I became a dad during fellowship and have had several other kids since then. From this experience, I wanted to jot down some advice for new parents looking for what to get in anticipation of a transition to parenthood. Note: My recommendations here represent my personal opinion and come from my experience as a dad who overengineers things and not as a doctor. (I am an internist and only take care of adults, and not kids anyway.) I don’t have vested interests in any of the products here and don’t receive any income from links or whatnot.
Costco’s Kirkland Signature Diapers. These rock. They are on par with any high-end diaper company out there. (I think they have better performance than the super expensive environmentally-marketed ones that are free from bleaching and whatnot.) Kirkland Signature Diapers come in massive boxes and go on sale once or twice per year. We typically stock up in multiple sizes when they go on sale. They don’t have a newborn size, but our kids only wore newborn-size diapers for about 2 weeks, and honestly they could have all been in size 1 diapers from the get-go. If you are a new parent and your kid is ≥7 lbs (≥3,200 g) at delivery, maybe pick up a 20 pack of some other brand’s newborn size then anticipate flipping over to Size 1 diapers when you run out of newborn size.
Some online commenters have said that Kirkland Signature diapers have changed in quality in recent years. As of 8/2022, we have had ≥1 of our kids in these diapers continuously for 6+ years and I have not noticed any differences in this time. So, no I don’t think the quality has changed. If you don’t have a Costco nearby, it might be cost-effective to get a membership so you can order these online.
If we are traveling and run out of diapers, we get Huggies or Pampers as a backup.
If you go for cloth diapers, more power to you. They didn’t work for us.
Unlike Costco’s diapers, which I think are equivalent to other high end diapers, Costco’s Kirkland Signature Baby Wipes are in a league of their own. They are far and away the best wipes we have ever used, and we have used pretty much all major brands, including the environmentally-marketed ones. These Kirkland Signature wipes also come in massive boxes. I don’t think they have changed in quality in the past 6+ years. We get the unscented ones.
Do yourself a favor and get the Oxo Tot Perfect Pull Wipes Dispenser too. It’ll allow you to get a wet wipe with one hand, which is essentially when you are trying to clean up an angry, messy baby.
I had an old Timbuk2 medium-sized messenger bag that I used instead of a backpack in med school. It was big enough to fit a 14-inch laptop. This works flawlessly as a baby bag. We keep it packed by the door and grab it on the way out as a reflex — just make sure to restock it when you get back from an excursion! Other messenger bags will probably work just fine, but I’ve only had this Timbuk2 one. There a lot to love from a messenger bag form-factor as a baby bag, like ability to flip the cover open without putting it down or even needing to use either arm to hold it up.
Either a small or medium messenger bag is reasonable, but if you aren’t sure, or if you might have >1 kid, get the medium. These are easy to find used online, and I recommendation is to get the cheapest, ugliest, most beat up messenger bag that you can find. It’ll be easier to spot in public/the airport, and will only get more beat up over time.
- Mercari listings for Timbuk2 bags
- Ebay listings for Timbuk2 messenger bags
- Poshmark listing for Timbuk2 bags
Inside the bag, we had a compact changing pad and 2 mesh/zippered luggage packing cubes. I recommend getting packing cubes that come in multiple sizes and using whichever ones fit in the bag. (You’ll find uses for the others!)
- In one of the cubes, we kept (1) diapers and (2) a handful of baby wipes inside two separate quart or gallon freezer bags (the same kind of bag you probably already have in your kitchen drawer). We also kept (3) a tube of petroleum jelly, (4) hand sanitizer, and (5) dog poop cleanup bags for garbage, and yes I mean the type of dog bags that you see hooked to a leash.
- In the other cube we kept changes of clothes inside a gallon bag.
We also had some miscellaneous items, like acetaminophen, pacifiers, small books, small toys, etc. tucked in the front pouch.
Garbage can to put diapers in (“diaper pail”)
We have a massive, expensive airtight diaper pail and a smaller, 8 liter/2.1 gallon garbage can with a foot-triggered pop-up lid. The big, fancy diaper pail is so big that you don’t have to change it as much, and the diapers get absolutely rancid in there. Every time you open it and it’s more than half full, you get this “puff” of disgusting air smell that will linger in the air for a while. I prefer our little 8 liter/2.1 gallon garbage can with a lid to the big expensive, airtight diaper pail. No, it’s not airtight, but I don’t think it matters since smaller size forces you to empty it out every few days so it doesn’t get too nasty. I wouldn’t get anything larger than 10.2 liters/2.7 gallons or else you’ll have a huge pile of gross diapers and the smell issue. I also wouldn’t go any smaller than 8 liters/2.1 gallons either since then you’ll be emptying it constantly. Here’s a search to get you going.
They annoyingly no longer sell small trash can liners at our local Costco, so instead I’m using the waaay oversized 13-gal bags. I actually like these bags for this use though, since they are very strong and give me an opportunity to empty other trash cans into the bag when taking out the diapers.
Baby and little kid clothing
When you are expecting, friends and family will get you newborn clothing, which will be cute and all but your kid will grow out of these almost immediately. Make sure to guide potential gift-givers to 3-6 mo, 6-12 mo, and 12-18 mo clothing.
The older the kid is, the rougher they are on everything, including clothing. Starting at 1 year old, think about getting more durable brand clothing that will last long enough to be a hand-me-down or that can be given to another family. Clothing from box stores or mall chain stores don’t seem to dependably last through 1 kid aged ≥1 year, let alone a second kid. Brands that we have found durable include:
- Hanna Andersson – Their kids sweaters are incredible.
- Their main website
- Their sale website
- Used HA clothing on Kidizen
- FYI: There’s an Hanna Andersson spinoff called “To the Moon and Back by Hanna Andersson” on Amazon. I think the quality of this spinoff is probably better than average kid clothing, but not as good as the “real” Hanna Andersson stuff.
- Primary – Most of their stuff isn’t gendered, which is nice.
Both of these brands are more expensive when not on sale or second hand. Since they are super durable, the second hand stuff is usually great. We’ve lucked out with some great sales over the years. You might want to sign up for their email advertisements so you catch sales when they pop up.
I strongly, strongly, strongly recommend implementing a rule that your house doesn’t have toys that take batteries. That’s my only advice.
Here are some items that I’ve been surprised to use as much as we do:
- 24-pack of white washcloths and 12-pack of white hand towels from Costco. These are in the style you’d find in a hotel. Thirsty and boring. We keep them in their own drawer in the kitchen and preferentially use them for cleanups instead of paper towels. We use washcloths for smaller messes and hand towels for bigger messes. These cloths/towels are easy to clean in a bleach load. Ours are discolored at this point from heavy use, but they have saved many trees since they keep us from using paper products.
- A bouncy chair, like this Bright Stars one. We place this outside the bathroom so my spouse can put down our infant during a shower or whatnot. We also have one in the kitchen for when we are making meals or cleaning. Just don’t leave in a place where you’ll drop something on your kid or trip on your kid.
- The Couchcoaster to hold drinks on the couch. Kids need somewhere to put their water bottles when they are older or else you’ll have a leaking upside down bottle on your couch. These are perfect.
- Stick on Avery No Iron Clothing Labels. We lost 4 or 5 pairs of winter gloves at daycare until we started using these, now we never lose them. Just write your kid’s last name on these with a fine tip permanent marker and stick them on the clothing. (Using last names instead of first names is good practice if you think you might have multiple kids so you won’t have to relabel things.) They survive the washer and dryer no problem. We use them on hats, gloves, sweaters, sweat shirts, blankets, towels, boots, and whatnot. For most clothing, we put the label inside. For gloves, put it on the outside. Peeling off these labels leaves behind a goopy residue that won’t come off. Just stick a blank, similar sized label in the same spot after removing one. Easy fix.
- A label maker. We stick our kids last name on all hard objects (bento boxes, water bottles, food storage, etc.). Having a label maker is surprisingly handy, since the labels don’t fade and survive dishwashers. We have an Epson one that isn’t made anymore as far as I can tell. This Brother model looks very similar.
- Nalgene 4oz and 8oz plastic storage jars. These are made from “Tritan” and are clear. Nalgene also makes some with PPCO/polypropylene, which are opaque/cloudy, we haven’t gotten those type as they are marketed for laboratory use and aren’t leakproof per some of the listings. The links above are to the Nalgene website, which is the cheapest source, but they are frequently out of stock. It might be prudent to sign up for their “stock alerts” email if they aren’t in stock. They are about 2x the cost on a website that rhymes with zimerzon, but seem to be more reasonably priced on this other website that charges ~$20 for shipping. Why are they great? Just like the iconic Nalgene plastic water bottles, these jars are seemingly indestructible and leak proof. They make packing lunches and snacks super easy since you don’t have to worry about them leaking or coming open. They store breast milk/formula in a pinch. (I wouldn’t freeze liquid in these.) With our first kid, we picked up about 10 of the 4 oz and 5 of the 8 oz to keep up with our usage. Put a label from your label maker on these to keep them from disappearing at daycare/school. Get these Oxo mini scrub brushes so you can get any crud that might build up in the inside of the lid. We also got one of these dishwasher baskets to hold the lids upright in our 2-rack dishwasher, but don’t need the baskets anymore with our new 3-rack dishwasher since they lie comfortably flat on the top rack.
- White noise machine. We’ve tried a few different models and this is our favorite. It has a good balance of low power (running on 5v USB!) and good quality sound. We have this in our room and the kids rooms running all the time at a low volume with the deeper white noise sound (i.e., brown noise).
- Cable (“zip”) ties. Sometimes you just need to tie some inanimate object down quickly and semi permanently. Zip ties are awesome for that. Get at least 18 inch long ones. This brand has been good.
- Junk drawer tools. Here are some items that I find useful and use several times per month, so I keep them in the kitchen and not in the tool box. This screwdriver with flat and phillips head in two sizes. These little cutting pliers and needle nose pliers (keep out of reach of little hands!).
- House project supplies. I assume you have a basic set of tools. If you have drywall, you’ll be using oodles of drywall anchors while baby proofing. The anchors that come in baby proofing kits are usually terrible, so get these awesome drywall anchors (they require a matching drill bit to go with a power drill, as FYI). Get a stud finder too. I don’t really like ours so won’t recommend it.
- Screw thread locker. Kids stuff seems to come unscrewed pretty easily. A dab of Loctite Threadlocker on the side of a screw’s threading will keep it from coming undone.
- Bathroom items. These nail clippers are awesome when kids are a little older. For infants, these ones are great. At some point your kid will get a splinter and you will want really good 2-piece set of tweezers like these before that.
- Oxiclean, a Rubbermaid dishpan, and some nitrile gloves. Doing an “Oxiclean soak” in a dishpan is remarkably effective at getting nasty stains out. We have a great outdoor gear consignment shop in Burlington, VT (Outdoor Gear Exchange). Some of the high-end consignment kids winter gear (e.g., Patagonia) has really caked in dirt/stains, but are otherwise in great shape. The price is usually dramatically lowered because of these stains. We have had 100% success in getting these stains out with an Oxiclean soak, getting these items looking more-or-less brand new. It also works well for other run-of-the-mill clothing stains and deodorant/antiperspirant stains. There are instructions on how to do this soak on the back of the Oxiclean box, but our approach is to (A) put on nitrile gloves, (B) fill the ~4 gallon/~15 liter dishpan about half-way with warm/hot water, (C) put the dishpan on a junky old white towel on top of the not-running dryer (towel to catch any bubbles that might spill over), then (D) add 1-2 full scoops (~1-2 cups/~250-500 mL) of Oxiclean. (E) Mix the Oxiclean/water solution around a bit, then (F) add the clothing items, gently agitating them without trying to spill out the liquid. (G) Leave the batch for at least a couple of hours or overnight then (H) dump everything in the dishpan in the washing machine (also put the junky towel in the washing machine), add some mild laundry detergent, and run a normal small-sized wash cycle. After it’s done, we usually then (I) add in a full load of clothes on top of the just-Oxicleaned-then-washed items and run again with mild detergent. I’m not sure we need to do this re-wash, but it doesn’t take much more effort and it gives a nice piece of mind that the Oxiclean has washed out of the kids clothes. Note: Make sure to use the nitrile gloves when handling this solution and the clothes before they get washed. Don’t mix Oxiclean with bleach or other solvents. Wipe up any spills with paper towels and discard the paper towels immediately. Don’t use the dishpan for other purposes after you’ve used it for Oxicleaning. This soak might discolor some things but we haven’t had that happen with any commercially-produced kids or adult clothing items. It unfortunately won’t remove paint or permanent marker.