Thanks to Kidsguide UK for the photo.
Disclaimer: I have no babies, and I've never registered for baby goodies. I have, however, taught lots of classes with women who have both registered and received/not received things they needed... and I've heard enough to share their wisdom with you.
Think Local: If you register with a big box store and have any issues with your gifts, returns, broken items, and more, you are sent through a tireless loop of FAQs, menus, and hold songs. If you register with a smaller store in your home town and get to know the people who work there, they will offer you free advice, work with you for exchanges, and recommend products that you and your baby will actually need and use (rather than issuing you a generic list and a scan-gun). When I ask women what they would have done differently, they all say they wouldn't register with one particular big box store because it was impossible to get what they wanted, return what they didn't, and even have items shipped as expected.
Less is More (space, money, time): You might be the kind of family that thinks you'd like a pacifier on every end table, but your baby might not take a pacifier. If you register for fifteen of them at the suggestion of a valued friend and you baby never uses them, that's quite a bit of wasted plastic, time, and gift-wrap. Crib skirts are super cute, but are crib legs really that ugly? Think about what you might actually use in the first few weeks and then head out once baby arrives and buy whatever you're missing.
Think Quality (of life, that is): Unless you are tickled to have your mother, sister, mother in law, or BFF move in with you, consider asking your friends to contribute towards hiring a postpartum doula. The $500 you spend is worth all the cheap onesies, receiving blankets, toys, and wipe warmers in the world.
Follow your Values: If you recycle your cans and jars and consolidate car trips to save a little wear and tear on the Ol' Mother Earth, consider what you can reuse. Cloth diapering a baby costs several thousand dollars less per year than using disposables. It also doesn't smell nearly as bad and you never have to do a midnight run to the drug store through a snow storm to buy replacements. Cribs and high chairs are more likely to be improved from year to year, but if you have a friend whose child is soon moving out of theirs, you can check model numbers online and confirm that no recalls have been issued for the product.
Keep It Simple, Sally: Here is the short list of things you actually need before the baby arrives:
My guess is that if you're pregnant, you're halfway done. If you're pinching your pennies, get a carseat as soon as you can and get it installed (they don't let you leave the hospital without one).
What, you wanted a real list? My basic list is here, free for you to download. Enjoy!
I'm one of those people who loves making your life easier (and I believe in you). I am an experienced registered prenatal yoga teacher and a lactation educator.
Want more? My monthly newsletter might be for you.