Having a baby – what we found useful. Our tips and hacks!
Having a baby can be totally stressful and it’s worse when you are about to become a first time Mum. Whilst some might have a vast array of baby knowledge I certainly didn’t and neither did my husband. The list of things you need to buy can seem never ending and by way this never stops, children are a total money pit!
If you’ve ever stood in a specific shop selling baby goods there are always confused parents aimlessly wandering around looking totally bewildered. Some will be deep in conversation over near the baby monitors trying to work out if they really do need a video camera to live stream a sleeping baby. Others will be lost in the car seat section bogged down in endless streams of safety information and then there’s the pushchair and pram section. This is the section where parents-to-be gather to take part in the stores own version of the classic UK game show ‘The Krypton Factor’ or (for those of you too young to remember it) ITV's game show ‘The Cube.’ Each parent putting their mental and physical skills to practise to all achieve the same goal, the pride of winning and by winning I mean that successful moment when you figure out how to open the pushchair without it collapsing again!
Buying baby things is a minefield. In our frugal ways we found hacks around things saving us money but they were pretty much all counteracted by the purchases that we made of things we thought would be great, but actually we rarely used. With this in mind I thought I’d write a blog post to help any parents to be with what we found useful (and not!) and how we saved the pennies where we could.
Obviously all these ideas are my own thoughts and you will need to make your own assessment as to what you think suitable for you.
We had 2 bath seats: one for a baby like a reclining chair and one for a 6 month old where they sit in it and it looks suspiciously like the chair part of a baby swing...we never used either! We did, however, have a baby bath and when he (our baby) was old enough he progressed to standing in the shower – we’re not really bath people! Be warned holding a baby in the shower…they ain’t half slippery when wet!
The baby bath was used constantly and I wouldn’t have been without it but ironically we never used it in the actual main bath, we always bathed our babies in the kitchen. We used to put it on the draining board which meant it was the right height for an adult and then when it was finished we just used to push the plug end of the bath out over the sink, pull the plug and let it drain out. Its so much easier after giving birth if you can do something at adult heigh, trust me after you've had the baby scrabbling around on your hands a knees to bath is the last thing you want to do!
Always check the bath you're buying has a plug. This might sound obvious but some baby baths don’t have plugs in them and I’ve never understood this?! When always thought when we've finished using it as a bath then we can use it as a water play tank for outside – multi use alert!
Bathing on the draining board next to the kitchen sink is also pretty handy when washing their hair. We’d do it first before he was slippery from the bath water, rub the shampoo on and then carefully put his hair under the kitchen mixer tap (since it was tall) and rise it off. Obviously the safety aspect here is you can’t do that if you have two separate hot and cold taps as you can't balance the temperature and you also have to make sure you don’t get the face under the water otherwise the baby won’t be able to breathe. It used to work a treat for us and saved trying to wrangle a baby and a cup to rinse off the shampoo.
When it came to holding a baby in a bath we had to ask the midwife…don’t be ashamed there are no stupid questions where babies are concerned, if you don’t know ask. It’s the old classic ‘They didn’t come with a manual’ scenario! We used to put one arm around the back of the head and shoulders and hold the baby’s arm that is furthest away from you just under the armpit (well kind of around the top part of the arm using your thumb and first finger in a circle). That way they can't slip, you've got good support around their back and head and your other hand is free for washing.
When it came to a top and tail bowl we never bought one. I thought they were a waste of money…not the concept just the actual physical double bowl. Instead we bought two cheap (smaller sized) transparent plastic mixing/baking bowls from the supermarket and wrote 'Top' on one and 'Tail' on the other in black marker pen! It was much more cost effective and I had thought that when we had finished using them for washingthen he could use it when he was older in play as mixing bowls with plastic food. This in essence didn’t quite happen, our little’s did play with them but they used to put them on their heads as spaceman helmets…well, I guess it's all imagination!
We’d also started with the the ‘use cotton wool to bath the baby with’ but the amount of cotton wool we went through was ridiculous and pretty early on the doctor recommended just using a flannel. We bought 6 nice soft white flannels and this was so much easier, they just went in the wash after each use. If you’re now thinking ‘we don’t’ create that much washing,’ well just wait, you’re about to have a new born, your washing machine will be on constantly!
We also didn’t bother with specific baby towels either we just bought plain white soft normal towels. I mean I say bought what I mean is my mum still had the ones tucked away from when I was a child and she gave u those! We had 3 large towels for bath days and about 4 smaller ones for top and tail days. They were a super bargain buy (if we'd bought them), my two are now 3 and 6 years old and they’re still using them!!!
You’ll soon find a brand (or two) of clothes that you really like. Baby grows and vests we always bought the multi packs because they were cheaper and for us it wasn’t about how trendy our baby looked it was about how comfortable and warm they were. Both of mine practically lived in baby grows up to the age where they no longer made them big enough!
When you’re buying baby grows and vests the best advice I can give is don’t buy them all from one place, buy them from different shops. You'll find that some have slightly more room in them, some are wider, some are longer and as the baby grows out of some of them having ones that are a bit more generous will give you a bit of grace time to get the next size up.
When mine were little I found Matalan vest and grows were a bit roomier so were great when he’d had a growth spurt and the George and Nutmeg ones no longer fitted. This was the same with baby grows; we had some given to use as a present from John Lewis and Marks and Spencer and these were great as they were slightly longer than the other brands we had. So when the baby was was too big for the smaller size and too small for the bigger size he lived in about 3 of these, as they were the only ones that fitted. I washed them constantly, but as I said you’re washing machine will now always be on!
Baby grows come in different styles. We had lots that press-stud down the front (they all press stud around the bottom). Some we found have press-studs down the front in the middle and others had press-studs down the front but were just offset to the side. The offset ones always looked gorgeous but they were hard for us to get our baby’s legs in and out of because he was so long and tall, so we stayed clear from them. The same was also said for baby grows that just have studs at the bottom. You have to put them all the way over the head and pull them all the way down which made them much trickier to get on and off and as our baby grew these were always the style that he’d grow out of first, so again we were careful with our purchases and made sure we bought ones which we knew would give us the most longevity.
Always try and check different shops and supermarkets if you’re struggling to track something specific down. When my eldest was 18 months old he was already in clothes for a 2-3 year old. But he was still young and so we wanted to continue using vests that had press-studs at the bottom. We found only one supermarket at that time (it was Tesco!) still made vests with poppers on in this size. Its always worth a check as some places do basics that go up to a larger size, which is great if you have a child who is enormous for their age!
When the baby gets to the point of wanting to pull of socks constantly 'sock-ons' are fantastic at keeping them on, I wouldn't have been without them! Mine child would have had his socks off 5 times and hour otherwise.
Bibs might no seem like they need a lot of thought…trust me they do! We again bought multipacks of the plain white ones with the coloured trim around them (available from most supermarkets!). They were the cheap standard ones but they come with a waterproof backing which was fantastic.
My eldest was a total dribbler and could go through 4 or more dribble bibs, t-shirts/tops and vests in a day because it just used to soak through all the layers and then make his skin sore. In the end we put a waterproof backed bib under his top layer and this kept everything else (and his skin) dry and we’d just change the top layer regularly.
It’s also important when buying bibs to look at where the Velcro join is on them. We initially had two sorts, one which had a Velcro fastening at the back of the neck and one which had a Velcro fastening at the side of the neck...it didn’t take us long to discover which we preferred.
Babies like to sleep after a feed and they will very often drop off in your arms. For me these were times of relief. No I'm not sorry for saying that, for a baby that cried constantly when he slept it was blissful and on no account was I about to make any sudden movements to wake him. With this in mind have you ever tried taking a bib off a sleeping baby? Velcro behind the neck you have to move them to unfasten it, Velcro at the side, just undo it and slowly pull it out to remove it. ALWAYS BUY VELCRO AT THE SIDE if you value those minutes of peace where they fall asleep after a feed!!!!
With our first we ended up inundated with gifts of clothes from people, they were all so generous which was amazing, but we had so many items bought for new born or 3-6 months. My eldest was out of new born clothes by day 10 and he continued to grow really quickly going through the next sizes at the speed of light. By the time he was just 3 months old we were wearing the 6-9 month clothes already!
When we got gifts of clothes we didn't open all of them straight away out the packets, we chose a savvy route. We figured out what we’d actually need and then took duplicate ones back to the shops they came from and asked if we could exchange them for a buffer size. Most places were really kind and would let you exchange without a receipt and so we changed them for the next size or even the size above that. I think we managed to kit ourselves out fully up to 6-9months and partially up to a year.
Well there are plenty of offerings out there for these but what I discovered was that a lot of my friends who already had children had given up on changing bags and instead had replaced it with just a normal large bag. So I skipped the expensive changing bags altogether instead I opted for a large bag from Primark for the grand total of a tenner! It fitted perfectly across our pram and was massive and fitted everything in easily. When we used the pushchair (we had a separate pram and pushchair) then we just used a normal rucksack and I can say that this was an incredibly frugal purchase. 6 years later and we still use the same rucksack when we go out as a family. It's still going strong and I don’t think I’d be saying the same if we’d bought a specific changing bag!
If we were out with the pushchair and had to change to the body worn baby carrier the rucksack was also perfect for this; bag on the back baby on the front...you're a parent now you will continue to look like a cart horse for years to come, accept it and wear with pride! The only thing I purchased separately (which probably would have come with the changing bag was a travel changing mat and that was used regularly so something I'd highly recommend.
Another handy hack to help keep your chasing bag tidy is to keep an eye out for anything you buy in a sturdy clear plastic case with a zip. We had two things that came in such packaging. One was a buffer for the pushchair and I can't remember what the other was, but as a slight hoarder (only for things I think of use I might add) I kept these clear plastic zip bags. They turned out to be really handy and just the right size to keep all the nappies, wipes, cream and changing bag stuff in for out and about when he was little. It kept the changing bag neat and tidy and easy to see when things needed replenishing. We still have one in the car boot now (6 years later), its got wipes, plastic bags, toilet roll and things that you need to take with you on a journey when you have children!
Changing mats and changing units for at home
We had a changing unit given to us but never used it as we couldn't find a space for it in the nursery. We had chosen to buy a cot bed and this took up enough space in the small box room. In the beginning, however, the baby was sleeping in a moses basket in our bedroom, so we made the cot into a changing station. This is one of the best hacks and I tell anyone who is expecting!
Basically we had the cot on the highest setting as recommended for a baby and we bought some clear plastic sheeting, like you get for the garden to put over plants and repurposed it! We put the fitted sheet on the cot mattress and then covered over that in the plastic sheet (like you’re putting on another bed sheet) and tucked it in so it held tight and then put a changing mat on top. Instant changing station with added safety aspect that the cot has bars on it so the baby can’t even roll and fall out!
It was the perfect height for an adult so no need to be kneeling on the floor bending over and because it was fully waterproof it made a great place to wash him on the top and tail days. It also has the added bonus that it's easy to clean when your baby decides with an to have a wee mid nappy change, simply wipe it off!
Formula and bottles
These are really personal to everyone and I can’t make suggestions now as ours were babies a few years ago and I’m sure there are probably new things out there. But I can offer one piece of advice that came directly from my mother in law that I am eternally grateful for.
I had every intention of wanting to breastfeed, but we had bought a set of bottles just in case anything went wrong and I wasn't able to. Unfortunately our baby had a tongue-tie and so struggled to latch on so breast-feeding was a real struggle. My mother in law suggested that we buy some formula to keep in for an emergency stating that 'the first time you need it will probably be in the middle of the night!' She was right! A week in and totally shattered I was still trying to breast feed with a baby that couldn’t get enough, was hungry and crying and in the middle of the night my husband said enough was enough and were going to top up with formula.
I feel its important to add (off the track of hacks and hints) that at this point I cried, I felt I’d failed. I hadn’t obviously and I can see that now but back then my emotions were so high and I was dealing with all those ‘I want to be a perfect mother’ feelings. That top up formula was the best move, I knew it was but I couldn’t bring myself to feed from a bottle, so the husband did those feeds, which for him was actually a really special time to bond. A month later we actually found out that the baby had a milk allergy so we were forced to move to a special formula and we bottle fed from then on, my husband was actually the one who taught me how to bottle feed a baby! Not least feeding doesn't mean you've failed.xx
I always recommend that a great baby shower present is a bottle of ready-made formula. I told my sister this when she was going to a friends baby shower, she said ‘Oh no I think she wants to breast-feed’ and I replied well she might be it doesn’t hurt to have one in as an emergency. So my sister packaged one up in a cellophane bag with a label saying ‘Emergency feed’ on it.
It wasn’t until a few months later that I had a message from her about it. Her friend had begun to bottle feed and they’d had a power cut and she couldn’t boil the kettle then she’d realised there was an emergency feed in the cupboard ready. Can't recommend this hack enough!
So there you have it our tips and hacks for when you have a baby. I hope they’ve been of help and if you have any more of your own I’d love to hear from you, leave a message below or find me on Twitter or Facebook by following the links at the top of the page.