I was pleased to receive this during my pregnancy as, at a mere 144 pages, it made the whole idea of having a child seem a lot more manageable.

I’ve seen longer instruction manuals for putting furniture together.

What’s it about?

The basics of babycare. Jay starts from a position of absolute ignorance, similar to that encountered in the ‘… for dummies’ series. Her aim is to cut 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 book covers key topics, including giving birth, feeding, weaning and teething in 24 short chapters. It also aims to ‘explode myths’ around what is/n’t necessary when it comes to the mountains of baby related equipment available.

What’s it like?

Each chapter begins with an amusing picture, annotated with instructions like ‘don’t expect this bit to straighten’ and ‘keep this part at the top’. Usefully, chapters are organised according to babies’ development, so it starts with giving birth and holding the baby and only deals with teething towards the end. Within chapters there are sub-headings and bullet points which reinforce the feeling that this is an organised and informative book, which in turn made me feel more organised and confident.

I enjoyed Jay’s writing style immediately. The relaxed approach made the book a lot easier and pleasanter to read than some parenting guides. Her tone is engaging – she is clearly joking when she ‘explains’ that the answer to a grubby baby is a bath. Could readers find her style patronising? I can be quick to take offence but didn’t.

she ‘explains’ that the answer to a grubby baby is a bath

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. Simple. Each ‘task’ is broken down into steps, some of which appear ridiculously obvious, but this approach made me feel more comfortable with whatever process was being discussed. Each stage comes with advice, which made it very easy to understand her logic and reach my own decisions.

We’ve all heard the shock, horror ‘raising a child costs xxxx’ stories, so I liked the idea of knowing what equipment was indispensable and what was optional. Jay’s stated aim is to provide an overview, so she discusses relevant decision-making features like cost, space and portability, but does not list and discuss (e.g.) individual bedding options or include references to specific designs or styles.

She takes the idea of ‘need‘ very literally and suggests that – if necessary – a drawer (open, not closed!) or even the floor could suit as a bed. I certainly didn’t feel pressured to buy a lot of stuff I didn’t need, but couldn’t quite imagine the reaction of my mother-in-law if I chose to use a drawer as my child’s first bed! Similarly, she points out that a baby can easily be washed in a sink, and that babies coped perfectly well without vests for many years. For cost-conscious or eco-friendly parents-to-be the book’s overall approach would be very appealing.

Jay acknowledges the difficulties of parenting a newborn without making them seem unduly daunting.

She assumes that new parents will be tired and busy but treats this with a reassuringly brisk air. Some points she makes are obvious but not things I had thought about (such as babies not distinguishing between day and night initially) and they helped me to feel more positive about the idea of being seriously sleep deprived. I don’t mean that I found myself looking forward to being kept up all night by a demanding baby, but it was helpful to be warned in advance that (a) the baby isn’t staying awake to be cruel but (b) it is quite typical, in the depths of sleep deprivation, to think that the baby is staying awake to be cruel!

There is a short introduction focused on developing confidence, which set my mind at ease. 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 advice given previously and worked as a checklist.

Final thoughts

Jay acknowledges the difficulties of parenting a newborn without making them seem unduly daunting. The book does exactly what it claims: it’s a basic guide to babies for someone who’s not had much experience with them beyond having a quick cuddle and uttering a dutiful “S/he’s gorgeous!” If you’ve managed to avoid babies ’til now, you might appreciate this; if you practically raised your younger siblings then this won’t add to your understanding.

‘Babies for beginners’
Roni Jay
White Ladder Press Ltd, 2006, Paperback