One of the most fun and exciting ways to prepare for your new baby is setting up a nursery. You want it to look great, be super organized, and have functionality when it comes time to care for your newborn.
Whether you’re starting with a blank slate or converting a room that was used for something else you want to make sure you get it right!
You’re probably wondering, what are the main things I need in my nursery? What’s the best layout for a nursery? How do I organize a nursery dresser? What about nursery closet organization? How do I make my nursery look put together?
I know that when I was working on N’s nursery, I got so caught up in the colors, aesthetics, and visual layout of the room, that I really missed the mark on functionality. We were scrambling to rearrange furniture after she came home because I had positioned the glider across the room from the crib, under a slanted wall.
Not only was it a long way across the room to the crib, but the glider couldn’t even recline completely, and my husband kept bumping his head! So, believe me, I was in your shoes, and I want to make sure your nursery has all of these kinks worked out before baby arrives.
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6 Essential Nursery Areas
We’ve got everything you need to know to prepare a nursery for your newborn. You’ll learn all the must haves, organization hacks, nursery safety and more.
When it comes to planning out your nursery and ultimately setting it up, there are 6 main areas that you want to consider. If you take the time to set each of these areas up with care, you will have a nursery that supports life with a new baby.
With the right key items in place your life as a new mom will be easier, and you can have a room that will grow with your baby.
Let’s take a look at the 6 main areas of focus:
- Sleep Space
- Changing and Dressing
- Nursery Storage and Organizing the Nursery Closet
- Nursing, Feeding and Soothing Area
- Play Space
1. Decide on a Safe Sleep Space
Before we jump into talking about the perfect crib for your nursery, I want to look at sleep safety. It is crucial to have safety in mind through all stages of planning your nursery, but especially for sleep.
What is a Safe Sleep Space According to the AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics)?
A safe sleep space should have a firm sleep surface. This is defined as a surface that does not indent what the baby is lying on it.
Your baby’s sleep space should be completely empty. Nothing else should be in the crib except for baby. The AAP says to skip crib bumpers, as they are not considered safe.
Purchase a Sleep Option that is Certified for Safety by the CPSC
Most cribs, bassinets, portable cribs and pack and plays are certified to meet the safety standards of the CPSC (consumer product safety commission) but you should always check before you make any purchases. It is recommended by the AAP to only purchase sleep options that have this approval.
Tight-Fitting Sheets Only
Over the mattress of your chosen sleep space you should put a tight-fitting sheet that is designed specifically for that product. These are all things you’ll want to make sure are on your baby registry checklist.
That means, if you use a pack and play, you need sheets especially designed for a pack and play. If you use a bassinet, make sure you get sheets that are designed for your specific bassinet’s size and shape.
Swaddles and Sleep Sacks
It is considered safe to swaddle your baby up until they can roll over if they are always placed to sleep on their back in the swaddle. Swaddling can actually promote longer chunks of sleep in your newborn baby.
Once baby can roll, they should still always be placed on their back to sleep, but if they roll to their stomach independently, it is unnecessary to roll them back.
If you are concerned about baby being cold, a sleep sack, which is a wearable blanket, is a great and safe option. There should never be any loose blankets or other items in your baby’s sleep space.
Where Should My Newborn Sleep?
In 2016, the AAP released new data promoting room sharing for all babies up until the age 6 months, and ideally for the entire first year. This is because room sharing can reduce the risk of SIDS by up to 50%. This means, that your baby should be sleeping in your room, but in their own safe sleep space for the first 6-12 months.
You should still set up a sleep space in their nursery because eventually they will need their own space. You might even consider investing in a crib that will grow with them.
You can use the sleep space you prepare in their nursery during nap times before you make the transition to their own room at night. Doing this will actually help make the full transition easier when the time comes.
Sleep Space Options for Your Room
Now that you understand the safety piece of this, you can keep this all in mind while doing the fun part, choosing a crib or alternative sleep space that you love. Given that your baby will not be sleeping in their nursery at night, it is ideal to set-up two sleep space options one for your room, and a more permanent one for the nursery.
A Pack and Play or Bassinet for Your Room
A Pack and Play will grow with your baby and many have the option of having the sleep surface at a higher height and lowering it as they start rolling and moving. These are great to have because even once they aren’t using it at night, you’ll have the perfect portable crib for travel. Don’t forget to get a few sets of Pack N Play sheets if you go this route.
If you are leaning towards using a Pack N Play for your main sleep space, you may want to invest in a playard mattress for it. Pack N Plays do have a thin mattress on the bottom, but a more substantial mattress surface can be a nice addition. Just be sure to check the measurements, though most “playards” (Pack n Plays) are a universal size.
We also had one set-up in our living room before N was really cruising around, as a safe space to let her sit if we couldn’t have our attention on her 100% at that moment.
Crib Choices for the Nursery
Alright! On to the main event, the crib in the nursery. Choosing a crib is the fun part, and often is what the rest of the nursery will be built around. It can be overwhelming at first, because there are so many options out there. I want to make sure you are aware of all that’s available in the world of cribs before you make your pick.
Choosing a Crib
No matter your style or budget, there are so many great options that you know you’ll be able to find one that fits your style. Whether you are going for a vintage look, antique-esque, something timeless, or very modern you’ll be able to find the perfect look for your nursery.
Many standard cribs have features that allow you to raise and lower the position of the mattress as baby learns to pull up to stand and gets taller. This is something you should read in the features before making a decision.
How long will my baby be in a crib?
Generally speaking, it is considered okay to have your little one sleep in a crib until they are attempting to climb out on their own. This means you’ll be able to use a standard crib through at least the first 18-24 months, and beyond depending on your little one.
If this is your first baby, and you plan on having more, investing in a high-quality crib is a great choice because you know your next baby will also get use out of it. But almost every crib on the market these days is convertible in some capacity, so it can grow with your child as well.
Convertible cribs are designed to grow with your baby. They typically are known as 4-in-1 because they can be used as a crib, toddler bed, day bed, and full-sized bed. The benefits to choosing a convertible crib is that it will grow with your child.
If you opt to get a matching nursery furniture set, you’ll always have a bed and matching dresser set, even beyond the baby years. Many of these nursery furniture sets include changing tables that convert to plain dressers, too. This is a great option whether you plan to have more children or not, because you can follow the same route for each child.
With N, I did opt for a 4-in-1 crib. We chose one with dark wood, to match an antique dresser we already had and loved. This way, I knew that even when we were done using the crib, we could convert it into a head and footboard to use with the dresser for years to come.
Crib and Changing Table Combos and Cribs with Storage
These are great options for organizing a baby’s room with limited space, or setting up a nursery in a small room. Many crib and changing table combos are also convertible, so you can have the best of both worlds! I love this Crib N Changer, that is available in gray, dark chocolate and white! They save space by having the diaper changing station, and some drawers for storage attached to the side of the crib.
You can also invest in a convertible crib that has a trundle drawer under for extra storage. Here is one that is highly reviewed on Amazon and available in a few different colors.
2. Prepare the Ultimate Changing and Dressing Space
Should You get a Changing Table or a Dresser? Setting up the perfect diaper changing station is no task to take lightly. You want to have everything you need at an arm’s reach. Ideally, you should also aim to have a changing space with lots of storage to keep baby’s clothes and other dressing items super organized as well.
Things to consider before purchasing a dedicated changing table vs. converting a dresser
- How long will it get used?
- Will it offer enough storage as my baby grows?
- Would a regular dresser work better?
- Do I plan on having more children?
- Will it match other furniture in the room?
- What is my budget?
How to Convert a Dresser to a changing table
For N’s nursery, I opted to get a changing table converter kit. It’s basically a large wooden rectangle that sits on top of your dresser, and fastens on the back so that it stays in place. It won’t damage the top of the dresser at all, and you can get one that has storage compartments for wipes and other changing essentials as well.
This was a great option for us, because we already had a beautiful and feminine antique dresser that I loved. I knew I wanted it in N’s room, so we used this as the jumping off piece for finishing the rest of her nursery.
When N was first born, I actually just had the changing pad on top of the dresser without the converter, but by about week 6, I realized how unsafe this was! As she got wigglier, the changing pad would slide around. We immediately ordered the changing table topper and it did the trick perfectly.
Just be sure that when you choose a converter, that you check the dimensions. You can find ones in a variety of sizes and colors to match just about any dresser size and finish.
How a Changing Table Can be Converted for a Toddler
I’ve seen some amazing DIY ideas for converting a changing table into a toddler dressing area. If you do choose a dedicated changing table, this could be a great way to extend the life of it until your next baby.
How to Organize a Nursery Dresser for a Newborn
You’ll want to have everything you need to get baby clean and comfortable at an arm’s reach while they are on their changing pad. You should NEVER walk away from baby while they are on top of the dresser or changing table. Let me help you get it organized perfectly.
On the Changing Space Surface
First of all, you’ll need a changing pad with a fitted cover. It’s a good idea to also have back-up changing pad covers somewhere in your changing station because it will inevitably get dirty and needs to be stripped immediately. I also like to use a reusable changing pad liner to keep stains off of my pretty changing pad covers.
If space allows, you should also have wipes, diaper cream, lotion and a few clean diapers on the surface. If your table is not wide enough to accommodate more than the changing pad, make sure these things are in one of the top drawers or shelves. Below the changing pad.
A Shelf Above the Changing Table
We decided to install a shelf above the dresser and changing area for extra storage. If you decide to do this, make sure you are confident in your ability to install this safely, it is level, and ALWAYS hang it on studs. This can be a serious safety hazard if it is not installed properly.
On the shelf above N’s changing area, I have two mason jars where I store baby grooming items such as nail clippers, a thermometer, pain relievers, and a brush and comb.
I highly recommend using drawer dividers in your nursery dresser. This will keep you more organized making it easy to grab what you need quickly. This will be key when you have a screaming or poop-covered baby.
In N’s dresser, I keep diapers and socks in the top left drawer, and the top right drawer has an always has an extra pack of wipes, and a variety of burp cloths.
I store most of the extra wipes and diapers in her closet, but it is essential to have some in the changing table. You don’t want to catch yourself dealing with a blow-out and using the last wipe before it’s all clean.
In the next drawer down, I divided the drawer with three storage baskets. When she was a newborn, I kept short-sleeved body suits in one, long-sleeved body suits in another, and pants in the third.
The bottom drawer is also divided with three baskets. I had one with zip-up onesies (my favorite for a newborn!), one with button onesies, and one with clean receiving blankets for swaddling. Take the time to sort the onesies this way. You will undoubtedly have a preference (or your partner will) and you don’t want to be rooting around for one of the other.
The Complete Dresser Drawer List:
- Extra Wipes
- Burp Cloths
- Short-sleeved body suits
- Long-sleeved body suits
- Cotton pants
- Zip-up footed, onesies
- Button-up footed, onesies
- Receiving blankets
- Velcro swaddles
What Size Clothing Should I Stock the Dresser with Before Baby?
I was fortunate to receive a lot of hand-me-down before N was born, so I had a variety of newborn and 0-3 month sized clothing. I stocked her dresser with mostly 0-3 month clothing but did have a few newborn options in each basket as well.
I gave extra newborn-sized clothing a priority spot in her closet just in case she ended up being really tiny and I needed more newborn options for her.
Only Keep Essentials in the Dresser
I only kept things that I used daily in the nursery dresser, and recommend you do the same. No need to waste precious space on frilly dresses, or complicated outfits, those should go in the closet. You want the dresser drawers filled with what you’re actually going to use!
Are you Nesting?
If you’re here, I’m guess the nesting bug has bit you, and if it hasn’t, I guarantee it’s coming. Enroll in our FREE Nest Smart email course today. This 7-day crash course in nesting will teach you exactly what you need to prepare before baby comes and how to get it done.
3. Setting up Nursery Storage and Closet Organization
Nursery Closet Organization
To get the most out of your closet, you want to install some storage options. Luckily, there are a lot of choice depending on what you’re looking for. Consider things like price, how handy you need to be to make it work, and how long you plan to live where you are.
Installing built-ins to your closet is a great option if you plan to be in your house long term. While the upfront investment does cost more than other options, it will really help you get the most out of your space, adds value to your home, and will grow with your child.
You should purchase built ins from a site that offers free shipping, reviews and warranties. These are the ones that Trina has and loves. Here’s a more budget alternative that uses metal shelving/racks.
Hanging Storage Shelves
I use hanging shelves that easily attached to the bar across the top of her closet.
This is the storage option I went with in N’s nursery closet, because this is not likely our forever home, and investing in closet built-ins is something I’m planning to do once we move.
A Dresser or Portable Shelving in the Closet
Another solution, depending on the depth of your closet is to put a dresser in the closet, a cube storage system, or put up some wire-rack shelving and organize the shelves using storage baskets and bins.
Other Closet Organization Must-Haves
- Get some kid or baby sized hangers, this is the perfect place to hang out all of the special outfits you have and outerwear
- Stackable storage bins are perfect for storing clothes that are the next size up. Clearly label everything with the size age range. Within my large containers, I usually try to group clothing items by type. I use extra large storage ziplocks. Learn more about organizing baby clothes and what you need!
- Over the Door Shoe Organizers can be a great addition to a nursery closet. While I didn’t do this in N’s room, I have this in my own closet. I could see it being great in a nursery closet as a place to store tiny shoes, burp cloths, wipes, socks, extra bath supplies, the possibilities are endless really.
What to Have in Your Nursery Closet
Whatever organization method you choose, it won’t do you any good if you’re not using it well. I’ve already talked about what to put on hangers, but let’s talk about how to utilize those essential eye level spaces.
For me, those are my hanging shelves. Each has 6 compartments. Here’s what were in mine when N was a newborn, and I should add, most of these haven’t changed! They’ve just been adapted for size/toddler life.
- Neatly folded bath towels and wash cloths
- Neatly folded extra receiving blankets
- Velcro swaddles
- Crib Sheets
- Bassinet and Pack and Play Sheets
- Extra changing pad covers and liners
- Easy to access, additional newborn-sized clothing (remember I stocked her dresser with mostly 0-3, but had she wound up super small, my swap would have been a cinch because I made sure these were accessible)
- Extra Wipe Packages
- Extra Diaper Packages
- Soft-soled baby shoes
- Newborn hats (I was a knitting machine while I was nesting, so N had quite the collection)
- Heavier blankets that I used with the car seat and stroller
4. Design a Nursing/Soothing Area for Success
This will be a critical space in your nursery. Newborn babies need a lot of help falling asleep because they can’t yet self-soothe. If you plan to breastfeed, newborn babies need to eat 10-12 times per day in order to ensure they are getting enough.
Setting up a nursing area and place to soothe your baby is important. You want a space that is relaxing and calming for baby, comfortable for mom and dad, and outfitted with everything you need to succeed at breastfeeding from the start.
Choose a Glider
For a place to nurse, rock, and read to baby, a glider is a must have. They are designed for maximum comfort and are much easier to breastfeed in vs. a rocking armchair or other alternative.
Trina gives excellent advice on this topic for creating your registry because she actually had to make a switch from a rocking armchair to a glider after L was born.
Keep a Yoga Ball in Your Nursery
This was a tip I got from a veteran mom while I was pregnant, and boy am I glad we did it. Bouncing on the yoga ball was often one of the only ways to calm N during the witching hour which occurs in many babies right around dinnertime.
The yoga ball also served as the way we were able to break N’s nursing sleep association. This helped her bridge to self-soothing and more sleep as a breastfed baby.
Adding a yoga ball to our nursery and stocking my freezer before baby were the two best things I did to prepare for my new baby. I’m serious. These two items wound up being so crucial to our survival in the first weeks.
As a bonus, you’ll be able to use the yoga ball as a pain-coping strategy during labor at home. I loved having my knees on the floor and my upper body draped over the ball. I also labored while squatting on the ball and supporting myself with my hands on the bed.
Prepare Nursing Supplies
In addition to learning everything you can about breastfeeding before baby comes, setting up a nursing area is a great way to prepare. Getting a nursing station set-up before bringing baby home from the hospital is key. You don’t want to be scrambling, making last minute orders on Amazon, or sending your partner out for nipple cream and breast pads.
I recommend setting up a main nursing station with the glider in the nursery, and also having a nursing “caddy” that can move with you throughout the house, and be used in your bedroom for middle of the night nursing.
Do you feel ready to breastfeed?
Breastfeeding is definitely a learned skill for both you and baby. It is a relationship that develops over time. The hardest part will be the beginning. In addition to having the right supplies and set-up, you want the right support. Having emotional support from your partner is key! There are also probably resources in your community that you haven’t found yet. To start setting up a support network and building your breastfeeding knowledge, take our free 5 day breastfeeding course.
Nursing is at least every two hours in the beginning so be sure that you have an organized way of keeping track of baby’s nursing, diapers and weight gains. These will not only help you remember to nurse often but also be useful if you are having trouble and need to get help from your pediatrician or lactation consultant. We offer breastfeeding, diaper and weight gain trackers in our breastfeeding handbook.
What do you need for nursing success?
- A nursing pillow
- Nipple cream
- Reusable breast pads
- High calorie snacks
- Water Bottle that keeps water cold
- Burp Cloths
- Breastfeeding tracker sheets and pen
You’ll want your nursing station to include the glider in the nursery. You should also position a small night stand, end table or other surface next to the nursing chair to keep any supplies.
I had a nightstand next to the glider in N’s room. It had a drawer where I could keep extra burp cloths, breast pads and nipple cream.
5. Remember a Play Space when Setting up a Nursery
For me, an area rug was a key investment for the nursery because we have hardwood floors throughout our house. I chose a rug with a fun tree print on a gray background and kept the rest of the nursery pretty neutral.
If you are planning to have a theme, or a lot of wall decoration or decals, you may want to keep the rug more neutral. We’ll talk more about design and décor below.
We also have two giant dogs. I knew the nursery would be a space that would be (mostly) dog-free, so I wanted a soft and clean space where we could be on the floor with N.
Storage that will grow with your little one
When I set up N’s nursery and eventually her toddler playroom, it was key to have shelves that were at her level. This promotes more child-directed and independent play because everything is in their reach and at their eye level.
I also kept a lot of low storage baskets with various baby toys in the play area of the nursery. Putting baskets at their level and in front of them during tummy time can keep their interest in the activity longer. It also promotes movement and brain stimulation.
Board Books and Classics
No nursery would be complete without a great collection of books. Reading to your child is one of the best gifts because it increases their word exposure in the first year immensely. This sets them up for later language and reading success.
The most popular children’s books for little ones, according to a new parent survey:
- “Goodnight Moon” by Margaret Wise Brown and Clemet Hurd
- “Love You Forever” by Robert Munsch and Sheila McGraw
- “Dr. Seuss”
- “Guess How Much I love You” by Sam McBratney
- “The Hungry Caterpillar” by Eric Carle
- “On the Day You Were Born” by Debra Frasier
- “On the Night You Were Born” by Nancy Tillman
- “The Giving Tree” by Shel Silverstein
- “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” by Iza Trapani
- Mother Goose Nursery Rhymes
- “Brown Bear, Brown Bear” by Bill Martin, Jr.
- “Oh The Places You’ll Go” by Dr. Seuss
Considering making or purchasing unique book shelves that let the book covers face out. This promotes reading in little ones by making books easily accessed and seen by them. You could even hang the shelf very low in the beginning to promote tummy time.
Choosing a theme or color scheme
In this case, I don’t think one is better than the other. But, it’s important to have at least one of these things in mind to help you achieve a put together look in your space. I opted for a color scheme of pale blues, purples, whites and grays.
The pop of color in N’s room is her area rug which is gray with white flowers and light green trees. The green on the floor is the color pop, so the rest of the nursery is a muted palette.
Find Inspiration in a Bedding Set
A theme can be a great idea, especially if you don’t feel confident in your decorating abilities. A bedding set is a great place to start, and then you can pull colors from the color-scheme of the set.
Start with Some Wall Decals
Wall decals seem to be all the rage in nursery and home décor right now, and I can’t wait to get some for my house. They create a unique and beautiful look, tie a room together, and can be removed without a trace! So much less commitment than paint or wall paper.
Etsy has so many great options for wall decals. Find ones you love and build your room and color scheme around that. It’s sure to look put together if you follow that formula.
Or, if you already have a color scheme in place, look for decals that will enhance the look of your room.
Maybe You’re the Crafty-Type
Trina created the most beautiful nursery that was practically all DIY. She started with one fabric she loved and used that as her color-scheme to sew and create her way to a beautiful nursery.
Maybe You Wish You Were the Crafty Type
Again, Etsy is your go-to here. There are so many gorgeous Nursery Sets to browse and be inspired by. You’ll be sure to find the unique and perfect look for your new baby. Trina compiled a great list of products if you’re thinking about creating a dinosaur themed nursery.
Popular Paint Colors by Gender
Girl: pink, yellow, white, blue, green, purple, gray
Boy: blue, white, gray, green
Unknown: green, yellow, gray
What’s the Best Layout for Setting up a Nursery?
Have the Nursing Station and Crib Close to Each Other
When I first designed N’s nursery, I did not give this enough thought, and my glider and nursing area were across the room from the crib. This was less than ideal because the transfer from arms to crib is hard enough as it is!
It’s also a good idea to have these couple on one side of the room, because they both indicate calm, sleepy, relaxing times in baby’s day. Babies create associations very early on, so having calm, quiet areas together will help.
Keep the Play Space away from the crib, if possible
or the same reason as why you should have the crib and glider close together, you may want to try and have the play area away from here. I found a balance by have the play area and changing table on the other side of the room, because they are both active and stimulating activities.
The catch of course is those middle of the night diaper changes, but when you do those you should keep the lights as dim as possible and avoid eye contact and interacting with your baby. Make them boring and unstimulating.
Think About Outlet Locations
You will need to consider where you will position your monitor, and even more so if it includes a video component. I have a video monitor and love it. You’ll need a place for a sound machine, dimmable night lights, and lamps (all essentials for the perfect baby sleep environment).
Various lighting options are helpful because you can slowly decrease the amount of light and stimulation during your sleep routines to promote relaxation and sleep.
Other Nursery Hacks
- Consider where you might place and store seasonal items that require power such as humidifiers, air conditioners, and space heaters if applicable
- Put a row of hooks across the backs of any doors to easily hang towels and baby carriers/wraps
- Ensure you are setting up an optimal sleep environment, by hanging black out curtains from the start.
- Keep a hamper on one side of the changing table, and a diaper pail on the other. You will be able to quickly dispose of dirty diapers and clothing while keeping baby safe on the table.
- If having furniture pieces with the exact same finish is important to you, definitely consider looking into nursery furniture sets to get a better deal and a stunning look.
Get Started on Setting up a Nursery Today
Are you feeling ready to get your nursery design on?! This was one of my favorite parts about preparing for my new baby. Choosing all of the details and then organizing it to your heart’s desire is so fulfilling.
You should start by choosing your colors or theme and go from there. If you’re like me, you’ll want things from a variety of different retailers. For this reason, I used MyRegistry.com for my baby registry.
They allow you to import and sync registries you make on other sites, and to add individual items from any site with the click of a button. This meant my Amazon, Etsy, and Wayfair wishes were all together! It was beautifully organized and super easy for my friends and family to use too.
Get all of your registries synced today by creating an account now. You’ll be so glad you did 😊
Is the reality that baby will be here before you know it starting to sink in? Learn about our Nest Smart Nesting Planner. This organizational tool, full of worksheets and checklists, is a must-have for all expectant Mamas.
What color scheme or theme are you going with? What does your dream nursery include? Comment below, I love to hear from readers <3
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Alli Wittbold is a wife, mama, blogger, and online teacher. She feels passionate about connecting expectant mothers with childbirth class educators, and supporting them to achieve the birth they desire. After having her first baby delivered by a Certified Nurse Midwife, Alli is an advocate for midwifery prenatal care. She has learned so much about labor and delivery by attending and reviewing dozens of birth classes to help mothers learn and explore options. Alli co-authored the Week-by-Week Bump Smart Course, the Nesting Planner and the Breastfeeding Handbook, resources she is proud to share with as many expectant and new mothers as possible. Read more about Alli.