The other day at mother's group, one of the mums remarked on how much improved her present buying skills for new mums is now that she has a baby. We reflected on some of the well-intentioned but completely inappropriate gifts we had previously given our friends who had babies. And also how some of the gifts we had received that we thought would be great turned out to be useless and vice versa.
So what is a good affordable present? Here are some ideas. (NB: none of the suggested brands or shops have asked for or paid for this endorsement):
1. Large wraps or other swaddling aids.
Why? Swaddles help babies sleep. Also, a swaddling aid is a good gift because it doesn't matter if someone else buys this as well, as mum will need more than one.
What? You can buy large wraps, some with lovely patterns, or a zip up pre-made swaddle like the Ergo Cocoon is also a great choice. The Ergo Cocoon has been popular with other mothers I know because of the two-way zip (you can do a nappy change without taking the whole thing off). When our baby got a bit bigger, we had a bit of trouble with the zip rubbing under our baby's chin. You can also buy an arms up swaddle Love Me Baby Swaddle, which many babies tend to prefer after about 2-3 months because it allows them to sleep with their arms up, a naturally preferred position.
What to avoid? Wraps that are less than 120cm x 120cm. Wraps made of synthetic materials that won't breathe - meaning they may cause the baby to overheat and also be fire hazards. Choose breathable materials - muslin for the heat or stretch cotton for colder climates. Baby sleeping bags like Gro-bags are super for when a baby gets a bit older but not good for newborns because they generally prefer to have their arms contained - so remember this when choosing sizes.
2. Baby Clothes.
Why? All mums like dressing up their babies. Lots of clothes are needed, as babies are very good at getting them dirty.
What? Most babies are born size 0000, but this will be too large for a premmie baby and too small for a large baby (4kg+). I would generally choose 000 or 00 clothes, because babies will grow into these sizes, and by then mum will have enough of a handle on parenting to enjoy dressing them up. Lots of people give clothes, so look for one unique piece of clothing rather than a couple of generic choices.
My Baby Rocks and The Retro Baby for some cool choices, or for fun, you could give a Baby Costume,
or even customised clothing with the baby's name or an image of your choice.
What to avoid? Clothes that button up at the back. Little babies can't sit up, so the buttons are a pain to do up, and then the babies don't seem to like a couple of buttons digging into their backs when they are lying down. If buying cute dresses with buttons or bows at the back, choose size 0 or 1's so baby will grow into them around the age they're sitting up. Also, look for wide, stretchy necks that are easy to get on and off - envelope necks are good or ones with press studs at the front or on shoulders. Avoid clothes with small pieces that may become detached and end up in the baby's mouth as a choking hazard.
3. Baby Toys.
Why? An occupied baby is a happy baby. And everyone likes a happy baby. Even if someone else gives the exact same toy (which is unlikely), it's always handy to have one for the car, one for the house, one for the pram etc.
What? Newborns don't really use toys. They just like looking at things, particularly faces and shapes that are really high contrast.
High contrast books like this one or these ones are great when the baby is really young. Around two to three months babies start swatting at objects, so toys that can hang from a baby play gym are good. Babies don't start properly grabbing toys and bringing them to their mouths until 4-5 months, so rattles will not be used until this age. When they start grabbing, objects they can get hold of easily like cloth that scrunches up in their hands are what they prefer. I have found that the toys by Lamaze are excellent designs that the babies really get into. An old-fashioned hit that is still a winner is Sophie the Giraffe.
From about 4-5 months on, babies will interact more with toys and be interested in toys that do something in response to their actions. This is when friends start innocently (or maliciously) giving incredibly annoying toys with flashing lights and awful sounds that chew through batteries. If you would like to keep these to a minimum in your house, you could direct people to a site like Eco Toys, which make wooden and cloth toys that keep babies entertained without overstimulating them and driving the parents mental. They have musical instruments that actually sound ok when played with by a baby.
For a slightly older child, here are some more good musical choices for parents who wish to preserve their ears. A really good Canadian site with more good quality toys is Play and Learn Toys.
What to avoid? Generic stuffed animals. There's nothing wrong with them, but they will sit on a shelf or in a cupboard until the baby is 1 or 2. Toys with small parts that will be a choking hazard. Toys that use lots of batteries.
4. Baby Books
Why? Some newborns are happy to be read to from an early age and many parents like to incorporate reading as part of a bedtime routine. My baby has not been a fan of books (other than to try and put the book in her mouth and be annoyed when it is not a very good fit) but I remain optimistic that she will like them when she gets a bit older.
What? For babies, books should be made out of cloth or thick card. There are textured books that babies can start getting into around 5-6 months, like the That's Not My series with simple text and sturdy construction. Little babies don't follow stories. Go for simple rhyming or repetitive text, and bright, colourful pictures. Lots of babies really like looking at pictures of other babies, although my baby doesn't get into this activity. Starting from about 4 months, babies will start noticing links between objects and language, so from this age on simple books with an object and a word on each page can be enjoyable and help promote language development. However, I personally think that reading books is about more than learning language - and stimulating interest and creativity is just as important. Bethany has always loved the illustrations of Kim Toft, which are colourful pictures of Australian sea animals, even though the books are aimed at older children.
I will also do a shameless plug here for the books of my mother in law, Leonie Norrington, my personal favourite of which is 'Look See, Look at Me':
although 'You, Me, Our Place' was the picture book nominated for a CBC award.