I spent many years teaching pregnant and parenting teens before having kids of my own. Here is what I send to my pregnant friends when they start to feel overwhelmed by impending motherhood. Perhaps it will help you for perspective.
1. A registry so other people can buy you stuff that you will like and use for the the baby...
2. Car seat. This is the only thing that really has to be new.
3. Place for baby to sleep. You can do the whole cradle/bassinet/basket thing when the baby is little or you can skip it and go right to the crib, which you will need anyway.
4. Diapers. Cloth diapering is more expensive short term, but much less expensive long term. If you do disposables, you will go through several thousand of them before the baby is potty trained.
5. Clothing. Get a few things in tiny sizes but restrain yourself. I know they are super cute, but, really, the baby grows so fast that they out-grow stuff within a few weeks at the beginning and within a few months later.
6. Feeding stuff. Strictly speaking this isn't essential unless you like sleep. I recommend glass bottles with silicon nips. Get a breast pump if you want to eventually breastfeed while still having a life. (Note: I didn't have much of a life.)
7. Receiving blankets. These are wonderful for swaddling the baby when they are first born and need the comfort. They will also keep the baby warm.
8. Toiletries. The baby will need nail clippers, a soft brush, thermometer, etc. You can think about towels and wash cloths, but a newborn will fit in a hand towel just fine. As the baby gets older, he or she will need toys, books, dolls, blocks, etc, but they will mostly just lay there for the first few months, so the other stuff can come later. For a while, the dog had more toys than the baby and everyone was ok with that...
The first thing to remember is that your child will need more than one in a lifetime. Regardless of what you buy for your infant, you will have to buy a bigger one some time later when the child grows. (This is not strictly true anymore, but I still really like a detachable infant carrier.) I strongly recommend that you get an infant car seat with a removable infant carrier (one that snaps into a base that stays in the car). The newer ones have weight limits that go up to 25-35+ pounds (which generally translates into about 18 months to 24 months). We got one carrier and a base for each car. These are the things that I looked for when I was shopping: an infant carrier that can be taken out of the car; a car seat with a removable, washable lining; and a carrier that had the highest weight limits available. I ended up buying a second liner for the car seat so I could wash one and still be able to leave the house. Here are a few websites that explain the different types of car seats without trying to sell you a particular one: http://www.childrensfurniture.com/html/carseattypes.htm http://www.car-safety.org/basics.html http://www.healthychildren.org/English/safety-prevention/on-the-go/Pages/Car-Safety-Seats-Information-for-Families.aspx?nfstatus=401&nftoken=00000000-0000-0000-0000-000000000000&nfstatusdescription=ERROR%3a+No+local+token
The most important things about buying any car seats, though, are to buy a new one and to check to make sure there aren't any recalls on the model. This is a good place to check for recalls: http://www.cpsc.gov/
Bottles: We decided to use glass bottles because even the newer plastic ones without BPA will still have something in them that is taking the place of BPA. I personally tend to believe the multiple European studies that link BPA to hormone disruption rather than the one US study that says it is fine. We used Dr. Brown's brand glass bottles, but all of the glass bottles will work. The only thing I would suggest is that you only buy one type so that the nipples and tops all fit all of your bottles. By the way, we have used glass for over five years and have never had one break. The trick is to treat it like a glass pie plate: if it is cold from the refrigerator, warm it slowly; if it is warm from being used, let it cool slowly. Finally, don't try to dry the bottle while it is hot.
Food: I don't know if you have thought much about what you will feed your little one yet. I breastfed my kids. If you are able to do so, I strongly recommend breastfeeding because it is much healthier for you and for the baby. However, the down side is that you will be up every few hours to feed the baby for the first few months. Gradually, you will get more sleep. Even if you only breastfeed for the first 6 weeks or so, the baby will get the benefit of your immune system and will be much healthier in the early days. La Leche League has lots of good information on breastfeeding on their site, http://www.llli.org/
, and there may be a chapter near you if you want help once the baby is born. If someone else will be feeding the baby, and letting you sleep, you may want to buy a bottle warmer and a breast pump. http://wholesomebabyfood.momtastic.com/index.htm
This one is about making baby food. American Association of Pediatricians recommends exclusively breastfeeding until 6 months with supplementary breastfeeding for a year or more. World Health Organization recommends breast milk until 2 years or more, with solids introduced no earlier than 6 months.
Diapers: We use cloth for many reasons. We use cloth because it is better for the environment to not have disposable diapers in the landfill, because cloth diapers are less expensive over the long term, and most importantly because my daughter gets a rash if she is in disposables for more than a day. From what I was told in our parenting class before my daughter was born, it is actually the disposable wipes that are more of a problem because they tend to cause bad reactions. The hospital where our daughter was born actually provides paper wipes that do not have any chemical moistener on them because of the problems with regular disposable wipes. They use plain water to wet the towels. At home we use flannel squares; although, I know many people who just used baby wash cloths. The cloth diapers of today range from what our grandparents would have used to modern fitted cloth diapers. The down side to cloth is that it makes a few more loads of laundry every week. We have been using both with Evan. There is really good information on this page about how cloth diapering systems work. http://www.greenmountaindiapers.com/newmom.htm
Bumpers, blankets, etc: The Centers for Disease Control advises against putting anything in the crib other than the baby and the fitted sheet covering the mattress. For the most part we followed this advice; however, our daughter's room got quite cold over the winter, so we did use a blanket over her while she was swaddled. Once she was out of swaddling, and I saw that she could and did kick the blanket off herself, I figured it would be alright to cover her with it at night. Bumpers are dangerous as they can suffocate the baby. However, once the baby starts moving, the baby may get hands and feet stuck between the bars of the crib. We found some mesh bumpers that kept her feet from getting stuck, but they were open enough that we were not worried about her suffocating in them. When you find a crib and/or a bassinet or cradle you like, make sure the mattress fits snugly inside. If you can fit your hand easily between the mattress and the side, a baby can get a hand or arm, etc. stuck there. It is amazing how small their little parts are. Depending on what your house is like, you may want to find some mosquito netting to go over the crib. If you use it, just be sure the netting is completely outside the crib and out of the reach of your little one. The netting is good for taking the baby out for fresh air, too. We still use our netting for walks by the river. Finally, it is important to keep fluffy objects like pillows and stuffed animals out of the crib. When you give your little one stuffed animals be careful of the eyes; button or shiny eyes can come off and be a choking hazard; the ones that are embroidered, thread eyes are much better because they can not cause choking.
Here are a few other, related websites you might find interesting or fun. http://www.slingbabies.co.nz/Site/Home.ashx
This has lots of information on different styles of infant carriers for hands-free baby wearing.
This one is about how the fetus develops.