The internet is an invaluable resource for knowledge-hungry mums; whether for information, support or even just shopping, the web has loads to offer at every stage of your pregnancy and journey through the early years of parenthood. As with all things web, though, you often have to do a lot of wading through mountains of crap before you find a real gem, and let’s face it, what mum has time to do that?! Well, me, as it happens. As a consequence of having a remote-hogging, football mad husband, I spend a lot of time in the evenings trawling the net for cool things and I’ve compiled a handy list of the websites I think every mum should bookmark.
1. Find a forum. There are loads of these out there and my personal favourite is iVillage, although I also like Babycentre for its regular updates on your baby’s development both pre and post natal. There’s also Mumsnet, Netmums…the list goes on. Most of these will allow you to sign up to your ‘birth club’ which means you can find a group of mums at the same stage of pregnancy or with a child the same age which is fantastic when it comes to getting advice on common problems and worries that crop up. Lots of people look down their noses at these sites but personally I have found genuine support and even friendship through using them – plus it means you can quickly get advice from a wide range of viewpoints, 24 hours a day. Many also have specific boards to help out with everything from breastfeeding to special needs and more. You may find you have to try out a few forums before you find one you like, with a group of people you like – and be warned, sometimes arguments and even feuds like the now infamous Mumsnet disputes do happen. But if you find a group of like-minded mums prepared to share the benefit of their experience without any of the playground nonsense, that forum will be worth its weight in gold.
2. Mothercare is an obvious one but nonetheless essential. They offer everything from Tens machine hire to baby clothes, furniture, equipment and toys and I cannot recommend their online service highly enough. Products are always good quality and well priced, and although there are better bargains to be had elsewhere the site more than makes up for this in terms of convenience. There’s even a parenting section with lots of useful advice, and you can sign up to receive newsletters and special offers relevant to your child’s age.
3. If you’re breastfeeding, Kellymom is an absolute godsend and has information on practically every question or concern you could ever have from advice on common problems to reassurance that you and your baby are perfectly normal! The La Leche League website doesn’t have as much info online although it’s still pretty good and has the added benefit of online help forms and telephone numbers for LLL support workers.
4. Blooming Marvellous is one of my favourite websites because in addition to well-priced, practical products it also has some more exclusive ranges including bloom, OiOi, hotMILK feeding bras etc. Their maternity clothes are excellent and the range has been widely acclaimed in the fashion press for its good looks. The site is also packed with innovative ideas to make pregnancy and parenthood easier.
5. If you’re on a budget, Kiddicare is an absolute must. The site undoubtedly offers the lowest prices online for practically anything you could possibly need for your new arrival – they are especially good when it comes to getting a good deal on pram packages including car seats, footmuffs etc. with large savings to be made on high street prices. They have a vast stock and most items are available for immediate dispatch.
6. I’m the first to admit I’m a sucker for gimmicks and brand names but I make an exception for JoJo Maman Bebé. This is another great all-round destination for online baby shopping but what sets it apart for me is the sheer volume of clever products on offer – they’ve got everything you’ll need to see you through breastfeeding, weaning, holidays, potty training and beyond. They offer plenty of brand names but also have their own, cheaper takes on many of the popular products and the quality is really good. They also have great baby clothing basics and their maternity range is both stylish and practical. Also great for gifts.
7. There’s so much choice out there for parents that I often find it difficult to make a decision, especially when purchasing investment items like prams, car seats etc. Babyworld is an online parenting resource that includes forums, articles and even and online shop but for me it really comes into its own in terms of product reviews which are plentiful and comprehensive. If I’m buying something new I always make a point of checking it out here first.
8. Weaning can be a tricky time, especially for first time parents and I found Annabel Karmel’s books and website really helpful when getting started. There’s lots of nutritional info, advice on what your baby should be eating at various stages, tips on fussy feeders and of course recipes to try out. Over time we have found it easier to freeze portions of our food as cooking for the baby from scratch is time consuming, but I found Annabel’s recipes great when I first introduced proper food and I still dip into them now and again when I have the time. The website also has lots of other information for expectant mums including diet, development etc.
9. Everybody needs a fashion fix now and again – even babies! I’ve been a fan of asos.com for a while and was delighted when they launched a kids section. There are big brand names and some lesser known gems to help your little one stand out from the crowd. Their beauty department also stocks a load of fabulous brands including two of my favourites for mums and babies – Mama Mio and Cowshed. Of course, it would be practically criminal not to have a browse on the womenswear section while you’re there…
10. Finally, another internet staple – Next. Before my son was born I swore I wouldn’t dress him from top to toe in Next clothing but I quickly realised that when it comes to finding trendy, top quality baby clothes that don’t cost the earth, there’s no better place. Their clothes wash like a dream, sizing is generous so my son gets good wear out of them and their customer service is practically faultless – fast delivery, easy returns, online account management – fab.
There are lots of things people don’t tell you about breastfeeding when you’re new to it. They don’t tell you about the toe-curling 10 seconds at the start of a feed, about the mortification of telltale wet patches on your t-shirt, or about the days when it feels like all you’ve done all day long is breastfeed. And they definitely don’t tell you that when you need quick, discreet access to your boobs at any given moment, it’s a blimmin’ nightmare finding things to wear.
After the birth of my son, I surprised myself by fitting back into my jeans pretty quickly – but that was where the ’snapping back’ began and ended. With a pair of huge, overinflated milk tanks strapped to my chest I hadn’t a single non maternity top that would fit, never mind flatter. Shopping for new clothes was a nightmare – anything I could find that didn’t emphasise my flabby ‘mummy tummy’ didn’t have access for feeding, or vice versa. Add a couple of summer weddings into the mix and I was officially in fashion hell!
Over the 12 months that I breastfed, I did come up with some top tips for dressing when you’re feeding, without looking like a frumpy matron and without flashing your flesh to all and sundry every time the baby needs a snack…
1. A good nursing bra
I know I’ve said this before but a good bra really is the foundation of any outfit, even when you’re breastfeeding. Good support will lift and shape your breasts, making you look slimmer and feel more confident – so don’t be fobbed off with the flimsy ‘trainer bra’ styles offered by many retailers, especially if you’ve got bigger boobs. For everyday, I really loved Emma Jane bras when I was feeding, although I’ve recently heard great things about Freya as well. As well as good support it’s important that you can open and close the bra cups easily and discreetly, and that the openings give good access so your baby can latch on properly.
2. Breastfeeding vests and camisoles
After a good bra a selection of breastfeeding vests and tank tops is my number one must have for a breastfeeding mum. My main concern when breastfeeding in public wasn’t really exposing my breasts – it was exposing my saggy, post-baby belly, and having a vest with nursing clips or a double layer tank top was a perfect solution as I didn’t have to lift it up to feed. Depending on your personal style you can throw pretty much anything over the top – add a cute, fine-knit cardigan and sweet pumps for a classic, preppy look; throw on a check shirt and cowboy boots for a practical, dressed down feel or team with a skirt and fitted jacket for a more formal occasion. I preferred to wear things that buttoned down the front for really easy access but anything fairly loose over the top will work. If you do wear a jumper or even a t-shirt, the double layer tanks that you pop your boob through are probably easier than the ones with clips – too ugly to wear alone but super-convenient underneath other clothing. And speaking of the ones with clips, next time around I am definitely buying one of these – complete with a full, built in bra and plenty of elasticated support for wobbly bellies.
When I was shopping for the aforementioned summer weddings, it never even occured to me that I might find a dress I could breastfeed in, so I opted for a skirt/vest/cardigan combo (which worked fine), but since then I’ve realised that it’s possible to buy specially made nursing wrap dresses with concealed access at the front. There’s a very good reason why Diane Von Furstenburg got rich selling wrap dresses – they really can take you anywhere! Dress up with heels and costume jewellery for an evening out, wear black for work or team with leggings, pumps and this season’s shrunken denim jacket for instant daytime cool – a definite investment piece.
4. Pattern and colour
Colour and pattern are more important than you think when choosing your breastfeeding wardrobe. When buying foundation garments like bras and tank tops it’s best to choose staples such as black, white and nude as these can be teamed with many other garments to form the basis of a capsule wardrobe. These colours can be troublesome if worn on their own, however – white tends to be translucent which means that at best, people will see your breast pads, and at worst your boobs will leak rendering it totally see-through, while black is notorious for showing up milk stains and baby sick! For this reason I tried to make sure my outer layer was a more forgiving colour or pattern – so a white tank under a stripy cardigan, for example. Wearing colour is also a great way to lift your complexion, making you look and feel better even if you’re surviving on two hours’ sleep a night.
Whether you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, never underestimate the power of accessories. Maternity and nursing wear have come a long way but let’s face it, they’re hardly haute couture – and when practicality is your top priority, sometimes style has to take a back seat! Even the simplest of outfits can be brought to life with accessories and my all time favourite has to be the chunky necklace. A bold necklace can turn a simple jeans and t-shirt combination into something considerably more trendy, and if like me your lactating breasts rivalled the size of your head, it can also help to play down their size. For older babies, a chunky necklace is perfect for fiddling with as they feed, and this can help with a distractible feeder (of course, be careful they can’t pull bits off). A trendy scarf or pashmina is also a great accessory that can be worn all year round and doubles up as a handy cover-up if you need one. I must admit I steered away from statement earrings when I was breastfeeding as they got caught on everything and as Bubs got older they were just begging to be yanked. I also loved wearing chunky bracelets and bangles but found it best to wear ones that could be easily switched from one wrist to the other depending on which side I was feeding from – otherwise poor Bubs would end up with an impression of my jewellery in the back of his wee head! My final tip would be to invest in a gorgeous, oversized handbag – as a breastfeeding mum you don’t need to carry loads of ’stuff’ around with you – just a few nappies, some wipes and a muslin – so make the most of it! I bought one of these travel changing mats from OiOi and slotted it into a big, buttery leather handbag (granted, not the Mulberry one I really wanted) and for me this was a practical, stylish solution. If you really can’t survive without a nappy bag, make sure you pick a cool one that speaks to your personal style – remember, the bag is for you, not your baby! M&P do some nice ones, I am a big fan of SkipHop and even Next have got in on the act.