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Foreword to Babies: The Mumsnet Guide

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So you've done it – you've given birth. The end of a gruelling nine-month journey, culminating with an exhausting, elating and quite possibly traumatising finale. But there's not a moment to rest on your tender behind because now is, of course, only the beginning: with no instruction manual included, you suddenly have in your possession possibly the most complicated thing ever invented.

In the old days your mum might have moved in, offering an alternative to chilly figures like the psychologist John B. Watson who admonished parents to 'never hug or kiss your children, never let them sit in your lap' and to 'shake hands in the morning'.

What we now know, and probably didn't need Professor Erich Seifritz, of Basel University's Department of Psychiatry, to tell us (though thanks anyway, Erich) is that the brains of parents, mothers especially, are hard-wired to respond to the cries of babies. So the bad news is that it will be a good few weeks, possibly months, before you manage to sleep through even the slightest nocturnal whimper from the direction of the Moses basket. And even if your newborn does miraculously sleep like a baby, chances are you won't: more than one Mumsnetter recalls prodding her baby out of his slumber, so convinced was she that the newborn had stopped breathing altogether, each time he drifted off.

Babies: The Mumsnet Guide book coverIf this is your first baby you are almost guaranteed, it seems, to develop Precious Firstborn Syndrome: a well-documented phenomenon on the Mumsnet Talk boards involving strangely obsessive parental behaviours like rubbing shampoo into one's own eyes to test it doesn't sting, pulling prams backwards for miles to avoid direct sunlight and even sterilising the steriliser.

So while most of your memories of the actual birth will soon be selectively erased (how else would so many choose to reproduce a second and third time?), you're destined to look back on this first year with a rueful 'if only I'd known then what I know now' shake of the head.

If only, for instance, I'd known that breasts really do only produce minute amounts of yellowy colostrum for the first few days but that that really is enough for a baby; or that a damp cotton-wool ball is no match for those first bitumen-like poos; or, indeed, that I really didn't need half of the £4,000 worth of kit the average expectant mother spends on her babe... I could have saved myself an awful lot of bother.

In the days before Mumsnet, mothers like me had to make do with the mildly terrifying admonitions of 'experts' like Gina Ford (you may have heard of her), but how much better to have access to vast archive of expertise – collected the hard way – by thousands of real parents? Whatever the parenting poser you are facing, chances are a Mumsnetter will have faced it already. And their advice is offered in a rather different tone of voice to the tablets of stone delivered by the parenting gurus: not so much 'do this because it's the right way' as 'this worked for me, maybe it could work for you'.

No single piece of advice should be read as 'a Mumsnet way of doing things'. One of the first things we learned from Mumsnetters is that different folk really do take different strokes. The aim of this book is simply to provide you with a bank of solutions many thousands of mums have found to the countless thorny dilemmas, problems and panics every parent faces in the first year of their child's life. And to have a bit of a giggle along the way.

We're confident that, whatever the subject, you'll find some advice that works for you. And if you can't, or if you'd like to share your own ingenious cure for colic, boast about your previously untested levels of endurance or just chew the fat about the extraordinary soft milkiness of your newborn's head, we're just a click away at www.mumsnet.com.

Justine Roberts (co-founder, Mumsnet.com)

PS A long time ago, a friend called up to pick my brains about her pregnancy palpitations. Somewhat ruthlessly I replied that I'd only answer her question if she posted it on the Talk board of the website I'd started a few months earlier. But by the time I hurriedly and rather guiltily logged on, someone else had got there first. It was at that moment that I knew Mumsnet was coming to life. That friend never left Mumsnet, and even better, though it took about ten years, she eventually agreed to write this book. Sometimes even the longest gestations are worth the wait.

PPS Mumsnetters go by a variety of weird and wonderful pseudonyms. Please do not be put off – just because someone goes by the moniker of IAteRosemaryConleyFor Breakfast it doesn't mean she did (far too many high-GI calories).

Last updated: over 3 years ago