During my first pregnancy, I was a baby product marketers dream. I was totally sucked in by the adverts and celebrity endorsements in pregnancy magazines and the leaflets spilling out of my first Bounty pack.
They lured me with images of happy gurgling babies and non-sleep-deprived model mummies and I was perfectly willing to fork out for the latest gimmick or gadget if I thought it might benefit my precious bundle.
Six years on, I’m a bit more savvy. I love searching for bargains in charity shops and trawling eBay for good quality second-hand items. After all, children grow out of toys and clothes so quickly.
There are still some things that are worth buying new and/or spending a bit extra on, though. Over the years, through trial and mostly error, I’ve discovered a handful of ‘holy grail’ products that I wouldn’t be without. If I could travel back in time, I’d tell my first-time pregnant self to buy these things and save myself a lot of time and energy.
They might not be absolute essentials, and they won’t make getting up at 2am any less painful (actually number four might help a bit with that) but for me, they have been a godsend.
1. Cot-top changer
I still can’t believe with a nursery the size of a broom cupboard we didn’t get one of these first time around. With E, we started off by putting a regular changing mat on the top of her chest of drawers. This was at a really awkward height and would slide around a fair bit. More often than not we just used to give up and change her on the floor. A cot-top changer is at the perfect height and a lot easier on the back.
It’s also wipe clean, sturdy, has raised sides to stop the little monkey rolling straight off and has stood up to eight months of daily use so far. When not in use it gets tucked away. Toys R Us no longer sell the one we bought, but Mothercare do a very similar one.
2. Out’n’About three-wheeled buggy
Choosing a pram is a bit like choosing a car. You spend hours test-driving, checking the brakes, admiring the handling, umming and ahhing if the one you want is too big or too small. And that’s even before you’ve thought about colour options. Then you see the price and realise you probably could buy a small car instead.
Our first pram was a Bugaboo. It still looks great six years on. So it should, the amount it cost. When E was about seven months old I had the urge to start getting fit and thought I’d try walking a bit quicker than normal running with it. Total disaster. I must have looked a right prat because the bloody thing kept veering off all over the place. Turns out four wheels are no good for running. You need three, and you need to be able to fix the front wheel.
Enter the Out ‘n About Nipper 360, at less than a third of the price of the Bugaboo. Although it isn’t advertised as a jogging buggy, it is lightweight (under 10kg) and you can fix the front wheel. Plus it folds down easily, reclines flat and has a brilliant hood and plenty of storage pockets.
Despite buying it to run with, it soon overtook my beloved Bugaboo as our everyday pushchair. E loved it so much we pretty much had to prize her out of it. We’ve taken it on holidays to Cornwall, Scotland and Turkey and it’s stood up to being pushed through miles of muddy fields, across sandy and pebble beaches, over cliffs and moors and around city centres.
The latest Nipper 360 model now has lots more features than ours did, such as adjustable handle height and car seat compatibility. Out’n’about also do a double version, as well as an even more lightweight Little Nipper and the Nipper Sport – which is advertised as an off-road and jogging buggy.
Our Nipper still going strong now, although I’m considering buying another one for V as the poor thing is quite battered and the lovely bright red has faded, hardly surprising after four years of solid use.
3. Lillebaby baby carrier
With E I had a Close fabric carrier, which I used quite a bit, but as she got heavier I found it hard to wear for long periods. Then we bought a metal-framed backpack carrier, which was fine for day trips or a long walk but not really suitable for daily use. With the boy, I needed a decent carrier for walking his sister to school every day.
When I started looking I was overwhelmed by all the different brands out there – Tula, Ergobaby, Connecta to name a few, not to mention the different types of carrier such as wraps, ring slings, mai-teis, soft-structured and so on! After several weeks of research and reading countless online reviews, I decided to buy a Lillebaby soft-structured carrier. Soft-structured carriers (or SSCs) have padded straps and adjustable buckles, but are still lightweight because they don’t have a frame.
I can’t praise this carrier enough. It is suitable from birth as it doesn’t need a separate insert which some SSCs do. The seat position can be adapted to make sure that baby is in the correct ‘frog-leg’ position for their hip and spine development.
I ordered my Lillebaby from an independent online shop called Baba Me, which I discovered when I was researching all the different types. Several of their staff are trained babywearing consultants so they are very knowledgeable when it comes to carriers. They also have their own Facebook customer page, which is a great place to ask for advice.
I bought the Complete carrier in stone, which is a lovely soft grey colour (the skull fabric dribble bib and suck pads were custom made by the talented Annie’s Accessories). Since I bought my carrier Lillebaby have brought out lots of new fabrics and colours.
What I really love about the Lillebaby is the fact that you can carry your baby in a variety of different positions. I usually carry V facing in towards me (my favourite) but from six months they can face outwards, which he loves as he can be nosy. You can even back-carry with it, which I know that I will want to do once he’s a bit older and heavier. The waistband has a lumbar support panel to support your back while in front-carrying positions.
If you have a sling library near you, this is a really good way to test out carriers before you buy. Unfortunately, there wasn’t one local to me when I was looking for a carrier, but there is now and they seem to be popping up all over the place.
4. Ewan the dream sheep sleeping aid
Ewan the dream sheep plays four different ‘pink noise’ soothing sounds – the sound of rain falling, a vacuum cleaner, a harp and womb noises; all combined with a resting heartbeat sound. He also lights up with a warm pink glow, which again is supposed to mimic being in the womb.
Since V was tiny Ewan has been firmly established as part of bedtime routine. If he wakes in the night, a quick press of the ‘womb noise’ leg usually sends him straight back off to sleep. E used to have something similar; a seahorse which glowed and played lullabies. I was going to reuse it for her baby brother, but she wasn’t keen on that suggestion and suddenly started going to bed with it again at the age of four! Thankfully a friend bought Ewan for V when he was born.
I read somewhere that newborns may not even be aware that they are no longer in the womb for the first few weeks of their life. Whether this is true or not I’d imagine that hearing the sound of a placenta and heartbeat must be very reassuring. V also has the Ewan snuggly, known as Little Ewan in our house, which seems to be his favourite comforter.
5. Ikea Antilop high chair
No explanation necessary. The Antilop is simply the best highchair ever. It is £13. It won’t look out of place in any kitchen or dining room. It’s so cheap you don’t mind buying another for granny’s house. You can put the tray and seat in the dishwasher. Did I mention it’s £13?
Yes there are probably prettier, more stylish options out there if you want something that looks more like a piece of furniture rather than a plastic high chair. But as far as functionality goes, I would take the Antilop any day over the huge padded monstrosity we had with E, which I was constantly tripping over and swearing at.
I purchased all of these items myself (apart from Ewan the dream sheep, which was a gift) and this is an honest account because I genuinely believe that they are great products.