Mellow Mummy: 2009 : Taking life as it comes...

Wednesday, 30 December 2009

My Goals For 2010

Inspired by A Mum's Survival Guide, here is a list of my goals for 2010 (I figured that if I capture them on my blog then I can't escape them!):-

  • Find the correct work/mummy balance
      I go back to work from maternity leave in January for 4 days a week. It is going to be a big change and I know it will be hard work but I'm confident that I can get it right.
  • Shift my pregnancy weight

      It took me so long to get properly mobile again after Lara was born that most of my plans for post-pregnancy fitness went out of the door. I DID join a gym but I've barely been and the likelihood of me going once I am back at work is low. But, however I manage it, I MUST get back into all my old clothes; two pairs of (tight) jeans is simply not enough to get by!
  • Find a home for our family
      We plan to move at some point during 2010. We need to save up before we do so and we need to think really hard about what we are looking for in a family home for the future.
  • Use the sewing machine
      I own a shiny sewing machine that has barely been used. Now I am a Mummy, I feel like I should be using it more. I see great opportunities for cute baby girl dresses and drawstring toy bags.
  • Spread the mellow mood
      I'm beginning to worry that when I go back to work that I won't have time to blog. I SHALL find the time, even if I only post once a week, I'd like to keep Mellow Mummy going. I know a lot of stressed out mummies and mums-to-be who need my help!

2009 - The Year That Changed My Life

In 2009 I became a Mum. Life will never be the same again. I thought it would be interesting to look back on the things I did in 2009 and how my life changed over the year.


Finally, after many weeks of morning sickness and a Christmas with an (almost) zero alcohol intake, I finally re-discovered my appetite... mind you, I still only ever fancied curry to eat. I decided to be realistic and cancel my gym membership this month!


After the excitement of the 20-week scan, Myself and Mr. B. spent a week in the wilds of Cornwall for our last holiday as a couple. The weather was freezing, it was almost deserted... but absolutely perfect.


This month I offcially delivered the biggest project of my professional life. Phew. Myself and Mr. B. celebrated our 1st anniversary with a night in London and dinner at Benares, satisfying my curry cravings. This month we started our NCT classes and met the lovely mummies (and daddies) who would share our journey into parenthood.


This month Mr. B. and I embarked on a mission to do all of the things we had been meaning to do and which we were unlikely to be able to do once the baby had arrived. Among other things, we went to see a musical, had dinner at one of our favourite restaurants in London and I went for a pampering day at Nirvana Spa with my Mum.


At the very end of May I finished work and became a temporary housewife! I paid people to clean my house from top to bottom (the nesting instinct only partially kicked in!), I got my teeth checked out, my eyes checked out, had my very last facial, massage, manicure and pedicure and spent most of my time waddling too and from midwife appointments.


On the 18th of June (8 days late and after a labour that took 33 hours from start to finish) baby Lara was dragged (literally) into the world! Despite the exhaustion and the physical damage to my body, life was now perfect.


Mr. B. went back to work and the constancy of motherhood hit home. My body was still not recovered and I felt pants. This month I turned 30. Joy. It wasn't much of a celebration – my Mum and my Sister cooked me macaroni cheese!


Life was slowly returning to normal but even after the much talked about 6-week hurdle, I was still struggling to recover. Only now was I able to venture out and about. At the end of the month, we threw Lara a naming party and invited all her immediate relatives.


This month we took Lara on her first continental trip. We flew to Nice and spent a week with Nanny and Grandad B. in a villa overlooking the Med. Lara tried to chat up french waiters and chilled out by the pool; she even took a quick dip. We ate great food, drank great wine (perhaps a little less than normal!) and generally mellowed.


This month Lara started her first swimming lessons and also Music With Mummy. Only now did my body finally recover from the stresses of childbirth. Myself and Mr. B. took the opportunity to update our wills to include Lara.


I finally sorted out my childcare for my return to work. I completed a few of my 'Keeping In Touch' days and committed to return in January 2010. This month, the Mellow Mummy blog was born.


This was our first Christmas with Lara. We took a short family break to Center Parcs where we all enjoyed the magic of Christmas. Lara had great fun opening all of her presents on Christmas day; they are still covering the living room floor.

Wordless Wednesday

My Little Pudding!

Monday, 28 December 2009

Baby Stuff For Free: Lesson 5 - Great Ways to Get Something for Nothing

I hope that you have enjoyed my series on how to get your hands on free baby goodies. So far we've seen how to make the most of second-hand goods, get a host of free samples from baby clubs, enter competitions to win luxury items and how to offer your valued opinions for product reviews. In this, the last in the series, I plan on listing a few smaller ways for new parents or parents-to-be to get their hands on free baby stuff, or cash/vouchers with which to buy goodies for your little ones. Many of them will be familiar to you, but you'd be surprised how many people never know/bother/remember to take advantage of the freebies that they are offered – so let me remind you of the opportunities...

Shopping Portals
There exists a whole host of online shopping portals out there who offer you points or cashback for clicking through to retailers from their sites. There are even charity shopping portals. However, as a parent of a child you may be most interested by Kidstart who pay your rewards directly into your child's bank account. The account can be a Child Trust Fund (see below) or any other children's bank account; your friends and family can save for them too. In the past few months I have spent an awful lot of money online buying baby bits and pieces. I have bought from retailers that I would have used anyway, but by visiting them through using Kidstart I have also earned Lara about £45 in cashback. GreasyPalm also offer a similar service.

Child Trust FundWhen you apply for your child benefit you will be sent a free £250 voucher with which to open a Child Trust Fund. A CTF is a savings account for your child, into which you can currently place £1200 a year, tax-free, which your child will be able to access once they turn 18. Quite apart from the tax benefits and potential yield of 18 years worth of tax-free savings, it makes sense to open a Child Trust Fund even if you have no intention of ever adding any further contributions. If you don't open a CTF then the government will open one for you and place your £250 in it ,but if this happens, you don't get any choice over the provider, you miss out on 12 months of interest and you are likely to forget that it exists! If you need help choosing a Child Trust Fund then I recommend MyNestEgg which offers reviews and comparisons of different providers.

NHS Pregnancy Perks
If you are currently pregnant or have recently given birth then make sure that you (a) claim your Health In Pregnancy Grant, (b) contact your dentist to ensure you get free dental treatment until your child is 12 months old and (c) register with your GP for your prescription exemption certificate so that any prescriptions you may need up until your child's first birthday are free.

Mystery ShoppingOK, so this one is a little off topic but I mentioned it to some of my Mummy friends the other day and they all seemed really interested. I'm a mystery shopper and have been ever since my student days; it doesn't pay particularly well but I do get a few freebies for visiting places I would tend to visit anyway. Since I have been on maternity leave I have had more free time to get out and about and do more mystery shopping visits. I visit all sorts of places but perhaps the most relevant are supermarkets (yes, I get paid to shop) and coffee shops (yes, I get paid to schmooze with other mummies over a mocha). The following are mystery shopping companies I know of:-


Reusable Nappy Grant
Almost all local councils now offer a grant to encourage new parents to use washable nappies in order to reduce their landfill bills. Our local council offered me £30 which I put towards the cost of buying the re-usable nappies. Check your local authority's website for details.

Early Learning Centre
The Early Learning Centre offer free membership of their Big Birthday Club so if you are not boycotting them over the colour of their toys, you can get 20% off near your child's birthday and free invitations and thank-you cards for your child's birthday party; plus they get a free gift.

Baby Shows
Baby shows and exhibitions such as 'The Baby Show' offer a million different freebie opportunities. I'd never willingly pay for a ticket to a show (but I often win them) because to me it seems wrong to pay for a shopping opportunity. But if you do find yourself at one then keep your eyes peeled for freebies and competitions. In the run up to a baby show, many of the retailers will advertise freebies and some of them give away tickets to the show (Clearly Herbal and Lansinoh regularly do so) so visit the websites of your favourite retailers to see what they might be offering.

Website Newsletters & Retailer SamplesLook out for freebies offered for signing up to the newsletters of many online retailers. Additionally, some smaller retailers offer free samples of products that you might not normally fork out a large amount of money on unless you were confident it was right for you. Screaming Green (reusable nappy supplies) not only offer a 'borrow before you buy' service, but also send small samples of baby cosmetics and reusable wipes. Beaming Baby offer a free sample of their Eco disposable nappies to help you decide whether they are the nappy for you.

Finally, for those of you who have been following my earlier lessons... the English plural of forum is officially forums, not fora. So there!

Thursday, 24 December 2009

Baby Stuff For Free: Lesson 4 – Offer Your Views

I fear I may be teaching some of you to suck eggs in this lesson! I guess, given the press, that by now it is widely known that mummy blogs attract plenty of baby freebies. But if you're reading this and have no idea what I'm talking about, I'll keep it short and sweet.

The parenting business is big business and all of the companies out that that make products for the parenting market are on the lookout for good press and for realistic, honest opinions of their products. Good reviews of their products can be as productive, if not MORE effective than any number of advertising campaigns. As such, manufacturers, retailers and promoters of mother and baby products are always on the lookout for places or people who will review their products and give them useful feedback and a good old-fashioned plug.

There are several ways that you, as a Mum (or Dad, or Grandparent etc.) can contribute to the development and advertising of parenting products – I'll cover a few of them here – consumer surveys, website reviews, forums (see.... that blimin' word has been in every single on of my lessons so far. I PROMISE to look up the correct ending before lesson 5) and finally, blogs. If you contribute to these, and make a name for yourself, you are more than likely to receive free baby goodies either to keep, or at least to try out.

Image: Michal Marcol /

Consumer Surveys
I have been filling in online consumer surveys pretty much since I first discovered the internet (way back in the dark ages). They all offer some form of incentive: for the 3 or 4 surveys I complete a week, I receive a slow, but steady income of cash or vouchers over the year (perhaps a couple of hundred pounds). You do very occasionally get the odd survey specifically about baby stuff and one or two of them offer you products to try but when I became pregnant I discovered two survey sites specifically targeted at mums and mums-to-be. mumsopinions and mumsurvey both send out occasional surveys and one or two of them result in free products to try and review. Mumsurvey only offer entries into a prize draw, but mumsopinions offer cash reward which you can redeem for vouchers such as Mothercare, John Lewis, Boots or many more, meaning you can save money on many of your everyday baby buys, or splash out on something special. If you are interested in finding out about some of the non-mummy survey sites I use, leave a comment or tweet me and I will send you details.

Website Reviews
Many of the parenting websites encourage users to write reviews of products that they have used. Thinkbaby, Mumsnet, babyworld and thebabywebsite all have member review areas where it is easy to add your own review of a product, or to search and read reviews of existing products. I've learned, having written my own reviews, that these sites offer some very valuable information from real mums about the effectiveness and value for money for a wide range of baby bits; they've helped me makes decisions about my own purchases. On the other hand, there are also some very pants reviews e.g. “This was good, I liked it”.

If you're wondering how writing reviews for these sites results in you receiving free baby stuff then here's how. Firstly, some sites (specifically thebabywebsite, but I'm sure there are more) allow you to sign up to become a product reviewer; in the case of thebabywebsite, they charge you a small fee and guarantee that in the space of a year, the items sent to you for review will be at least the value of your fee. So far, I have received a complete set of Dr. Browns bottles which were pretty good, and a Cantloop nursing bra which quite honestly is the best bra I have ever owned.

If you write a lot of good-quality, honest product reviews and become an active member of a review website (perhaps also regularly contributing to forum discussions about products) then it is not unheard of for companies to get in contact and offer you some seriously sought-after goodies to review! Even if you never get that lucky, then you may be invited to be a reviewer for a magazine article or even for annual awards. This year, after responding to a survey on askamum, I was invited to be a reviewer for the annual Mother & Baby awards – I received a whole host of products to try, all of which I was able to keep and most of which were items I would have loved, but would never have forked out for myself.

Image: Michal Marcol /

Parent Blogs
The last of my tips on how to get free baby stuff for offering your views on baby products, is to blog about the stuff you like! I know that many of you mummy bloggers out there have a love/hate relationship with the PR bods, and others of you are directly involved in PR yourselves. PR and mummy-blogging sit well together because blogs are a great way of telling the world about the things you love (and the things you hate). If you find a blog you like to read, one you trust, then you are likely to value their opinion on parenting products – the PR world rates blogs which have lots of loyal followers and will send you items to review (sometimes they want them back afterwards though – doh!).

There are a number of big blogs out there such as Mummy Reviews that 'DO' product reviews in a big way. As a new mum, new to blogging, it gives me something to aim for! But, if like me, your blog isn't of the kind of scale to attract droves of PR gurus then a glowing (but honest), well-written review can still attract freebies. I recently received a lovely box of goodies from a manufacturer as a thank-you for a review I had written (totally unprompted) about a product that I genuinely rate.

So, if you are someone who enjoys sharing your views with other parents, why not put pen to (virtual) paper now!

Right, that's it from me – I'm signing off for Christmas now. See you on the flip side.

Coming after Christmas, the last in the series:-
Lesson 5 – Great Ways to Get Something for Nothing

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Center Parcs – A Magical Christmas Wonderland

Last week Mellow Mummy & Daddy took Mellow Lara for a midweek break at Center Parcs, Longleat. We had never been on a holiday quite like it before, and having been in the resort no more than 10 minutes, Mr. B. pointed out to me that we “really have entered the world of FAMILY holidays now”. So long relaxing beer by the pool, farewell wine-fuelled lazy evenings watching Mediterranean sunsets... Hello hoards of screaming children, crowds of pushchairs and enforced family “FUN”.

The 4-night trip to Center Parcs cost us just as much as a week self-catering in the sun (including flights)! We resisted the temptation to book loads of activities knowing that it would probably bankrupt us, and decided to take all the food we needed for the week, making the most of the self-catering facilities.

When we arrived, the place was heaving. Although the brass band playing carols, and the twinkly penguins were very atmospheric, I was beginning to wonder whether we had made a big mistake. We timed it so that we were in the swimming pool when everyone else was queuing in the car park, waiting to go to their chalets – this turned out to be a genius idea, the indoor 'subtropical swimming paradise' was quiet, perfect for Lara to show off her swimming skills to her Daddy!

When we finally did leave the pool and head to our 'executive villa' it was dark and the true enchantment of the forest was revealed. A wintry mist descended over the valley, great plumes of steam rose from the floodlit outdoor swimming pool and rapids, and holly wreathed lamps lit up paths to guide us. As we made the short, half-mile walk back to our villa from the car-park, I felt a pang of guilt for having brought Lara along at 6 months, before she was old enough to appreciate the magical Christmas wonderland we had brought her to.

The villa, although a little dated, was certainly spacious, perfectly comfortable and wonderfully placed at the top of a hill next to a small pond that was home to plenty of wildlife. Ducks and squirrels regularly came right up to the window (much to Lara's delight) and as we ate our breakfast we saw birds and deer making their way through the forest. The villa had all the kit we needed, but as with most self-catering accommodation, the kitchen gear left a lot to be desired – maybe they expect people to eat out in the on-site restaurants every night?

Center Parcs is wholly geared towards families. Each villa is equipped with a cot and a high chair (and more are available if needed). Footpaths are all buggy-friendly and buggy parks are provided everywhere that pushchairs can't reasonably be taken (such as the side of the pool!). There are plenty of baby-changing areas throughout the resort and the swimming pool has a large number of family changing cubicles designed to accommodate the whole clan! At peak swimming times though, we found these to be VERY much in demand. The best thing about the park is that you never have to worry about whether it is “done” to take your little one with you; one evening we went ten-pin bowling and while we waited for our lane, we sat in the bar – there was never any question that a baby wouldn't be welcome in either the bar or the bowling alley.

On the one day when we did fancy doing something where Lara wouldn't be welcome, we booked her into the 'Time Out Club' for the afternoon. Lara settled immediately and I (being the mellow soul that I am) had no worries leaving her with the enthusiastic staff. The hubbie and I spent the afternoon at the 'Aqua Sana Spa' having pampering treatments and generally chilling out. When we went to pick up Lara, she'd had the time of her life and had even made me her first piece of art work which now graces the kitchen wall!

All of our travelling around the resort was on foot, despite the bitter cold. The paths and boardwalks went everywhere we needed and nothing was more than a 20 minute walk from our villa. The steep hills meant that we got plenty of exercise and that Lara got plenty of fresh air. Before we went, I had images of us being the only guests who weren't riding bicycles (based upon the sheer volume of emails that Center Parcs sent me reminding me to hire a bike) – but we were pleasantly surprised to find out that the cyclist/pedestrian mix was about 50/50.

The booking mechanism that Center Parcs uses for most of the activities doesn't breed spontaneity. You are encouraged to book your activities online or over the phone before you arrive, meaning that many of the things get booked up quickly, offering less choice once you get there. We fancied using the spa facilities one afternoon but when we went to one of the booking points, we found it was fully-booked for the week. Additionally, if you want to go to one of the many restaurants you need to decide well in advance; we saw people being turned away so decided to book a slot for later in the week, only to find out that there was nothing available. Luckily we were able to stock up at the supermarket which was surprisingly reasonably priced and had an enormous range of products, including any baby bits you may have forgotten to take with you.

I know that Center Parcs has been criticised for being too expensive and I agree – it is blimin' pricey and if I want to take my toddler(s) or teenager(s) there in the future, I think I am going to need to start saving now for all the activities they will want to do. I don't feel like it was poor value for money, but likewise, it wasn't good value for money – it was the just the same price as if you chose to do all of the activities at your local leisure/activity centre/spa (which, to be honest, you probably wouldn't attempt to do in the space of just 5 days). The difference is that on holiday, you expect at least something thrown in for free – if you were on a package tour to sunny Europe, you'd get some of the activities included in the price of the accommodation. I think that's why I feel a little cheated; the accommodation wasn't anything special, but it was expensive.

All in all, I would DEFINITELY recommend Center Parcs as a great break for parents of young children; its quiet, clean, enclosed and full of things to do. I think it would be perfect for parents with one toddler and one baby – giving you a chance to spend some quality time with your older child. As for a trip for older kids or teenagers? Well, you'll have to stay tuned and ask me that in another 10-15 years time!

Monday, 21 December 2009

Baby Stuff For Free: Lesson 3 – Winning Ways

Entering competitions is in my blood. My Mum is a hardened 'comper' (the name given to people who enter competitions as a hobby, or even as a living) and I was trained to spot the word "WIN" from a distance, at a very young age.

When I became pregnant, it opened up a whole new realm of competitions for both me and my Mum to enter. We set to work finding all of the websites and retailers who run competitions for baby goodies in an attempt to stock up before Lara arrived. Lara is 6 months old now, and in the last 12 months my Mum and I have managed to win her bath toys, smellies, blankets, books, seats, DVDs, bibs, feeding equipment, clothes and even a video camera with which to record her finest moments! Entering (and winning) competitions is a great way of getting your hands on free baby stuff that you probably wouldn't have bought otherwise - those little luxury items that you'd love, but can't justify. And, as with most of my 'Baby Stuff for Free' lessons, entering competitions is a great way of finding out about products and retailers you'd previously never heard of.

Pic: Lara showing off one of our latest winnings, a Bambino Merino sleepsuit that absolutely rocks.

I thought I would share a few of my tips for entering and winning competitions for baby bits and pieces. I'm not going to guarantee that by following the tips below, you will be inundated with prizes... but it can't hurt to try them out, can it?

  1. You've got to be in it to win it

    If you're someone who, having read the first part of my post thinks "aaaww, you're so lucky, I never win anything" then let me tell you this... you can't win a competition you don't enter! If you enter a competition, perhaps once a year then don't be surprised if the postman isn't hammering down your door with piles of free goodies! The more competitions you enter, the more likely you are to win something. You can find lists of competitions online at comper's websites such as loquax, or in specialist publications such as my Mum's publication, The Competition Grapevine.

    Lara was two weeks late; in those two weeks of maternity leave, when I was too huge to venture out, I sat in front of my computer and entered every competition on the entire internet! Trust me, I spent every waking hour systematically working through all of the competitions listed on loquax. First the baby ones, then the family ones, then for cosmetics, holidays, kitchen gadgets, gardening gear and computer games! I must have entered perhaps 400 online competitions and what do I have to show for it? A bottle of seriously trendy shampoo, some baby massage oil, tea tree oil for my nappy bucket, a Mister Men seat, £100 of hair & beauty vouchers and a hosepipe adapter. Nice.

    If you see a competition for something you fancy, enter it; you never know, you might be the lucky winner... on the other hand, you might not!
  2. Hidden Treasures

    Entering competitions with a high success rate is an art. Not only do you have to find lots of them to enter, but you have to choose wisely. If you enter a widely publicised competition, perhaps in a well-known magazine or on a popular TV programme, your chances of winning are minuscule. The more people who know about the competition and the more people who enter it, the lower your chance of being the winner. That's not to say you shouldn't enter these competitions - someone has to win them, and who is to say that won't be you? However, if you can find one of those hard-to-reach, little-known, closes-before-most-people-have-heard-of-it type competitions, then you are much more likely to win something.

    If you are looking for competitions to win free baby stuff then the places to start are the big names such as the parenting magazines or baby clubs (Emma's Diary, Bounty etc.) which have frequent competitions for great goodies. Gurgle, thinkbaby, baby expert, askamum, practical parenting, and the baby centre are all great places to start. Once you're done there, start looking for the smaller, or less well-known baby websites such as thebabywebsite, askbaby, bambinogoodies. Then, start searching google for brands or retailers offering one-off competitions. Silver Cross and Mamas & Papas occasionally run competitions, Tomy, Philips Avent, Boots and a whole host of independent retailers and smaller publications are known to offer baby goodies as prizes.
  3. Reducing the Odds - Qualifiers, Slogans, Quizzes and Tasks

    One of the best ways to increase your chance of winning a competition is to choose ones that are hard to enter - ones where lots of other people will be put off by the effort involved! For instance, thebabywebsite, mumsnet and thinkbaby all offer prizes for things such as great product reviews, contributions to their forums (its that word again... one day I really will look up the word ending), blog entries and twitter/facebook involvement. Some websites such as askamum and Gurgle tend to run competitions that feature a question whose answer can be found elsewhere on the website... they're never very taxing, but that extra few seconds of effort is enough to put off many potential entrants.

    Even more likely to reduce the number of entrants is the requirement to make a purchase to enter the competition. Unless you're a hardcore comper like my Mum, its' a bit silly to buy something JUST because it has a competition on it... but if you really want that prize, then maybe its worth it? Remember, there will only be a limited number of people who have made the purchase, and of those, some will never bother, or some will forget to enter the competition - improving your chances of a win.

    And then there is the piece de resistance of the competition world - the slogan competition. You know the thing... complete the following sentence in no more than 16 words "I'd like to win a complete set of nursery furniture with Jeff's Taste-ee Jam because...". Slogan writing is not a skill I've ever perfected, and to be honest, there are not many baby-related slogan comps around but slogan competitions offer the most impressive prizes, and the greatest chance of a win. Specialist comper publications such as The Competition Grapevine or Compers News can point you in the direction of a whole host of slogan competitions, and can show you examples of prize-winning slogans and occasionally tips on how to pen a sure-fire winner!
  4. Social Media

    My final tip is to use social media such as Twitter and Facebook. Many retailers both big and small now have a social media presence in order to help promote their wares.

    Twitter competitions usually involve retweeting a phrase/link or following a specific user. On my very first day on Twitter I won Estee Lauder goodies worth £85 from @DebenhamsRetail... okay so its not baby stuff, but I couldn't resist.

    Facebook competitions usually involve becoming a fan of a brand, posting a comment or liking a status.

    Twitter is also a great place to discover smaller, more relevant baby competitions. A number of mummy bloggers run competitions on behalf of baby brands they support and they promote their competitions through their tweets.

There are a whole host of competitions out there, waiting to be entered. If you are interested in finding out more about entering competitions, not just for baby stuff, but for holidays, kitchen gadgets, smellies, books, CDs, DVDs and a whole lot more, then take a look at the magazines/journals mentioned in this article.

Coming soon...
Lesson 4 - Offer Your Views
Lesson 5 - Great Ways to Get Something for Nothing

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Friday, 18 December 2009

A Tale About The Indispensability of Baby Wipes

You may have noticed that I've been a bit quiet on the twitter, and blog front this week. I was enjoying some deserved time off – a short break with the munchkin to Center Parcs, which I shall review, in good time. For the time being though, I want to tell you a story about our return, and a lesson in ensuring you are prepared for anything!

So, I'm at the cattery ready to pick up munchkin number two from his holiday (he seems to enjoy himself at the cattery as much as we do on holiday, so I have no guilt leaving him there). I'm stressed because the blimin' credit card machine has rejected my card twice already (apparently there was a technical fault due to inclement weather... what???), I have no cash so I've been rushing in and out of the cattery trying to secure some form of payment from the husband who is sitting patiently in the car park. Finally, after coming to some sort of IOU arrangement with the proprietor I head in to pick up my cat who doesn't seem that thrilled to see me, and who I practically have to drag out of his cage (this may have something to do with the endless supply of biscuits, the staff who drool over him, the tortoises and budgies placed temptingly in front of his cubicle, and the soft heated blanket in his bed).

I trek back into the snow-covered car park and manage to squeeze myself in to the car with the cat carrier perched precariously on my lap. Just as the car engine starts, both me and the hubbie notice a very unpleasant smell, far worse than any nappy Lara has previously managed to produce! To our utter disgust, the cat has gone to the toilet in his basket between leaving his cage inside the cattery, and making it out to the car. There, at the far end of his basket, is the biggest poo known to man. The stench is overpowering; there is no way we are going to make it home. Argh.

I jump out of the car, cat basket in hand, and grab the nappy changing bag as I go. Armed with a nappy sack and a handful of baby wipes I feel prepared to take on the challenge! Goodness only knows what I'd have done pre-baby, back in the days before I kept a stash of baby wipes on me at all times! The smell is obscene! I've spent the last 6 months cleaning up someone else's poo (Lara's, not my husband's!) but nothing has prepared me for this.

With my hands covered in a protective layer of baby-wipe, I tentatively open up the top of the cat basket in an attempt to reach the offending article (mysteriously the cat is sitting at the opposite end of his carrier, totally oblivious to the stress he is causing me at this time). Before I know it, the cat has rocketed out of the basket like a jack-in-the-box and is legging it across the car park, back towards the door of the cattery.

At this point, the hubbie steps out of the car, offering to help. You should see his face when he notices that not only is the poo still in situ, but that the cat basket is devoid of cat, and that I am now sprinting, like a white, overweight Usain Bolt, across the car park, wildly waving a nappy bag. I set the hubbie to work dealing with the poo, while I chase after the stowaway cat. I finally manage to isolate the cat under someone else's car. He's sat there, just out of reach, miaowing with a vengeance.

By now, there are other customers arriving and the sight of me, on all-fours, up to the elbows in snow, peering mysteriously under a stranger's car has obviously started people talking! Members of staff now appear bearing cat treats and blankets. We have the car surrounded.

At this point, it's probably worth saying that my cat is a rescue cat; he's nervous and distrustful of most human beings. Being surrounded by anxious humans in the snow probably isn't his idea of fun. I know it isn't mine. After a few (increasingly freezing) minutes sitting in the melting snow with no gloves and no jacket, calling his name and shaking the cat treats tantalisingly, the cat finally plucks up courage to show his face. I make a grab for him (by now I'm practically face-first in the snow) and physically haul him, limbs flailing everywhere, from beneath the car.

With the crisis averted, we get back into the car... I retrieve the nappy sack from the ground but we are both too embarrassed to head back into the cattery to get rid of it, so we end up driving off with the evil-smelling stench-bag still in tow. Once we are far enough away that we think no-one will notice, we find a bin to put it in!

The cat has forgiven us now and has remembered that home is just as much fun as the cattery. He is currently sitting on the hubby's lap, getting hugs. So, let that be a lesson to you – take baby wipes with you EVERYWHERE.

On a totally unrelated theme, stay tuned for Lesson 3 in my series on 'Free baby stuff', coming as soon as I find time to write it!

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Baby Stuff For Free: Lesson 2 – Make the Most of Baby Clubs

In this, the second of my lessons in how to get free goodies to make motherhood more affordable /bearable /entertaining, I'm going to let you know how to play the big names at their own game.

The baby merchandise market is huuuuuuuge. Looking after a baby is an expensive business and all of the big baby brands want you to be spending that money with them, as opposed to anyone else. They'll go to great lengths to get you to try, and become loyal to their brand. Baby clubs are their way of doing this – they offer you freebies and marketing material to tempt you to spend money with them; hoping that by offering you a sample, you'll try it, love it, and come back to them time after time. They cover their tracks by offering you tips, advice and support throughout motherhood, but in many cases it is just thinly disguised sales material plugging a specific brand and much of the advice they offer can be found, in greater detail, from other resources.

Me, I'm not much of a big-brand person myself – I hate supermarkets (what they stand for, and the fact that they make me so stressed that I tend to hyperventilate half way round and go home without any of the things I went out for); I like to give my love to the independents both locally, and online. But, just because I don't do the supermarket, big-brand thing, doesn't mean that baby clubs won't work for me as well as it would for those of you who do regularly use your local supermarkets and high street. I take advantage of their offers WHEN and IF they suit me. Occasionally, the free samples, the reading material, or forums provided by baby clubs turn out to be EXACTLY what you're looking for. I've found at least one piece of advice, however small, in each mailing I receive that I haven't seen elsewhere, and I grudgingly admit that I have been converted by one or two of the free samples.

Baby clubs are designed to encourage brand loyalty. One of the best ways to make sure that you don't blindly follow the direction they're pushing you in is to join them all! The more clubs you join, the more freebies you get, the more products you can try for free, and the more variety you have when it comes to choosing the baby products that are right for you. If you sign up to all of the baby clubs, you'll be inundated with discount vouchers for standard baby bits such as disposable nappies, wipes, cosmetics and weaning foods. Try not to be sucked in - shop clever. Only buy the products on offer if you were planning on buying them anyway and check all of your vouchers to find the retailer who will offer you the best discount.

In general, baby clubs will offer you free samples (or vouchers for them), discount vouchers, competitions and leaflets with tips/advice/reviews. Baby clubs run by stores will often offer members special offers or preferential rates for their loyalty card scheme. Most clubs have an online presence these days where there will inevitably be discussion forums, further reading material and more competition opportunities. If you are interested in entering competitions, watch out for Lesson 3 where I'll tell you more about winning your free baby goodies.

Below I have listed most of the baby clubs that I have come across which offer free goodies. If you know of any more, add them in the comments below this post – Thanks!

  • Tesco Baby & Toddler Club offer quarterly newsletters with recipes, competitions, articles and lots of discount vouchers, along with the occasional small free sample or voucher for a freebie in store.
  • Sainsburys Little Ones offer much the same, including a Huggies Mum and Baby set OR 1000 nectar points when you join.
  • Boots Parenting Club as above, but they offer more frequent vouchers for total freebies, and they have great advantage card offers for members.
  • Babies R Us tend to only offer discount vouchers but they also have a reward card which offers money-off your purchases.
  • Pampers send free samples at different stages in your baby's development, and regular discount vouchers.

  • Bounty are well known for the bags of freebies that they hand out in hospital, but don't forget that you are also entitled to a similar bag half way through your pregnancy, and one when your child reaches weaning age. Bounty bags usually offer the best range of baby freebies with examples being bottles of smellies for mum, jars of food, several nappies, drinks, washing liquid/tablets and baby wipes. If you are not offered a Bounty bag by your midwife, then you can register for the club online and they will email you the voucher for your bag when the time comes. The online club also offers lots of competitions, discounts and the occasional freebie (plus postage and packing).
  • Emma's Diary is very similar to Bounty in the freebies that they offer. There are three bags available, one at the start of pregnancy, one half way through, and one when your baby is born. I found their contents to be of better quality than the Bounty bags, but disappointing in quantity! The Emma's Diary website is a veritable feast of competitions, special offers and discount codes. Currently they are offering £40 of Argos vouchers for mums-to-be who sign up.

Even if you are planning to breast feed, it can make sense to join the baby clubs of the formula and baby food companies. Not all of the freebies that they offer are samples, and if you do decide to move to bottle, the reading material they send out can help you decide which brand to go with (which is kinda their goal, after all).

  • Aptamil offer a free cuddly toy when you sign up.
  • Cow & Gate offer a cuddly toy, vouchers and samples at different stages in your baby's development.
  • Heinz - I've only just joined them so I'm not sure what goodies will come my way.

Coming soon...
Lesson 3 – Winning Ways
Lesson 4 – Offer Your Views
Lesson 5 – Great Ways to Get Something for Nothing

You may also like...
Lesson 1 – Second Hand, Not Second Rate

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Baby Stuff For Free: Lesson 1 – Second Hand, Not Second Rate

Welcome to the first in a series of blogs about how to get your hands on FREE baby stuff. Now, I'm not one to scrimp and save (trust me, I love to splurge cash I don't have on my little munchkin), but I am someone who likes to try before I buy – this whole parenthood malarkey can be very pricey and if you're going to splash out on expensive baby buys then why not grab a few freebies along the way?
  • Free baby stuff can help you decide which products to buy (or to avoid) in a huge market of baby gear where the choice can sometimes be mind-blowing.
  • Free baby stuff can sometimes be exactly what you need, saving you money which you can spend on other luxuries instead.
  • Free baby stuff is a great way to discover what's out there, to experience things you'd never have had the chance to, to explore websites and retailers you'd never previously have heard of and you never know, you might uncover a few gems!
In these lessons I'm going to share the secrets that have helped me make the first 6 months of motherhood that much more affordable. In lesson 1, I sing the praises of second-hand goods.

If you buy all your baby gear brand new, you can feel like you're pouring money down the drain – some of the clothes, toys and gadgets get used for a matter of weeks, sometimes even days, perhaps never at all! As an existing mum, you probably wouldn't think twice about dressing your subsequent children in hand-me-down clothes, or re-using toys and other baby kit.... but as a first-time mum, there's a lot of pressure to provide a complete set of brand new and shiny baby kit for your new arrival. That's where second-hand goods come in, what's wrong with someone else's hand-me-downs? Someone else's barely-used baby stuff?

Don't be afraid of second hand goods. Its not embarrassing to dress your baby in pre-worn clothes, and they almost certainly won't give a hoot. Its not cruel to offer your baby pre-loved toys BUT... quality is important; If you can get your hands on some good quality second hand products then neither you, nor your baby will ever know the difference.

Not everyone is lucky enough to have close family with children who can pass on quality hand-me-downs but if you do, drop some hints and you never know, you might inherit a lot of their stuff. Family aren't the only source of freebies though; there are an awful lot of people out there who have done the baby thing before, just dying to offload the baby kit that they no longer need and which is cluttering up their house. I've had clothes from my neighbours, a complete set of re-usable nappies (un-used) from a colleague, and even some goodies from a friend of a neighbour! Keep dropping those hints and see what comes your way!

The number one rule is “always say yes!”. Not only is it polite not to turn the offers down, but it means that the offers won't stop coming and that you can stock-pile free goodies for your baby! Whether you have a little one already, or whether you're pregnant and preparing for their arrival, don't be afraid to stash away your free baby goodies until the time comes when you need them. Clothes for a child much bigger than yours may seem to be a silly thing to stock pile, but you'll be surprised how quickly you need them. When you sort through the items you've been given, don't be too quick to dismiss things as unneeded; you'll be surprised how your attitudes change with experience and if you don't give something a go, you'll never know what you've missed out on.

Once you do get to sorting out the things you've been given, please bare in mind that the things you don't need, or the things you don't like may be someone else's treasure! Always pass your unwanted items on to other people who need them (remembering to check with their original donor first, to make sure that they're cool with it). If you're looking for someone onto whom you can pass your baby stuff, read on...

I've been a free-cycler since long before Lara came into existence. Freecycle is a network of online forums (I'm pretty certain the plural of forum isn't forums but I haven't recently brushed up on my latin word endings, so it shall have to do) where people can offer items for free, or request items for free. Recently, many of the UK Freecycle groups have changed to Freegle which is a UK-led initiative that achieves pretty much the same thing.

The concept is simple. If there is something you want, then post a 'WANTED' message. If there is something you want to get rid of, then post an 'OFFER' message. I tend to browse the offer messages on two different local groups, several times a day, responding to the messages I like the look of as soon as I see them. As you can imagine, good quality baby goodies are VERY quickly snapped up.

There's an art to getting the items you want.

If you are posting a WANTED message:-
  • Be quite specific about what you are looking for, you're more likely to get offers if you ask for 'a bottle steriliser' rather than 'anything for a new baby'.
  • Explain why it is you want or need the thing you are asking for – people like to know that their property is going to a good home.

If you are responding to an OFFER message:-
  • Respond ASAP (first check for later TAKEN posts to make sure the item is still available).
  • Be polite.
  • Check your spelling!
  • Always let them know when you are able to collect the item.
  • Explain who you are and why you want the item – free-cyclers tend to shy away from people who might be trying to make a profit out of their items such as ebayers or car-booters. Make it clear that you're a mum in need and that their property will get good use.
I have pretty much kitted out my entire nursery using items from Freegle. Goodies I've picked up include a crib, bedding, nursery storage, a breast pump, breast-milk storage bottles, sterilisers (of all shapes and sizes for me to try), a booster seat, top 'n' tail bowl, clothes (some of them brand spanking new), nappies, baby cosmetics. Admittedly, there has been some tat along the way - stuff that really is only good for the dustbin – but other people have different standards to me. Conversely, some of the stuff has been totally unused and in pristine condition.

If you do manage to get your hands on some free-cycled goodies, and they don't look as good as the description made them seem, then don't be surprised (there's usually a reason why people are getting rid of this stuff!)... and DO NOT despair! I've found that a bit of elbow grease can bring things back from the dead! My crib was covered in cobwebs and baby sick, but now looks (and smells) as good as the day it was bought. My steriliser looked like a bio-disaster but a little love, a trip through the dishwasher and some descaler did the trick. Don't be too quick to bin the stuff that looks like rubbish!

And remember... if you get something through Freegle, and you decide you don't want it (or if you have other unwanted baby bits), pass them on to someone who does!

If you get the second-hand bug then don't forget that there are a number of other places where you can pick up bargain quality seconds (obviously not for free, but near enough!). Ebay and Car Boot sales are both popular options, but my personal favourites are my local NCT nearly new sales where I tend to buy all of Lara's bog-standard vests and sleepsuits for next-to-nothing. Some of the baby goods sold at NCT sales are brand new (with labels) and all of them are of a great quality, with the added bonus that a small part of the price you pay goes to charity.

Coming soon...
Lesson 2 – Make the Most of Baby Clubs
Lesson 3 – Winning Ways
Lesson 4 – Offer Your Views
Lesson 5 – Great Ways to Get Something for Nothing

Monday, 7 December 2009

Five Baby Buys I Couldn't Live Without (0-6 months)

So, here it is, the long-awaited conclusion to my lists of baby buys, good and bad. You've had the The Baby Stuff People Tell Us We Need, But We Probably Don't and also My Breast-feeding Best Buys.

Today I'm listing the top five baby items which, over the past six months, have seen most use in my house. There's no particular theme to them, they just are the things I think have rocked and which I shall definitely be saving for next time round (unless they are too worn out, in which case I will unquestionably be buying a replacement).

  1. Play Gym

    Lara has the use of a play gym at our house and at both of her Grandparent's houses. All totally different brands, with different dangly bits and different noisy bits but they all achieve the same thing. A play gym is a great place to be able to plonk your baby for a few minutes while you answer the door, or grab a coffee etc. During those first few weeks of motherhood, when the constancy of it all hits you, its nice to be able to chill out for a little while and leave your bundle of joy to wiggle around on the floor in their own little world.

    My play gym is a Fisher Price Melodies & Lights Rainforest extravaganza which can be found online for around £40-£55. It has the most sturdy frame I have come across, and now Lara is able to stand, she likes to hold herself upright using the frame of the gym. The gym plays music (which, in those early days, I thought was going to push me over the edge, but now I think I've managed to filter it out) and flashes coloured lights. You can also switch the music off and play soothing rainforest noises (gribbitting frogs and babbling brooks) which is mightily relaxing.

    You don't need to spend a lot of money on a play gym. They start from around £20, which is good value for something you are likely to use every day. A good play gym should have a range of dangly bits of different shapes, colours and textures temptingly out of reach of your little one's hands and feet when they are newborn. I can clearly remember the first day that Lara started to kick one of the dangly toys and I could see the look of purpose and determination in her eyes. I felt so proud of her! These days, she doesn't like to be lying down for too long at a time, but each morning she has some chill out time in the play gym, watching the lights and grabbing the rattles and mirrors and jingly jangly stuff.

  2. Microwave Steriliser

    In the last few days before I left work for maternity leave, I asked the guys (yes, they are ALL gents) from the office for advice on the baby items they felt they couldn't have lived without. The one thing that they came up with that I didn't already own was a microwave steriliser, recommended to me because they are quick, easy to clean, and more compact than traditional steam sterilisers. I managed to get myself one for free from Freegle so that if I never used it, I wouldn't have wasted any money on it.

    When I first started making up bottles for Lara (just water in those first, sweltering few weeks) I tried out both my traditional steam steriliser, and my microwave steriliser. After only a few goes with each, I had made up my mind that the microwave steriliser was the way to go. It takes less than half the time of the table-top steriliser, it has a very similar capacity, all its pieces fit in the dishwasher and because it has no submersed heating element, it doesn't suffer from the same limescale build up.

    Now that I am weaning Lara, I have things other than bottles to put inside my steriliser. The bowls and spoons simply don't fit inside my standard steriliser which is very tailored to a specific brand of bottle - the microwave steriliser (a brand I've actually never heard of anywhere else) has plenty space for anything and everything.

    I have two concerns with the microwave steriliser. Firstly, when I have been away to hotels, I have taken the standard plug-in steriliser with me instead because you can't reasonably set up a microwave in your hotel room! Secondly, I'm not entirely comfortably with the environmental impact of using my microwave to sterilise bottles and bowls several times a day... I don't know whether it is less energy efficient than using a traditional electric steamer, but it feels like it.

    If you are planning on buying a microwave steriliser, make sure that it is big enough to take all of the bottles you want it to, and that it is small enough to fit inside your microwave oven!

  3. Rocking/Vibrating/Bouncing Chair

    In the very first weeks of Lara's life, it was obvious that she was an upright baby! She couldn't stand lying down for more than a few minutes at a time unless there was something to keep her attention (such as the play gym above). We were given a bouncing chair which was a Godsend. Without it I would have had to sit with Lara bolt upright on my knee for most of the day, and who knows how we would have managed to eat our dinner in peace!

    The bouncing chair I have isn't very bouncy! It actually takes quite a lot of weight to make it bounce (a two year old toddler seems to do the trick). It does however have a vibrate function which, for the first months of Lara's life, was how we used to calm her down if she got upset. She would go from screaming to fast asleep within seconds of switching on the vibration. The rather unfortunate side effect of the vibration was that it also seemed to induce the mother of all pooey nappies!

    These days the vibration no longer seems to do the trick, in fact, I haven't even bothered to replace the batteries for a month. It does still remain Lara's pew of choice for her daily lunchtime dose of CBeebies while I eat my lunch. It is a great mix of supportive seat and relaxing recliner.

    As with the play gym, I would recommend a bouncing chair as somewhere to strap your baby in safely while you need to pop out of the room briefly, or just when you need a rest. Our bouncing chair cost less than £20. Its one of those things that you can pick up for a bargain with all the basic features, or you can go the whole hog and spend up to £100 on a motorised chair that sings lullabies, rotates and rocks. I suspect most babies would be happy with either!

    My one tip would be to get a bouncing chair with a cover that is removable and easily cleanable. Ours is a ridiculous pale colour and is sponge-clean only. It picks up dust and has never properly recovered from some of the more severe poo incidents!

  4. Loopy Links

    Loopy Links are small plastic rings made in bright colours with different patterns and textures. They can be chained together and attached to prams, car seats or play gyms.

    Lara was given a set of Loopy Links as a gift when she was first born. At the time I thought they looked like an uninspiring toy, but now I know how much fun Lara has with them, I'm very grateful for them. The links are just the right size for small fists and fingers to explore and practise those first grips. They are hard-wearing and can stand up to the throwing around, the bashing and the gnawing that they receive - they are just the right size for teething rings!

    I rarely take Lara anywhere without her loopy links - I'd be in trouble if I did.

  5. Maxi Cosi CabrioFix Infant Carrier and EasyBase

    My choice of car seat was very much governed by my choice of travel system (which happens to be a Mothercare 'My Choice' - ehehehe). We did a little research at the time and came to the conclusion that Maxi Cosi was as good as any of the other main brands available so we were happy to go with it.

    I have been so pleased with the quality of the Maxi Cosi CabrioFix infant carrier that I will, without question, opt for a Maxi Cosi seat in the new year when Lara will move up into a larger car seat. When on holiday earlier this year, we hired a car and a car seat and I was astonished at the difference in quality of the infant carrier we were given.

    The fabric from which the Maxi Cosi is made is very high quality and hard wearing. The one time when I did need to clean it, it was very easy to remove, clean and re-fit the cover. The straps are easy to use and adjust and I find it dead easy to fit in any car I've tried it in. The biggest plus for me was that the car seat can just be clicked into place on my pushchair wheels, no fiddly adjustments or extra pieces to buy. I shall sorely miss the convenience of that when Lara moves into her next seat!

    We ummmed and aaaaahed about whether or not to buy the base for the car seat. We don't have Isofix in our car and it would have cost us a minimum of £250 to get it fitted, plus the cost of the Easyfix base. In the end, we were offered the loan of an Easybase from a sister-in-law. The Easybase attaches to the car using the normal 3-point seatbelt. After that, you can just click the car seat into place each time you travel, rather than having to re-fit the belt around the seat each time. It has saved me a lot of time and effort, especially in car parks with little room between each car, meaning I can just place the car seat onto the stand, rush back round to the drivers seat and from there I can check that the seat has clicked into place correctly. If you can afford the base (Easybase from around £65 or Easyfix from around £95) as well as the seat, then I would definitely recommend it.

The Multi-Lingual 1st Birthday Party

Yesterday we accompanied Lara to her first multi-lingual birthday party! A mexican colleague of ours was celebrating his little man's first birthday with a small gathering of family, parents and babies.

I'm not sure I really knew what I was expecting, but when we arrived, they had produced signs around the house, and even a menu, in both English and Spanish. It was only really when the other guests started to arrive that I panicked and thought, hang on, the rest of the afternoon is going to be conducted in Spanish, and I'm going to be totally lost! Then the door opened, and some suspiciously non-latino-looking guests walked in, I breathed a sigh of relief... and then overheard them speaking German to one another!

I don't know why I was so panicked. My husband and I are both relatively comfortable when it comes to European languages. Between us, we can handle enough German, Spanish, French, Italian and even Greek to get by on holidays. I think it was probably the slight feeling of inadequacy as a parent that put me on edge. All of the other children in the house were being brought up to speak two languages, fluently. There were toddlers speaking their first words and reading their first books, in two different tongues; slightly older children crashing round the house, slipping almost imperceptibly from one language to the other. It was impressive, and something I would LOVE to be able to offer Lara.

Sadly, we just don't have any reason or drive to speak anything other than English at home. I've also heard that for a largely mono-lingual baby, it can be very disruptive to their language skills to hear different languages at an early age... although I'm not that sure how much I believe that.

At some point during 2010, my little sister is going to marry into a Spanish-speaking family. Its a complicated story, but we are hoping that next summer, there will be a transatlantic, intercontinental, multi-faith, multi-lingual wedding celebration. Now, there's as good an excuse as any to brush up on our Spanish, and to introduce Lara to her first foreign words.

Have any of you brought your child up to speak more than one language? Do you speak a second language yourself? How do you differentiate between one and another at an early age?

Thursday, 3 December 2009

The Baby Stuff People Tell Us We Need, But We Probably Don't

When you're pregnant, every major baby brand is out to convince you that you need to spend money with them. These days we are all aware that becoming a parent is an expensive business so we are prepared to spend money. Sometimes we do so just because we are told to! I've recently been analysing all of the baby stuff that I've accumulated over the first few months of Lara's life, trying to decide what is worth stashing away in the loft for potential baby number two; and what should probably be offered to the Ebay or Freegle Gods.

You can read my earlier post about my top breastfeeding must-haves. Well, below I've listed some of my baby "don't needs". Stay tuned for my top 5 "must-haves" coming soon.

The following items are mostly things that I was given, loaned or won; and am I glad of it? Sure! Its nice to be able to have all of these things around the house just in case they happen to be exactly what you need at any given moment; but I wouldn't recommend splashing out much cash on them.

  1. Swaddling Blanket

    Is anyone able to swaddle a baby as well as a midwife can? No? Thought not. I very quickly gave up trying to wrap my little girl up as tightly as they did in the hospital because I obviously didn't have the skill required. I did however have a specially designed Gro swaddling blanket which is designed to make the whole process easier. It didn't. Even with flaps and step-by-step instructions I found I never wrapped Lara tight enough and came back a couple of minutes later to find arms and legs everywhere and my little munchkin totally unwrapped.

    Top tip - use a baby sleeping bag such as a Grobag or else blankets and sheets will do just fine.

  2. Bumbo

    A quick Google, or a browse on Ebay and you'd be forgiven for thinking that a Bumbo is THE single most important piece of baby equipment you can lay your hands on; people rave about them. Once you've recovered from the shock of how much they cost to buy new, you tend to have a re-think. I was seconds away from buying one on Ebay because my little girl was desperate to sit upright; thankfully a friendly sister-in-law offered me the loan of hers so I was saved the expense.

    I've only used the Bumbo a handful of times. Firstly because at 5 months Lara's podgy little legs were already so much of a squeeze to get into the Bumbo that when I tried to lift her out I had to either (a) brace myself against a door frame or (b) call for assistance. Secondly, Lara hates being in it. As soon as she drops a toy on the floor, she is just that tiny bit too high up to be able to reach it again which, naturally causes tears... followed by frantic wiggling of the legs in an attempt to tip the whole thing over as she attempts to push herself up.

    Top tip - use a wodge of cushions to help your baby sit upright instead.

  3. Baby Bath

    I bought a baby bath without even thinking about it, blindly following the list at the back of my Mothercare catalogue... cot, check.... blankets, check... baby bath, check.

    Lara hated being bathed in her bath and it made both me and the hubbie stressed. We didn't have room for the bath or its stand in the bathroom so we ended up filling it with water and having to trapse down the hall with water sloshing everywhere. We only used it about 5 times before giving up.

    We then tried Lara in a Tummy Tub which is supposed to be a lot less stressful for the babies. Ha, Right! It took two adults to keep her upright inside it which meant there were no free hands for actually getting Lara clean. She hated it just as much as the traditional baby bath. I always told myself I'd try her in it again once she was a bit bigger and more able to hold herself upright, but somehow I just haven't plucked up courage. The Tummy Tub was a loan from a family member so at least I didn't waste any money on it. It is currently being used for toy storage in the bathroom!

    Top tip - Put your baby in the bath with you! Lara is totally relaxed in there (in fact, she only gets angry when we try and take her out). In the bath I feel like I am totally in control of her - its a mellow place for us both to chill out.

  4. Scratch Mitts and Hats

    Loads of people told me that I wouldn't need scratch mitts but all of the mums resources that provide pre-birth shopping lists(such as Mothercare, Emma's Diary, Toys R Us) seemed quite adamant. Just to make sure, I got a few pairs through Freegle, totally unused. I tried them on Lara once, they fell off. I tried them again, they fell off. Then I put them in a box in the lo

    Scratch Mitts often come in a set with a little baby hat. I know I had a June baby and the likelihood of needing a hat was quite low but until last week when the weather got a bit chillier, I had never had any need to put a hat on my munchkin. I think people go a bit crazy when it comes to baby clothes but its important to remember that babies can't regulate their heat easily so a hat will prevent them from being able to cool down. My midwife told me that the best rule of thumb is... if you need to wear a hat, then your baby does. If you don't need to wear one, then don't put one on your baby.

    Top tip - if your baby is scratching their face by accident, make sure their nails are kept short and if you need to, invest in a nightgown or sleepsuit with built-in scratch mitts that can't fall off ( I won't guarantee that your baby won't wriggle out of them though, mine did).

  5. Cot Bumper

    I've never quite worked out which end of the cot/crib a bumper is supposed to go! Is it supposed to protect their head from knocks? Or prevent their arms from poking out? Or their feet from poking out? I thought it was their heads and arms so I placed it at the top end of the crib/cot... only to realise that if I placed Lara in the 'Feet-to-foot' position, that the bumper was miles away and didn't protect her from anything. Once she was big enough to have her arms up around the bumper, it didn't stop her from poking them out through the bars... it just encouraged her to fiddle with the edge of the bumper, eventually pulling it up around the sides. Useless.

    Top tip - Errr... Don't bother.

The list of things I could live without is endless, I could go on all day. Here's just a few more of them!

  • Snot Suckers e.g. Baby Nose Clear. It makes me out of breath, and terrifies my baby!

  • Small feeding bottles and small weaning storage pots. You use them for such a small amount of time that you could reasonably do without them full-stop.

  • Moses Basket. I used mine (A family heirloom) for about 2 weeks. It was handy for letting baby L fall asleep in downstairs before taking her to bed, but she very quickly outgrew it and we could have coped with just a crib, or just a cot.

  • Silk Dress. Whose idea was it to buy a 2-month old baby a silk dress? Not mine. It got dirty, the dry-cleaners couldn't shift the stain. Bye Bye silk baby dress!

Have you got any tips for mums-to-be on what not to buy?

Monday, 30 November 2009

My Breast-feeding Best Buys

I breastfed my little girl exclusively for nearly 3 months before she developed an appetite with which I just couldn't keep up. I am still breastfeeding partially and intend to do so for as long as she needs me, or as long as my body lets me; even when I return to work in the new year.

I've been planning a 'top 10 baby buys' blog over the weekend and I discovered that most of my recommended items were actually to do with breastfeeding so I thought I would do a separate blog, just for breast-feeding items.

Before I gave birth, I hadn't given much thought to breastfeeding paraphenalia - you've got your boobs, what else could you possibly need? Now I've done it once, I think there are a number of things that next time, I will make sure I have purchased BEFORE the birth! Here goes:-

  1. Milk Saver

    This is my number one breastfeeding buy and I bet you've never heard of it! I reviewed it for the Mother & Baby awards and I honestly don't know how I coped without it! I certainly wish that I had owned one of these during the first few weeks after the birth when the milk first came in.

    The Milk Saver by Milkies is a silicone shell that you place over your breast while you are nursing from the other breast. It catches the leaking milk so that you can store it for use at another time. I found that between my night feed and the first feed of the morning I could collect around 70ml of milk without even trying! Admittedly it is the watery stuff; but I could then add that to the milk that I was able to express at other times of the day.

    Even once my milk supply had started to dwindle, I would use my milk saver during feeds to ensure that my free breast didn't leak all over my clothes, or waste another breast pad. I had found during the early days that I would use a whole disposable breast pad (I tried re-usables, I didn't get on with them; they didn't get on with me) during the late night and early morning feeds and it seemed like such a waste. The Milk Saver put an end to that.
  2. Lansinoh Lanolin

    This was the number one recommendation to me by my sister-in-laws and I'm passing on that recommendation. A tube of Lansinoh's Lanolin is a must-have while you are getting into the swing of things, breast-feeding wise. I have tried a different brand of nipple cream which smelled nicer, was less susceptible to temperature differences (pure lanolin is sloppy when its hot and can be rock-solid when its cold!), and claimed to work wonders but it simply didn't help the cracked nipples. Using lanolin, my problems cleared up within a matter of days. Lansinoh's Lanolin recently won 'Best Product for Breastfeeding' at the Mother & Baby awards.
  3. Quality Nursing Bra(s)

    I bought a couple of cheap nursing bras from a big high-street chain just before Lara was born. I had been too huuuge at that time to be bothered to search any harder. Within a week of the birth, my boobs were the size of watermelons and although the bras claimed they could accommodate me, they had lost any sort of shape or support that they had originally offered and I no longer felt confident wearing them.

    I think you need at least 4 nursing bras that you are comfortable wearing, comfortable using and which make you feel great. If you have enough that you aren't stressed if your boobs leak on one of them, then you can relax a bit more when you are nursing.

    I have recently tried the Cantaloop nursing bras. They are made of an incredibly comfortable fabric, provide amazing support and you'd barely know you were wearing it. I also love my Emily under-wired nursing bra because it's about as sexy as you can pull-off confidently when breastfeeding!
  4. Electric Breast Pump

    I managed to lay my hands on a manual breast pump before Lara was born. At 4 weeks, after breastfeeding was fully established, I tried it out and discovered that (a) I needed more energy, and more hours in the day if I was going to express anything like enough milk and (b) I needed a third hand to be able to hold the pump, operate the pump and look after Lara at the same time.

    I reviewed three different electric pumps for the Mother & Baby awards and all three of them worked soooooooo much better than the manual pump which was very quickly discarded! My favourite electric breast bump turned out to be the miPump by Learning Curve, The First Years. It is incredibly simple to use at home, or on the move and is comfy, flexible and efficient. You can buy the miPump from amazon, currently for around £47 which I think is a bargain.
  5. Microwave Steriliser Bags

    I have used Lindam's ones; they take up much less space than an electric steamer or a full-sized microwave steriliser and if all you need it for is the occasional storage bottle or an emergency bottle, then they are great to tuck away in the cupboard. They also are a godsend when travelling.
  6. Support Pillow

    I bought one of these at the baby show but it didn't (and still doesn't) fit round my middle! I only found this out once I had brought Lara back from hospital. Thankfully I was sent a Floppeze to test which is a better fit, more comfy and soft, and is now serving as a cushion for when Lara topples over from a sitting position. If you buy one, make sure it fits around you before you need to use it in anger!
  7. PLENTY of Nursing Tops

    I don't know why it never crossed my mind to buy these before the birth! I know now that you basically need a whole wardrobe of them. The comfier the better. If you can buy some nursing tops in which you feel comfortable and confident, and which have sensible, easy access then realistically there is little need for you to purchase a breastfeeding shawl or sling. My most-worn nursing tops are all by Boob Design who you can buy from the NCT shop or a number of online maternity suppliers.
  8. Formula Cartons & Pre-Sterilised Bottles

    OK, so you're thinking, what is formula milk doing on a list of breastfeeding best buys? Well, my Mum warned me that I should always have some formula in the house for use during emergencies... those days when you may be too ill to feed, too tired and you need Dad, Grandma or a friend to take over, or when you physically can't breastfeed due to sore or cracked nipples. At the time, I bought a huuuuuge tub of formula which we used once, and then we had to throw it away as we didn't need it again for months. I replaced it with a couple of the pre-mixed formula cartons and a pre-sterilised, sealed bottle from Boots.

    Just the comfort of knowing that you have the emergency back-up with you is enough to justify the existence of this item on the list! Perhaps you'll never use it but you'll be glad it was there just in case. Take it out and about with you and you'll know that if you really can't find somewhere hygienic and accommodating to breastfeed, that you've got a bottle you could fall back on if you need it.
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