Friday, April 17

What you need.

I've been meaning to write this for ages, but the very reason I know what to write is the same reason I haven't got round to it. That's right: it's a list of stuff that's useful if you have a baby on the way. Half the stuff the baby magazines tell you is Absolutely Vital is in fact a big fat waste of money. Best thing to do if you're expecting is to ask any recent parents you know for their tips. But be careful of the mummy-fascists: if your "friends" start telling you that theirs is The Only Way To Raise A Baby and if you don't do what they did You Are Doing It All Wrong, politely make your excuses and never talk to them again for as long as you live. Even better, kill them and steal their child.

On that note (the ignore-the-pushy-parents note, not the murder-and-kidnapping note), the Dr Spock book really is good. So many baby books tell you the one ideal way to do it. For every topic, Spock tells you the handful of different good ways to do it, and leaves you to decide which to go for.

Anyway, here are my top tips. Take them with a pinch of salt. I know what was best by our criteria, but yours will be different.

For what it's worth, we got a Quinny Buzz pram, and I thoroughly recommend it. On the other hand, it's the only pram we ever had, so it's always possible that all the others are even better. But it certainly has one feature which the others don't (or didn't at the time): it uses hydraulics to unfold itself. This is not a gimmick; it is incredibly useful. You take the pram out of the car, you've got a baby in one arm, a bag to carry — once you have a baby, you always have a bag to carry... tapping the pram so that it unfolds itself instead of having to pull levers or whatever suddenly becomes the most important thing in your life. It also has easily detachable and reattachable wheels, so could be stowed in a very small space: we could get it and enough luggage for a holiday into the boot of an A-Class. Doesn't come cheap, though, but was definitely the single best value expensive thing we bought — or persuaded a relative to buy for us, I should say. We were also lucky enough to be buying them just as Quinny changed their range and so got a huge discount just by picking a discontinued colour — worth keeping an eye out for that sort of opportunity, as I imagine it happens a lot. Also, I would recommend (assuming you drive) going for a pram to which a car-seat can attach. When the baby's asleep, you want to leave them be, so taking the car-seat out of the car and putting it onto a wheel base — or vice versa — is good. The Maxi-Cosi car seat is dead good (it has a built-in sun-shade, which is highly useful, especially since clip-on parasols are universally crap), and attaches to loads of different makes of pram.

It's probably not worth caring about whether the pram will double as a buggy. Apart from anything else, when your toddler's ready for a buggy, it's because they're getting independent and have Views on things like how far they should be from the ground and whether they should be travelling in some conveyance that's for bloody babies. The Quinny's buggy attachment did get used a lot, but not as much as the labelling claims: in theory, Daisy could use it another year or so yet, but try telling her that. Our buggy attachment got used a lot, and we're dead glad we had it, but a simple buggy probably would have been fine. Dedicated buggies are cheaper and lighter and fold up smaller than prams. If you're looking to save some money and don't have an in-law willing to buy the thing for you, this is a good place to economise a bit. When your baby's ready for a buggy, just get one and put the pram in the attic.

The Moses basket pram attachments, though... well, it depends on your situation. And we weren't typical, of course. But Vic was in hospital for months after the birth. The basket attachment for the pram was fantastic: it meant I could bring Daisy into hospital to visit her mum and she could sleep in a proper bed there. If you find yourself in any situation like that (not necessarily ending up in hospital, but you might, for instance, be regularly visiting someone who doesn't have a basket you can use — leaving the baby with grandparents two days a week, say), then it might be worth having. And Moses baskets are insanely overpriced anyway. If you are going to splash out on one, it might be better to spend about the same money on one that attaches to your pram, just for the adaptability. Definitely not worth having one of each, unless one of you ends up so ill she can't carry the pram attachment upstairs to the bedroom. We borrowed one.

Once you do switch to a buggy, the little sleeping-bags designed to attach to buggies are overpriced but fantastic.

An electric steam steriliser is an excellent thing. And cheap. Sterilising things by boiling them on the hob or cold-sterilising using Milton's fluid are both major pains in the arse in comparison to bunging the stuff in the steriliser, turning it on, and waiting a few minutes.

If you're using formula, electric sterilisers can also be used for terminal sterilisation, which can save you loads of time. What you do is you mix the formula using cold water straight from the tap, then put the disk and teat on the bottle but don't tighten it fully, then put the bottle in the steriliser. Not screwing the top on fully tightly stops the bottle exploding. Then, as it cools, the disk gets sucked tight onto the top of the bottle, sealing it. Take the bottle out of the steriliser, tighten the top fully, and put it in the fridge. You now have sterilised milk that'll keep for twenty-four hours. And you can use this method to do a whole day's milk in one batch. Incredibly convenient.

Mothercare sell packs of plain muslin cloths, which are about the most useful thing you can get after nappies. Chuck them over your shoulder when burping, put them on your lap when feeding, tie them round the baby's neck as Mafia-napkin-type bibs, put two or three of them down as an impromptu changing mat, throw them over your kid's head to play peek-a-boo.... We're still using them for everything, including cleaning Daisy's new blackboard now.

And baths. The standard baths are OK unless your baby has hair. And Daisy had loads. Washing a baby's hair while supporting them properly in a bath takes three hands, minimum. We eventually solved this by getting an inflatable bath: designed for travelling, but has the added advantage that the baby cannot hurt their head if they hit the side. A friend of ours has a huge sponge with a baby-shaped indent, which leaves both your hands free and can also be used to take your baby into the shower. And another friend has just got a big plastic bath with a sort of baby-shaped moulded platform built into it. They haven't actually got a baby yet, so I can't report on how well it works, but it looks good to me.

The same friend has also got a cot where the top half detaches, turning it into a bed. We would definitely have got one of these had we known they existed. Saves you buying a bed when the child grows out of cots.

Sudocreme is good (and a friend of my mum's says it's also the best stuff available for rubbing onto horses when they've been bitten by horse-flies, so it has a handy dual purpose), but there's some even better stuff for bad nappy rash called Weleda. We buy ours when we're in Germany, but you can order it off the Web. However, sometimes what nappy rash needs is to be dried out, and none of these moisturising-type lotions are any good at that, obviously. So also get some Metanium, which is. Oh, and Kamillosan's great, too. Sudocreme, incidentally, does not come out of carpets. Not even with a Vax. So you'll want to avoid your toddler covering herself head to foot in Sudocreme and then throwing a tantrum when you try to take it off her, hurling herself to the floor and beating her Sudocreme-covered fists against the carpet. Which still isn't as bad as The Lip-Balm Incident.

Oo, a Vax or some other variety of carpet-washing device is well worth having, by the way. Or wooden floors, but carpet is obviously safer for toddlers to fall over on. Or you could always just get a tarpaulin, though it's not the most decorative accessory.

Should you need bottles, they all seem good, but Nuk bottles have one big advantage over the competition: they make non-spill teats. As soon as Daisy figured out how to hold a bottle for herself, she refused to let anyone else touch it. And, when she'd finished with it, she'd just throw it to one side. It rarely landed the right way up. Non-spill teats were what prevented her from living in a pool of fermenting milk. Again, I've not seen them in shops in the UK, but you can order them from Germany off the Web.

If you're going to travel, don't get a traditional travel cot. They're only marginally more portable than a cot made of stone with an anvil in it tied to a mammoth with no legs. Go for one of the snazzy new tent-like ones, which fold up properly small and are really light.

Don't believe the stuff in nappy adverts about some makes being better fits than others. What actually happens is that, as your baby grows, she changes shape, and will require different fits. We found that Tesco nappies would be the best fit on Daisy and then, suddenly, we'd get three disgusting leaks in a day and have to switch to Pampers. When you have a baby, you will receive loads of vouchers for free stuff, including nappies. Keep them all. Don't throw out the Huggies vouchers just because Huggies don't fit. In a couple of months, Huggies might be the best fit. When it looks like the nappies aren't fitting as well as they did just the other day, switch brands.

Asda make the best wipes, in our opinion: not too wet and not too dry and they come in an unscented version. Scented wipes, of any brand, smell Bad. Johnson's are so wet you need to dry your baby afterwards. Oh, and baby wipes can be used to clean anything. Anything. There simply is nothing they won't clean. Except Sudocreme out of carpets, obviously.

When you've got a new baby on the way, don't buy any clothes in blue or pink. This is because everyone you know and a whole bunch of people you didn't even think you did know will buy you baby clothes, and everything they buy will be blue or pink, depending on which flavour of baby you've had. If you want a bit of variety in your child's wardrobe, make sure the stuff you buy is some other colour. In fact, when buying baby clothes, don't even buy much new-born stuff, as, again, that's what everyone else will buy for you. Seriously, people are so generous and babies grow so fast that you'll end up with outfits that only get worn once, if at all. So buy some stuff for three months and up. Or ask people to get you stuff for older babies. Otherwise, your baby grows a bit and suddenly goes from having a wardrobe that makes Whitney Houston's look a bit stingy to one pair of shorts, two string vests, and a sock.

If you don't have a spare CD player for the nursery, get a cheap one from a supermarket. Music is amazing stuff. Former Lover by Saint Etienne was a guaranteed way to get Daisy to settle and to sleep for over a year. (Not to sleep for over a year. You know what I mean.) She was also a big Madeleine Peyroux fan. Don't know what she's into these days.

Places like Mothercare have their set prices (which are often quite good), but, if your town's anything like ours, it contains an independent baby-stuff emporium. And, if it's anything like ours — the quite fantastic McCullough's of Bangor — they're open to a bit of bartering and they like to reward good customers to keep them out of Mothercare. If you can afford to buy a lot of your baby stuff in one go, go to one of these places and see if you can get some money off.

This sounds like a huge list, but, really, it's not. Magazines and mummy-fascists will tell you you need hundreds and hundreds of things just to get by. You really don't. Being a parent is not as expensive as some would have you believe. You're going to need a pram and a car-seat and a bath and, pretty soon, a cot. They're big one-off expenses, but, once they're out of the way, it settles down to nappies and wipes, nappies and wipes, more nappies, more wipes, and then jars of baby-food. It's all pretty cheap. And think of all the money you'll save by never going out ever again.

Above all, don't fall into the trap of believing you need a truck-full of gear just to leave the house. You don't. You need a little bag with a changing mat, some nappies, some wipes, and a spare baby-grow in it, plus a sterile bottle if you're using bottles and a carton or two of ready-mixed formula if you're using formula. And scissors to open the carton. Keep such a bag ready at all times, and it'll only take you a couple more minutes to go out than it would without a child.

Oh, one last thing: caffeine. Vital.


Update:

Some helpful additions are appearing in the comments to this post, including something from Cleanthes that I can't believe I forgot to mention: Spoons! The effect of a teaspoon on a baby — preferably a metal one — is a thing of wonder. They just absolutely love the things to bits. Just handing the kid a spoon does an unbelievable job of calming them down and keeping them entranced for a good long time. Best baby-toy ever.

The only downside is that you get home to discover you have inadvertently stolen from cafes.


And another update:

Can't believe I forgot to mention this. It's very important. Poppers versus buttons.

You will see a lot of baby clothes that look dead nice but are in fact hell. The reason they are hell is that they have buttons instead of poppers. A lot of little girls' clothes go even further and have cutesy flower-shaped or heart-shaped buttons. No matter how nice the garment may seem, avoid these like the plague. When the time comes to either put them on or take them off, especially in a hurry, even more especially when your baby gets a bit older and starts struggling, you will rue the day you bought them. Poppers can be undone quickly with one hand. As a general rule, once you're a parent, you always want the fewest-hands-using option in everything you do.

On a similar note, bibs with nice laces for tying behind your baby's neck are pure stupid. Bibs should fasten with a popper, ideally at the side of the head, not behind it. Even better, some bibs don't fasten at all and simply have an elasticated hole to pop over your baby's head. If you see them, get them: they're ace.

If you're about to become a parent, you'll be amazed at the number of things that you could have sworn were two-handed jobs — or even two-person jobs — which you can in fact manage perfectly well with one hand while using your other arm to fight a struggling toddler.

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