A blog by Dr Lin Day



Cost-cutting Tips for New Parents

xpectant parents can spend thousands of pounds on baby clothes, toys and other essentials before the birth. However, as many experienced parents will know, most items can be obtained at little or no expense and without depriving babies of anything that they really need.

With help from friends and family, and a little creativity, new parents can get by on even the strictest budget. The following 20 top tips may save you a fortune:

  • Don’t buy a bigger car. All that you need is a back seat for your baby.
  • Aim to breast feed your baby. This is not only good for your baby, but it also saves money on formula milk and other sterilising gear.
  • Before buying baby clothes, toys and other items, invite your friends around for a baby shower. Keep the tags and receipts so that you can exchange unwanted gifts for things that you want or need.
  • Borrow the cot, pram, baby bath and other essential items from friends who have had babies.  Most will be more than willing to free up space in their homes. There is no need to buy a cot or high chair until your baby needs them.
  • Search out classified advertisements, car boot and NCT sales, charity shops and eBay.co.uk for toys, cots, prams and other large items. Most are in pristine condition and will cost a fraction of their original price.
  • Buy second-hand baby clothes. Because babies grow out of them so quickly, they are usually in mint condition.
  • Invest in reusable nappies. They are better for the environment and washing them in a machine is easy. If you decide not to use cloth nappies, chose biodegradable, sustainable disposables made from naturally derived materials such as maize. They are free from dyes and chemicals, and manufactured in a responsible manner that is mindful of the environment. Look out for the Nordic Eco-label. Buying them in bulk can save money and you may gain a few extras free.
  • There is no need to spend money on decorating your baby’s nursery. Within the next year or so, you will be redecorating it again. If you don’t want to miss out on the fun, choose a neutral colour and put up some bright pictures to visually stimulate your baby.
  • Cut and hem bed sheets for cot and pram bedding. As a general guide, a cot is half the size of a single bed and a pram is about a quarter the size.
  • Avoid buying things that you don’t need straight away. You could end up with items that you never use. Once your baby has arrived, you will probably find that friends and family have bought most of the things that you need anyway.
  • Look out for special offers, competitions and coupons online. There are plenty of sites that offer free baby things.
  • Avoid spending money on expensive baby toys. Safe household objects such as plastic measuring cups and spoons or a plastic spatula will provide just as much interest.
  • Draw black outlines of faces on white paper and laminate family photographs. After the birth, they will keep your baby stimulated, happy and entertained.
  • Use a dressing table as a changing area for your new baby. A soft blanket will serve as a changing pad and rubber underlay will keep it in place.
  • Make your own sling or baby pouch. There are plenty of sewing instructions that can be downloaded from the Internet.
  • There is no need to buy a baby bouncer or support seat. Your newborn baby will gain more benefit from lying face down on a soft blanket or quilt during supervised waking hours. Toys can be sewn along the sides for extra interest.
  • Make full use of the library for music and books and free story time for babies. The free Bookstart ‘Babies pack’ is available to babies in their first year, and can be obtained from healthcare professionals or local libraries.
  • Share your favourite music with your baby before and after the birth. It is well known that newborn babies are soothed by the sounds that they heard in utero.
  • To keep your baby clean, all that you need is a good supply of cotton wool and warm water. A large bowl or sink will be ideal for bathing your baby.

Safety

It is worth investing in a good quality car seat and cot mattress. You need to be completely sure that a second hand car seat has not been damaged in an accident and that the fixtures and inside are safe. If you know the history of a second hand cot mattress, and you are sure that it has been stored well, that it is firm and without marks or stains, it might be safe to use. However, if you are in any doubt, buy a new one.

A new breast pump is an essential purchase. A second hand pump may contain dangerous organisms from the previous user.

Check that the brakes on a second hand pushchair or pram work properly. They must meet the latest safety standards.

Check that second hand toys bear the CE or Lion mark and that they do not have finger traps, magnets, buttons, beads, small parts or sharp points that could present a serious hazard.  If the toy fits through a kitchen roll cylinder then it is not safe. Toys that have long cords should also be avoided, since they can cause strangulation.

Avoid buying second hand mains powered electrical items or clothes with a drawstring neck.
If you do have doubts about the safety of a second hand item, carry out an online search to be sure that it is not a recalled product.

Your Baby’s first Easter

Your baby may be too young to decorate a hard-boiled egg or go on an egg hunt, but there are still plenty of ways to make Easter an educational and enjoyable event. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
Hide and seek
One of the best games to play with your baby is ‘peek-a-boo’ or ‘hide-and-seek’. It’s traditional, simple to organise, educational and lots of fun.

To develop your baby’s thinking, memory and hand-eye coordination skills, hide a plastic egg under a cloth or cup. Say “Where’s the egg?” If your baby is at the reaching and grasping stage, she will look for it, even though it is out of sight. From the age of nine months, your baby may deliberately prolong the fun by hiding the object for you to discover.

If you have a spare tissue box, fill it with Easter ribbons or brightly coloured fabrics. Your baby will delight in pulling out the materials one by one. She will also discover that when you put the materials back in the box, they continue to exist even though they are hidden from view.

Easter puppets

A rabbit puppet and a pop-up frog are wonderful hide and seek toys. They provide a wealth of learning opportunities from visual stimulation to speech and language development. They also encourage rich parent-baby interactions and the element of surprise that babies love so much.

Easter books

Three-dimensional books with large, brightly coloured illustrations, textured materials and hide-and-seek pictures that encourage interaction make great Easter presents for babies. Your baby may investigate the properties of a texture with her finger tips or turn the pages to discover something new. Your voice and facial expressions will capture your baby’s interest and attention and liven up her experience of the world. Best of all, your baby will enjoy cuddling up to you, which has a huge impact on her future learning and development. Research shows that babies who are regularly cuddled have bigger brains than babies who are deprived of close loving physical contact.

Easter treasure basket 

Line a shallow basket with a soft bunny blanket and fill it up with Easter-themed objects such as a plastic egg, a textured book, a soft toy rabbit, lamb or duck and a mealtime set. Include a toy that your baby can safely chew on.

When your baby explores the objects, she will find out about weight, size, shape, taste, smell, sound and temperature. Every time a new object is explored, highly sensitive nerve endings in the skin will send messages to her brain. In this way, information is collected that will lead to the later recognition of objects.

Easter songs

Focus on Easter songs such as ‘Peter Rabbit’ and ‘5 little Ducks’. Even if your baby cannot understand the words, she will enjoy the sound of your voice and your facial gestures and body movements. These time-honoured songs have a repetitive theme, which help to establish a sense of order (mathematical reasoning) and a sense of security. They also provide a powerful stimulus in terms of language and social development.

Easter games

A simple activity such as rolling a plastic egg across the floor will encourage a whole range of mobility skills as well as hand-eye coordination and sensory exploration. When your baby is a little older, you can sit on the floor and roll the egg back and forth or roll it down a slope for your baby to catch. An egg that makes playful sounds will provide an endless source of amusement and fun. Best of all, your quality interactions will make a huge difference to your baby’s emotional development and learning.

Nesting eggs

Towards the end of the first year, your baby will enjoy activities that encourage use of the pincer grip. A multi-coloured nesting egg set for example, provides a wonderful, educational opportunity. When your baby tries to nest the eggs, she will learn about size and space, which forms the foundation for mathematical and spatial awareness. These skills will stand her in good stead for the future.

Easter outing

The spring air provides the perfect opportunity to tantalise your baby’s sense of smell. The fragrance of flowers, cut grass, new leaves growing and the smell of rain will help your baby learn about the world. Fresh air contains high levels of negative ions that can have a positive impact on your baby’s health and brain function. Sunlight provides Vitamin D that your baby needs to grow strong, healthy bones and offers protection from a number of common ailments and disorders.

Activities that the whole family can enjoy together might include a visit to the river or pond to see the ducklings, a trip to a farm to see the baby animals or the excitement of an Easter party, which includes relatives and close friends. Avoid dressing up as the ‘Easter Bunny’ since the costume might unsettle or even frighten your baby.

Capture the occasion

To mark the occasion, dress your baby in an Easter-themed outfit. Your baby will look adorable in a bunny costume. Capture the moment on camera. A photograph will provide a fond memory of your baby’s first Easter for many years to come.

Further reading:

Day RL (2012) Bringing Easter to life. Early Years Educator 13 (12): 23-25.

Music and Prenatal Bonding

Research shows that exposing the foetus to music early on can make a dramatic difference to the development of the prenatal brain and the bonding process before and after the birth.

At what week of gestation does a baby start to hear?

The structural parts of the ear develop in the first 20 weeks of gestation. The auditory part of the brain becomes functional at about 25 weeks gestation (second trimester) and continues to develop up to 6 months after the birth. During the second trimester, the foetus responds with rhythmic swimming or kicking movements to sounds from the outside environment. From 32 weeks gestation, the foetus responds to the mother’s voice and to the pitch and pattern of a simple melody. In the last trimester, the auditory pathways become increasing refined and the foetus responds with sensitivity to new sounds and rhythms. At full-term, the sense of hearing is remarkably well developed, which enables the baby to process auditory information from the moment of birth.

What sort of music should you play to your unborn baby?

During early pregnancy, low sounds with pitch or frequency around middle C, such as the mother’s voice and classical music penetrate the womb more easily than higher frequencies. At 30 to 40 weeks’ gestation, the baby’s hearing will be fine-tuned to distinguish between sounds that vary in frequency from rock and roll music, to pop, jazz and swing. The choice of music depends entirely on the mother’s taste, but excessively loud noises can induce hearing loss and other health effects.

Note: during pregnancy, head phones must never be placed on the mother’s abdomen. Sound at 60 dB (sound pressure measured in decibels) will be heard by the foetus at 120 dB. Exposure at this level will destroy hair cells in the inner ear and significantly interfere with auditory development.

Do babies recognise certain tunes?

Foetal studies show that the theme tune of a TV programme played regularly during pregnancy reinforces functional memory. When played after the birth, babies stop crying, open their eyes and relax their muscles. Their heart rate also decreases on hearing the same tune. This is why white noise, which imitates the ‘shish’ sound that the foetus hears constantly in the womb, is particularly comforting to the newborn.

The earliest response to a familiar tune has been demonstrated at 22-23 weeks of gestational age and seems to occur earlier in females than in males. At 37 weeks of gestation, the foetus shows a significant increase in movements on hearing a familiar tune. However, when exposed to a strange voice, rhythm or tone, the foetal heartbeat increases. This indicates that learning and memory ability occurs before birth.

How does playing music benefit your unborn baby? 

Recent research demonstrates that musical capabilities are found in infants who have been exposed to music during foetal life. When a tune is played regularly, the foetus forms a memory of the sound patterns that echo through the womb, which may be retained for several weeks after the birth. Classical music, lullabies and songs that mimic the mother’s heart rate of 60 beats per second, will have an immediate and calming effect on the foetus. Music with a strong beat may speed up the baby’s heart rate and kicking may become more vigorous. As suggested above, excessively loud external noises should be avoided since these can be detrimental to the baby’s hearing.

Are there any benefits for the mother?

Elevated levels of stress during pregnancy are associated with maternal complications such as pre-eclampsia (pregnancy induced hypertension), premature birth and sleep disorders. There is plenty of evidence to suggest that music has a powerful anti-stress effect on the mother. Slow paced notes can elevate mood, reduce high blood pressure and make the process of labour a more enjoyable experience. Listening to a soothing piece of music can provide an opportunity for the mother to unwind and put her feet up, which also has a positive effect on the foetus. When the mother is calm and relaxed, the rhythmic motion of her breathing slows down foetal heart rate and reduces any potentially harmful effects to the baby’s brain and overall development.

How can music help a mum bond with her unborn baby?

Early listening to music can create an environment in which the mother and her unborn baby feel relaxed and peaceful together. Rocking or swaying to music for example, can synchronise maternal and foetal movements and promote the development of an attachment bond. If the mother talks, sings or reads to her baby, the foetus will turn in the direction of her voice. Turn-taking is a fundamental advancement in communication between the mother and her unborn baby. Such early interaction plays a vital role in the bonding process when mother and baby meet for the first time.

Further reading

Day RL (2008) Babies are so clever. Early Years Educator 9 (9): 24-26.

Confinement

In the 19th century, pregnancy and childbirth were the main causes of death in women. It is hardly any wonder that Victorian women were frightened at the thought of being pregnant!

To protect them from ill health, women were deterred from leaving their homes during the final stages of pregnancy. Exercise, walking or moving about, were discouraged to prevent muscle weakening. Bathing was disapproved of and sex was strictly forbidden. The ideal confinement involved lying on the back in bed covered with blankets. The curtains were drawn, or the windows were guarded with shutters, to exclude fresh air. Diet consisted of tea and other warm liquids and very little solid food. All these factors increased the risk of mortality during childbirth.

There is no evidence to suggest that confinement reduces the incidence of maternal mortality. In fact, regular bathing ensures good personal hygiene and it reduces the incidence of skin infection. Exercise increases blood flow to the uterus and it aids postpartum recovery. A well-balanced diet ensures adequate nutrition for the mother and the baby. An afternoon nap or walk in the fresh air can help to recharge batteries. Thankfully, modern mums find confinement practices too old-fashioned and restrictive!

Dads and Bonding

What are the benefits for baby of dad getting ‘hands on’ and bonding from day one?

Fathers, who are involved with the pregnancy, hold their babies close or skin-to-skin contact immediately after the birth, and share routine activities with the mother such as feeding and changing, bathing and bedtime have a better chance of bonding with them. The most important factor in creating attachment is close physical contact.

Fathers who devote quality time to their babies and respond sensitively to their needs give them a far greater chance of becoming confident, optimistic, motivated, healthy children. The father’s attention, warmth, and affection can also have a major influence on their emotional and social well-being and academic achievement in later life. Therefore, it is essential for dads to spend time with their babies from the very beginning. Dads also develop lifelong bonds with their babies that cannot be formed in any other way.

Is it true that it’s chemically bonding and stress reducing for the father to spend time with his baby?

Close physical contact is the simplest and most effective way for fathers to chemically bond with their babies. Cuddling, skin-to-skin contact and massage releases oxytocin, a hormone that reduces stress and heightens his feelings towards his baby. Oxytocin has been called the ‘bonding’ hormone for its role in facilitating pair-bonding and long-term attachment. It can cause permanent beneficial brain changes in both the father and the baby.

Frequent proximity and touch between the father and baby can stimulate a surge of opioids (pleasure hormones), which act as buffers against stress. Opioid release in the baby can also be promoted by the smell of his aftershave, his voice and facial expressions and his hugs and kisses. Quality interactions with the baby also increase production of the hormone vasopressin, which promotes bonding and increases the father’s drive to stay at home with his family. For this reason, it is often described as the ‘monogamy’ hormone.

Do dads bond or play with babies differently to mums?

 

Mothers and fathers bring different strengths and styles to their parenting roles. Both roles complement each other and are important for the healthy development of the baby. For example, dads may encourage physical skills such as crawling, climbing and walking and provide stimulating interaction such as tickling and teasing. Mothers however, are more likely to offer comfort and protection from harm, which offers reassurance and security. The father’s style of talking may also be more brief and directive than the mother’s, whose language may be softer and more descriptive. Both styles of interaction are critical for development.

Studies have shown that girls who grow up with a loving, involved father are more likely to have healthy and emotionally balanced relationships with males in later life. Boys who grow up with a loving, involved father are more likely to behave less aggressively because they have been shown how to channel their masculinity in positive ways.

 

Babies who have benefited from paternal interactions from an early age get on better with their peers, are academically more successful, stay in school longer, use drugs and alcohol less frequently and are less likely to get involved with crime. They may also be better equipped socially and psychologically than children who receive very little attention from their fathers.

Some dads claims babies are a bit ‘boring’ or don’t really do anything at the early stage. What can dads do to enhance their baby’s development and make play fun?

Research consistently shows that the quality and content of involvement is far more important than the quantity of time that dads spend with their babies. Through quality interactions, dads can develop a special relationship with their babies and provide rich opportunities for learning and development.

Dads can add to baby development in a unique, fun and important way. For example, they can encourage exploratory skills by building mountains with pillows and by making dens and tunnels with boxes. Dads can also channel their own and their baby’s energies by engaging in musical activities with pots, pans and wooden spoons and through rough-housing activities such as tickling, bouncing and lifting them up into the air.

Dads can expand their baby’s horizons by playing with toys in non-traditional ways. For example, they can put a toy on their head, play peek-a-boo with the newspaper or throw a cushion instead of sitting on it. Dads can show their babies how a new toy works or get involved in activities such as rolling a ball back and forth.

Other types of play that dads enjoy might include a trip to the zoo or the beach, taking their babies swimming or to the park, going on a nature walk and involving them in outside activities such as sweeping up leaves, watering plants and going on a night time adventure with a flashlight. Babies also know that dads are fun to be with.

For the dad who finds it difficult to know what to say, reading a sporting or gardening magazine provides a wonderful opportunity for babies to cuddle close, to look at the pictures and to listen to the sound of his voice.

What are the positive or even down sides of paternal bonding?

Fathers are just as essential to healthy child development as mothers. However, the key factor in the father’s level of paternal involvement is the mother’s attitude about his competence in care-giving and comfort. Her willingness to share the care of the baby is the most important factor in determining his future involvement.

Further reading

Day RL (2008) Forming a loving bond. Early Years Educator 10 (2): 32-34.

Day RL (2008) Gender differences. Early Years Educator 10 (7): 28-30.

Day RL (2009) Fathers in childcare. Early Years Educator 11 (3): 37-39.

Day RL (2010) Universal play for babies. Early Years Educator11 (12): 48-50.

What’s in a Nappy Wipe?

If your baby suffers from nappy rash, eczema, dermatitis or allergies, anti-bacterial preservative methylisothiazolinone may be the culprit. If used on your baby’s face, the preservative can cause itchy eyes and facial swelling. In 2013, the American Contact Dermatitis Society identified the chemical as the ‘Allergen of the Year’.

Due to increasing health concerns, many manufacturers of nappy wipes are under serious pressure to remove methylisothiazolinone from their products. The problem is that even if the chemical is removed, other preservatives that prevent the growth of bacteria will be included.

In addition to methylisothiazolinone, nappy wipes may contain methylparaben, ethylparaben, butylparaben, propylparaben or other ingredients ending with ‘parben’. These preservatives can affect reproductive development and damage organs when absorbed through your baby’s skin.

While nappy wipes are super-convenient for cleaning up after your baby, the following alternatives are much safer:

  • Cotton balls dipped in warm water.
  • Wet paper towels or tissues.
  • Washable terry towelling, fleecy cotton or flannel squares moistened with water.
  • Washed nappy wipes.

If you find nappy wipes too convenient to resist, only use them for travelling, and dispose of them in a waste bin. Alternatively, take a small bottle of water with you, tissues, towels or cotton wool.

Environmental concerns

Although it is the effect on babies that concerns us most, the Daily Mail ‘How wet wipes are destroying the planet’ (20th March 2015), reported that wipes, including ‘flushable’ and ‘biodegradable’ ones tossed down the loo, can block sewage pipes and cause raw sewage to flood into nearby homes, gardens and parks. Wipes can also float about in the seas for years endangering marine life before reaching the coastline. The Marine Conservation Society said that volunteers pick up them up at a rate of 35 wipes per kilometre. Wipes are currently the fastest growing cause of pollution on UK beaches.

According to the market analysts Euromonitor, between 1,500 and 2,250 nappy wipes are used per child from birth until age three in the UK alone.  When they end up in landfill sites, the synthetic fibres can take a hundred or more years to break down. In septic tanks, the chemicals and preservatives can kill beneficial bacteria and enzymes, which break down solid waste.

Washable, chlorine-free cloths or reusable wipes are much safer for your baby. They don’t contain any harsh chemicals or preservatives. They are also biodegradable and they don’t leave a footprint on the planet.

If you are set on the disposable route, wash the chemicals out under warm running water before use. If the wipes are not soiled, they can be rinsed through the washing machine, dried and stored in a plastic tub until needed.

Further reading

Day RL (2008). The chemical evolution. Early Years Educator 10 (4): 24-26.

Day RL (2010). Chemical evolution 2. Early Years Educator 11 (7): 31-33.

Bonding before Birth

Some parents feel connected to their unborn baby as soon as the pregnancy is confirmed or after the first antenatal visit. For others, the emotional bond develops more gradually.

Between 10 and 12 weeks gestation, the foetal heartbeat, which resembles the hoof beats of a galloping horse, can be heard clearly. Listening to the sound can be a very moving experience for the parents. It also provides reassurance that all is well. For many fathers, the bonding process begins at this stage of the pregnancy.

An ultrasound scan at 12 weeks builds up an early image of the foetus. The baby’s hands and feet can be seen, and the eyes, ears and genitalia are in place, but not completely formed. An early ultrasound scan is not 100% accurate and parents should not pin their hopes on having a boy or girl at this stage.

The immense pride in sharing ultrasound images with friends, family and work colleagues heighten emotional ties to the baby. Studies show that a clear demonstration of the baby’s face on the image is more important than any other anatomical part. Parents often say that they can see their baby as a ‘little person’.

At about 18 week’s gestation, the first foetal movements may be felt. As the weeks go by, the baby kicks the uterine wall, performs summersaults and pushes the mother’s abdomen, which provides reassurance of the developing baby’s health and growth. The father can also feel and see the baby kicking and turning inside the mother’s abdomen, which enhances his involvement and interest in the pregnancy.

At 20 weeks, the genitalia can be clearly seen on the ultrasound scan. For some parents, knowing the sex of their unborn baby can have a profound effect on their feelings, preparations and future expectations. However, the sonographer will not reveal the sex of the baby unless the parents wish to find out.

Research shows that from 14 weeks gestation, the baby responds to sounds and vibrations from the outside world. Heart rate slows down to the sound of the mother’s voice, which provides comfort and reassurance. In response to the voice of a stranger, heartbeat quickens and kicking becomes more vigorous. Knowing that the baby can hear and recognise familiar voices provides an incredible opportunity for the parents to read or sing to their unborn baby.

If the mother is stressed or anxious, foetal heart rate can double, but when she is calm and relaxed, the baby will be too. Relaxing to a favourite piece of music, massage, yoga, getting as much rest and sleep as possible, avoiding stressful situations and having fun with friends and family can help reduce maternal stress and benefit the baby at the same time.

In the third trimester, the baby responds to simple interaction games with the mother or father. For example, when the mother talks or sings a familiar rhyme, the baby may reciprocate with vigorous kicking movements. If a protruding foot is gently pressed, the baby may pull it back and then push it out again to get a reaction. Such responses heighten excitement and reinforce feelings towards the unborn baby.

Close to the birth, the baby sleeps for about 19 hours. Between frequent naps, the baby has an alert period, which generally occurs in the evening when the mother is resting. This provides an exciting opportunity for parents to talk, sing or play with their unborn baby.

Parental interactions during pregnancy facilitate attachment and perhaps even help parents to adapt to the role of parenthood. Forming an early relationship with the baby can also enrich the parents’ lives, and have a direct impact on the baby’s brain growth and developmental outcomes after the birth.

Further reading

Day RL (2014) Prenatal development. Early Years Educator16(6): 41-44.