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Babies for Beginners by Roni Jay

Babies for Beginners

by Roni Jay

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My sister, somewhat amusingly, seems to be far more excited about my pregnancy than I am, and this book was one of her many baby-related gifts. (By the time the baby actually arrives I expect to be barricaded into my house by gifts and baby paraphernalia.)

The premise

The author starts from a position of absolute ignorance and, although I confess I’ve never read any of them, I imagine this guide to be similar in style to the ‘[insert noun or verb here] for dummies’ series. The idea is that it cuts through the swathes of advice new mothers (and fathers) to be will undoubtedly receive and ensure you understand the basics before the new arrival appears. The emphasis is on the basics and the book covers everything you might conceivably do with a baby from giving birth to feeding to weaning to teething in 24 short chapters. The book also aims to ‘explode myths’ around what is necessary and what isn’t when it comes to the mountains of baby related equipment available.

My thoughts

I was pleased to receive this as, at only 144 pages, it made the whole concept of having a child seem a lot more manageable. (I’m convinced I’ve seen longer instruction manuals for putting furniture together.)

I enjoyed the style of writing from the start. Jay’s tone is humorous and engaging, though I feel some readers could find it patronising. I think it is clear that she is joking when, for instance, she informs readers that the answer to a grubby baby is a bath, and as I am someone who can be quick to take offence but didn’t, I think most readers would accept that she is simply writing in a relaxed style. I found that this made the book a lot easier and pleasanter to read than some more strictly informative texts.

For each of the main chapters there is a ‘core objective’ to achieve and a ‘key focus’ within this. For instance, at bathtime the core objective is to clean the baby and the key focus is not to drown it. I enjoyed the style as I felt it helped me to feel more relaxed about the idea of completing these unfamiliar tasks in future. Each ‘task’ is broken down into steps, some of which appear ridiculously obvious, but, again, this approach made me feel more comfortable with whatever process was being discussed. Each stage comes with advice regarding why Jay is suggesting this step or completing steps in this order. I liked this approach as it allowed me to completely understand the logic behind what I was meant to be doing and decide what I would actually do.

I liked the idea of knowing what equipment was indispensable and what was optional. I quickly discovered that Jay takes this very literally and goes as far as suggesting in the ‘where to put the baby to sleep’ section that a drawer (opened, not closed!) could suit in a pinch or even the floor. I certainly didn’t feel pressured to buy a lot of stuff I didn’t need, but can’t quite imagine the reaction of my mother-in-law if I chose to use a drawer as my child’s first bed! I think that for cost-conscious or eco-friendly parents-to-be the book’s overall approach would be very helpful.

If, on the other hand, mum or dad-to-be is keen to splash the cash, they likely won’t find this guide helpful. Jay is very clear that the aim of this book is to provide an overview, so she discusses relevant decision-making features like cost, space and portability, but does not list and discuss individual bedding options or include reference to specific designs or styles. Of course, this information is readily available from other places and, given the changing nature of all trends, would be more usefully found in a leaflet than a book. This is the approach Jay adopts in every section, pointing out that a baby can easily be washed in a sink, and reminding the reader that babies coped perfectly well without vests for many years.

Jay assumes that new parents will be tired and busy but treats this with a brisk air that I personally found reassuring. Some points she makes are obvious but not things I had thought about (such as a baby not actually distinguishing between day and night initially) and they helped me to feel more positively about the idea of being even more sleep deprived (I sleep badly already). I don’t mean that I’m looking forward to being kept up all night by a demanding baby, but that it is reassuring to know in advance that (a) the baby isn’t doing it to be mean and (b) it is perfectly acceptable to think in the depths of sleep deprivation that the baby is doing it to be mean. I felt that that Jay acknowledged the difficulties of parenting a newborn without making them seem unduly daunting.

There is a short introduction which is reassuring and focuses on developing confidence. I felt this was a good introduction to the book and did set my mind at ease somewhat. At the end there is an appendix called ‘things you don’t need to worry about’ which I found very helpful. Potential concerns, such as dry skin and fontanelles, are briefly explained and realistic guidance given. There is another appendix that lists the basic equipment you might need. This is organised into ‘essential stuff’ and ‘useful but not essential’. I liked this as it neatly summarised the advice given throughout the book and worked as a kind of checklist. I will definitely be referring to this in the coming months. Finally, there is a one page ‘final word’ which finishes the book in the style it began: reassuring and gently humorous. I liked the way the book was structured and that it maintained a consistent tone.

Each chapter begins with an amusing picture of some sort, complete with annotations like ‘don’t expect this bit to straighten’ and ‘keep this part at the top’. I felt that the pictures helped to create the overall tone of good-humoured confidence when handling all things baby. The chapters are organised according to need, so obviously it starts with giving birth and holding the baby and only deals with teething towards the end. I felt that this was a useful approach as it seemed logical to have the ‘immediate’ needs assessed at the start of the book. Within chapters there are sub-headings and bullet points which again help to create the feeling that this is an organised and informative book, which in turn made me feel more organised and confident.


This might suit you if:
• You’re going to be a first time parent.
• You like to feel organised.
• You are cost or environment conscious and would like to minimise your expenditure.
• You want to know the basics with a bit of discussion around issues like breast feeding vs bottle feeding.

This probably won’t suit you if:
• You have already had a child.
• You are confident that your support network will guide you through all the relevant skills.
• You can’t wait to spend lots on toys and gadgets for your new addition.
• You want very detailed discussion of issues like breast feeding vs bottle feeding including anecdotal experience.

Personally I found this reassuring and will be referring to it again nearer the time to help me stay feeling confident and prepared.

The RRP is £7.99 and I think, on balance, that it is worth this, especially as a sturdy cover means I think it will last well, but I am sure it will be available for less from the usual places. ( )
  brokenangelkisses | Aug 6, 2012 |
As a first-time mother of a newborn I found this book far too flippant in tone to enjoy. I understand that it's 'shtick' might be a light-hearted tone of "don't worry, it's impossible to get things too wrong", but for me at this time I wanted books that would give practical solutions to whatever baby-related problem/ crisis(!) I was facing.

I would recommend this only as a stocking-fillerish pregnancy gift- to reassure expectant parents that overall things aren't going to be too bad for them; but as a serious "handbook" that you come back to again & again this is nowhere near. ( )
  babyhomer | Jun 8, 2011 |
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From bedtime to bathtime, mealtime to playtime, this book explores the myths around each aspect of babycare and explains which bits of each exercise are really necessary, and which are luxuries; which pieces of equipment are essential, and which you can do without. Its humour and honesty help take the stress out of looking after a new baby and enjoy this time before they grow up. Including step-by-step guides, everything from holding the baby to figuring out how to play with it, is made easy and straightforward.… (more)

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