“What was your favourite newborn gift?”
It’s a regular icebreaker question in parent and baby classes and the responses are always varied and interesting. Their favourite newborn gifts tell you a lot about your fellow parents, their lives and their priorities.
For me, I had two answers. The first was a classic. A lovely colleague who had started quilting classes made my daughter an absolutely beautiful cot quilt. It is the sort of thing we will keep and treasure forever. Handmade gifts are a wonderful way of expressing care because of the time and love that goes into them.
My more unexpected answer
My other answer was my most unexpected and probably least expensive newborn gift. A good friend whose baby is exactly a year older than mine gave me a little care package. In it was a hand cream (“for all the extra hand washing”). A bottle of washing up liquid, which she had accidentally discovered was a great pre-wash stain treatment for baby poo. Some nappy rash cream (“good to have ready, just in case”).
We were really lucky. We never needed the nappy rash cream. However, we got through the hand cream within the first month. I’ve shared the tip about the washing up liquid with most of my friends as they became parents too!
Connection and support were what I valued the most
What I loved was the thought behind this gift. My friend and I have both moved away from where we grew up. We now live far apart, but this felt like a hug in a Jiffy bag.
It’s fun buying cute newborn baby outfits, but that’s what everyone gives for new babies. Parents will likely have stocked up on most of what they need before the baby is born. It was so much nicer to get something that came from my friend’s experience of what it was like looking after a newborn in the cold winter months.
It was also a gift for me and my husband (actually he used most of the hand cream). The message was: “look after the parents”. Looking back, the same friend also recommended books I found really helpful. Most of all, she offered a really responsive WhatsApp conversation which reassured me at various difficult moments. Connection and support, in different forms, was what I valued the most.
Appreciation is not linked to cost
I asked my WhatsApp antenatal class group what their favourite newborn gifts were, and why. Some, like me, had appreciated gifts which were really about nurturing themselves. Many valued bundles of hand-me-down clothes and other items. Gifts don’t need to be new to be valuable or to show you care.
Level of appreciation was not necessarily linked in any way to the amount of money that had been spent. A few had been given something they found really useful. On had like a baby blanket in the shape of a star with space for little arms and legs.
What I noticed about those who listed a particular item was that they didn’t necessarily agree. What suited one person didn’t necessarily suit another. No one mentioned a particular outfit. Many felt guilty that their baby only wore some outfits once, for a photo to send to the giver. Some were never worn at all.
Give gifts that support the difficult, wonderful, life altering transition
Which is sort of the point of this blog. I’d like to encourage anyone buying for a newborn to think about what it is like for new parents. Buy stuff that helps with that difficult and wonderful, life-altering transition.
If I visit a new parent now I always take a meal for their fridge or freezer. It’s hard in those early days (and beyond) to keep your fridge and freezer stocked with nourishing food. It is still harder to find the time and energy to cook meals. I never truly understood this until I had my daughter.
I was also lucky enough to have a birth and postnatal doula. She was a wonderful woman who supported me and my partner through pregnancy and birth. We had several visits after my daughter was born. She offered both practical support; cleaning the kitchen, cooking a meal; and emotional support during those challenging early weeks.
My parents live pretty far away. Having a doula ensured we had support at a time when we knew we would need it. Doulas are trained to understand the needs of babies and parents and to offer the right support for each family. They say it takes a village to raise a child. Unfortunately many of us no longer live in the sort of close-knit communities where this support is organically available. If you want to nurture the parents but live too far away, you could consider paying for some hours with a postnatal doula.
Support with their parenting goals
Our doula also put us in touch with an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC). It had become clear that our breastfeeding journey was not going as smoothly as we had hoped. Breastfeeding, when it is something which a mother wishes to do, has proven benefits for both mothers and babies. However, when women who have planned to breastfeed have a difficult experience and feel forced to stop, it can have a serious impact on their mental health.
Unfortunately, despite aims to promote breastfeeding in the NHS, the reality is that many services have faced huge cuts. There is a significant lack of support available in many areas. In many areas there are only IBCLCs practicing privately, and voluntary peer support organisations. These include La Leche League and NCT Breastfeeding Counsellors). I met one mum who was told that she clearly understood “the theory” regarding how to breastfeed, and therefore was not referred for breastfeeding support on the NHS. For families trying to breastfeed but needing extra support, buying a consultation with a lactation consultant may be extremely valuable.
So here’s some ideas to suit all budgets (and no budget):
Practical help with things like household chores
It’s so very hard for new parents to keep on top of even basic tasks like washing up. They are trying to focus on all the needs of their new baby and their needs as new parents. Oh, and they have barely slept! For me it also helped when people took the initiative rather than waiting to be asked. I didn’t have the headspace to instruct others in those early weeks. Some people write a list for the fridge as a prompt.
Meals for the freezer or nourishing snacks (check about allergies and likes and dislikes!)
A mother’s body will be healing after pregnancy and birth. Those who are breastfeeding may be extra hungry as the body produces milk to nourish the new baby. Partners may also be exhausted from broken sleep and trying to nurture their new family. Knowing there is good food available with minimal effort is really helpful.
Things to look after the parent
Handcream, lavender essential oil (great for soothing baths after giving birth), an insulated spill-proof mug (no one likes cold tea).
Basics for baby
Like muslins, vests and sleep suits. Ask first what is needed. Parents may have too many of some things and not enough of others.
Give them something you really valued
If you are parent yourself Give them something you really valued. If you think it would suit them too.
Hours with a postnatal doula
A great option if you want to offer support yourself, but don’t live close enough to be able to. Check with parents on whether this would suit or help them. Most importantly, let them choose the doula, as a good “fit” and a trusting relationship is crucial
A session with a lactation consultant (IBCLC) (for those who need it)
For parents who really want to breastfeed, but struggle a session with a lactation consultant can be hugely helpful. It can make the difference between feeling forced to switch to formula feeding or managing to continue breastfeeding. This can make a huge difference to maternal mental health, alongside all the other benefits of breastfeeding.
A session with a sling consultant
Wearing a baby in a sling is great for bonding, soothes and comforts babies (and parents), and also gives parents “hands free” time without the need to put their baby down (which can distress the baby). Slings are useful for pottering around the house, and for getting out and about.
You could buy them a sling, but it can be quite a personal choice so check what the parents would like or get them a voucher that can be used towards hiring, a consultation or buying a sling of their choice. The CalmFamily Free Stretchy Wrap Hire Scheme means everyone who wants one can have a free hire of a brand new stretchy wrap for those early days, with the option to return or buy it if it suits them.
Vouchers for local mother and baby classes
For example, baby massage, yoga, Infant first aid
These sorts of classes can provide new parents with the chance to get out of the house and meet new people and make friends with other parents with babies of a similar age, as well as providing experiences to support bonding or learning new skills. Many parents find that classes are a valuable way of socialising and building confidence. Again, it’s really worth checking with parents in advance what they would find valuable and feel able to do. The logistics of getting out and about with a small baby take some practice and parents will vary in what they feel able to do, and when.
A place on a local BabyCalm workshop, course, or private consultation
Many parents can feel overwhelmed by the range of conflicting information available about parenting choices such as those around sleep, feeding, and providing comfort. Should you feed you baby to sleep or is that “making a rod for your back”? Should you comfort them whenever they cry, or do they need to learn to “self-soothe”?
BabyCalm consultants offer a range of classes and workshops and individually tailored consultations. These aim to support parents to understand their baby’s physical and brain development and empower them to trust their instincts when it comes to understanding their baby, and responding to their babies’ needs.
Parents can feel more confident in making parenting choices to best balance the needs of the whole family. I decided to train with BabyCalm when I couldn’t find a consultant locally, at a time when I would have found this extremely helpful in building my confidence in my decisions as a parent.
Every family is different, and their needs and what they value will be different. Some people are ready to be out and about making friends at baby groups straight away, some need some time and TLC at home, and really need support to come to them; some babies get through several outfits a day and need muslins distributed around the house (mine did), others only ever wear a handful of babygrows before they outgrow them. It’s a cliché but the thought really does count.
Check in with the parents. How are they coping? What do they need? Maybe the thing they would like most in the world is for someone to cuddle their baby for 10 minutes while they have a hot shower. You can make a massive difference to their experience of one of the most challenging and amazing things they’ll ever do.
Hannah Guzinska- Trainee BabyCalm Consultant: Edinburgh
Hannah lives in Edinburgh with her chatty and inquisitive nearly-two year old and her husband Stuart. She is a qualified Clinical Psychologist and used to work in a Child an Adolescent Mental Health Service. She’s always been interested in child development and attachment and has done extra training in Family Therapy and Theraplay because of her belief in the importance of relationships and connection.
She chose to take a career break to focus on being a mother, and decided to train with CalmFamily when she was looking for support herself and realised that much of the parenting books, information and advice available didn’t fit with her values as a parent, or her understanding as a psychologist. Hannah enjoys being creative in any spare time she has, including baking, sewing, and upcycling.
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