This is probably the one question I just cannot find a satisfactory answer to, either online, from books or family and friends.
I accept that there is a large degree of flexibility - your baby may puke every hour or never at all - but I would very much appreciate a simple, clear list of minimum items. Sizing is also an issue: obviously, you don't want to be rushing out buying more clothing in the first couple of months, so how many newborn, 1-month and 3-month outfits are you supposed to get?
Of course, one option is to be totally minimalist and get nothing. Baby doesn't care what he is wearing and would probably be perfectly happy wrapped in a clean dishcloth. Once he's born, you can work out the right size and daily changing needs.
However, this sounds neither practical nor particularly fun to me. I want the first couple of weeks to be about my baby, not about going shopping. And, although my baby might not care, I do want him to look nice.
So let’s pare it down to the basics - in order to include mums from cold and warm climates, I'm going to talk about "outfits" rather than individual clothes: if you live in the tropics the outfit might be a vest, if you live in Norway it probably includes more layers. I'd imagine you need the same amount of every layer as baby's get dirty from the inside (leaking diaper) and the outside (spit and vomit) - I guess the only layer that is saved is the middle one!
Here we go...
1) You obviously don't need any fancy newborn party outfits. I did buy a pair of achingly cute shorts with a polo shirt to match, but I am well aware that these two items might never get used.
2) It seems clear that you need one outfit for the day, and one for sleeping.
2a) Sleep: covering you baby with a blanket at night is dangerous, so even in warm climates you want something that covers the feet. Babies wake every 3 hours or so to eat (and usually poo) so, if we think the night lasts for about 9 hours, those are at worst 3, at best 1 clothing change. You don't want to have to do laundry every day, so perhaps six babygros is a good figure to start off with. If you live in a very cold climate (I don't) you might also need six vests or undershirts to go with each of the babygros, or perhaps sleeping bags.
2b) Daytime: Let's start again with the "typical" newborn baby rhythm of eating (and pooing) every three hours or so. 24 minus 9 equals 15, divided by 3 equals 5, so that's at worst 5 clothing changes. Again, you don't want to have to do laundry every day, so let’s start with a minimum of 10 outfits. In the tropics I reckon this could just be a simple vest, in Norway you'd probably have to add leggings, a jumper and socks (which I imagine don't get dirty that quickly).
3) Sizing: while travelling in Portugal I bought a set of 5 newborn onesies. Walking around Lisbon I then realised that compared to all the other parents, my husband and I were giants. I imagine the same would apply to our babies. Only time will tell whether the onesies were a waste of money or not but in hindsight I think it's easier to just start buying clothes starting from 1 month. It's not like the outfit needs to be fitted and this way you can be sure that the outfits you lovingly put together will at least last for a few weeks.
So, my minimalist shopping list would look like this
- Six night-time outfits size 1 month
- Six night-time outfits size 3 months
- Ten day-time outfits 1 month
- Ten day-time outfits 3 months
Now I'm going to check how this compares to the reality of my baby drawer!
Update: For my baby's actual wardrobe and a revised estimate click here