What you actually need to foster a baby
Preparing to foster to adopt or just straight foster a baby can feel a bit overwhelming! How do you know what supplies you really need? (Especially since you won’t even know the age of the infant until you get the call!)
Here is my list of absolute must-haves to be prepared to bring home a baby on a moment’s notice. I am also including some don’t haves throughout to help save you unnecessary expenses and ending up with a lot of things you won’t use.
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The Foster Bedroom for Infants
Depending on the baby’s age, you may have them sleep in your room with you, or in their own bedroom. Keep in mind that the first week or two will be particularly hard at night – especially if the baby has been exposed to drugs or alcohol. Make sure that the baby’s sleep space has room for you to be comfortable as well while you work to soothe and put the baby to sleep.
Necessary elements to a foster baby nursery
A Crib that converts to Toddler Bed
Having convertible supplies is essential when you plan to become a foster parent. Not only will you not know for sure what age/stage the child will be at, but you also won’t know how long they will be with you. Buy a sturdy crib that easily converts. Investing in this upfront will save you money in the long run!
Waterproof Crib Mattress
2 Sets of Sheets and 2 Waterproof Mattress Protectors
Make sure to have at least 2 sets of sheets and waterproof mattress protectors or pads.
One of the best pieces of advice I ever received was to make the bed up with both sets of sheets at mattress protectors. This way if the baby spits up or has a blow out in the middle of the night, you can take the top sheet and mattress protector off and have the clean bed all ready to go.
There are so many great monitors to choose from these days. I really love this video monitor because it allows you to look in on your baby without them seeing you or waking from you peeking in.
I have also used this inexpensive sound monitor and it works just fine as well!
This makes my must-have list because for babies going through the trauma of being removed from their birth mom and potentially going through drug or alcohol withdrawals, having soothing white noise can be a life-saver. I chose this combo nightlight and sound machine as it serves multiple purposes – which again, is one of the best things you can look for when shopping for supplies!
You don’t need anything fancy for storing baby clothes. I found that using this shelf and cube system turned on its side worked really well for all of my babies. It was also the perfect height to strap a changing pad onto!
When you start looking at baby gear the options are practically limitless. It can be easy to get sucked into feeling like you need one of everything. The best way to tackle this as a new foster parent is to buy the bare minimum and then acquire additional items once you actually have a need.
You may find friends who are more than willing to let you borrow equipment in between their needs. There are also some great foster support agencies out there that can help provide needed baby gear.
Here is what I think you absolutely should have to be ready to hit the ground running once you get your first foster placement:
Convertible Car Seat
Again, a convertible model will allow you to accommodate a range of weights, heights, and ages. If you end up with a newborn, you will probably end up wanting to get an infant car seat as they are so convenient for getting in and out of the car. But, the convertible car seat will be a great start and work for most babies!
Having somewhere safe to set the baby down is important. As much as you will want to hug and snuggle that baby, you will occasionally need to use the restroom or cook dinner.
One thing to consider when choosing a seat or swing is that you may want to try to find one that has some soothing features. Some babies that have been exposed to drugs or alcohol have a very hard time being held but may be soothed by a vibrating seat or a gentle swing.
Again, if you can find a baby seat like this that offers multiple options, it will be worth the investment!
Diaper Bag or Backpack
While you don’t absolutely need a fancy diaper bag, it is important to have something to carry baby supplies with you when you go to doctor’s appointments or to send with the baby on visits.
I have found it helpful to have a diaper bag that fits my lifestyle and tastes. And then use a backpack that I already had as my visitation bag. That way, if the bag goes missing, I don’t feel too bad. (Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for bags, diapers, clothes, and so on to go missing between your house, the visit, and the transport.)
2 types of Pacifiers
I think it is a really good idea to have a couple of different styles of pacifiers on hand. You never know what a baby will be most drawn to and these are a pretty inexpensive item to stock up on. (And trust me, having options at 2:00 am will be priceless!) Here are the two that I keep on hand.
Other Optional Foster Baby Gear Items
Pack and Play
This was one of my most used items for my babies up through about 2 years old. While you most likely won’t need this right at placement, you will want one! I like the pack and plays that have the bassinet attachment and changing pad for infants. I used this in my bedroom with newborns.
I also used the pack and play as a safe play space for older babies. This item also works great for traveling as it folds up into a nice compact bag.
A stroller is not a bad idea to have on hand. Although, if you are open to more than one child, or to a range in age, you may want to consider holding off as depending on the situation, you may end up wanting a double stroller or one that allows for an infant carrier to click in.
Here are a few of my favorite stroller options. Again, I look for ones that have the ability to convert and provide as much flexibility as possible. I also find it helpful to find strollers that have heavier duty wheels as they make “off-roading” through parks or bumpy sidewalks a lot easier!
There are two important things to consider when you get into the feeding category of supplies.
First, you want to understand that different babies may prefer different styles of bottles, and different ages need different levels of flow from the nipple.
Secondly, feeding from a bottle is a lot more work than breastfeeding and can be made easier with the right equipment.
This is a category that you will end up needing to bolster your supplies once you have the baby in the home and know what they actually need.
To get you started, have:
Start with 2 different styles of bottles and make sure to have a couple of different nipple flow options. If the baby comes home directly from the hospital, you may get some supplies but don’t count on this!
You will need something to use a burp cloth. I really liked using cloth diapers as burp cloths. They are soft enough for babies’ skin but also nice and absorbent. And, once you are done with the baby stage, they make a great cleaning rag!
Small Can of Formula
It is important to have something at the house for that first day/night. That being said, don’t stock up on a huge can as you may find that your baby is lactose intolerant or is already using a particular formula and it is best not to switch.
Bottle Cleaning Equipment
This was something I didn’t think about my first go around and my baby ended up with a nasty case of thrush (yeast infection in the mouth.)
Bottles need to be cleaned well and sanitized between each feeding. Just throwing the bottles in the dishwasher or quickly washing them out with a swirl of dish soap and water doesn’t get them clean enough.
A bottle brush and water that is hot enough to sanitize are very important! If you plan on hand washing bottles then a bottle cleaning system can also be good. There are microwavable or plug-in versions of sanitizers.
Oh, the fun of diapers! This is another important category that can cause stress for future foster parents. Not knowing what size you will need is tough! Here is what you can stock up on before placement:
You will need a changing pad. I found that a travel pad was really convenient. I kept one in my diaper bag and had one in the living room.
If you have a changing pad that is on a changing table or on top of the dresser, make sure that it is secured and also has the ability to strap the baby in. Older babies can sure get wiggly when you change their diapers!
It is fine to stock up on a big box of wipes. You will use them! I recommend getting sensitive skin wipes.
Have a tube of diaper cream on hand. Diaper rash is really common so having this ready to go can help eliminate the pain of diaper rash from the mix of everything else going on!
I really love Aquaphor – it worked the best of everything I tried and it can also be used for chapped skin and scratches.
Small Packages of 3 sizes of diapers
Here’s my strategy for diapers, I think you should buy a small pack of size 1, size 3 and size 5. This variety should work for just about any baby in a pinch.
If you get placed with a baby that would need a size 2, for example, put them in the next size up until you can get to the store and stock up on the right size. One night in a slightly big diaper won’t hurt. Also, if you end up with a premie from the hospital, they should come home with a few diapers.
You will want to have bathing supplies on hand in case the child shows up dirty, smelling like smoke, or has been in an environment where they might have been exposed to drugs.
In these situations, I place the clothes they arrived in into a Ziploc to return to their parents and get the child cleaned up and changed into some soft, cozy jammies.
To bathe a baby you will need:
This is an important item for safely bathing a baby. Finding one that can be used on the counter for infants and in the bathtub for older babies works well.
Here is my top pick for a baby bathtub because of how compact it is which makes for easy storage. This has been essential when we have multiple aged kiddos in the house and can’t just leave a baby bathtub out all the time!
Generally, I have found that my babies end up needing sensitive skin baby shampoo. Start with a small bottle in case you end up needing to change the brand or scent.
A soft baby towel and washcloth are important. Newborn babies have very sensitive skin so a set like this is good for serving its purpose while being really soft and cozy.
Clothing can be another tempting item to stock up on. The thing is though, that you won’t know what size and what gender of clothing you may need until you have your placement.
Here are the things that I think make sense to buy beforehand:
Swaddle Sleeper Blanket
If you get placed with a baby younger than 3 months, then these swaddle sleeper sacks are a lifesaver. They really help comfort most babies. I have this on the must-have list because anything that might make sleep time easier is of utmost importance to me. (I really like my sleep)
You will need at least 1 baby blanket for use when you are around the house or headed out.
If you live in a cold climate have a lighter swaddle style blanket for indoors as well as a warmer blanket for outings.
Onesies in various sizes
My advice for clothing is to buy soft one-piece jammies in each size in a neutral color. This will provide you something to put the baby in when they arrive and you give them that first bath. Once you know what age and gender, it is pretty easy to find people giving away baby clothes!
These last few items are important to have with any age children. When a child gets sick you don’t want to be having to run out to the store for Tylenol or a thermometer!
An easy digital thermometer is worth the investment. It allows you to monitor a sleeping child’s temperature without waking them and also is a lot easier to use than one that needs to be inserted.
Just make sure to read the instructions as different thermometers require you to take the temperature in different ways.
This is good to have in the house. Look for one that is dye-free and marked as infant (not children’s). Always make sure to be very clear on the correct dosage as overdosing on Tylenol can be very dangerous.
Baby First Aide or Hygiene Kit
These kits are great to have on hand. Look for one that includes nail clippers, a nail file, tweezers, and a nasal aspirator.
Preparing to Foster a Baby
I hope you have found this list helpful. Here are a couple of other articles that you may also find helpful as you prepare to become a foster parent.
How to Make it Through a Foster Care Home Study