A friend asked me today what would be a suitable present for a new mother, which wasn't something I had had to think about for a while. I assumed there were likely to be dozens of websites with information, but most of the ones I found were commercial websites with expensive wares to sell or tacky stuff with "mum" engraved or outlined in bling or stencilled into it.
So I decided to make my own list. I have put in links to a random selection of companies, but with the exception of Amazon, I haven't used any of the companies myself and so this is not an endorsement of their services.
1. Muslin cloths
The number one gift in my estimation for a new mother is muslin cloths. It may seem boring, but I have to say that this was the most useful thing I ever received. MUCH better than all in one stretch baby suits which are invariably the wrong colour or size or weight for the time of year.
Muslin Cloths can be used on one shoulder for baby sick in the early weeks, to drape over to discreetly breastfeed, or as an impromptu baby changing mat when necessary. Later on, they can be used as bibs and wipes, and grandparents can boil wash one for straining jam....
2. Triangular or L-shaped pillow
This comes under the boring but really useful heading! A triangular pillow or two can come in extremely useful in the months after birth. It can be used to support a newborn who is breastfeeding and make positioning much easier. It can be used to prop a mother up in bed, or to find a comfortable position in an armchair. You can sit on it if you have stitiches or piles. When babies get to the rolling stage, it can be used to contain the baby while dressing or changing him, and when he gets a little older to prop the baby up. A ittle older than that, it can be used behind a baby who has learned to sit up independently, but occasionally keels backwards when he loses concentration.
3. Lavender oil
Pure Lavender oil is a very useful thing to have in the baby changing bag. It can be put on a muslin cloth and draped near a baby with a cold, to clear the nose and soothe - it's much gentler and effective than eucalyptus, which is very harsh for a baby. It can be used as an antiseptic, as a scent to drive out the bad smells of baby digestive systems, and, diluted in a carrier oil, as a massage oil for mother or baby.
For the first-time mother, this is one of the times in life when you can eat biscuits or chocolate with a clear conscience. Snacks that would be suitable for the night-time feeds would also be very welcome, particularly home-made flapjack with lots of dried fruit and honey in.
This is a bit of a minefield. There are any number of babycare books out there which offer advice and training programmes for babies. Buying a suitable book is fraught with difficulty... a breastfeeding earthmother would probably hurl "The Contented Little Baby" book as far as she could (and hooray for that), whereas an uptight four-hourly bottle feeder may not welcome any book which indicates that she isn't loving her baby if she isn't breastfeeding.
Books which try to give new mothers confidence that they know their baby best, and which respect the idea that not everyone is the same, are safest. For myself, I liked the Penelope Leach book about child development that I was given as a present, on the birth of my first baby. I ignored the advice in it about buying lots of toys and consequently had a mountain of bright plastic rubbish after a couple of years. I found a baby medical book reassuring on occasions, and I liked anything with a bit of humour in it. Baby massage books are popular.
Avoid any book purporting to show women how to revert to their normal size after a couple of months, or which may imply she is fat. It comes as a shock to many women that they don't immediately shrink down to their pre-pregnancy size, and they don't need anything that reminds them of that.
6. Scented stuff and cosmetics
Avoid scented bath stuff as a woman ought to avoid putting anything (except maybe a couple of drops of lavender oil in her bath after birth. There are some lovely natural massage balms and oils out there, many of which are suitable for mother and baby.
7. Scarves and pashminas
Both of these are useful for concealing breastfeeding, and for draping around to keep the sun from the baby.
8. Babyholding vouchers and pampering paraphenalia
Many mothers can't bear the idea of leaving their precious baby for an evening, but would welcome the chance to have a bath and pamper themselves knowing that someone is around for the baby. From a partner, close female friend, mother, mother-in-law or sister, I think this could be the pinnacle of new mother presents: a nice novel or luxury magazine, some chocolate, some freshly squeezed orange juice, some nice moisturising body lotion, and someone to look after the baby while you indulge yourself.
9. Acid-free scrapbook, notebook or keepsake box
A beautiful acid-free notebook, scrapbook or box is a wonderful gift to a new parent. They will received notes and cards, photographs and ephemera which will rattle around in drawers for years if they aren't gathered together in one place. Acid-free ensures that the book won't self-destruct in 10 years.
It isn't until you have a baby constantly on one arm that you start to appreciate the need to take things up and downstairs when they occur to you. Leave aside the scrambled brain that pregnancy and birth can leave you with (whatever recent research says) which may lead you to find yourself on the upstairs landing for the third time without a clue what brought you there, something you can stuff things into is very usefu to have. I was going to recommend the stairbasket, but I read a review about how useless those are....
If none of these suggestions appeals to you, there is no substitute for buying the thing the mother herself says she needs. Within your budget, find out, and buy that, whether it is a thermos flask which can have soup in it for night time feeds, slippers that won't trip her up when going downstairs with the baby, or a new pillow and pillowcase.
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