By Mathew Miller, Sharon Perkins

If the suggestion of free stuff has you lacing your sneakers to run out to the nearest baby goods store, take a breath. Dads, registering isn’t as easy as it sounds. Babies need a lot of gear, but they don’t need everything, so you have to think through your particular wants, needs, and style before you point the scanner and click.

When you get into the store, registering can be an overwhelming, almost paralyzing experience. Some parents-to-be first realize how unprepared to care for baby they feel when forced to choose among different styles of bottles, diapers, and baby monitors. Some couples enter panic mode and start registering for one of everything because they feel like their baby might need it.

You only get free stuff once, so be sure to make the most of it by getting prepared before you register. The more online research you do about the differences among various products, the more competent and confident you’ll begin to feel about your parenting duties to come. Registering is the perfect opportunity to familiarize yourself with exactly what it takes to raise a baby.

Dad’s homework to do ahead of time to get what you want

When it comes time to register, everyone who has been a parent will tell you the things that you won’t be able to live without. In truth, you have to have very few items to raise a baby, but a lot of modern inventions can make raising a baby easier.

First, consider your space. If your nursery is too small to fit an entire bedroom set and a glider, you and your partner need to prioritize. The room’s size helps dictate the size and number of items you can add to it and the style of crib, dresser, changing table, curtains, and every other accoutrement you can imagine.

If a rocking chair is the one thing you must have, plan the rest of the room around that to make sure you have enough space.

Register for the essentials first, and don’t make your registry too long or you run the risk of not getting everything you need. Also, don’t register for too many clothes because, although clothes are necessary, everyone will want to buy clothes first, and you may not get other, more vital things. People often throw in an outfit along with whatever registry gift they purchase, anyway.

Spend time thinking about how you’re going to use your stroller. If you’re a runner, investigate the best running strollers and try them out at the store. If you live in a city, make sure the stroller is durable enough to handle bumpy, uneven sidewalks but not too big to make you the enemy of your fellow pedestrians.

If you drive a lot, make sure the stroller folds up small enough to fit in your car and still leave room for shopping bags.

Before you register for anything, check safety ratings and parent reviews online. Visit Consumer Reports baby section for recalls and safety information.

Travel systems that offer a compatible stroller, infant car seat, and car seat base in one package are a popular option for new parents. If you’re on a tight budget, a travel system is an ideal solution to get everything you need for less than $200. However, many travel systems are quite bulky, and the included strollers generally aren’t top-of-the-line quality.

Travel systems come in many styles, so start by picking the car seat of your choice. Make sure it has a five-point harness system and that it’s the appropriate size for your vehicle. Consider the size of the stroller, too, and make sure it fits comfortably in your trunk. Collapse the stroller in the store before you buy it to see how big it is when not in use.

How to find out what you need — and what you think you won’t need but can’t live without!

When you’ve never before had to care for a baby, knowing what you need — and how many of each thing — is nearly impossible. Use the basic checklist as your guide.

Note: Certain items aren’t mentioned, such as a high chair, jumpers, and play mats, because you don’t need them right away. However, if you have room to store them, pick the ones you want and register for them.

Remember, though, that when you meet your baby and get to know him, your idea of what he might like may change. The play gym you picked out before you met him may not really suit him. It’s kind of like signing him up for college before he’s born; you may think Harvard is the best, but he may not like it.

Following are the items you absolutely must include on your registry (in our opinion, at least).

  • Clothing:

    • Eight to ten onesies

    • Six pairs of socks

    • Three to six newborn hats

    • Four to six warm, footed pajamas

    • Two to six bibs

    • Six to eight burp cloths

    • Hangers

  • Feeding:

    • High-quality breast pump (if breast-feeding)

    • Milk storage bags (if breast-feeding)

    • Nursing pads (if breast-feeding)

    • Nursing support pillow

    • Lanolin and/or gel nursing pads

    • Bottle brush

    • Bottle drying rack

    • One each of six different kinds of BPA-free bottles

    • Four nipples for each type of bottle

  • Furniture:

    • Nursery seating

    • Baskets/bins for closet organization

  • Just in case:

    • Digital thermometer

    • Dye-free infant acetaminophen

    • Dye-free gas relief drops

    • First-aid kit

  • On-the-go goodies:

    • Infant car seat

    • Stroller

    • Backseat mirror

    • Car window sun shades

    • Diaper bag

    • Portable baby wipe container

    • Travel-size hand sanitizer

  • Sleeping and changing essentials:

    • Cradle/bassinet/co-sleeper/crib

    • Two to four fitted sheets

      Crib mattress

    • Two to four swaddling blankets

    • Nursery monitor

    • Changing table or station

    • Two to three changing pad covers

  • Toiletries:

    • Diapers (As many as you have room to store!)

    • Wipes

    • Diaper cream

    • Baby powder

    • Baby shampoo

    • Baby lotion

    • Infant manicure set

    • All-natural hand sanitizer

Not all babies take to every type of bottle; you may end up trying many different brands before you find the right one. Avoid registering for too many of the same brand in case your baby refuses to use them. You can always return any unopened bottles and nipples if your baby takes to the first or second brand you try.