It seems that there was a golden age to have children.
Just a couple of years ago, pregnant women would receive money for fruit and veg; they’d get a payment to help set up the nursery; and then their beloved offspring would receive a £500 cash injection into a trust fund of their choice.
Everyone received Child Benefit and all babies slept through the night. Okay, maybe not that last bit – but everyone received significant help as they launched the next generation of future taxpayers.
That’s no longer the case – and it’s easy to see why. Widespread cuts have made such universal payments unaffordable.
But if, like me, you’re a more recent parent then it can really feel like you arrived after the party – all the freebies have stopped. They even changed the advice on eating for two the week I discovered I was pregnant; it’s starting to feel like a conspiracy.
So I decided to take a look at what’s still out there for all parents to take advantage of. Here’s what I’ve found.
Every new parent wants to do the best for their baby and so many invest in self-help books and ‘expert’ consultations. But there is loads of free advice available, particularly from your health visitor. They will have seen every baby issue before and you have a right to their time and knowledge.
In the early weeks, your community midwife is also there to offer you support and advice, not to simply measure the baby’s weight.
If you decide to breastfeed (another great ‘freebie’!) and you’re struggling then there’s no need to pay for an expensive lactation consultant. Most areas have free breastfeeding classes, such as ‘Bosom Buddies’ to help mums get the hang of it.
There’s also free advice available from the National Breastfeeding Helpline on 0300 100 0212; from the NCT’s breastfeeding helpline on 0300 330 0771; and from the La Leche League on 0845 120 2918.
You can pay £40 for a ‘sling consultation’ in my town; where someone comes to you and gives a quick tutorial in using a sling safely. But this advice is available at no charge from any shop selling slings. You can also attend local ‘sling meets’ to discuss using a sling with other parents – find your local group on slingmeet.co.uk.
Never suffer in silence and don’t pay an ‘expert’ until you’ve exhausted all your free options.
A truly useful freebie this. Bookstart offers all children a selection of free books at an early age, to help them gain a love of reading before they start school. In their first year, a child receives the Bookstart Baby Pack, usually from a health visitor.
Then, between ages two and four they receive the Bookstart Treasure Pack from their nursery or playgroup.
Make sure your child gets their books – everyone is entitled to them so contact your local library if you think you’ve missed out.
Whether your child is six weeks or six years old, there are thousands of classes they can attend.
From sports to drama to music, even tiny babies are being enrolled in extra-curricular activities (I confess to taking my three-week old son to a music class where I sang and banged a drum while he slept!).
These classes are big business and can cost a fortune. But almost every single one offers a free sample before you sign up.
Taking advantage of those free classes gives you and your child a taste of lots of different skills and is a great way to find a hobby that suits them.
Free activities (including free food!)
Before spending any money on classes, it’s worth checking out your local Sure Start Centre.
Many of these have been the victims of fairly brutal cuts, but plenty still offer a wide range of free classes for parents and children.
My local centre offers free baby massage classes, messy play for older kids, toddler mornings and even access to a ‘sensory stimulation room’ filled with crazy lights, soft foam toys and fabrics.
Often these classes and events include a free healthy snack, such as fruit or a sandwich, as well as free tea and biscuits for the parents.
Free dentistry and drugs
Okay, with labour looming the last thing most pregnant women want is a stint in the dentist’s chair.
But this is a really useful perk to having a baby and it’s important to make the most of it. During pregnancy and the baby’s first year, you are entitled to free dentistry as well as free prescriptions.
Even under our subsidised system, fillings and other work can be expensive – so if you think you might need treatment then talk to your dentist while you still qualify.
Freegle and Freecycle
If you’re struggling to afford all the baby and toddler kit, or even stuff for older children like musical instruments or a new bike, then these websites could be a huge help. An internet search will help you find your local group.
They allow people to ‘rehome’ unwanted possessions rather than adding unnecessarily to landfill and they are a parent’s best friend. People advertise their unwanted stuff and you can ask for it, or you can even put a call out for a specific item in case someone has what you need lying around.
It’s important to mention that it’s never a good idea to buy or freecycle second-hand safety equipment such as car seats or stair-gates. You don’t know if that kit has been damaged and repaired, or how old it is, so that really needs to be brand new.
New parents like to buy their beloved offspring brand-new equipment but old hands know that nothing looks new for long around children.
Once your child has rubbed its new bouncy chair with syrup and then tried to put the dog inside, you’ll be wondering why you ever cared what colour it was.