When I was pregnant with my first, I remember sitting in front of my computer on a slow afternoon at work, staring at the BabyCenter site and wondering what the heck to ask for. Oh, for a time machine so I could go back and select the things I'd really need!
These days, I offer these registry rules for my girlfriends on the nest. The rules are designed to a) maximize chances of getting the pricey equipment items new parents really need and minimize the cutesy gifts that shower guests love to buy, and b) minimize return shopping trips in that first year.
1. Check out your friends' basements before you register.
It's tempting to wish for everything new for baby, I know. But unless you're confident that your friends and family are really going to spring for all the biggies, it's wise to figure out what you can borrow first and then register only for the items you truly need.
2. Don't register for clothes (especially onesies and sleepers), baby blankets or bibs.
You will receive plenty of these items. Probably more than you need. Even if you register for clothes because they are in your taste, people will probably bring you different clothes, because people love to pick out baby clothes.
If you don't receive enough of these items, they are the easiest things to borrow or pick up used or on sale. Because everyone else also receives tons of baby clothes, and because infants only wear things for three months or less, there is a major surplus of perfect-condition baby clothes floating around.
3. Don't be afraid to register in more than one place.
I registered at Target because it's accessible to everyone, and because a friend gave me the following good advice: Some people will just get a gift card from your place of registry, and everyone needs Target gift cards for diapers and such.
However, Target only carries a limited variety of car seats, strollers, etc. Like so many expecting moms, I had to have this one specific (matching) fabric on my Graco Snugride car seat and my Pack and Play, and Target didn't carry it. So I bought my own car seat instead of registering for it.
If I had it to do over, I'd register for the equipment at Babies R Us or BabyCenter, where they have just about every model of the big ticket items. I'd still register with Target for garden variety things like the infant bath tub, thermometers, etc.
4. Encourage friends to start group purchases.
At showers in my socio-economic niche, most people spend $20 to $50 on a gift. That won't buy a full-sized swing or a car seat, and it certainly won't buy a crib.
Expressing any kind of suggestions for how people should gift you is a ticklish thing. You certainly can't have any mention of gifts printed on your invites, although most people aren't bothered by a little slip of paper naming the stores of registry.
But if you can, get a close friend or family member to make discreet suggestions about teaming up for group gifts. I'd like to see an online registry site do some kind of matchmaking for team gifts, but so far I haven't.
A theme shower, like the safety shower mentioned recently on Wise Bread, is a nice, non-pushy way to get discussions going on group purchases.
5. Don't tell the sex of the baby.
If people don't know if it's a boy or girl, they're less likely to buy clothes. Also, if you promise to reveal the sex at the party it builds a fun sense of anticipation.
6. Consult a friend with kids.
So important. Who else is going to convince you that even though you want to be an attachment parent, you still need somewhere to set the baby down long enough to pee?
7. Research your choices.
Even though they're "free," put in as much selection time as you would if you were shelling out your own cash. Check Consumer Reports for car seat reviews. Figure out if you want to use glass or plastic bottles, and if you will need a low-end breast pump for occasional use or a high-end, use three-times a day machine.
For some items, you really may not know what you need until you have your baby. If you wait on any item, I'd make it the stroller. There are so many kinds of strollers -- lightweight, all-terrain, one-hand-fold, convertible. It's hard to say in advance whether you'll be taking your baby on the bus, or whether you will really use the car seat system. And you'll have much more opportunity to observe various strollers in action once you're on maternity leave and hanging out at the pediatrician's office or mommy yoga classes.
If you do register for a stroller, I'd keep it in the box with the receipt handy until you are ready to use it. For some parents -- especially if they get one of the lightweight car seat carriers to start with -- the stroller doesn't really come out until the baby is a few months old.
8. Register for items not directly related to the baby.
There are plenty of items that come in handy once you have a kid that aren't found at Babies R Us. My favorite recent example: A set of wireless headphones for listening to the TV or radio while you nurse the baby. These might be especially handy if you have a TV in your bedroom and want to watch during loooong late-night feedings without waking your spouse.
9. Don't get your hopes up on "icky" items.
I have some friends who registered for a number of very nice disposable diapers and covers, but they didn't receive any. I once heard another friend explaining why she didn't spring for the breast pump even though it was the only item left on the registry: "I just didn't want her to think of me every time she put that machine on her boobs."
10. Smile and be happy with whatever you get.
Despite all these tips, you will probably get a ton of cute little outfits in pink, blue, or "neutral" yellow. Enjoy them. Your friends and relatives bought them with love, and even if you get way more than you need, it will be nice to not have to do baby laundry every few days.
Or, be like me and leave a few things with tags for last-minute shower gifts or donations. Whoops, did I say that?
And don't despair over duplicates. Don't return them. You will probably need them, even the big items. Two high chairs? Don't forget Grandma's house.