As I joined the tribe of expectant mothers in the British capital, I was hit by an endless list of do’s and don’ts conveyed by midwifes, acquaintances and marketing slogans. Personal parenting practices are judged from day one and often rely on out-dated child-rearing practices and cultural beliefs rather than scientific research.
Building a network of new and expectant mothers seemed no less essential than a lifeline and was especially relevant in my case: an expatriate with all family abroad. I gladly discovered that connecting with peers in London was fairly easy, whether it was by attending the expensive NCT antenatal courses or some prenatal yoga classes.
The NCT clans are grouped together by postcode and pregnancy stage. The soon-to-be mothers share their common experience through meet-ups at local cafes and Whatsapp group discussions. Husbands are not excluded from this social orchestration and also have gatherings of their own – after all, entering parenthood can be a tribulation encountered by all. With an aberrant price of £327 for a 19-hour-long NCT Signature course for two, I chose to rely on NHS to get the information I missed about birth technicalities. My friends openly claim they joined NCT with the intent to “build a network” rather than getting relevant information. Although I regretted in the early, postpartum days not having this web of contacts, I quickly made my way through building peer-relationships.
Once baby is born, the big city offers many baby activities centred on stimulation and wellbeing, which also enable parents to mingle with peers and create friendships. Massage, yoga, swimming, music, messy play, movie screening are some of the countless and fussy businesses that take advantage of the parental worry to provide nothing but the best for our cherubs. Note, it is also possible to attend free activities like ‘stay & play’ drop-ins and weekly story/rhyme times at local public libraries.
“No matter how precious and magical the moments with a newborn are, strong coffee and social interactions are paramount for sleep-deprived parents.”
Once a mum has established her network, she will meet her new pack at a local cafe, which preferably offers comfy leather couches and well-assorted cake counter. Young parents craving an energising breath in the outer world undoubtedly benefit from the ever-ending propagation of cafes in the capital. No matter how precious and magical the moments with a newborn are, strong coffee and social interactions are paramount for sleep-deprived parents.
Conversation topics between mothers range from branded products review and baby routine specifics to rants about the hubby who struggles to find his place in this new dynamic. Early-years commodities have a prominent place in the trade of titbits by mothers, who assess with a scientific rigour and an unconscious gullibility (exploited by advertising) the quality of baby carriers, toys and milk bottles.
In the food department, the current debate about baby-led weaning (i.e., no purees, only ‘finger foods’) can take substantial proportions, to the point of buying books and seeking advice from professionals. Everything ought to be organic though.
The hottest topic in town is almost certainly the concern of sleep that, associated with the risks of sudden infant death syndrome “SIDS”, grows into psychosis for young parents facing an army of books, doctors and sleep consultants. (I choose not to get into this conversation, it is discussed at great length on a myriad of blogs and opinion-based books)
Once the infant becomes toddler, conversation topics move to ranking competitive nurseries on their curriculum (read children’s activities), fancy themed-birthday parties and “how many words can he say yet?”.
The digital sphere brings its own toolbox of apps to millennial parents: Wonder Weeks to track baby’s first year mental leaps; Hoop to find out all available children’s activities in the area filtered by mile distance, age group and time; Squeezy to remind mothers to do their pelvic floor exercises. Whether you need some hairdryer white noise to make your baby fall asleep or a way to track his feeds, naps and every move, be sure there is an app out there that will do the job. In terms of networking, mothers also have an equivalent to Tinder in the well-advertised apps Peanut and Mush, which algorithmically match mothers’ profile according to categories – like baby age, interests and neighbourhood. ‘Outdoorsy’, ‘Fashionista’ and ‘Coffee addict’ are some of the cliché filters that one can select in the interests category. It would take ages to list all the apps nowadays designed to help (overwhelm?) new parents, so I will just mention two more examples: whatever your consumerist desires are (nursery decor, clothing & accessories, party gifts), you can make a board of prototypes on Pinterest and purchase your tailored handmade model on Etsy.
Through this non-exhaustive, but rather exhausting inventory, it feels that marketing is an important element of parents’ everyday decisions. Advertising has pervaded a sizeable market with the brand-conscious millennial generation now entering the parenthood phase. Using young parents’ vulnerability to sell extravagant products and services that will only be used for a tiny fraction of life can seem appalling. My best advice to all the new mums living in London is to beware peer pressure and branding hidden agendas. FOLLOW YOUR INSTINCTS.