Somewhere for baby to sleep: For the first few weeks, a bassinet, cradle or even a clean laundry basket will do, but eventually, you'll probably need a crib. Look for a crib that was built after 1991, when US safety regulations became mandatory.
A comfy chair or rocker: Face it: You're going to be spending a lot of time in your rocker over the next few months. Make sure to test-drive it in the store before you buy it. (Hey, bring a magazine and kick back for some much needed rest. ...) You'll want to make sure it's sturdy and comfortable enough to weather months of midnight feedings and years of bedtime stories.
Somewhere to change your baby: Sure, the bedroom floor is great for changing a sleepy newborn, but changing a wiggling toddler while hunched on the floor is a different story. Protect your carpet (and your back) by finding a sturdy dresser, table or stand for changing your baby.
Diaper pail: Because moonlight trips to the Dumpster in your pajamas aren't fun for you or your neighbors.
Bookshelves (and books): While there's no need to spend a fortune on built-in laddered library shelves, your baby's Sandra Boynton collection needs a place of its own—be it a sturdy bookshelf or a few plastic bins.
Toy storage: A wooden toy chest or a couple of wicker baskets are great for preventing toys from taking over the house ... and can also help prevent unattractive toe-stubbing and swearing.
Crib sheets: Buy at least five, or risk spending your days folding (and unfolding) crib sheets. Between spit-up and diaper accidents, you'll be changing more sheets than a Holiday Inn. Invest in a waterproof mattress cover, too.
Hamper: Babies go through a lot of laundry. A lot. A big hamper that's easy to tote back and forth to the laundry room is a lifesaver for an exhausted new parent.
Clothes storage: Your baby probably already owns more clothes than you do. (And you didn't think that was possible.) A dresser and a couple dozen mini-hangers go a long way in keeping them organized. Throw a few plastic bins in bigger dresser drawers so you can keep track of socks and onesies.
Decorations: No need to buy an original Picasso to decorate your nursery walls, but a few well-placed decorations can make your nursery feel bright and homey. Add a colorful mobile or bumper to the crib, throw some favorite pictures or prints on the wall, display stuffed animals and books on shelves or window sills. Be creative.
Black-out shades: Your womb was wonderful ... and dark! Help baby feel at home in his new home by putting up black-out shades on his windows. Who knows, he might even sleep more than an hour that first night.
Mobile: Choose whatever pattern, music or motion makes you happy. Just be sure to keep it up and out of baby's reach.
Safety gear: Don't wait to baby-proof the place. Mobility will be here sooner than you know it, and you'll want to be sure the nursery is a safe place to explore. Check out our Baby-Proofing Checklist for essentials.
Night-light: In the early days, it's more so you aren't stubbing your toes on the changing table than it is for the baby. But you can also consider it an investment for future "scared of the dark" days.
Baby monitor: Believe it or not, there will come a time when you don't want to run into the nursery 40 times a day to check if baby's awake.
Clock: You might not want to know precisely what time it is when you're up at all hours, but a clock is great for scheduled feedings and medicine dosing.
CD player or MP3 dock: Consider a little mood music for the nursery. Some softly played top 40 can be just as soothing to baby as Brahms' Lullaby playing on a loop from the crib mobile.
Wastebasket: For non-diaper-pail trash, like tissues, cotton balls, your midnight snack wrappers ...
Bouncy chair: For the baby, not you. Though most babies do find Mom or Dad to be the best bouncy chair ever, you may find a substitute handy when you need to get something done ... like going to the bathroom.
Bath items: A baby tub (one with a plug makes emptying easier), a few baby towels and washcloths, nail clippers, and a comb/brush set.
Activity mat: Tummy time is more fun on a mat that has colorful things to look at (and spit up on).
Nursing gear: Your breast pump, a nursing pillow, half a dozen cloth diapers for spit-up and burping, breast pads and nipple cream. Stash it all in a basket near your chair, so you don't have to get up after baby starts chowing down.
Diaper change necessities: A stack of diapers, wipes and butt cream near the changing table are critical, because once you get started, you can't walk away without carrying a half-naked baby with you. Look for a changing pad with removable covers and buy two—one for the pad and one for the wash.