Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Getting Ready for the Birth

As the site enters the final stages of development I feel at least ten months pregnant with the project, I am reflecting on preparations for giving birth. This weekend we went to the most amazing wedding of a great friend - whose new wife is beautiful, wise, kind and blissfully pregnant.

How do you prepare for the birth of a baby? I have a theory about books: we read different baby manuals until we find one that fits our preconceptions and then use the book to justify our parenting style. The only concern could be that books can instill us with fear and protocol at the expense of instinct and listening to our babies' individual needs. The good news is that, somewhere out there, you will find a book that you think is written for you, whether it is about strict routine or attachment parenting.

A few pieces of essential reading are for Mums how to detect the fatal childbed fever and for Babies and how to minimise the risk of cot death.

Next come the lists of 'necessary' equipment, bells, whistles and gizmos that help us with parenting. I remember going through a list and naively checking off all the bits and pieces as I bought them thinking that this was preparation for motherhood. Hold on... the list is the same if you are giving birth in the summer or the winter, whether you live in the city and have no car or if you live in the country and need to drive to the local shops. If nothing else, the best advice I would give is that you can stage what you buy over many months, until you know what you really need. What good is a stair gate for an immobile babe in arms, it will only be useful when you your baby starts to move around and essential when you have a toddler and stairs. I don't want to discourage, just empower. Have fun, enjoy: being a Mum is GREAT!

What were our most useful buys?
A selection of basic organic cotton vests and babygrows. You are rarely given the basics, but you may receive a wardrobe full of cute outfits from friends and family, either new or from those with older kids keen for a clear out.

Muslins. Essential kit for a variety of purposes! If you are using them to swaddle your baby you can buy extra large ones that are said to be fantastic. While on the subject, swaddling can be a great way to make a newborn feel secure; either you can use a muslin or you can buy purpose designed swaddling robes (Grobag, for example, sell one).

Crib. Do you want to go straight for a cot, or can you delay that purchase while you use a crib in the early months? Either way, a new mattress is strongly recommended as this leaflet from FSID (Foundation for the Study of Infant Deaths) details. Our family have shared a crib so all we did was buy a new mattress and waited a few pay packets before buying a cot. Even Mothercare sell a cardboard eco-crib for under £30 that seems to be well reviewed. Friends seem to be split as to whether a Moses basket is useful or not, but we all agree that the two cotton cellular blanket can be a waste of money if you either have a summer baby or go straight to sleeping bags.

Bathroom goodies? I never used a baby bath or bath mitt and many of the toiletries stood idle for months. Baby powder? Er, no. Initially babies need just a wipe down with water and a bowl is more than adequate, in case you thought that purpose designed top and tail basin would provide the meaning of life or wanted to buy shampoo for a bald newborn. Get your nappy rash cream and that should do you, initially.

How about bottles and breastpads. Well, obviously if you are planning to breastfeed don't finance a major sterilisation unit! There seems to be a war being waged between the two camps: lactivists (great name, huh? it is the term coined for promoters of breast feeding) being blamed for putting pressure on vulnerable new Mums versus the scary power of the multinational formula manufacturers. Breast feeding IS best for Mum and child - but it is can be a struggle and it is down to the individual to decide if it is too much; for some making a decision to give up has helped them form a more rewarding relationship with their babies, which is ultimately what it is all about. I was fortunate that my daughter latched on immediately and saved me the hassle of ever having to sterilise a bottle without even thinking of the health and financial implications. It is worth mentioning that La Leche league is one of many organisations that can offer support enabling Mums to breastfeed with confidence. I am delighted to have a breastfeeding scarf on the site that is quickly gaining a reputation amongst celebs and mortals alike for being indispensable for offering 'support, discretion and style' and at under £20 is within reach of most people's budgets and is cheaper than many breast feeding cushions.

Toys? Books? Okay, not essential for the first weeks, but they are always fun to buy and if you can get your babe into the habit of snuggling into Mum with a book it is setting the pattern for a rewarding life ahead. Remember, black and white shapes are the starting blocks for vision and communication and you could then build up to Austen and Quantum Physics in your own time. The one thing that I would recommend is a good mobile. If Sarita worked herself into a real pickle our musical mobile could really soothe her, much to our surprise. Some kids love those little bouncing cradles, which range in price from about £12 to the serious all singing all dancing, rocking, soothing tea making versions (well, maybe they don't make tea).

How about chairs? Wait until they are a little older before even thinking about high chairs. Our generation of Mums rushed out to buy Bumbos and some loved them, but I'm glad we borrowed one from the toy library to establish that it was not to Sarita's liking. Push chairs require much more investigation! What is your lifestyle? I know many Mums who bitterly regret the pushchairs and travel systems that they have bought. If you won't need a car seat and have not had a Cesarean you may prefer just to buy a really good sling (we sell Funky Slings and Sling Easy) while you make up your mind about what you want long term. There are so many decisions: forward facing / rear facing, three wheel or off road, compact verses robust. As this is probably the single most expensive bit of kit, do as much research as you can. Please remember that second hand car seats are not recommended and you should ensure that the seat fits your car, so get it properly fitted.

Nappy Bags? I struggled over this one. A small towel and a well loved bag should be all you need. As I never found the ideal bag I am delighted to have found what I think could be the ultimate bag for the site (this image here does not begin to do it justice).

We used a combination of eco nappies (such as Moltox) and washables. It is not for everybody, but it saved us tonnes of money and ultimately helped encourage potty training. There is such a huge range of nappies available and we tried a few, coming back to TotsBots in the end as convenient and comfortable; Twinkle on the Web seems to have a VAST selection as well as a Nappy Finder to help you choose. On an 'eco' note you may like Cheeky Wipes, a really well thought out alternative to disposable wet wipes. I don't want to preach as I know that you are intelligent enough to work out what will work for you! Besides, the irony of our choice to use washable nappies made me laugh when on the beach in Spain while visiting the in-laws; I turned to DH and said proudly that the money we had saved by using washable nappies had paid for the trip...I am not sure about how my carbon footprint fared when we work out nappies versus our flights there.

There are so many things that you can buy; remember freecycle, and eBay as affordable alternatives. There is very little that is essential, apart from love. But, yes, having a child is also a great way to have serious retail therapy and be assured that, as it is not for you personally, you can feel virtuous in the process. If you are having a baby shower or want to give hints that have the subtlety of a sledge hammer you can always make a gift list - the fun bit that we have added at MOIXX is that if any of your friends and/or family are also registered on our site you can check out each other's lists Facebook style.

Chocolate and biscuits...somebody remember to pamper the Mum! You are wonderful and just given birth to an amazing new child. I hope that you are doing fantastically and blossoming in your new role.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Who becomes a Mother of Innovation?

How do we choose what goes onto the site? The most stringent rule is that the goods must be produced by Mums, Dads, Grandparents or carers (we could not rule Nannies could we?). I was amazed by the steep learning curve of being a Mum, but soon every Mum works out products, methods and routines that can make their lives easier. It is this knowledge that can make a great product. There are so many amazing Mothers of Innovation it seems only right to bring their great ideas together. There is an amazing vibrancy to products conceived through necessity, rather than plotted in the board room.

The second criterion is would we buy it? We don't ask 'does it look nice,' but whether we would part with our 'hard earned' for it? I am a working Mum - I do not have a tribe of nannies and staff running around after me - I am juggling Mothers of Innovation, being a Mum and a tight budget; I need to be sure that I need a product before I part with my cash and assume that our discerning customers will feel the same way.

A product that you can safely say will never appear on our site is Heelarious - 'hilarious' high heal shoes for babies at $35 a pop. Okay, they may sell well for that ickle baby who has everything but...work it out for yourself.

Quality is important to us too. The worst part of this job is having to turn down potential suppliers where we can see quality issues. Not only is this important to shoppers, but I think unless we kept the quality threshold high for all Mothers of Innovation suppliers, it would be unfair to those with inconsistent standards, particularly to those suppliers who put time, effort and energy into quality control.

We are not necessarily looking for niche products, but we must appreciate that we can not compete with the volume / discount retailers. So if your toddler is just starting potty training and you need a multi-pack of underwear in a hurry we would not be your ideal shopping destination. However, if you have concerns about the potty training process and leaks on your furniture, Sussex Mum Jen has come up with the Buppy Pad that you can buy from our site.

Does that mean that products must only be hand made by Mums at home? Absolutely not! Our main criteria is to offer great products designed by those who know best - whether by an award winning Mumpreneur with carefully vetted supply structure or a great start up business. We are only looking for goods with something a little extra, that will make you delighted that we have tracked them down.

Looking at the site you have probably spied our search banner that enables more value based searches; you may want to search for Fairly Traded products or Organic T-shirts. While we are not primarily an ethical retailer, we appreciate that it is important to make informed decisions. Anecdotally we are hearing that more and more people are questioning where products are being made and in what conditions; we also know that certain products would never make it to market if they had to be made locally. By labelling things clearly you can set your own ethical criteria without us preaching at you - making the site happy and friendly for workers, suppliers and customers alike.

Whatever you can see now on the site is part of a work in progress. We will be adding things constantly as we search out the best products for families. We want to make sure that we have our favourite products in any category and will avoid having pages of similar ideas.

There are still plenty more things that we would love to see on the site - a world peace machine, a solar powered magic wand (that works) and that essential extra hour in the day. If you have any thoughts as to what else we need, or if you have the product to combat parenting conundrums, please let us know.

Wednesday, 3 June 2009


As readers of the blog may know, getting this site up and running has been a long and drawn out affair with endless false starts and many technical lurches. I have entered, re-entered, checked, lost the plot and rehashed a few times.

The easy way to have set up the site would have been to have bought / subscribed to a shiny bit of software or shop service and I would be earning as I type. That would be too simple, and also potentially limiting in the long term. We are building a site that offers huge flexibility and has SEO (search engine optimisation) built into the fabric of the design. (I will update this blog honestly to tell you if this strategy pays off.)

I have learnt so much along the way, how to think around issues and how, most importantly, to think like a computer. Now tell me, did you ever think that would be an attribute? I have gone from aspiring to be broad minded to thinking binary.

The one sanity crutch that I have had is my Masterplan. Everything, yes, everything gets added to a spreadsheet that links all ideas together. Years ago I was trained by M&S buyers on their fool proof administration systems and it still works for me.

Initial brainstorming went down on the masterplan with ideas, thoughts and 'lets pick up on this later' entries; this was formatted into a schematic. Next, the all important key words were added on another sheet, built into phrases, then linked with the schematic. Then text was linked then references overlaid. Any information I needed was saved in this hallowed masterplan. It is a spiders web of sheets, building up ideas, contacts, references and text.

When things go wrong this has been critical! Lost a whole heap of data? no problem, it is saved in there. Three months down the line forgotten the rationale for a then important decision, again, refer to the plan and the confusion unravels.

Does this mean that I have a spotless desk and a cross referencing filing system? Well, if dusty piles intermingles with toys and half working pens is spotless - erm, no, I think I can safely say my desk is NOT spotless. However, if you have a methodical framework then you are more prepared for the chaos that inevitably gets thrown at you by life. How am I sure? Check any Mum's handbag: it may look random but that fruit bar with a rumpled wrapper and the scuffed pencils at the bottom have been known to salvage a bleak outlook. Okay, that analogy is not thinking like a computer, but it does illustrate that having lots of useful stuff to hand can save the day provided it is in a format you can cope with.