6 great gift ideas for your friend’s new baby

You have got an invitation to a baby shower. Or one of your friends just had a baby. You have no idea what to get them. Of course, if they have a gift list, it makes your life easy. But more often than not, there is no gift list and they already got loads of presents from other people.

I have been there. Choosing presents is not easy! So I asked some mum friends and here is what they told me.

Idea 1. Books

monkey_puzzleA book is an under-utilised gift for a baby shower. It is a shame because this is one present that can never go wrong. There is so much to choose from! There are picture books for prams that can be used from birth, there are books for bath. There are books for babies and toddlers (for inspiration check out 40 books to read before you are 4). And you can always get them an illustrated book that you enjoyed as a child (Winnie the Pooh? Pippi Longstocking? Mary Poppins? Alice in Wonderland?). Parents will enjoy reading them together when babies are a bit older.

Idea 2. Clothes

This is pretty much a default option. Which means that everyone else also thought about it.

Pretty cotton sleepsuits always go down well because one cannot have too many. Another good idea can be to get something for 6 months plus because everyone usually goes for newborn size, 0-3 months or 3-6 at most.

For a baby girl you can get a gorgeous headband like this one. Baby girls often get mistaken for boys and parents find that the only way that stops the questions is the headband. Yes, you won’t believe it, even when you dress them solely in pink, some people still ask “Is this a boy?”

Things to avoid:

  • newborn clothes that go over the head (t-shirts, jumpers, etc). Since the baby cannot hold their head yet they are difficult to put on.
  • 0-6 months size of hats and boots. Baby can be born with a big head so the hats may never fit. And they won’t need boots until they are at least 9-10 months.

Idea 3. Cute and soft bathing towel

Like this one.

Idea 4. Aden+Anais muslin and swaddle blankets

New mums say that you can never have enough muslins. Aden+Anais ones are gorgeous and soft and have beautiful designs.

Like this and this.

Idea 5. Rattle (or maracas)

Rattle for baby isolated on white background without shadowThis is the best value for money toy. Babies love rattles. Ideally you want something that can be tied to a pram because in the beginning it is going to be dropped a lot.

There are many varieties: wrist rattles that you can put on a newborn, rattles that they need to hold like this one and this one.

Things to avoid:

  • Soft cuddly toys – with the baby’s arrival these just seem to multiply in our house. And baby doesn’t play with them. Some parents put a comforter  – soft cuddly toy – into the baby’s crib, but they tend to choose it themselves and get at least two of the same (because once the baby likes their comforter it is used well into toddlerhood so it will need a backup or two).

Idea 6. Toy TV remote control

The toy TV remote control seems to be  a hit on every playdate we go to. In general, toys that resemble everyday objects (like mobile phone or keys) tend to be very popular with babies from 6 months plus.

 

There are a few other things that make very practical gifts. Activity mat, mobile, nappy changing bag, white noise machine. If you get one of those, ask the parents if they already have it. Experienced parents also often give a parenting book or a sling/baby carrier – but with these presents you need to know what you are getting, so I am not even going to go there.

For more inspiration check out my post Things you will need for a newborn.

 

Do you know of any other great and unusual baby shower gifts? Have you been given something your baby really enjoyed? Let us know in the comments!

Having a baby means losing control

I like being in control of my life. I set goals, make plans, create actions. Things going to plan make me happy.

My work has a high level of ambiguity. But I plan for that. I track my tasks in the timesheet and figure out what I spent my time on. It turns out there is more order in chaos than one would think. This helps me to plan for ambiguity and devote some time for the long-term things too.

Fast forward to the adorable baby who arrived in our lives and shattered my illusion of control.

He gave me the first warning when he ignored the due date. Well, there is a five week period around due date when babies are normally born. In the end he was 3.5 weeks late (if you are overdue, read on what your options are here). Secondly, I had a birth plan. Natural birth, ideally in the swimming pool, no medication, etc. The only bullet point I got from my plan was “I want my partner to stay with me throughout”.

This was a sign of things to come. Of course, I imagined what my life was going to be once I have a baby. But it is one thing to imagine and another one to live in.

I, who used to have every night of the week filled with something (drinks with friends, gym, language class, dancing, theater performance), now cannot leave the house after 7pm. The “one sleep cycle baby” often wakes up every 40 minutes after going to bed and can only be pacified by mummy’s magic boob. An alternative is to carry him around and sing for 40 minutes. And I can not knowingly impose this on a baby sitter even to go and see performance of Jude Law… 8 months and counting. What do I do? Lunch is my new dinner.

I, who doesn’t like interruptions, have to stop anything at the first sound of a cry and run. I never thought I was going to be the mum that does it, but here you go. On most days I cannot finish a single item on my to do list without an interruption. On worst days I cannot finish a single item on my to do list.

I, who loves to plan what I’m doing in the next hour, day and week, seem to have my plan busted most days by “shifting naps”. His normal nap times are 10am and 2pm. Today it was more like 11 and 5. The problem is that all the time in between the supposed and actual sleep time is wasted on repeated attempts to put little one to sleep.

I know, this will pass. There will be new things as he grows.

I can choose to be frustrated by this. Or I can choose not to. And actually when I made the choice I decided to relax and enjoy it. This is the first thing my baby taught me – to lose control and enjoy it.

What pregnant women want

Image

Illustrations by Ayumi Takahashi

I came across this fascinating NYTimes article today on what pregnant women want. The author crunched some numbers on Google searches in 20 different countries and came up with all sorts of insights. In the UK top 5 queries about foods pregnant women want to know if they can eat prawns, smoked salmon, cheesecake, mozzarella and mayonnaise. Compare that to Singapore where top 5 food concerns are about green tea, ice cream, durian, coffee and pineapple. I ate all this (except for durian) without even thinking of checking! But then, I ate a plate of oysters in front of my US colleagues accompanied by their worried looks and questions “Are you sure you can have this?”. As it turns out I am pretty relaxed about these things, so do your own research.

Among other concerns “preventing stretch marks” seems to be in the lead for US, Australia, Canada, the UK. But others, like Ghana, India, Nigeria, either don’t have them or are not concerned as much. I suspect it is the former because stretch marks seems to be determined by genetics – I googled that one too.

It is a fun article, go read it now.

Things you will need for a newborn

Each day I learn about another friend of mine expecting a baby this year. Congratulations! It is exciting and overwhelming. I remember myself this time last year starting to think what I will need and wondering what is the difference between a sleepsuit and a vest and whether I would need a breastpump or a feeding chair.

Typically for a London working couple, we live in a small place which got smaller with the baby’s arrival. I like space and I don’t like to acquire a lot of things. I moved to London seven years ago with just two bags. In this spirit I tried to get as little as possible. Still, for the first three months after our son’s birth our flat was a mess. Baby clothes, baby bottles, baby toys, baby mats, baby nappies… Every single surface was consumed by some baby thing. Some were great (like a mobile) some were a waste of space (like a Bumbo seat). So I thought, I would write a guide to help the first-time mums save time, money and space.

A necessary disclaimer: all babies are different and parents are different too. So things that worked for me may not work for you. But here is a list to get you started.

 

Baby Clothes

First, say “yes” to all the secondhand clothes from friends. Newborns grow so quickly that they don’t get a lot of wear out of nice pieces. It is a good way to recycle and save some money.

If you are buying go to Gap, John Lewis and Mothercare – good quality essentials and fair value.

Must haves

  • Cotton sleepsuits with legs like this one. This is a staple item of every baby wardrobe in a cold climate, so get 8-10 of them (Mothercare will have 5 white ones in a pack for about £15). I recommend the ones with buttons all the way from neck to legs, so that you don’t have to pull anything over baby’s head. Front buttons are better (small babies are lying on their back most of the time). Zipped sleepsuits are also OK, especially if you don’t like doing and undoing buttons. It is great to have sleeves with folded cuffs – they fold over the fingers to prevent babies from scratching themselves.
  • Cotton sleepsuit without legs with long or short sleeves. In hot weather the baby can wear just the vest (in lieu of sleepsuits with legs), in cold weather they can go under a sleepsuit as an extra layer.
  • Two warm overalls to take the baby out in. Two because one will be in the wash from time to time.
  • A couple of cotton hats if it is cool inside or outside. In autumn/winter you will need a warmer hat too (fleece or wool).
  • A cotton blanket
  • 2-3 swaddling blankets. I have tried many and the best one was the Miracle blanket.
  • 10 muslin cloths
  • 2 soft baby towels

Nice to have

  • A couple of cute outfits to take pictures in
  • A couple of pairs of hoodie + leggings + socks
  • Lambskin liner for the pram and for the crib (if you’re getting a crib)

Waste of money

  • Anything that goes over newborn head. The head is so wobbly that you will rarely ever put it on in the first two months – realistically until the baby can sit unsupported while you’re dressing them (around 6-7 months)
  • Sleepsuits that button at the back. If you are within the majority of parents that put their babies on the back, then whenever your newborn cries you will think “Are they uncomfortable because of the buttons?” Why does anyone create sleepsuits with buttons on the back? Well, there are babies who hate lying on their back, so if you get one of those you will appreciate non-conventional sleepsuits.
  • Anti-scratch gloves. Trim baby’s fingernails and get the sleepsuits with folded cuffs. Gloves fall off and get lost in the wash
  • Something that is not 100% cotton. Again, every time the baby cry you will think “Is it because they are uncomfortable in this polyester suit?”

Baby furniture

Donations and lendings from friends are great. Also, if you’re considering buying something expensive (like a Stokke cot) check out gumtree and ebay – you may save some considerable amount of money (£200+) getting a second-hand one.

Must have

  • Something for the baby to sleep in. I wish I could say “a cot”, but I have to warn prospective parents that cots don’t often work for newborns. Why? I guess they have too much space for a little person who just came out of the womb. My friends’ newborn babies usually end up sleeping in parents bed, or pram (Bugaboo Donkey type), or small crib. We got a hammock that worked very well for the first four months. We also tried the Moses basket, but our son was waking up in it. Co-sleepers can be a good option. They seem expensive before you have a baby: “Really? £200 and I can only use it for 6 months?” But once you have a crying baby, an extra hour of sleep is gold, and £200 seems like a bargain. Check out ebay and gumtree if you considering getting one.
  • Changing table. Some people will argue that this is a nice to have rather than a must, but if you care about your back, get one. You will be changing 8 nappies a day and you want a comfortable plhace to do this with nappy, wipes and cream supplies all handy.
  • Swing. Get a battery operated one that swings back to front and side to side like this one. If you cannot find the versatile one, get one that swings back to front. Yes, they take up quite a bit of space, but it is a perfect device to put a newborn to sleep. Almost all second-time mums have one.
  • Baby bath (if you only have a shower in the house like we do) or bath support for an adult bath (like this one).

Nice to have

  • Glider chair with a footstool. If you are breastfeeding, the first few weeks you will spend more time sitting and feeding than doing anything else. Hence it is very important to have a super comfortable seat for this. They are about £200 new or half for a second-hand one.
  • Nappy disposal system like this one.

Waste of money

  • Various sleeping cocoons. They don’t work for most babies.

Baby devices

Must have

  • Pram. People value different things in prams and they tend to be a heated topic of discussion in any antenatal class. We went for the light practical option of Bugaboo bee. They are expensive, so we got a second hand one for a third of the price of new. Having used it for the last 7 months I must say that even the full price is a good value for money.
  • Sling or baby carrier. In early days a great device for putting baby to sleep or doing something when you need to carry your baby around and you want to use your hands. There are some babies that don’t like slings so don’t buy too many of them beforehand. To my surprise the one we use most is the Baby Bjorn carrier. I thought that it will be an option for dad only and I will use a sling. However, Baby Bjorn is so quick to put on (massive plus when the baby is crying) and our boy didn’t like any other sling in the first three months. The other one a lot of people use here are stretchy Moby wraps. And then there are Ergo for older babies – that allows you to carry the baby on your back. I also have a Didymos sling. I was planning to use it mostly because it is better for the baby and for my back that Baby Bjorn. However, it is too fiddly to put on, so Bjorn wins on most days.
  • Breastpump (if planning to breastfeed – read my post on breastfeeding preparation). All lactation consultants I spoke to recommended Medela, so I got a double Medela pump. I used it a lot in the first two weeks (before the baby figured out how to suck on the breast) and now I use it occasionally when I want to go out and need to have some milk supply in the fridge. I will use it a bit more when I go back to work.
  • Bottles for milk. For compatibility get the same brand as your breastpump.
  • Steriliser. We have a microwave one.
  • Baby scissors for nails. Some may argue that you can just bite babies nails off, but I prefer cutting.
  • Dummy. If you are super against dummies, don’t get it. If you are on the fence, just buy one or two and see if it helps. Our baby doesn’t want to take the dummy, he chews it and spits it out. You can always read up on it and “lose” it later.
  • Chair for newborn. A friend of mine had one and I wish we bought one too. It is a high chair where the baby can lie flat and you can roll it around the house with you (to the shower, to the dinner table, to the kitchen, etc). Something like this. We had a Moses basket that we carried around, but it was less convenient.

Nice to have

  • Car seat. Great if it attaches to your pram base (for example, Bugaboo bee goes well with Maxi Cosi). We don’t have a car but we used ours a number of times in rental cars, friends cars, taxis, etc.
  • Scales. In the first couple of months you will weigh your baby a lot (more out of worry “are they eating enough?” than real necessity). It means going to some baby clinic somewhere. Having baby scales at home saves the hassle.
  • Baby bag for the pram. If you plan to be out and about then this bag is a must. You think through all the things you need (change mat, nappies, bottles, snack for yourself, change of baby clothes), and you pack it the night before so that when you want to go out it is all ready.

Waste of money

  • Bumbo seat. They seem really uncomfortable, babies don’t last long in them, you can only put it on the floor anyway so the baby cannot see what you’re doing.
  • Breastfeeding pillow. I found regular pillows much more useful when learning how to breastfeed. And in most cases you don’t have enough hands to stick a pillow where you want it anyway, so you have to learn to breastfeed without it.
  • Travel bag to cover the pram. We bought a bag that we can pack our pram into when you’re flying somewhere. However, our pram is small so they allow us to take it to the gate and we don’t carry the bag for it with us. You only need one if you are checking the pram in together with the bags, but most people have a small light pram for travel to use in the airports.

Toys

I suspect you will get a lot of presents in this category. But babies don’t need that much in the first three months.

Must have

  • A mobile. Get a battery operated one with a remote control. A mobile can buy you a 15 minutes of no-cry time in the early days (and that’s a lot).
  • A rattle. All babies love something noisy and when they learn to hold things in their hands and shake them, a good rattle will entertain them for a while.
  • An activity mat that works both for lying on the back and lying on the tummy.

Misc

Must have

  • Nappies. I like Pampers newborn ones because they have a wee indicator on them – it goes green when the baby wees (the main question of the first day is “Has he weed and pood?” and then “How many wet nappies a day does he have?”)
  • Nipple cream like Lansinoh
  • Zinc cream for baby bum like sudocrem
  • E45 or Epiderm ointment to massage them after a bath. Everyone recommends oil, but apparently it is very drying for the skin, so a lots of babies start having eczema after a couple of months because of it.
  • Wipes for the bottom. Dry cotton wipes to start with and then regular wet wipes.
  • Maternity pads. It doesn’t matter what delivery you had, you are going to bleed a lot in the first few days, so you need some good absorbent pads designed for this situation – and then you can switch to regular ones.
  • Breast pads for milk leaks
  • Breastfeeding bras (at least 2). I went to John Lewis and used their free bra fitting service to get a couple of pairs. And then I bought the same brand on Amazon.
  • A couple of good quality pijamas with easy feeding access (this is going to be your main clothes for the next 3 months)
  • Baby thermometer. We use in the ear one, it also works for adults.

Nice to have

  • Shampoo for the cradle cap. Get it once your baby has it.
  • Warming pads for the breasts like this one they help to extract more milk.

Waste of money

  • Baby shower gel or shampoo. Newborns don’t need them, they just dry the skin. Just water is absolutely fine for them.

And I would say this is it. You can get away with less. In fact, the only thing your baby really needs is you. The rest is designed to make your life easier.

You will need more things as the baby grows (bibs to catch the dribble when they start teething, weaning equipment, toys, books, etc), but you can get it all afterwards.

Overdue and what you can do

You worked until the week of your due date. Your hospital bag is packed. Your have a new haircut and a fresh manicure. Your due date has come and gone. Your mother in law is posting baby-related messages on Facebook every day. You are tired of saying to all the friends and relatives: “No-no, the baby is not here yet”. You are too heavy to move, too uncomfortable to sleep. You cannot plan your social life more than one evening in advance – and you have seen all movies worth seeing in the local cinema. But this baby of yours is not in a rush.

I am speaking from experience here.

10% of women will go over their due date. 40 weeks, 41 weeks, 42 weeks, and still no sign of contractions. What to do? Well, you always have a choice of medical induction (in fact, your midwife or doctor will suggest it stronger and stronger as time goes on). But if you want to avoid it, what else can you do?

My pregnancy was low risk and I was referred to a local birthing centre. The midwives there were really nice, but they never discussed with me the topic of “being overdue”. Their usual response was “oh, it can happen any day now, may be even tonight”. In their world people either came with contractions or disappeared back to the hospital labour ward. So I had rather a harsh landing when the doctor I saw on my 41 weeks + 5 “visit to discuss my options” said “OK, and now we are going to induce you”. It was not what I wanted. What I wanted was a list of actions to try to go into labour naturally. I wish I had it handy on my due date. So I wrote it all down in this blogpost.

Disclaimer: You can try these things once the baby is considered “full term” – from week 37. Always check with your doctor/midwife first in case of any contraindications. There is no scientific evidence that these methods help bring on labour. In most cases, either noone has done a clinical trial on them or the clinical trials have been small and inconclusive.

But it is hard just to sit and wait so you may as well do something that may help and will not hurt.

  • Acupuncture. Go to an accredited acupuncturist who specializes in pregnancy and women’s health. Ask midwives or mums in your antenatal class. And once you get one good specialist they will recommend others. This is a small world and people tend to work together.

  • Reflexology (foot massage). Personally, I found it more enjoyable than acupuncture.

These two methods are not cheap (£60-70 per session and you may need a few sessions). Cheaper (or free) alternatives:

  • Homeopathic medicines, for example, Caulophylum 200C. Ask your pharmacist for the right dosage.

  • Aromatherapy using clary sage, nutmeg and lavender oil to stimulate contractions (or just clary sage).

  • Have sex. Semen has prostaglandin which can help ripen the cervix. Medical induction also involves prostaglandin pessary.

  • Walk up the stairs sideways. It can help the baby head to engage.

  • And then, I guess, eating pineapple, dates and hot curry (but only if you like them).

According to this clinical trial raspberry leaf tea doesn’t bring on labour, but shortens the second (pushing) stage.

UK NHS recommends induction at 41 weeks + 5 days. If you are in private care your doctor may suggest induction as early as 41 weeks. There are also some medical conditions (like gestational diabetes) where doctors will recommend an earlier induction, say, at 40 weeks. Most people would go for an induction at the recommended time, but often they don’t know that they have a choice. The choice is to “wait and see” and opt for continuous monitoring. I had to come to the hospital every 2 days to get the fetal heart beat monitored. I also requested and got an extra ultrasound scan after 42 weeks (it only took the midwife 10 minutes, confirmed baby’s position and showed us that there was enough amniotic fluid still).

If you are considering not going for medical induction, educate yourself about risks of prolonged gestation. NHS will give you a booklet that talks about the risk of stillbirth increasing from 2-3 per 1000 to 5-6 per 1000. Here is an American article talking about other risks (that I found informative and quite scary).

Here is a good blogpost talking about risks of induction itself: Should I stay or should I go.

Here is a website with stories of women successfully giving natural births past 42 weeks. There are also a lot of positive stories about women having an induction and a good birth experience afterwards. It is easy to find evidence whatever your view is.

In the end, I had to go for a medical induction at 42+4 because my waters started leaking. But then I felt that at least I did everything I could.

What you can do in London with 0-6 months old

A lot of new mums sit at home with their babies. Sometimes they are too tired to go anywhere, sometimes they haven’t quite got the hang of feeding in public, sometimes they are scared that the baby will catch some germs from a stranger on a bus, but most often they just don’t know about all the great things they can do. And how would they? I used to work full-time and go out for dinners and theater with my childless friends. They mourned me because they knew I will disappear like all their other friends with children did. My friends with children were giving me advice of “go out while you can” and “stuff your freezer with food”. I was anticipating constant sleepless nights, crying, never-ending cycle of feed-change-nap-start-again. But it turned not to be like this. Yes, sleeping, feeding and crying are all there. But actually I have a luxury of doing anything I want during the day. Things that I cannot do in my dawn till dusk job. Have a picnic outside, check out the new burger place, duck into a just opened exhibition at the local museum escaping the weekend crowds. I want to use this luxury to the fullest. And so over the last five months I have collected a few things that a new mum and her baby can do around London. If you live elsewhere your city may have the same things (and if not – they all have been started one day by someone’s mum or dad).

Get active – Sports for you

If you miss exercising (like I do), the earliest realistic date you can go back to it is about 6 weeks after giving birth (either vaginal or cesarean). In my yoga class I have seen mums with 3 week old babies, but this was their second or subsequent (sixth!) baby. Obviously you can start with a workout in front of a TV at home, but if you want to leave the house, here are a few options.

Buggyfit. Doing a good workout in the fresh air while your baby is sleeping in a pram – this is what buggyfit is all about. Available in parks all over the UK.

My personal favourite is post-natal yoga. Some yoga schools have “mummy and me” course where you can bring your baby. They sit and play on the mat while you are doing the exercises. I go to Triyoga in Primrose Hill. Kailash center in St John’s Wood offers such classes as well. If you are elsewhere, ask local mums and you will most likely find a baby-friendly yoga center or even a course organised by mums themselves.

A local gym may have a class for mums with babies. there are a few gyms that have creches, like Virgin Active on Finchley Road or Better at Swiss Cottage. The way it works: you book a creche a few days in advance, then drop the baby off and go to a class or for a swim. Some mums sneakily go to a spa or sit in a cafe instead (and I don’t blame them!). The creche staff will look after your baby for up to 2 hours: play, change, bottle feed, console when he is crying. If they cannot, they will call you back.

Get active – Sports for the baby

Babies don’t have much stamina at this age so you don’t need to “tire them out” yet. But if you are keen, you can take them swimming. I love swimming and I hope my son will love it too so I have been taking him to lessons from since he was 2.5 months old. You don’t have to start quite this early (and spend the money) because a lot of toddlers will pick it up really quickly later. It is only vital if you have a swimming pool that baby can get access to because these courses teach survival skills. The first drills are all about falling in the water, wiggling up to the surface and grabbing the hand rail.

The biggest joy for me was to see my son recognising certain phrases from very early on. He holds his breath on hearing “Ready? Go!” and grabs the rail when I say “Hold on”. Also he sleeps really well after the swim. And he really enjoys playing in the water.

A couple of swimming schools I can recommend: Swimming nature and Aquakiddies. I haven’t tried others, but even local gyms offer baby classes now. Look for ones that have a warm pool (lap pool is too cold for little ones just yet, but they may enjoy it if you get them a full body swimsuit) and non-chlorinated pool if you can choose.

Scratch your cultural itch

I am not sure if babies can enjoy classical music or a visit to a museum at this age, but mums certainly do! There are a few places that organise classical music concerts for babies. The most famous ones are Bach to Baby and For Crying Out Loud at Wigmore Hall. If your baby is a bit older and you want to explore other music concerts or classes, check out the post my friend wrote.

London museums are incredibly baby friendly: they have lifts for prams and baby changing facilities. Quite a few museums also have tours for carers with babies, which you can find on their websites. For example, British museum and Mumsnet are doing a Viking tour in May 2014,  Whitechapel gallery runs Crib Notes events and Babies Who Lunch organise tours of all London museums. Of course nothing stops you from just going to a museum and doing your own tour.

If you were going to the cinema lots when you were pregnant – just because you don’t know when you can do it next – don’t fear, there are plenty of baby-friendly cinema screenings of the latest movies. Everyman cinema has “Baby Club” screenings every week in Maida Vale  and Belsize Park branches. Look for afternoon performances that are marked “baby club” (they show all movies with no restrictions). Then there is Picturehouse Clapham that has baby-friendly screenings on the weekend (so your spouse can enjoy it too).

Even major chains (Cineworld, Odeon) often allow babies in during weekday afternoon performance if the film is 12A or less.

Chat about baby stuff

If the mums you met in the antenatal class aren’t meeting over coffee regularly (and if not – why don’t you suggest it?), there are a few websites that can help you find like-minded parents.

Facebook has a lot of mums groups (e.g. I am part of “Maida Vale mums”) where you can buy and sell baby stuff (or just pick it up for free), ask for advice or suggest a coffee for mums with babies of same age.

NCT has a Facebook page and if you “like” it you will get their regular updates about events.

Meetup.com may also have a few baby-friendly meetups in your area, anything from attachment parenting to book lovers.

There are some local cafes that tend to attract mums. If you just hang around there you are bound to meet someone. I met a couple of Russian-speaking mums one afternoon in a Regent’s park cafe.

Learn baby games

If you need a few ideas on games  your baby may enjoy, check out sensory and music classes in your local library (here is a list for Westminster) which tend to be free. Alternatively Gymboree offers good classes as well (they are great for older kids too).

Educate yourself on parenting

One course that I think every parent must do is the first aid training. I did one run by Red Cross when I was pregnant. Local libraries or community centers may offer a short version of it you can attend with your baby (Fitzrovia community center even has a creche during this time!)

Check out your community center or NCT website for some courses in your area. Community center courses are often free (subsidized by your local council), NCT courses have a cost. Useful courses are post-natal early days (looking after your baby, sharing ideas on sleep, feeding, etc), baby massage, weaning, and parenting classes.

Have you done any other things with your baby that you can recommend? Let me know!

NCT course – do or don’t?

When we were preparing to become parents, my husband and I were thinking whether we should do a NCT parent education course or not (NCT is National Childbirth Trust in the UK).  We didn’t really need the course because we had read a few books and planned to go to parent education course that was offered by St. Mary’s hospital for free. And NCT course would take longer (two weekends instead of one day) and would cost £287 – definitely something to stop and think about!
I asked a few friends who did it whether it was worth doing, but their reasons didn’t convince me. Some did it because it was the timing of their hospital course didn’t work for them, some did it because they preferred to get the extra knowledge by talking to people rather than reading books. Everyone said that the reason you do it is to meet other new parents in your area and become lifetime friends with them (no pressure). However, London is such a transient place that it is hard to form lifetime friendships. Most people will have their first child and then move. In fact, this is what happened to most of my friends.
In the end, we cracked Mr Piggy and did the course.
Was it worth it? For me, definitely yes.
The best thing was meeting the people who lived in the same area with a due date within a month of our own. Same area is important because after birth 40 minutes on the tube will be an insurmountable obstacle. And due dates are important because even if your kids are two months apart the mums’ relationship becomes quite one-sided (one mum already solved all the problems and is teaching the other one) which soon becomes awkward for both parties.
We are still in touch with our NCT group and meet regularly. Mothers email each other frequently, asking for advice and sharing tips and frustrations. It was not unusual to type an email at 1am in the early days – and get a response straight back (yes, the “1am feed”). You have someone else in the same boat. This support network is really valuable. I only realised it once I had the baby.
The second best thing is that we got on NCT mailing lists and Facebook groups. So now I get invitations to a lot of local baby-related events, like coffees and courses. And there I make connections and meet more people from the same area with babies of the same age.
Finally, I got the list of lactation consultants from our NCT instructor and later found out about breastfeeding drop-in clinic. This turned out to be extremely valuable (and saved us money on expensive lactation consultants).
Can you get all this without doing the course? Yes, you can. You may already have support network in your area (your mum and sisters or friends). You can join NCT lists without attending the course. If you meet local mums at one event (say, yoga class or local library) your connections will start growing like a rolling snowball. It is simply easier if you do the course because this kind of happens for you (and in the early days if there is anything that is easier, I will vote for it).
What about the knowledge? I think it really depends on the instructor you get. Our instructor at St. Mary’s was brilliant (and a mum of four). Our NCT instructor was super helpful and gave us lots of resources to explore in addition to the course (which I only finished recently, six months after the course). Though the ultimate thing with the baby is learning by doing.