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

The nursery must-haves baby can't do without

Baby nursery
Photographee.eu/Shutterstock

Having a baby is such an exciting time, and so is getting their nursery ready. Planning what your little one’s nursery will look like and shopping for all those new baby necessities is such a fine time for an expectant parent. What color will the nursery be? Will it have a certain theme?

Preparing for the arrival of your baby is a lot of fun but it can also be overwhelming. It can be hard to know what essentials you need to have in the nursery, especially if this is your first baby. Before outfitting your baby’s nursery, it’s helpful to have a nursery checklist. Doing so will help ensure you have everything you need when your baby comes home.

Our nursery checklist will spell out exactly what’s necessary to have before your baby arrives. Some common nursery items aren’t necessarily must-haves and are OK to skip because you won’t need them until your baby is a bit older. So, let’s start getting your nursery ready for your little bundle of joy.

White nursery
Berg Dmitry/Shutterstock

Nursery essentials

With so many adorable baby items available online or in baby stores, it’s easy to get carried away and distracted from the essentials you need to have. A nursery checklist helps to keep parents-to-be focused and on budget when getting prepared for their baby’s arrival. These are the essentials that are important to have in your nursery.

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. However, under the crib is another story. Underneath is a great spot for storage as well as a couple of cute, cuddly items.

Crib mattress

Remember, 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.

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 or other storage. 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 will get messy.

Rocking chair or glider

Having a comfy chair to rock in is necessary for feedings (either breastfeeding or bottle feeding) 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 (helpful for formula feeding, too) is very good to have on hand too.

Hamper

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. A tall narrow hamper takes up less space than a wide, short one. Try and pick one that’s easy to carry to the washer. A hamper with a removable bag is a great 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 the best choice.

Baby monitor

Unless you are sleeping right next door or in the room and feel confident you’ll be awakened by your baby’s cries, so get a baby monitor so you can be alerted when it’s time to go into the nursery for whatever your baby needs. A video monitor isn’t essential, but it is definitely very helpful.

Clothing storage

You’ll need either a dresser, closet, or both for your 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.

A baby playing with the mobile above their crib
wavebreakmedia / Shutterstock

What’s nice to have in a nursery

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.

Humidifier

You may not need this, and plenty of babies do fine without one. If you live in a dryer climate, or if your baby struggles with congestion, you may find a humidifier helpful addition to the nursery.

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 yet 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.

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.

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.

Mobile

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 a baby shower registry.

Baby in swing
bluedog studio/Shutterstock

What you don’t need

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.

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.

Couple painting a nursery
Jelena Zelen/Shutterstock

When should you start decorating the nursery?

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 you have started a Pinterest board with lots of inspiration, this is the time to start deciding on what aesthetic you’re going for.

This is when you should start to set your budget and decide on the color scheme you like. They also suggest that between 20 and 22 weeks to create a mood board and decide on the layout of the nursery. Between weeks 22 and 28, you’ll get your furniture, decor, and painting done, so 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 and diapers of course. Using this nursery checklist will help you stay focused on purchasing the items you need for when the 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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