Mum Hacks – a book to boost your confidence

I remember being pregnant with my first son and stocking up on parenting books. I was going to crack this parenting thing. I read up on all manner of baby and child care, and had plans in place to totally smash any parenting challenge I might possibly face.

I was such an idiot.

There wasn’t a book in the world that could have prepared me for the onslaught of new information, overwhelming responsibility and lack of sleep that came with my first son’s arrival. I was a quivering mess before he was even finished being born, and it got a lot worse before it got better.

I read books on parenting theories. I read books with pictures and diagrams on how to change a nappy or give your baby a bath. I read books on how to schedule every minute of my baby’s day (you know the ones). Seriously, it might make you feel good to read them, but you don’t need them. You will be too tired to care whether you’re doing the nappy right. You will learn by doing. All the diagrams in the world are not going to prepare you for reality.

But one book I wish I had read before I had my children was Mum Hacks by Tanith Carey. When I agreed to review this book, I thought I might find some new tricks of the trade for me to add to my repertoire. And I have found a few (examples to follow in a bit). But where this book really excels is in laying out a blueprint for the sorts of things you actually need to worry about as a mum.

  • How to cater for your kids’ needs in the kitchen while avoiding it looking like a bombsite.
  • How to entertain your kids without getting buried by a toy tsunami.
  • How to get ready in the morning without shouting like a banshee.
  • How to get your kids to do anything without shouting like a banshee.
  • How to vaguely enjoy a holiday with young children.
  • How to keep your house sort of clean with minimum effort.
  • How to keep yourself sane by looking after yourself.

Now, I have to be honest. Some of the tips, to me, felt sort of obvious. For example, buy a good bib and a massive wipeable plastic highchair. Yep, weaning is a messy business – it’s not a secret. But upon reflection, I realise that tips like that are only obvious to me because I’m on my second toddler now. I’ve figured out a lot of stuff already, and often only by trial and error or blind luck. It actually would have been cool to have known some of these tricks beforehand, instead of googling them at 3am while I fed the baby.

So that’s why I’m recommending that this book is best suited to someone new to the entire business of parenting. It offers that sense of control that I was desperately looking for when I was pregnant with my first. It would have helped me think about what things were practical to buy. It would have helped me organise things in my home while I still had time to organise them, making it easier for me to cope with my little whirlwinds when they arrived. It would have given me a clearer sense of what to prioritise in family life and what is less important.

However, there were a few gems in this book even for the seasoned mum. There’s a bunch of really quick ideas for lunchbox contents that I never would have thought about. I now know how to make pretty pinwheel wrap sandwich thingys (although I clearly still don’t know what to call them).

And every mum should know that you can cut up an apple and then hold it together with a rubber band to stop it getting brown! I also liked the quick makeup tips. I’d never even heard of primer, the use of which apparently makes your makeup stay on better and longer.

So if you’re already a seasoned parent, this book might not change your life. But it is a well-written, amusing read that might add a few more tricks to your repertoire. Even better, buy it as a gift for a first time mum-to-be, and save her a bit of early morning googling.

Mum Hacks: Time-saving tips to calm the chaos of family life by Tanith Carey is available on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle versions. I received a gratis copy of the book for review purposes.

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What you really need (& don’t need) for your new baby

Oh the consumerist excitement that comes with a first pregnancy! One of the only consolations for the lack of alcohol and sushi during my first pregnancy was the prospect of shopping, shopping, shopping. And as I’m a project manager during my day job, I was obsessed with making sure that I had everything I needed all perfectly ready for the day the baby arrived.

My poor second baby was lucky that I bought him a new cot mattress.

Only because I’d already bought everything under the sun for my first, and we still had all those things. Some of them hadn’t even been used yet.

The internet will reveal countless lists of what you “need” to get for your baby. I duly studied these, collated them into a final list, and created a spreadsheet, including an estimate of my total projected spend. Seriously.

So I would like to save someone out there from going totally overboard like me. Therefore, here is my (hopefully) no-nonsense list of what I think you need before the baby comes, what you should wait to get until after the baby comes, and what you can leave in the store.*

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What to buy before your baby comes

  • A cot for the baby to sleep in (obvs) and a brand new cot mattress.
  • A moses basket is also useful because the baby can then sleep in the living room or wherever you are around the house. But I would try to get a hand-me-down or charity shop one because you only use them for about 3 months and they can cost upwards of £60.
  • Bedding for the cot and moses basket: 3 fitted sheets for each.
  • 3 small cellular blankets to use for swaddling and out & about.
  • Those baby sleeping bag thingys. Gro-bag is the main brand but Asda does some brilliant (much cheaper) ones. They really are the best things for babies to sleep in right up until they move into a bed.
  • 8 all-in-one sleepsuits. Baby can stay in these day and night. White is a popular choice but I prefer colourful ones that hide the poo stains. These often come with built-in scratch mitts too – the stand-alone ones will be lost immediately.
  • 1 little newborn hat for right after baby’s born. I never used hats again until baby was much older.
  • My opinion is that you only need vests if it’s summer and very hot – and then baby can wear that on it’s own.
  • A couple cute jumpers/cardigans.
  • A cute little pramsuit or other warm going-outside suit. I like the ones with ears on the hood.
  • Nappies, nappy sacks & wet wipes along with a good changing mat.
  • A pushchair. For some they are practical; for some they are fashion. Up to you – but make sure:
    • you can fold & unfold it one-handed
    • you can put the brake on & off without struggling
    • it has a raincover and cosy-toe
    • it will fit through narrow doors and down the aisle of a bus
  • A carseat.
  • A playmat with flashing lights & music. I left mine laying on these for long periods of time.
  • A vibrating bouncy chair. This is a godsend when you need to get stuff done.
  • A baby bath or bath support & some baby bath soap.
  • Cotton wool pads (not balls). When they are really small you can use these for cleaning tiny poos and also wiping gunge off eyes and noses. You will quickly move on to wet wipes though.
  • Muslin squares, like 20 of them. You will go through loads of these.
  • A changing bag that makes you feel happy. Treat this like a handbag purchase because you will take it everywhere.
  • Even if you’re planning to breastfeed, get a steriliser, about 2 small bottles, a bottle brush and some made-up formula milk in those sterile bottles. The pre-made baby milk is perfect for midnight feeding panic moments.
  • If you’re planning to formula feed, I would go ahead a get a full pack of formula powder as well.
  • Metric arseloads of maternity pads.
  • 1 box of breastpads.
  • Lanolin nipple cream.
  • Hand lotion (your hands will be messed up by all the post-nappy-change hand washing)
  • Chocolate.
  • A couple of nursing bras in a size larger than your maternity bras, but don’t spend too much because your breasts will change and you will need to perhaps get different sizes after the baby comes.

Wait until after the baby comes to get…

  • Lots of bottles. You may find that your baby doesn’t like the teat on the bottles you bought, and so you’ll have to experiment. You’ll be annoyed if you buy a whole collection of one type of bottle and they don’t work.
  • A breastpump. You might be introduced to the magical world of breastpumps while you’re in hospital. This may well change your perspective on what sort of pump you would like. You may also decide you don’t need one. Don’t get a manual one!
  • A sling or baby carrier. Check for a sling library in your local area and try these out with your baby before buying. There’s a lot of marketing around these but everyone is different as to whether they can actually get the damn thing on.
  • Baby toys. People will probably buy these for you. If not, you can always order some online.
  • Dribble bibs. Not all babies dribble until they’re seriously teething, which might be months later. You can use muslins to catch milk drools. Wait until you need the bibs.
  • A nursing cover. You may find you want one, and you may not. Wait until you feel the need as they are pricey.
  • Same goes for nursing pillows. I just used a throw pillow or normal pillow.
  • Extra bottle-feeding equipment such as bottle warmers & carriers. You may find these aren’t necessary for the way you manage bottle feeding.
  • Nappy cream. My babies never got any nappy rash until they were much older and then my health visitor recommended different sorts of creams than I would have bought in my pregnant state.
  • A baby monitor. You’re not really meant to have the baby sleep in a separate room until he/she is 6 months old, so you might as well wait. The technology changes fast and it will be better to get a newer model.

Things you don’t even need

  • Non-bio washing detergent. Unless unusually sensitive skin runs in your family, I could never see any issue with using bio. It gets out the poo a lot better.
  • Baby socks. Baby socks are the world’s most pointless things. They fall off immediately. If you must have some for cuteness purposes, invest in some sock-ons. Those things work pretty well. Booties are also purely for cute and you will probably receive at least one pair as a gift.
  • Special towels for the baby. Hooded towels are cute, but if you use a normal bath towel you can make it kind of hood-like without spending extra money.
  • Cot bumpers. They are pretty but they’re dangerous for baby. So you’ll just have to take them off before using the cot which you won’t want to do when you haven’t slept for more than 2 hours at a time in the last week.
  • Top and tail bowl. Sometimes these come in cute packages with the baby bath, and you can get one if you want, but you can just use any old bowl!
  • Nursing tops. I found that these exposed more boob than just lifting up a standard (more attractive) top. If you like wearing dresses though, nursing dresses are worth the investment.
  • An Angelcare mat. These are mats that monitor your baby’s movements and set off an alarm if they don’t move for a period of time. These will send your nerves into overdrive as you will get lots of false alarms. My sons had them in hospital and they went off several times a night for no reason whatsoever.

What were your must-have baby items? What things did you buy and never use?

*Disclaimer: This is all just my opinion based on experience. I’m not an expert on shopping … but I’ve had a lot of practice.