I didn't actually buy baby things until my third trimester, after my shower. If you expect a shower, you might wait. If that makes you too nervous or impatient, you could go for the big stuff like a crib, crib mattress, changing table and some shelves, cubbies or chest of drawers, and of course a car seat, any time. The first thing I bought was a Consumer Reports book about what to buy for the baby, and the second was the Girlfriends Guide to shopping for a baby, with those two books as guides and the list from Babies R Us, everything else fell right into place. The gals at the registry desk at Babies R Us were also super-helpful; when we would be mulling over two brands of stroller or car seat, they knew immediately which ones were selling the best, which was good information for us.
If you're in an area with a Babies R Us, you should check it out. You go in, they have a desk area with a well-informed employee sitting at it. You fill in your name and stuff on a form, and she gives you a list (used to be called a "layette" list in my mother's era) of all the stuff people need for their child. I didn't go by that exclusively, since the Girlfriend's Guide mentioned several things that one never will need, but it was a good starting point. Then you go home and think it all over and look up brands online and in the Consumer Reports book if you have it, and then you go back to Babies R Us. The fun begins. The registry lady gives you an electronic scanner gun, and you wander all over the store and when you see something that's on your list, you beep its bar code with the scanner, and it automatically stores it. When you're done, you go back to the desk and they download it to your name, and then all your friends and family (including those out of state) can access it and buy from the list. You can go in and print out a copy of the list, you can watch as various things from the list get bought, and you also get a discount on things if they are on the list and you buy them later yourself. It's actually a pretty slick system.
We put stuff on that we really needed, and stuff on that would just be cool (like a jogging stroller) and darned if the stuff that was more cool was not the stuff people wanted to buy us. Nobody bought a diaper bag, but three people wanted to buy the jogging stroller.
Good luck, don't be terrified when you walk into Babies R Us the first time. It can be a bit overwhelming (especially at Christmas) but the ladies at the registry desk are great.
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