At least when you are looking for a needle in a haystack you know exactly what it is that needs to be found. You can also enlist the help of pretty much anyone you know with the task, if they can tell the difference between a thin silver pointy thing and some dried grass.
But when you find out for the very first time that a baby is on the way you must start looking for things…among things of which you have very little and often no frame of reference.
As a youngster I consumed the world much like any other boy of a similar age, growing up in the north west. Our shared god was football and then we had our little separate groups of interests and hobbies, such as trying to conquer heavy metal with our band in Dad’s garage.
It is through the day to day indulgences and pastimes that an awareness and then desire for products from brands builds and builds, especially through the “I NEED IT” teenage years, and even more so into the “I wish I could afford it” twenty-something age group.
I knew everything anyone needed to know about football boots, especially the ones Gary Lineker wore, and developed an encyclopaedic knowledge of drum kits, drumsticks and cymbals before I was 15 years old. Then I noticed girls, so started to believe that smelly things would attract them like moths to a flame (Fahrenheit aftershave anyone, or am I showing my age?). It wasn’t long after the 16th birthday cake candles were blown out that I knew about different beer and booze brands, with initial research being owed to older kids who could get served in the off licence on a Friday night before we hung around the park.
Once 17 came around I was legally old enough to drive and started to take notice of cars; any other cars than my unreliable Ford Fiesta which I did secretly love as it offered freedom, but wow did those Suzuki Vitara jeeps look cool, and imagine owning that Ford Cosworth Sierra!
In my early twenties, I started to notice that a suit by Jaeger or DAKS looked a damn sight better than my first one from River Island, and Ping golf clubs seemed to make people play better than the set I got from Argos.
This trend for soaking up brands and products, whether consciously or subconsciously has always been there within us, whoever you are. As a baby, there was only one brand, milk. As a young child it was Star Wars and it grows from there and as marketing gets more and more sophisticated and targeted it will only get worse through our children’s generation…but I digress slightly (largely actually)…where was I?
Oh yes, I’ll get to the point. The first time in recent memory I can recall being absolutely stumped and without any yardstick was when my first child was a looming reality.
“I’m pregnant” she said.
“Whose is it” I replied…because ladies love a joker, right?
“Sorry” I said, rubbing my cheek that still smarted from the slap.
Fast forward a few months and the growing bump that seems to get bigger and bigger everyday means that a small person is going to arrive, and therefore we need to buy things…don’t we?
I think it is safe to say that most modern-day parents did not spend any time whatsoever researching baby products before they found out they were going to have one themselves.
“Coming to the pub after work?”
“No, off to Mothercare to check out pushchairs”
“But you live on your own?”
And then, when you are pregnant, there is a stopwatch running for you to investigate and understand an entire new industry and all the shiny products it offers. You don’t get a couple of years to do your research; you get a few months as there is a rather historically precise time limit on pregnancy.
You know you need to buy ‘things’, and somewhere in this pile of ‘things’ are the ‘things’ you need and the ‘things’ you don’t know you need. As well as the ‘things’ you will ultimately think you needed but were just being fooled all along.
There must be over 300,000 different products available in the UK for babies, possibly more when you consider bottles, baby food, sterilising things, nappy bins, changing bags, never mind the big-ticket items such as car seats and nursery furniture. Don’t get me started either on stuff you apparently need for bathtime!
Which pushchair is better than another? Is that one that costs £899 better than the £599 one? That’s how it usually works with cars isn’t it? If I spend £1,800 on nursery furniture will it be more nursery-furniturey than the £999 set and will my baby sleep better?
Do I really need to buy a crib that straps to our bed before I move them into a cot that doesn’t strap to our bed?
Why does this pushchair include a rain cover but you must spend £40 extra with that one if you want to keep your baby dry?
It can be sooo confusing. Life before pregnancy does not prepare you for these shopping decisions. Ask any of your non-parent friends to name 8 baby product brands and see how well they do. It really is a starting point of no knowledge.
So how do you get from nought to knowing in the nick of time?
My advice is to keep a completely open mind and not to make any decisions in haste. Your biggest and best source of advice will be your friends who already have young children.
Note that I said ‘children’ not a ‘child’. There is a new and far wiser level of knowledge that comes with the second child. They have already run the gauntlet of overbuying for their first child and they will know what was completely useless and have validated that suspicion by not using it for their second child either.
Learn from their mistakes, but also learn from their experience of products that have been a lifesaver right through their parenting days, months and years. Ask them what five things they couldn’t have managed without…smiling politely when they jokingly answer wine, and then worrying a little when you realise they aren’t joking.
Be suspicious of magazines and big media parenting platforms. They generally say nice things because money is changing hands. Don’t rule them out, but look elsewhere for second opinions if you catch an article that says pushchair X is the bee’s knees.
Indulge in parenting blogs as many of them speak from the heart and tell the truth. Bloggers really can say this is garbage if the thing they are writing about is garbage. Often, they won’t write about something that has disappointed them though, but the flip of that is that they do generally write nice things about nice things that deserve such comments.
Reviews of products on online services such as Trust Pilot and online retailers such as Amazon is a useful research tool. It goes against the grain of human nature for people to write nice reviews of products, so if something is getting thumbs up online where there is absolutely nothing in it for the writer then maybe it’s one for the shortlist.
Trust your gut also and do not neglect it. You know what you like and you know yourself and your body and habits better than anyone else. Don’t be bullied into getting something you will have to use every day by someone who won’t. If you are very tall then don’t let shorty tell you pushchair Y is the only one to think about. If you suffer from a bad back then don’t let little miss athlete tell you that this baby carrier that puts all the weight on your back is a great way to bond with baby.
Do your research before hitting the stores. Make a shortlist of products you want to find out more about, and then plan some trips to different places. Yes, it’s nice to peruse the baby department in John Lewis and isn’t it all very seductive, but deep knowledge of babies and products often lies within the independent nursery stores…you know, the ones that were probably there when your own mum was pregnant. These are the stores where most of the brands and products are likely to be available and where the owner has seen products and fads come and go. These are the stores where you might be able to sit down and have space and time to think. They might even make you a cup of tea.
They do want to sell you things though as they are not drop-in centres for weary pregnant couples who need therapy. They are businesses, but they are staffed by people who usually know what they are talking about. Don’t just take one store’s word for it though – take time to visit a couple more and weigh up the collective advice.
If you do all of that then you have probably done far more than most other parents to be. You will have more than scratched the surface and that is a very respectable effort.
Good luck if you are embarking on parenthood for the first time, and for those already there…we’re doing a good job…aren’t we??
*sound of wine being poured*