This article was written by my wife a month ago, she’s just given birth to our second child and in hospital as i make a few adjustments to this post. Please feel free to make comments at the base of the page if you feel we’ve made mistakes or you feel you can add advice or value to the page for others to read.
Having a Baby
The Initial Panic
When you discover you are going to have a baby one of the main concerns is how you will cope financially, especially if you both work. Losing a salary can be hard and can put an extra pressure on you as a couple. There is no need to panic, as there are plenty of places offering advice on how to cope, giving advice on what you are entitled to whilst you are on maternity leave.Speak to your employer to understand what the Maternity policy is at your place of work. This should also be detailed as part of your terms and conditions. All companies are obliged to offer some form of maternity benefit/pay, with many offering the standard Statutory Maternity Pay or SMP as it is more commonly known.
Maternity Pay (information current at January 2013)
The statutory maternity pay (SMP) is the most common maternity pay package offered by employers for the initial 39 weeks (approx. 9 months) of your maternity leave. However, whilst you might think everyone is entitled to it, you would be wrong. There are strict guidelines advising who can and can’t claim. If you are new to your existing job, and still within your probation period, you may find that you are not entitled to SMP under the terms of your employment. If you are unsure check with your employer and also refer to www.direct.gov.uk to find out more. SMP is usually 6 weeks at 90% of your average weekly wage, so if you work on commission then it will be averaged out over a certain timescale during your normal employment. The following 33 weeks will be paid at the standard rate of £128.73 or 90% of your average weekly salary, whichever is the lower rate.
There are options available for those who are not entitled to SMP, or for those where SMP ceases to be paid. Details on these options, together with information on tax credits, income support and returning to work before 39 weeks, can be found on www.direct.gov.uk.
Over the past few years the length of time you can take off work for maternity leave has been increased to 52 weeks, however the final 13 weeks of a 52 week period will not be paid.
If you are unsure what length of Maternity Leave to take, sit down with your HR team and your partner to work out how much time you can afford to take off and what options are available to you. Your employer may be keen for you to return quickly but you should not feel pressurised into doing so. You are entitled to this leave and an employer cannot force you into doing anything you don’t want to.
You should still accrue holiday entitlement whilst on Maternity Leave and in most roles you will be able to claim back the 7 public bank holidays but you should check your contract of employment and refer to your HR manager who will confirm these points for you. Your accrued holiday entitlement is often tagged on to the end of your maternity leave, which is a nice bonus as you get paid for sitting at home during your last few days off.
Maternity pay is quite complex so please make sure you fully understand what your employer offers, and exactly what you are entitled to from the State otherwise you could find yourself losing out on payments, as well as spending extra time with your new little bundle of joy!
Whilst most maternity leave entitlement relates to the mother, the father has not been forgotten. A few years ago fathers had to take annual leave to be with their partner in order to enjoy the first few days and weeks with their new baby. Whilst most companies were accommodating, some were not, making it very difficult for the father to be at home at such an important time.
The Government introduced Ordinary Statutory Paternity Pay for the father. Entitlement is up to 2 weeks leave and claim for one or two consecutive weeks at £128.73 or 90% of their average weekly salary, whichever is the lowest. Any other leave will need to be taken as paid or unpaid leave at your employer’s discretion.
Maternity and Paternity pay also applies to adoptive parents to be. In addition, paternity pay is no longer exclusive to the biological father – the mother’s husband, civil partner, or anyone who is expected to have full or shared responsibility of bringing up the child could have an entitlement. The www.direct.gov.uk website has all the details you need to know as will your employer.
Once you’ve got over the initial shock of being parents to be you need to start thinking of the equipment you will need. Whilst many (including first time Mums and Dads) think they need everything brand new, once you’ve worked out the costs you might think again.
Our advice is that certain items need to be new or in tip condition.
Due to advice about cot deaths, it is suggested you use a brand new mattress for a new baby. The decision is down to you. Experts in this field still don’t know exactly what causes cot death but do provide advice which as new parents you should consider to minimise risk.
To begin with all you really need is a selection of clothes that include baby grows, vests, socks and hats (dependent on the time of year the baby arrives) a new born will not be able to control their body heat for the first few weeks so they will need to be really wrapped up on cool/cold. It is trial and error – a number of times I over or under dressed my little girl by not getting her clothing right. If dress them in layers and take extra clothes with you the situation is easily rectifiable!
The other items you need are nappies, blankets and somewhere to sleep such as a Moses basket or crib or you could put the new born straight into his/her cot, but they will look a bit small and lost to begin with!
Car seats are essential and some hospitals will not let you leave with your new baby if you don’t have a suitable chair. These tend to be expensive but are a good investment for the safety of your baby. If you are considering buying 2nd hand then make sure you ask if the seat was used in a car that has been in an accident. If it has, don’t buy it.
If money is tight, look at pre-owned websites such as eBay or Preloved. If you are on Facebook there are local groups where you can buy and sell 2nd hand baby equipment at lower prices than in shops or on auction sites. Make sure you ask the right questions and if possible ask if you can see the item before handing over any money to ensure you are getting good quality items, in good condition. You really will find some bargains if you are prepared to spend time looking.
Another great way to get equipment and clothes is from friends. I was very fortunate to be given used clothes when my daughter arrived. I was also given equipment that I didn’t have or borrowed first time round which has saved me money.
The only thing I would say is to be careful with the amount you take as you could find yourself never using half of it, or you do not have room to store it. Remember to find out if the person giving the item wants it back again once you’ve finished with it. Whilst this isn’t an issue for equipment, clothing can be problematic, remembering who gave you what! Bit of a tricky one, as you don’t want to seem ungrateful but at the same time you need to think what is practical and realistic!
So the news you are going to be a Mummy or Daddy is slowly sinking in and now’s the time to start planning for the new arrival. If you don’t feel ready to start decorating then why not just start planning the baby’s space and working out costs. You need to face facts that the baby is coming so you need to be organised and not leave everything until the due date – you will gradually get more tired and jobs will become more difficult to do!
Choosing the colour scheme for the nursery depends on whether you know the sex of your baby in advance. Most prospective parents can find out at the 20-week scan the sex of the baby, so you can then opt for the traditional blue or pink paint.
If you don’t know or don’t want to know the sex, then a neutral colour scheme or theme is a sensible choice. Warm colours such as creams and browns are very popular as they don’t seem to date and look clean and fresh. Yellows and greens are also popular giving a bright, fresh feel to a room.
A friend chose white paint which gave a lovely crisp fresh feel to the nursery. The furniture and accessories were also white which looked lovely but the baby struggled to focus on anything. By adding splashes of colour, with wall motifs and ceiling mobiles the baby will have points of reference which will help in their special awareness and visual development. If you are unsure of colours then get some tester paint pots from retailers like B&Q or Homebase to see what goes well in the room. The paint colour can often be darker than on the colour chart so it is best to test a few before doing the whole room!
Once you have decided on the wall colourings then you can decide on what else you need to put in the room. Whilst we all want the room to have all the latest gadgets and items of furniture there isn’t really a need for many of them.
The basic pieces are a cot or cot bed, wardrobe and chest of drawers. Deciding whether to go for a cot or cot bed is a personal choice, the cot tends to be a bit smaller so if you have a small room then this could be your best option. Most cots sides go up and down making it easier to get the little one out whereas the sides on the cot bed are fixed. A cot bed will cost more initially, but saves you from having to buy a toddler bed as soon as the little one has either outgrown the cot or learnt how to climb out of it – this can happen anytime from about 9 months!
As soon as the little one can climb out you need to get them into a bed ASAP otherwise they could do themselves serious injury falling out of bed from such a height!
If you have a cot bed it is simply a case of removing the sides and putting a smaller end on. We only took one of the sides off of ours as the other side was against the wall – again it’s personal preference.
Retailers such as Mothercare, Mamas & Papas and Kiddicare.com sell items such as changing tables and pretty chest of drawers that have baskets underneath, and small wardrobes. These are great if you have the money and space but from a practical point of you they aren’t worth it.
If you buy a good size chest of drawers you can put a changing mat on top of it and use the top couple of drawers for storing the items associated with nappy/clothe changing.
Another friend bought a changing table that goes across the cot. This was great while the baby was very little but as soon as he got a bit bigger and began sitting up she was constantly taking it on and off the cot, making additional work for herself.
If you buy decent furniture now you won’t be looking at changing it in a year or so’s time. I would suggest you invest in a decent sized wardrobe as this will last and if you go for a white or pine colour then they look great regardless of the colour scheme you use in the future. Going for neutral colours for both paint and furniture is very cost effective, especially if you are planning on having more than one child.
Now is the time to have some fun. If you’ve gone for neutral colours then why not add a bit of colour or wait until the little one arrives to start decking the room out.
The room should be calm and relaxing for the baby so there is not too much for him/her to look at. There are great ranges of bed linen available from key retailers such as Mothercare and Mamas & Papas, as well as Next, BHS, Tesco and the other supermarkets.
I recommend you invest in a good mattress as baby spends most of their time asleep in the first few months. Some mattresses now come with a detachable top layer specifically designed to go into the washing machine making it easy to clear up any little accidents and keeping it nice and fresh.
Buy a minimum of 3 bottom sheets, one for use, one in the wash and one spare as there will be times you need as many as you can get your hands on!
Next, consider the number of blankets you might need. Be careful not to overheat the baby – they will wake you up if they are cold but not if they are too hot!
Seek professional advice on the most suitable room temperature and what to use at night. Night-time room temperature can be a contributory factor in SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome – more commonly known as cot death).
Mothercare and Mamas & Papa are great for this kind of advice. Also, consider a sleeping bag for baby. These are specially designed for them once they are over 10lb in weight (some are less but I would seek professional advice first). Sleeping bags are great and we have used them with both of ours, they keep them covered and with different togs (level of thickness) they can be used all year round.
A ceiling or cot mobile can be a good to send them off to sleep but sometimes they are a distraction and can wake them up or keep them awake. Whilst they look nice, I would suggest they are removed when your little one can sit or stand on their own as they will grab hold of it which could cause harm.
A nappy holder to go on the back of the door or near the changing mat is a good idea but not essential. A rocking chair is a great asset to any nursery especially for those night feeds but if you don’t have room then don’t worry, they are more of a luxury than a necessity!
Decorating your nursery, especially for the first time, can be very exciting but our advice is don’t go overboard, save your money, as you will need it later once the baby arrives. Whilst we recommend you get things sorted before the arrival, you can leave some purchases until afterwards as the first few weeks/months they will most likely be in your room. Remember though, nearer the arrival date you won’t have the time or energy to be thinking about or doing the decorating!
Enjoy your baby – it’s hard work but very rewarding!
Returning to Work
For most new Mums this can be the most stressful part of having a baby. After having time off work to spend with their new baby the thought of having to leave them with someone else can be a horrible feeling.
About half way through your Maternity Leave, and in order to plan financially, and to get used to the idea, discuss the options for childcare with your partner. Do you think you can cope financially with working part time or is going back full time your only option? Who will look after the child whilst you are at work? If you have family helping you out, then great as this will save you a lot of money but if you are relying on grandparents you have to take their age into consideration. They may not be able to cope when your little one starts to move about you will still need a back-up plan for when they want to take a holiday, or God forbid, are taken ill.
You need to consider every eventuality, otherwise you could find yourself continually taking unpaid leave to look after your little one – this will add to any financial stress and will not go down well with work colleagues or your employer!
Other options are nurseries and child minders. Look at childcare facilities in your area – do you have a good nursery or child minder near home or close to your place of work?
You should check all nursery and child minder credentials with OFSTED. I would strongly recommend you use someone who is OFSTED registered especially if they are not close family.
Most childcare organisations will insist you work less than an hour from your little one in case of emergencies and illness, and this should be clarified during your initial meeting.
If you intend to return to work part time, then you need to refer to your any flexible working policy with your employer. You need to give yourself time to apply for and discuss your options in advance of your Maternity Leave ending, as you will need to give your employer about 6-8 weeks notice of your intentions.
If your flexible working request is refused do not feel it is the end of the matter – seek advice and if appropriate, appeal. My initial request was refused and at first I was prepared to accept my employer’s reasoning. However, on reflection and after speaking to a friend who had worked in HR, I discovered I had good grounds for an appeal, which I won. Do not feel threatened into accepting your employer’s decision – you have rights and you have a voice. Remember to seek advice.
Many employers offer a Childcare voucher scheme. Ask your HR manager for details to see if this will be of benefit to you.
Many childcare organisations now accept payment in the form of Childcare vouchers, but you would need to ask your individual childcare provider if this applied to them. You can only take Childcare vouchers against one salary (i.e., not you and your partner’s), so I would suggest you take them from the higher earner (However, this is only for guidance and each individual’s circumstances and tax liability will be different). Any fees for childcare over and above the value of the voucher will need to be paid direct to the childcare provider.
As a first time mum you will want to do as much as possible with your child whilst you are on Maternity Leave but be careful you don’t get caught ‘keeping up with the Jones’’ and doing everything that everyone else is doing – it might not suit you or your little one, and could prove expensive.
The best kind of activities for under 1’s don’t have to cost anything, as they are happy just playing and being around other children. Most public libraries have singing and music classes especially designed for babies, but being free they are usually very busy. Many church halls hold playgroups for little ones for a small fee.
Taking your baby swimming can be so much fun for you and your little one and it gets them used to being in water from a very early age. Check out your local swimming pool as many will have special times for babies, when it is quieter, without the bigger children splashing about. Gym clubs are also a great option, offering baby play sessions for a minimal entry fee.
There are other activities to do with your little one but these usually cost a lot more, many requiring a term’s commitment, paid up front. These are usually educational and recommended if you have spare cash.
Organisations such as Jo Jingles is great for singing and movement development. Baby Sign teaches sign language from a very early age, this is something I did with my 5 month old and to be honest whilst I fully understood the objectives and thought how beneficial it could be, I felt my child was a bit young for it all and therefore a complete waste of money!
My personal recommendation, although not cheap, is Baby Swim or Water Babies swimming lessons. Whilst you child won’t learn front or back crawl it will teach them how to handle the water, holding their breath underwater etc. It’s more about water awareness, confidence and safety to begin with. My daughter has been doing classes for nearly 3 years now and is very confident in the water and can now swim a short distance on her own, climb out of the pool safely and get back in. However, most of the time she loves to launch herself in without a care in the world! Checkout the websites for more information.