Notes from an exhibition – thoughts from my very first baby show

This week I have officially had a New Experience. I went to my very first Baby Show. Yes I know, it is a bit late considering my children are now seven and fourteen, but I was working, not buying.

When my children I were babies I never really went in for Having To Have Lots Of Equipment. Pretty much everything I had for them was bought second hand or handed down from relatives who had boys. I liked to think I was challenging gender stereotypes by dressing them in a lot of blue, but basically I was just a bit poor. Or maybe mean. My two days spent at the ExCeL Baby Show though have made me realise I was right all along, and reinforced by long-held belief that babies really don’t need much more than a boob.

If you have never been to a Baby Show before, let me paint a picture for you…

Imagine yourself in a giant warehouse, an aircraft hanger, the air thick with pregnancy hormones and the cries of bored babies. The space is set out to keep you circling, wandering between stand after stand of colourful equipment you’ll never need, a never-ending maze of muslin from which there is no escape.

Ok, it isn’t really that bad, but you get the idea. Goodness knows how much the average new parent spends on ‘essentials’ for their baby, but judging from the prams piled high with goodies, it is quite a lot. And all the exhibitors are jostling for a slice, trying their damnedest to come up with the must-have product, the one thing that your baby really can’t do without. And the truth is that most babies can really do without most of it.

Of course there are a few things that really are simple, elegant solutions to real problems. The Cuddledry towel for instance, that simply fastens around your neck like an apron, leaving you two hands free to lift your wet, wriggly baby from the bath. Not that I’m at all biased – although I possibly should mention at this point that I was at the show working with Cuddledry…

Some things though are just making problems where there aren’t any, or trying to make a product out of nothing. I had a lovely demo from a woman selling what she maintained was a revolutionary cover up solution for breastfeeding women, allowing them to feed easily in public. As a breastfeeding counsellor, I was drawn in by the concept – anything that helps more women breastfeed is obviously great – and it wasn’t until I was walking away that I realised what she was actually selling. It was just a scarf, tied around your neck. A fairly thin, plain scarf at that. For sixteen quid. But even cynical old me had been temporarily ‘sold’ on the amazing, revolutionary, must-have breastfeeding scarf.

So the whole experience got me thinking, if you really break it down, what do babies and toddlers actually NEED? Are there any products at all that they simply can’t do without? Or is the whole industry built on fear and guilt, making women believe they will be bad parents if they don’t get a scary 3D scan, have their babies feet cast in coloured glass, or buy some kind of complicated pram system that they won’t even be able to get in the boot on their own?

Did you buy anything for your babies that you really loved and used? My one thing would probably be the hip seat from Hippychick – indispensable with Belle, who refused to leave my side for about two and a half years. Or maybe you were seduced into buying an ‘essential’ that turned out to be utter crap? I’d love to know what terrible products your baby-addled brain let you part with cash for…

Photo credit: maessive



  1. Chris
    20 February, 2010 / 10:09 am

    Hippy chick seat was a must with number 4, Wilkinet carrier with the other three and I am still passionately in love with my Fuzzi Buns nappies. My Mum bought us an unwieldy trendy pram for number one but I learned my lesson quickly and didn’t make the same mistake again, I sold it to another unsuspecting Mum (much to my shame…but apparently she like it!). Mine are now 13,12,10 and 4 and they don’t seem to have suffered from a lack of stuff!

  2. michelle shewring
    20 February, 2010 / 10:17 am

    Hey jo. I, well, my parents, spent a fortune on a pram, pushchair, car seat, tank thing and the only bit we used was the car seat (which was so robust it saw 3 children through their car seat needing years). I had a fabulous sling (4 meters of fabric that i could have made myself if i’d had a pattern or brain) that i slotted each baby into for 15 hour a day – the other 9 they were tucked up beside my boobs so i could feed them without waking up! We were all ecstatic, no push chair meant no stressy ‘can’t find mummy – or a boob’ crying. Actually, i took my first to the doctor the first time she cried properly at 6 months and she had an ear infection! I also bought a whole bunch of bottles, steriliser etc ‘just in case’ which was a complete waste of money seeing as they all went straight from boob to ribena carton! Oh, i could go on for years! Advice would be buy a few nappies and get some decent but cheap clothes from an nct sale then, when you emerge from your sofa cuddling your happy new born after 3 weeks or so, buy things that may make your life easier – like a second mum or decent husband, but nothing plastic :)

    • 21 February, 2010 / 2:33 pm

      First proper cry at six months!! I am dead impressed – your early baby days sound glorious :-)

  3. grace
    20 February, 2010 / 10:43 am

    Yes, the pram. Lovingly chosen with all the accessories bought off ebay and all tenderly assembled. Little Darling won’t have it. Every time I try, she screams as though I’m waterboarding her. So, yes, the sling is an utter lifesaver…

  4. 20 February, 2010 / 11:23 am

    ring sling and another long one that you sort of wrapped around your and babies body to fasten it to your front and back (forgotten the name) and a bath seat with suction cups on the bottom so baby could sit in bath with older sister. Oh also the buggy board for getting toddler and baby about happily and easily without having to buy a double pram or buggy. these were really useful things that got used all the time, the rest (apart form obvious pram, car seat stuff) not so much.

    • 21 February, 2010 / 2:32 pm

      Ooh yeah, we had one of those bath seats too! I got it at a car boot for about a pound I think, and it was really good – I have some lovely ‘baths with older sister’ photos that I can bring out for future boyfriends.

  5. 20 February, 2010 / 3:39 pm

    Oh the gadgets and gizmos I have got rid of! I too was convinced till reading your blog, about the breast feeding scarf but your words of wisdom have inspired me to dig out last summers sarong and tie it round my neck. Not only is it far prettier than the dull fabrics on offer but it is here, in my house, for free! Not onlythat but when no longer required as a boob cover up I can reuse as a flabby tummy mother of 3 cover up. Genius!

    • 21 February, 2010 / 2:30 pm

      Honestly, I amazed myself at how easily I was sucked in. Go with the sarong for sure and if you’re looking for a way to make a bob or two buy a hundred cheap sarongs and flog them to gullible mothers for £16 each!!

  6. Lucy
    20 February, 2010 / 3:57 pm

    Hip seat and a sling pretty much covered the first two years. The rest of the money is best spent on decent wine.

  7. 20 February, 2010 / 9:25 pm

    Muslin squares. Best invention known to man. Used them for EVERYTHING. Sheets, bibs, shield babies from sun, covering, emergency nappy, burp cloth, teether, catching escaping milk from sore breasts…still have them… now they are used as dusters, cloths, napkins….

    Hate, hate, hate the huge, too expensive, uncomfy buggy (carseat/carrycot but was ok). Try to advise friends but they never listen and repent at putting into car boot.

    Couldnt do without the tea though.

    • 21 February, 2010 / 2:29 pm

      I can honestly say I have never owned a muslin square. But then I always was the kind of mother who had to mop up sick with my sleeve.

  8. 22 February, 2010 / 10:14 am

    Hi there,

    Thanks for leaving a link on my discussion over at BMB. Being new there, I still haven’t quite got the hang of finding blog links!

    I totally agree with what you have written here, I have a 16 year old and 7 year old. First time round I couldn’t afford anything anyway and second time round I made the error of buying one of those SUPER DUPER buggies. I had nightmares that same night about how much money I had just spent and I didn’t even end up using it that much – waste of dish really!

    I live by the philosophy that most things you need, and things to have fun with, can be found amongst family and round the house. I like art and using recycled materials that might otherwise be thrown out, to make it with!!!

    The description of the show sounds just like what I detest too!! ;)


    • 22 February, 2010 / 10:17 am

      Wow – 16 and 7 – that’s a bigger age gap than mine! How do you find that? I really struggle to come up with things they both like doing.

  9. 22 February, 2010 / 10:14 am

    whoops, was meant to say waste of dosh, but instead we got a dish!!!! :)


  10. 22 February, 2010 / 11:27 am

    Wow you know I never thought of it but you are righ on the money here! My 2 both had limited things, due to eing very skint with my 1st, and my marraige ending during my 2nd pregnancy and having to set up home again. But I idn’t miss anything – maybe because I didn’t have it, but it was all basic stuff, the essentials and thats it. Although this time round I did get Bumbo seat and tray which was invaluable when I started weaning H, I was in a pokey little house at the time with no room for a dining table so no high chair! Bt I think had my personal circumstances been different I wouldn’t have needed it.
    I think new mum’s can sometimes be made to feel a failure before they start if they don’t buy all the gimicks and latest trends but really as long as a baby is loved, fed and clothed thats all that matters!

    • 23 February, 2010 / 12:50 pm

      Quite right. All the best things in life are free after all. Or so I’ve heard. I still have to pay for my wine and chocs in Sainsbury’s though, so maybe not…

  11. 22 February, 2010 / 1:00 pm

    Well done on your first baby show. I don’t remember going to any to be honest, but I do remember spending ridiculous amounts of money on items that I gave away when Amy was too big to use them!

    CJ xx

  12. 23 February, 2010 / 11:39 am

    A good stroller, a sling, a stairgate and a hip seat was basically it for me. I also had a travelcot which I used as a playpen to protect the baby from the dogs when I was busy, or when I just couldn’t bring myself to let the baby crawl on our filthy floor. And we have some furniture ties to stop bookcases falling on the climbers in the family.

    They have all lasted through four children, and I’m using that fact to try and persuade my husband that a fifth baby wouldn’t cost anything ;)

    • 23 February, 2010 / 12:47 pm

      I think it’s a very sound argument. Really you NEED another baby to get best possible value for money from all the things you already have.

      I laughed at the thought of putting your baby in the travel cot to avoid the dirty floors – a while ago a friend came round with her baby, who was just walking, and she managed to collect a load of grime from my floors on her bare feet in about ten minutes – the mum looked quite horrified!

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