when planning a nursery for your little one. It’s easy to get overwhelmed and off track when confronted with all the adorable and inviting items available online and in person when setting up a nursery. Ultimately, what your baby actually needs is a safe sleeping space, diapers, and clothing. Using this nursery checklist will help you stay focused on purchasing the items you actually need when baby comes home from the hospital. The rest can come later or as gifts from family and friends.

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Sarah Prager
Sarah is a writer and mom who lives in Massachusetts. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Atlantic, National…
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