Every year in the US, nearly 4 million babies are born. Each one is a precious, unique little person who will grow up into an adventurous toddler and then a bright grade schooler. But in those first few years, they will need a whole lot of love and care. If you are already expecting a baby or planning to have one this year, then it's time to start thinking about your nursery.
Making a place for your baby is a critical phase and one you don't want to put off until the baby arrives. Babies need a surprising amount of furniture for such small creatures because nursery furniture is designed to keep them safe while helping you to fulfill their needs. You'll probably notice a theme of washable surfaces, tight upholstery, and safety rails, as well as plenty of hooks, pouches, and cubbies to hold toys and clean diapers.
Whether you have a separate room or a nursery area, putting together your nursery is a vital part of preparing for your new baby. There are five essential nursery elements to ensure a good night's sleep for the whole home.
The 5 Essential Elements of a Nursery
No matter how you build your nursery, nearly every home with an infant winds up with these nursery elements:
- Changing Table
- Rocking Chair
- Floor Play Area
- Play Pen
After all, you need a place for the baby to sleep, be changed, rocked to sleep, and to play on the floor with supervision. Even families who don't intentionally build a nursery will most likely wind up with all of these elements represented. But it's much better to plan, so you have everything the baby needs when they arrive.
The first thing your baby will need is a crib. The crib is key to both your sanity and the baby's health. It's not safe to leave a baby alone on a regular bed, and responsible parents invest in safety rails on everything. Not to mention the importance of baby bedding.
Cribs are specifically for babies, but choosing the right one should depend on your preferences as a parent. Not only do you want a crib that is safe and looks nice in your home. You also want one that is comfortable to lean into so you can pick up, put down, and tend to your baby in the crib. Look for a crib with the right height for you and one that is sturdy when you shake it. Practice with a bag of flour for judging comfort when crib-shopping.
Once you find the right crib, it's time to think about bedding. Babies don't need full-sized blankets and shouldn't be trusted alone with them. Most parents choose a waterproof mattress cover, a soft fitted sheet, and a small knit baby blanket when tucking their infants in at night or for a nap. If you want to be even safer, many parents have found swaddling sack is an excellent way to keep a baby warm and happy—that means better sleep for you and the baby. The swaddling keeps them from rolling into dangerous positions or getting tangled.
2. Changing Table
The changing table is one of the most ridiculous (and ridiculously useful) pieces of baby furniture. A cabinet dedicated entirely to dressing and changing your baby; the changing table is a classic part of any nursery design. The purpose is to give you one well-organized place to tend to your baby's physical needs other than meals and bathtime.
An ideal changing table has a padded shelf for your baby, cabinets underneath and cubbies above to hold everything you need to remove a dirty diaper, clean up your baby, and apply a fresh diaper in record speed. This ideal table would also have an enclosed separate space for the diaper pail and perhaps shelves for the baby's clothes as well.
Of course, you don't have to buy a particular changing table to change and care for your baby. Many people build their setup with standard tables, shelves, and trash cans and you can do the same. The key is to have all the critical pieces in one place where it is easy to perform a pit-stop change or treat your baby to a healthy little spa before bed.
3. Rocking Chair
Babies need lots of motion. It's a well-known fact that babies love to be walked, bounced, and rocked as a way to sooth almost anything. They also need to be held carefully while nursing or drinking from a bottle. The need for that rocking motion is why most homes wind up with a special baby chair. In planned nurseries, this is usually a soft rocking chair with a footrest so Mom can nurse the baby and put them to sleep quickly without walking miles up and down the hallway.
Make sure there is a welcoming rocking chair as part of your nursery plans. Even if you have a rocking chair in the public space, consider putting one right next to the crib so it will be easier to get your baby back to sleep at night. This rocking chair could work wonders for your sanity as a new parent shortly.
Once you have your rocking chair, remember to choose a few very washable blankets to go with it. As a parent, you will appreciate the occasional lap blanket or makeshift swaddle while sitting with the baby. It can also serve as a nursing shield or just an inducement to nap in the chair while cuddling your napping baby.
4. Floor Play Area
Babies need a combination of time spent laying on their back and on their tummies with stimulating toys. These toys are how they learn to identify sounds, control their limbs, and eventually learn to crawl. To do this, you will need a safe area on the floor where you can put down your baby and keep a close eye on them while they play.
Tables are a terrible idea because babies can fall off of them and most floors (including carpet) are not necessarily safe or comfortable for a baby. So, most parents create a designated floor play area. For designing your nursery, look into unique area rugs designed for infant floor play. They are very washable with a soft spongy surface that won't be hard or rough on your baby's skin.
If your baby is on-the-go, visiting relatives and sitters all the time, consider also finding a thick, smooth blanket you can pack up and roll out for floor play away from the nursery.
Once you have your pad or blanket set up, start your collection of fun floor toys. The toys should be a combination of little things to rattle and move and larger toys to suspend over the baby so they can play while lying on their backs.
The playpen is the final key element of building a nursery. Many parents have portable playpens that fold up with them, or pens all around the house so there is always a safe place to park the baby. Playpens are necessary precisely because they create a safe area for an infant or toddler to play while ensuring they are also well-contained.
Newborn infants don't need playpens, but they will as soon as they start crawling. Once your baby starts to crawl, they will need to stay within a safe space. Babies can become mobile surprisingly quickly, and with more agility than you might think possible. Some are little acrobats who will start climbing before they can even walk confidently, which is why a tall, sturdy playpen is vital, and it's helpful to find your favorite brand of playpen early.
The playpen can also be stocked up with things, including a small toy box for cleanup. Consider including a variety of safe baby toys, a blanket, a stash of pacifiers, and a sensory board.