What to buy a newborn baby

Some lovely friends of ours have just had their first baby. I won’t embarrass them by naming them in my blog, but you know who you are and congratulations! We’re so thrilled your little daughter is here!

When our son was born, it was this friend (we will call him T) who was the very first to send him a card. It said “Dear S, congratulations on your zero-th birthday!” This made me chuckle. Also, T came to visit a few weeks later with a present for our tiny baby. It was a lovely cutlery set, with a knife, fork and spoon that slotted into little holders to make them look like people. He apologised, saying it was a long way off still but he just liked the look of the cutlery and thought it would be fun, in time. That time was a time we could barely imagine when our son was only 7 weeks old, but it has now arrived. The Toddler loves the cutlery but also loves playing with the people-shaped holders and often gets them out of the drawer when my attention is occupied elsewhere. He plays some elaborate, imaginative game with them that I don’t get because I am not two.

It got me thinking about what to buy for a newborn baby. It is actually quite a minefield, and I think our friend T did an excellent job. So I thought I’d collect some thoughts, in case you also have a lot of friends about to give birth to their first baby and you are loitering with intent in the Mothercare sleepsuit aisle, unable to commit to a purchase.

Thought No. 1: Buy for the (far) future
Clothes for a newborn are always welcome, but you could also consider going up a few sizes. A ten month old baby is usually limping along from wash day to wash day, bursting out of sleepsuits that are really a size too small because nothing else was clean. If anything, a ten month old baby needs twice as many sleepsuits as a newborn. They still do all the explosive poo and the sicking up, but they are also eating – and they’re not very good at it yet. You don’t know this when your baby is a few weeks old, of course, but you will thank the kind friend who gave you a five pack of 9-12 month sleepsuits later. 

You could also take a leaf out of our friend’s book and provide equipment for the future. Weaning is probably the last thing on a new parent’s mind, but when they get to that stage they will be pleased to find that they are all ready with little bowls and spoons and plastic plates and cutlery.

Thought No. 2: Avoid sensitive parenting issues in your gift-giving
When my first child was five months old, one of my friends was about to have her first baby. I felt like an expert by that point, and thought I knew exactly what would be a good present: I bought her a swaddling blanket. It had been a life saver for us. We had discovered that our son was keeping himself awake and waking himself in the night because his arms kept flailing and he’d bop himself on the head involuntarily. The day I bought a proper swaddling blanket he slept through the night. Obviously I wanted to share this miracle cure with my friend. However, what I hadn’t considered was that swaddling is one of those hotly debated topics in baby-care (and there are many) and people are just as likely to feel really uneasy about using a swaddling blanket as to embrace them with enthusiasm. There are many things like this that could go either way: Gina Ford books, weaning spoons, nipple shields… I even felt a little bad buying a friend’s little boy pants for his second birthday, because I didn’t want her to think that I was giving a subtle hint that it was about time he was potty trained. Basically, if you’re not sure, just ask for a wish list!

Thought No. 3: Cuddly toys are forever
The great thing about cuddly toys is that children are not going to grow out of them, one size fits all. Even if it doesn’t end up being The Favourite Toy, your gift will almost certainly be a frequent guest at tiny tea parties or a student at a cuddly toy school. It will be given a name and a personality and might even be awarded the great honour of sleeping in the child’s bed. Tip: many soft toys shed bits of fluff and are therefore not suitable for newborn babies. You can get special teddies that are baby-safe, for cuddling from birth. Don’t worry if you have already bought one that isn’t though – fluff shedding is not frowned-upon at teddy bear picnics, just in cots.

Thought No. 4: Practical help
The most amazing gift our local friends gave us was food. Every night for two weeks, a rota of lovely people brought us dinner (usually dessert as well) so that we didn’t need to worry about cooking and could just focus on being new parents. Most people actually brought us enough for several meals, so we ended up being able to eat left-overs from the freezer for another week. Sometimes people would ring to say they were in the supermarket and did we need anything. Other times they would offer to take the baby for a walk in the pram while we had a nap. These are all amazing things to do for new parents and I feel quite sad that most of my pregnant friends/relatives live too far away for me to be able to be of any practical help to them. Again, if you are not sure whether what you are thinking of doing for someone is going to be helpful, just ask!

Finally, I just want to say: Happy zero-th birthday to little baby M, I am sorry we live too far away to cook your parents dinner, but we hope to meet you really soon!

Got any more good present tips? Please add your own in the comments below!

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Top Ten Unexpected Benefits of Having a Baby

1. Prime parking location
With a baby car seat in the back, you can suddenly park in all the ‘family’ parking spots – extra roomy for those of us who left their spatial skills back on the labour ward. Result! I have been so grateful for these every time I drove into town with a toddler who wouldn’t nap in his cot. He’d fall asleep in the car, I’d manoevre the fully reclining pushchair out of the vehicle, courtesy of the extra hatched space around my parking spot, transfer him into it still asleep, and wheel him straight into Starbucks. Ah, those were the days. Sadly this doesn’t work with two sleeping children and one puschair. But that is not the fault of the family parking spaces, they’re great!

2.Pyjama days
When you’re a new mum, nobody blames you for spending all day in your pyjamas. Nobody blames you for not washing up, letting the house get covered in a thin layer of dust and grime, eating take out every night and having unwashed hair. In fact, having a baby gives you a carte blanche to let yourself and your house go completely. I remember having a little meltdown when my son was about four months old. My husband asked me what the matter was, and I said: “I’m worried the new-baby-sympathy is going to run out soon!” I still wasn’t doing any cooking at that point and my son was scared of the sound of the hoover, because he had never encountered it before in his brief life. It turned out I needn’t have worried. New Baby Sympathy is available on tap for as long as your friends can see that you need it. I suddenly realised one day that I had settled into being a mum, and that I no longer needed the sympathy – and that is when it stopped.

3. New friends
Once I had worked out how to unfold the pram – please don’t ask me how long that took – I started investigating local baby and toddler groups. I felt a bit nervous, like everyone would look at me and see right through my clever disguise: she’s not really a Mum, she’s only pretending. I still felt quite self-conscious about having a baby, but I discovered that the great thing about going new places with your baby is that it is a fresh start. These people have never known you in any other capacity than as a mother, and that can help you find your new, enhanced identity. I have made some lovely friends this way and my son has made his very first friends at these groups too.

mini trolley2

Supermarket adventure in the Netherlands with a tiny trolley!

4. New skills
A lot of parenting is very physical, especially in the early days: logging miles up and down the stairs trying to settle a crying baby, breastfeeding, bathing, doing piles of extra laundry, trying to get a heavy pram in and out of a car etc. I am more used to thinking my way out of life’s problems, so this was a bit of a shock to the system. I think it was good for me, though. I am learning to listen to my instincts more. And I have built up some arm muscles, which is a definite bonus.

5. Rediscover the world
Through the eyes of my new arrival I found a new joy in old things. Everything is new to your baby. Everything is a wonderous miracle that needs to be explored and discovered. My daughter has really got into grabbing over the past few weeks, and she wants to explore everything. What does this feel like? What does this taste like? She wants to try out my laptop, wires, anti-bacterial spray, my fork, my cup of tea, a tissue I have just blown my nose on, the nearest plant and so on. I remember when my son had just started to move around, I would scan the house for fascinating things that might keep him in one place for long enough that I could rush into the kitchen to put the kettle on. I was looking at ordinary things with new eyes: wooden spoons as drum sticks, tiny tupperware for putting things in or stacking or sorting, bits of material to wave around like a flag. Everything is amazing when you’re tiny. Going to the supermarket is the best adventure. The library is a maze of exciting books that can be pulled off shelves until you are standing in a sea of them. A flight of stairs is an epic mountain that takes courage and determination to scale. Life need never be boring again.

6. Community
Before I had my son, I didn’t know anyone in the neighbourhood. I’d get up, drive to work, come home in the dark, spend the evening indoors with my husband, go to bed, get up, repeat ad infinitum. Our social life took place with friends we already had, who generally did not live in our local area. Having a baby changed all that. For a start, I was around in the daytime and reluctant to travel very far afield. I also discovered that people on the street are much more likely to at least smile, but possibly even stop and talk to you if you have a small person with you. It’s a bit like walking your dog, I imagine: you have a handy, ready-made topic of conversation about you. This is how I got talking to my neighbours and two years on, my toddler greets all the local dogs by name. I already mentioned baby & toddler groups – they were the means through which I started making local friends. Now we have playdates that we can walk to and our whole area suddenly feels like a more friendly place that we as a family are a part of. We suddenly discovered we were part of a community.

7. Off-peak
Being around in the daytime is great! You have a much wider choice of appointment times at the doctor’s/dentist’s, you can actually park when you go into town, you can go to the shops when it’s quiet and you can travel at off-peak prices. As I was working in education when I had my first baby, we suddenly found that we were no longer tied to school holidays while I was on maternity leave. For a family on a budget, this can suddenly bring a sunny holiday within affordable range. Even if you were never tied to the school calendar before, you will be once your kids are 3 or 4 years old, so make the most of off-peak travel while you still can!

8. Supersonic hearing
I have always wanted a t-shirt that says: “I make milk. What’s your superpower?” Not my witty joke, I hasten to add, I saw this on Facebook a while ago. But yes, mothering comes with superpowers. You may or may not choose to use the milk one, but you can’t avoid the Supersonic Hearing. It is tuned to pick up a baby’s cry at incredible distances, through thick walls, in a crowded cafe and in your sleep. And you will know very swiftly whether it is yours, too. One caveat though: if you live in a fox-rich environment, you may find yourself waking up in the night, convinced your baby has woken up, only to find it is a fox on heat. Slight design flaw in the superpower – or in the foxes.

9. Understanding your parents
I didn’t really want to write this one, as I don’t want my Mum to feel too smug. But yes, when you have a baby you suddenly find a new appreciation for your parents, and an understanding for all the things that used to annoy you about them. Having thrown several teenage-like strops at the ripe old age of 27 or so, explaining to my mother that I was a grown woman with a job and a house and I didn’t need her to point out that my skirt was too short/it was time to phone my grandfather/send thank-you cards/file my tax return, I now see what was going on. As a parent you are always several steps behind on your child’s development. They change and grow so fast that it is impossible to keep up and adjust in time. I remember realising when my son was about 8 months old that I was still bathing him like a newborn, with cotton wool for his eyes, in a tiny baby bath. He could actually sit up and splash about in the big bath by then, but I still thought of him as a little baby. Today, as my daughter screamed in protest at me picking bogies out of her nose, I had a very clear memory of pushing my own mother away as she picked my nose for me. I can tell you, I was definitely over three years old and well able to keep my own nose clean. There is no time to get into habits with children – as soon as you do they change and you have to adjust.

Sorry about the nose-picking story, that was a bit grim.

10. More love.
I’m guessing this does not sound like an unexpected benefit of having a baby. Part of the reason we want babies is because we long to love and be loved. But isn’t there a tiny part of us that is a bit worried that our relationship with our partner will diminish, eclipsed by the love we feel for the baby? I am sure many expectant fathers are more than a little concerned about this. Mother and baby live in such a symbiosis, both before and after birth – will there be less love available for them? Mother Teresa said: “I have found the paradox, that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love.” When you have a baby, you don’t suddenly have to share the available love out between three people instead of two, there is suddenly a whole lot of extra love to go round.

But that wasn’t even exactly what I meant. Your relationships change when your baby arrives, and the love you feel for your family is different. I remember my husband saying in wonder, during the mad week after our son was born and I was recovering in hospital: “I’ve suddenly realised that ‘Mum’ is no longer the person who looks after me, but the person I look after.” We had added a whole new level to our relationship: besides husband and wife we were Mummy and Daddy now. And our parents were equally bowled over by their new role as grandparents. Both our mothers have remarked that they were completely taken by surprise by the strength of the love they felt for their grandchildren. All this new love has knit us all together as a family more closely, it has given us something unique to share.

So there you go. If I left you despondent with my list of Top Ten Things to do before your First Baby Arrives, I hope I have cheered you a little with some happy things to come, should you be expecting your first baby.

I am linking this post up with Vic Welton’s PostCommentLove. Feel free to nip over and check out some other blogs.

Top Ten Things to do before your First Baby Arrives

Dutch pavement. Not pushchair friendly.

Dutch pavement. Not pushchair friendly.

1. Go up and down stairs and escalators
Once you are pushing a pram around you suddenly have to find the extremely well-hidden lifts everywhere you go and you will become an accomplished dropped-curb-scanner. It seriously feels like a treat to me to be able to run down a flight of stairs in a department store to quickly buy a pair of knitting needles and then run back up. Done in five minutes. Same trip with a pram takes twenty minutes with all the travel around the shop to the lifts and ramps – I’m not even going to try it with a baby and a toddler. I’ll just use chop sticks.

2. Eat a meal in peace
Babies are jealous creatures. If they see you enjoying a well earned hot meal or cup of tea, they suddenly discover that they are extremely hungry themselves and they won’t stop screaming until you abandon your food in favour of feeding them.

3. Have baths
A little tricky while pregnant as you have to be careful not to make it too hot, but run yourself a pleasantly warm bath, add lots of bubbles, take a book and a glass of wine with you and spend a lovely uninterrupted half an hour soaking. With a newborn baby you’re lucky if you find the time to brush your teeth.

4. Enjoy intelligent conversation
Plan plenty of evenings with friends – especially friends without children – and encourage the conversation away from your impending arrival/life change and towards politics, big ideas, books you’ve read, films you’ve seen, preparations for the apocalypse, life ambitions, what you were scared of when you were younger etc. You get the idea. Post-baby your brain will have turned into cotton wool, mainly due to lack of sleep, and as the baby turns into a Toddler you will struggle to finish a sentence. Most of my conversations with friends go a bit like this: “So I saw this thing on the inter NO PUT THAT DOWN what was I saying? I was in the supermarket yester I SAID PUT THAT DOWN THAT IS DANGEROUS So I was watching this film and GIVE IT BACK. NO, GIVE IT BACK. WE ARE DOING NICE SHARING. Right, time to go home. Lovely chatting to you, must do it again some WHERE ARE YOUR SHOES? NO THOSE ARE NOT YOURS THEY HAVE HEELS!”

5. Go and buy clothes and take your time trying them on
Not easy trying on clothes with little people around. Also, I personally need to already be feeling good about my appearance to like the clothes I try on, which is again something that is unlikely to happen when you can’t remember the last time you washed your hair and the outfit you are wearing probably has sick on it somewhere.

6. Go to the cinema
Once your baby falls into a routine and sleeps in the evenings you can nip out to the pub briefly or perhaps even go out for a meal, but we found going to the cinema is much harder to arrange. Films take so long and it is hard to make sure you get there in time after putting the baby to bed, and then to get back in time before the last feed.

7. Go into [fill in big exciting city that requires public transport to get to]
Similar to the cinema story – if it takes a while to get there and back, going on these kinds of outings is quite a way down the line when you have a new baby. Do it while you still can. As for going for day trips with the baby, just thinking about going on trains and buses with a pram makes me cry and shake.

8. Be spontaneous
Whatever it is you are doing at the moment, stop doing it right now and go do something else. Go out for dinner with your partner on the spur of the moment. Book a last minute weekend away to somewhere that is not here.

9. Sleep
Mmmmmm lie ins…

10. Spend as much quality time with your partner as possible
Of course, you will be spending plenty of time together in the middle of the night, but you will probably be arguing about who is more tired and why the baby is awake again and whose fault that might be. Your family is about to change. You were two – you will be three. Enjoy two for these last few months – and then resolve to enjoy three. It is exhausting but wonderful.

Also, watch out for my follow-up post next week entitled Top Ten Unexpected Benefits of Having a Baby to cheer yourself up again.