You don’t know the meaning of the word essentials until you find yourself looking after a tiny human life for the first time in your existence. For something so small, so fragile, that never speaks and cannot even open its eyes for very long, a newborn will know exactly how to tell you when something is not right and is not prepared to wait the next morning before it’s sorted out. It has needs, and you have to meet them.

In Finland, new parents are given a box with everything that the new human in their lives might bring, but if you’re in the UK, you need to source all this stuff yourself. It’s very easy to get excited about buying cute little outfits and toys for them (or you) to play with, but a lot of the things you need will be more practical than stylish.

If you’re lucky enough to have friends or family who are happy to pass on their old baby things, there are a couple of things to watch out for. Firstly, car seats can be really expensive and the temptation to inherit one is great, but you need to be sure that the seat hasn’t been damaged in any kind of accidents.

Secondly, if you are given a cot or Moses basket, make sure that you buy a new mattress to fit into it hygienically, that the bars are smooth (with no splinters or cracks that baby could hurt themselves on while their fingers explore the surroundings), and that they are no more than 60mm or less than 25mm apart (so they cannot stick an arm or head through).

So, it’s a good idea to be prepared and get some of these essentials beforehand because you will not have the time or mental capacity to organise everything once your little bundle of joy has arrived.

What are the essentials?

Baby will need somewhere to sleep (which they do manage, sometimes!), something to eat, some way of getting about, and a few bits and pieces to keep them clean, warm and dry (which seems the scariest bit, but isn’t).

The important thing to remember is that essentials are what works for you and your baby. No two families have the same stuff or the same routines, and babies have their own individual quirks that must be accommodated. It’s best not to get too attached to that vintage cot that was passed down from generation to generation in your family if your tiny one only goes to sleep in a Moses basket.

Somewhere to sleep

This is not as straightforward as it sounds. Some little babies insist in acting out the folk tale of the Princess and the Pea with the intensity magnified by a thousand, others pass out anywhere like your Uncle Dave at a wedding with a free bar. You won’t normally know until you get them home from the hospital. However, there are a few options.

Moses basket (Clair De Lune Deluxe Padded White Wicker) – Often the first thing your baby might sleep in, and great because you can simply pick them up while they nap and take them from room to room.

Cot (4Baby Solid Wood Eva) – There is a huge variety of cots and cot beds for all budgets, but there is a British Standard safety mark you should look for – BS EB 716-1. The mattress should fit snugly with no space for hands to get stuck, and there should be gaps between the bars too small for the head or limbs to get through but too big for fingers to get stuck in. A sleeping bag will help keep them warm at night and are generally easier than swaddling the baby to help keep them calm.

Side sleeper (Chicco Next 2 Me Side Sleeping Crib) – As parents are encouraged to have their baby sleep in the same bedroom for at least six months, side sleepers are often a comfortable option, as they open onto the bed, so baby and parent share some sleeping space without the dangers of sharing the bed.

Travel cot (Hauck Dream n Play Travel Cot) – If you’re feeling very adventurous, you might want to hit the road with your tiny offspring. The travel cot can even work as a cosy alternative to a normal cot as the soft sides mean the baby doesn’t wake itself bashing against the sides.

Something to eat

If you and the baby have worked out breastfeeding successfully, then you won’t need quite as much stuff as families that need formula, etc. However, there are still a few essentials to stock up on beforehand.

Getting about

This is another area that can get expensive, but then nobody has a baby to help them save money, do they? You might be lucky enough to inherit something sturdy and stylish, but if you aren’t lucky that way, you can have a lot of fun choosing something that suits your requirements (like boot space, storage space, manoeuvrability, etc.).

It’s important to remember that you will need to get a car seat before you can bring your new baby home; it’s illegal to travel with your baby in the car without one. So, it’s best to arrange that in good time.

Travel system (Chicco Show Offer - Urban Plus Travel System and IsoFix Base Bundle 5 - Red Passion) – One system to cover all the angles – car seat, pushchair, pram – but you need to be careful not to keep your baby in the car seat for more than two hours at a time.

Pram/pushchair (Joie Chrome DLX (i-Gemm) Travel System + Carrycot) – The most important thing about buggies for a newborn is that they can lay back in them and relax.

Car seat (Joie Spin 360 Group 0+/1 Isofix Car Seat) – This is a very important purchase to get right. The i-Size seats are becoming the new standard and it is recommended that children stay rear-facing in car seats until they are three years old.

Staying clean, warm and dry

You might be a bit scared of baby poo and the incredible sights, smells and (occasionally) noises that lie before you, but in many ways bathing your baby and wrapping them in cute clothes might be the most fun you have with them for a few months, so enjoy it. (And always leave more time/bring more clothes to allow for accidents, if you can.)

Changing mats (4baby Luxury Changing Mat - Dimple Pink) – You need somewhere to build your change station and keep the contents of the nappy off the furniture. If you want to push the boat out, you can also get a changing table (My Child Peachy Changing Unit - Multi Zoo).

Nappies – And plenty of them.

Bath tub (Maltex Baby Bath - Hello Kitty White) – Not strictly an essential, but does make bath time a little safer.

Towels, flannels, muslins – Plenty of them too, especially muslins, which can be used in a thousand ways.

Baby wipes – Not the most ecologically friendly thing you’ll ever use, but so miraculous you’ll wonder how you ever lived without them.

Clothes – hat, mittens, shawl/snow suit, onesies, vests (with poppers underneath for easy access). Exactly which clothing depends on what time of year it is, and you are better off getting onesies with feet on them, as baby Houdinis can get socks/booties off in seconds.

Baby monitor (Summer Infant Wide View 2.0 Digital Video Baby Monitor) – Available either in audio alone or with video as well, these will help you maintain some peace of mind while your little one snoozes – if you can tear yourself away from the adorable little creature, that is.