6 great gift ideas for your friend’s new baby

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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!

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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.

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

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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!

Secret to stress-free travelling with a two month old baby

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I like travelling. I don’t want to give up travelling just because we have a child.

I was quite curious to see how hard it will be to go around the world with a two month old baby. Having travelled twenty thousand miles with a two-month old (London -> Kuala Lumpur -> Adelaide -> Melbourne -> Adelaide -> Kuala Lumpur -> London), I found it much easier than I first imagined.

The secret to stress-free travelling with a baby is to maintain your own sanity and energy. Create recharge points for yourself and try to relax whenever you can. Here are the four things we did:

  1. I made a list of baby things to pack ahead of time. My husband and I already have lists of things to pack for ourselves. We both travelled quite a bit and these lists are super helpful. I did some online research on baby travel and bought the things that were missing (like a sun umbrella or “just in case” calpol). This saved us time going to the shops on the day of packing. See the bottom of this post for the list of things I packed for the baby.
  2. We tried to pack as light as we could. My rule when travelling: take the minimum of things and the maximum of money, so you can buy whatever you need. However, travelling with the baby for the first time we overpacked a bit (e.g. I took 4 sleepsuits while we could have got away with 3, one was never used). In the end we (husband, baby and myself) had 2 suitcases (one large, one cabin-size), 2 backpacks, a baby changing bag and a stroller. In theory we could have gotten away with 1 large suitcase on the way there, but the second one was handy to carry back all the presents we’ve got from the family. Of course, amount of packing would have been different if we were going on a two week vacation without an access to a washing machine. I never understood before why porters in airports exist – and now I do.
  3. We made a 24-hour stopover to break 24-hour flight. After one 13-hour flight with a baby las thing you want is to get back on the plane again. During the first stopover, I spent all day in the hotel room: feeding, sleeping, eating and relaxing. The next flight was a breeze. Again, it is not for the baby to adjust to the timezone, but for mum and dad to relax and regain their energy.
  4. We had grandparents on the other side ready to take care of the baby and let us sleep. We didn’t need that because we got good rest during the stopover. What we did need is someone to look after the baby in the mornings while he was adjusting to the new timezone (waking up at 5am for a few days, bright-eyed and eager to play). Luckily, granddad was ready to oblige.

On the subject of jetlag, when we travelled from London to Adelaide it took the baby 4 days to adjust to the new timezone. He also regressed to a maximum of 3 hours of uninterrupted sleep instead of 5 hours he was doing at home. I don’t know why this was, perhaps because the air was more drier and he needed more “drinking”, perhaps because he was sleeping in a crib instead of a hammock, but still be prepared for a baby that can be waking up every 40 minutes to 2 hours at night. I solved this problem by co-sleeping and feeding him whenever he woke up at night. On the way back from Adelaide to London, it took the baby 2 nights to adjust. I didn’t establish any kind of routine before we travelled, we were following the baby cues.

Baby on board

We got seats with a crib on all long-haul journeys. We called the airline and specifically reserved them (free of charge – Malaysia Airlines). Surprisingly a lot of airlines don’t allocate cribs to infants by default, so don’t assume that you will get one. I had friends travelling without a crib on Air Canada and British Airways.

A baby of this age doesn’t need much entertainment. We took one toy and a dummy and this was enough. Bring a toy that can occupy your baby for 5-10 minutes at a time – usually something with black-and-white patterns or bright colors, like a rag book or whoozit, or something that they can suck or rattle, like this zebra rattle or a keyring from your pocket. The baby will sleep in a crib (or in your hands) most of the way and when he doesn’t you will need enough activities to switch between (rocking, singing, looking at the screen or phone, playing with their toy, sucking, walking and looking around). Learn enough nursery rhymes in advance!

I was stressing about my son screaming during takeoff and landing, but my fears were worse than the reality. It is tricky to time the feeding for the exact time of ascend/descend. Turns out this was not necessary for us. A few times our baby was screaming for food while we were standing on the tarmac, so I had to feed him then. Once after that he fell asleep and slept through the takeoff soundlessly. Another time, we kept playing with him during landing as he wasn’t hungry and then offered the boob at the first sight of discontent (and he happily sucked it until the gate even though he just ate).

For me the best thing about travelling with the baby is that now I don’t worry about malfunctions in plane equipment or pilot’s error. All I worry about is whether the baby is going to scream and whether I will be able to pacify him. And it looks like I can.

Good luck in your travels!

Baby packing list

What

Hand luggage

Comment

Clothes

take enough to last you until you get to the washing machine + one extra

outerwear

sleepsuits

yes

vests

swaddling blanket

muslins

yes

blanket

yes

socks

hat

nice outfits

swimsuit

Bum and skin care

nappies

yes

our baby goes through 5 in 24 hours, so I took 10 for 48 hours of travel + 5 extra in case of delays

wipes

yes

Sudocream

yes

Bepanthen

yes

sun protection cream

changing mat

yes

cotton buds

cotton wipes

Milk stuff

pump

not necessary, but in case you want to go out on your own and leave baby with your partner or babysitter

bottles with all the trimmings

see above

small steriliser

see above

breastfeeding cover

yes

Carriers

pram

Depending on the airport and pram size, most airlines will allow you to take pram to the gate or you may be able to borrow the airport pram

pram bag

We ended up not using ours

rain cover and sun umbrella for the pram

baby carrier

yes

car seat

Misc

dummy

yes

toys

yes

chocolate to give out on the plane

yes

we brought some chocolate to introduce ourselves to the neighbours and apologize in advance for the baby screaming. This went down well 🙂

Mummy

change of clothes for the plane for adults

yes

in case the baby vomits or poos on you

nipple cream

yes

breast pads

yes

vitamins

yes

Documents

passport

yes

birth certificate

yes

noone asked for it, but you may need it if you’re travelling without your partner or if you have different surnames

Medicines

thermometer

nail clipper

Calpol

saline drops for nose

mucus extractor

Before the baby comes, part two: baby cues and cries

When I was in my final weeks of pregnancy, one of my colleagues said: “Don’t prepare so much for the birth, prepare for what comes after. In the hospital you will have professionals looking after you, so you will get a lot of help. However, when you come home there will be noone to help you and no time to learn”. Good advice, but where to start?

I went on a bit of a binge reading exercise, gulping books about brain development and discipline, caring for a newborn and raising a bilingual child. However, initially, the thing that will be most helpful is to know why my baby cries (and how I calm him down). Deciphering the cues and cries is what my last 3 months were about.

First of all, this video about baby language has been immensely helpful. It is only 17 minutes long and it will save you a lot of guessing. It talks about five distinctive sounds all babies make in their first months of life (indicating that they are hungry, uncomfortable, sleepy, need a burp, or need to fart). Apparently, all babies make these sounds, it is based on reflexes.

THB-coverThen, if I were to recommend one and only one book for the first-time parent, it would be The Happiest Baby on the Block by Dr. Harvey Karp. This book tells you what is happening with your baby for their first three months, so called “the fourth trimester”. The author argues that all babies are born 3 months prematurely because our heads are too big and we won’t be able to squeeze through the pelvis any later. So the baby is often overwhelmed by the outside world and cannot handle all the sounds, movement and interaction just yet. The best way to calm her down is to emulated the womb environment in the following five steps: swaddle her tightly to reduce movement, turn her on her side or stomach (lying on their back makes babies feel as if they are falling down and activates the Moro reflex), shush her as this resembles the sound of blood moving through the vessels, swing her as she was swung all the time in the womb, and finally, give her something to suck on.

This book is great in many ways. First, it gives you an idea of what may be happening with your baby. The advice is actionable and lets you move through a routine which will be great for the stressed and sleep-deprived state you will be in. Finally and most importantly, it gives dad something to do and be useful.

If you don’t have time to read the book, it is also available as a DVD.

This post is part of “Before the baby comes” series:

Before the baby comes, part one: prepare for breasfeeding

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You would think that breastfeeding is something that should happen easily and naturally. After all, if it didn’t, humanity would not have survived, right? However, out of all things that I had to master with my newborn it was the hardest one. I knew it would be from my girlfriends, so I prepared for it. I attended a breastfeeding course with NCT, I printed a couple of articles showing the right latch and breastfeeding positions, I watched a few videos, I learnt “nose to nipple, tummy to mummy” mantra. This was all very helpful, but still I did not prepare enough.

What else could I have done?

First of all, I should have gotten an email and a phone number of a breastfeeding consultant (or a few) that I could call straight away if I needed them. I hoped that my sister-in-law (who works as a lactation consultant in Australia) would be sufficient. She was very helpful to call in the middle of the night, but you need someone locally, in your home, the same very day because your baby is not getting any food! Ask friends for a recommendation beforehand, ask a birthing center, ask your parent education instructor. I got a consultant from NCT and not only she was good, but she also charged reasonable amount (£80 per session). If you just search on the internet you will end up paying £250 or more in an emergency.

Secondly, I should have taken notice of the “breastfeeding clinics” in my area. Luckily, my husband found one through NCT – at that point I wasn’t capable of searching the internet. These are usually weekly drop-in sessions where one can ask questions and get advice on correct latch, etc. You will probably end up going there a number of times at different stages (i.e. in the beginning to correct the painful latch, check for tongue-tie, when your baby loses that latch every other minute, when you need advice on how to introduce a bottle, etc). They are much cheaper (or free) than getting a breastfeeding consultant, but we couldn’t get to ours in week one, as we could barely leave the house – that’s why we needed the consultant to come to us.

Thirdly, I should have gotten a good breast pump in advance and tested it. I got one from a friend, but the suction on it wasn’t strong enough. I found this out from the midwife who came to visit, so I ended up buying a breastpump in a hurry. You can also rent one from NCT (they have industrial strength ones). I bought one for the both breasts because I realised after sitting awkwardly crouched for half an hour 8 times a day that it is worth paying more.

Finally, I should have gotten some formula, bottles, nipples and steriliser all set up and ready to go – just in case. And also found out how much formula to give to the newborn – see an example here. You know, I didn’t want any formula at home because I wanted to make every possible effort to breastfeed. I thought that by not having formula I would remove the “temptation” to just give the bottle and persevere in breastfeeding. I was afraid that once the baby gets the bottle he will never want to breastfeed (rubbish! I had to bottle feed in the first week until we both figured out how to latch – and now my baby is happily sucking from the breast). What I didn’t realise is that you cannot teach the baby to take the breast, they need to learn. And they cannot learn when they are screaming their lungs out. Luckily, I had some formula at home after one couple in our mums & babies group almost had to go to A&E on Sunday night. We had to rapidly sterilise the bottles and teach ourselves how much extracted milk and formula to give to the baby.

Looking back at our first week with a newborn, we could have saved ourselves a lot of stress. Our baby screamed a lot and we didn’t know why. I suspect it was hunger. Once we sorted out breastfeeding (in week 2) the loud screaming stopped. So next time instead of shushing and rocking I would try feeding first.

Resources about breastfeeding:

  • Kelly Mom – terrific resource on breastfeeding covering all sorts of topics like increasing milk supply, pumping, reflux, baby allergies (myths and truths), cluster feeding, etc

  • Australian Breastfeeding Association – has a lot of useful information, including videos

This post is part of “Before the baby comes” series:

Three things that made my life with a newborn much easier

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I am not going to write about obvious things that most new mums know they need, such as loving family, breastfeeding consultant and nappies. I am going to write about three things that I have discovered after my baby was born – and I’m very glad I did! This was a baby events tracking mobile app, next day delivery and baby hammock.

1. Baby events tracking – Baby Connect

Baby Connect is an app where you can record feeds, sleeps and nappy changes your baby has. It has many more functions, but these are the ones I ended up using most. It exists both on Android and iPhone and allows to sync between multiple caregivers. My husband can check during the day how we are both doing, he knows whether our son is due for a nappy change or whether his cry is a hungry one because he ate 3 hours ago. I also like to analyse the data and find some patterns. For instance, I discovered that my baby often goes 2 hour and 15 minutes between naps and the easiest time to put him to sleep is around this magic point. I can see that he is going through the growth spurt as the time of feeding increases. I can notice that I’m not feeding him enough from the right breast and rectify this.

2. Next day delivery – Amazon Prime

Full disclosure: I work for Amazon.

Amazon Prime is a service that for £49 a year offers the next day delivery all over UK on thousands of products listed on Amazon.co.uk. When you sign up for Amazon Family program you get three months trial of Prime for free.

I never thought that next day delivery was of value to me… until I got a screaming bundle that needs constant feeding and soothing. Breastpump? Yes – got it the next day. Running out of nappies? No problem, the delivery man knocks on my door the morning after. Forgot about a Christmas present? No need to rush to the shop. Incredibly convenient.

Watch out, it gets addictive!

3. Baby hammock – Poco baby

We got a Moses basket from our landlord and I wasn’t planning on getting anything else. I am an advocate of “less is more” and our London flat is small. But when you suddenly come home from the hospital and your newborn starts waking up every hour at night in his Moses basket… I was ready to do anything to get some extra sleep.

I know that retailers love new mums – and now I know why: your decision-making becomes incredibly quick. I searched for NHS cribs we had in St Mary’s hospital – the ones that rock when the baby moves and automatically soothe them. I couldn’t find them anywhere. I then looked for cribs that would swing back to front – and didn’t find any in the UK. There are plenty of them in Russia (where I am originally from), but surprisingly none here. And then I came across baby hammocks. There are a few brands I found in the UK, namely: Amby baby, Poco baby and Amazonas Kangoo. They all rocked from back to front and side to side.

I did quite a bit of reading on mumsnet (e.g. here and here) and other resources to see if the hammocks are safe and whether they actually work. There were a couple of SIDS reported in the US for Amby Baby hammock, but upon further investigation, the reason was that the hammocks hadn’t been used properly. Also, babies die of SIDS in their cribs too.

I asked an osteopath and an orthopedic surgeon whether it’s OK for babies to sleep in a hammock. They shrugged. They haven’t had patients with back problems due to sleeping in a hammock (too small a sample?). Though the orthopedic surgeon – my brother in law – have seen a lot of babies with hip dysplasia from incorrect swaddling – never swaddle your baby legs straight!

In some countries of South America and South East Asia generations of babies slept in hammocks. And the reviews from parents who bought hammocks were all very positive. Having weighed all pros and cons, I decided it will be OK.

I wanted to get an Amby baby hammock (out of three brands they have the best marketing), but unfortunately their only UK distributor was out of stock and was awaiting a shipment in a month’s time. So I ended up with a Poco baby hammock. I bought it from Kiddicare because they had the next day (free) delivery – yes, I know, next day delivery again!

Three months in, I am very happy with the hammock. The rocking added an hour to our son’s sleep straight away (we swaddle him as well). It fits nicely next to our bed. It is easy to store when we stop using it and it is easy take with us on a weekend break.