You’ve undoubtedly seen a picture of a newborn wrapped in a soft white blanket with pink and blue stripes along the edge. That blanket is an iconic design and often the very first blanket that many families in the United States receive their baby snuggled up in — hence the name receiving blanket.

While the hospital receiving blanket is a staple, there are many reasons why that first receiving blanket you use shouldn’t be the last. From protection from unexpected spit-up messes to a treasured lovie, these inexpensive cotton blankets are a multifunctional must-have for every registry.

As noted above, the name receiving blanket comes from the fact that this item is usually the first blanket used to wrap up newborns so that their parents can officially “receive” their newest family member. (Of course, let’s not forget who just did the work to deliver this package, am I right?)

These blankets are typically made from a relatively thin, soft flannel cotton material and measure 30 by 40 inches. Although the hospital version is the most recognizable, they come in a variety of patterns and colors to suit your style.

While you can certainly make do without receiving blankets — or only with the one or two that happened to come home from the hospital with you (don’t worry, we won’t tell) — they are a useful item to stock at home as well.

They’re usually inexpensive and sold in multi-packs for less than $10. In fact, having 4 to 6 receiving blankets on hand can be useful, as explained below.

While these types of blankets may be used interchangeably, especially with newborns, each has a specific design that’s suited to its general purpose.

Receiving blankets are made to withstand heavy use and laundering, work for a variety of temperature conditions, and usually sized a little smaller for wrapping up those fresh-from-the-womb little ones.

Meanwhile, swaddling blankets are made to stretch to tightly wrap babies of varying size, come in several materials for different temperature conditions, and may have features like velcro or specially designed shapes or flaps to facilitate swaddle wrapping.

While it’s perfectly acceptable to use each type of blanket for swaddling or just snuggling, some of these features may make one preferable over the other for your intended use. Swaddling blankets are a specialty item designed with one purpose in mind, while receiving blankets are really a multipurpose item.

Why all this emphasis on swaddling? A swaddled newborn is calmed and falls asleep. They aren’t startling themselves with their arms waving in random motion, and they are used to a snug fit before birth.

You can use a receiving blanket to swaddle, and it’s as simple as mastering the fold. Check out a how-to video here.

So clearly they’re great for that first baby photo op, but before you add them to the registry, you want to be sure they’re useful for more than that. They definitely are!

When your baby is young, receiving blankets are good for the following:

  • Swaddling. They may even be used in the hospital to snugly wrap wiggly newborns. Once you get the steps down, it’s a simple way to calm and cuddle your new arrival.
  • Wrapping baby up after a bath. The soft material is gentle on skin and helps retain body heat after a bath.
  • Stroller cover to temporarily block sun or rain. Keep one in the stroller basket in case you need to add some extra shade or protect your little one from a rain shower.
  • Breastfeeding cover-ups. Their small size makes them easy to pop in the diaper bag for a little privacy when nursing on the go. As a bonus, they work well for cleaning up any dribbles or spit-up.
  • Diaper changing mats. Whether you’re using the not-so-sanitary changing table in a public restroom or want to protect your friend’s bed from any diaper mess during a play date, they make it easy to establish a clean changing space.
  • Play mats. You probably have plenty of spaces for your baby to play at home, but receiving blankets are an easy to carry option for when you’re visiting friends or hitting the park.
  • Oversized burp cloths for particularly messy eaters. Yeah, some babies have such amazing projectile spit-up skills that these actually seem like a reasonable size for burp cloths!
  • Providing security as a lovey. What’s better for a security item than a blankie they’ve had literally since they were born?

When baby gets a bit older, you want them to be able to stretch out their arms and discover their fingers and surroundings. You might also use receiving blankets for the following:

  • Making them into sentimental mementos options like quilts, stuffed toys, or pillows. If you’re not crafty, get someone else to stitch something up for you.
  • Room decorations like banners or garlands. Even non-crafty types can cut unused blankets into shapes or strips to tie together for room decor.
  • Cleaning rags all around the house. They’re good for more than just baby messes.
  • Aprons or drop cloths when doing art projects. Kids don’t stop being messy as they grow. Whether you’re catching finger paints or glitter, they’re easy to wash after creative messes.
  • Furniture covers or mess catchers when kids are sick. Next time someone has a stomach bug, set up the couch with a receiving blanket shield to make inevitable cleanups a little easier.
  • Donation to animal shelters. They’re not just for human babies! They can make shelter cages cozier and easier to clean.
  • Keeping in the car for spills or emergencies. When the few Starbucks napkins you had stuffed into your purse just won’t cut it, bust out the blanket!

As with all blankets, receiving blankets should not be placed in the crib with your baby during sleep.

You should also use caution and supervise your baby when using them in the car seat or stroller, so that they don’t restrict breathing or cause overheating.

But when it’s time to snuggle up and give your baby some cuddles, you might want to grab a receiving blanket, as it might just come in handy!