Having a first baby is emotionally life-changing but the financial impact can be considerable too. Our new report, First Baby in Breadline Britain, finds that while mums-to-be generally realise there will be greater pressure on the family finances, the price tag attached to many items still comes as a shock. This is on top of the emotional pressure on relationships that many experience as a result of the demands a new baby brings.
Polling we have commissioned from the Bounty parenting club with Lloyds Banking Group's Money for Life Programme demonstrates that many women struggle after having their first baby. Some struggle primarily with the cost of baby products - some essential, some less so - which they can feel pressured to buy for their new child. Many supposedly essential purchases turn out to be anything but. Bulky prams that get left in the hallway, baby clothes that will be grown out of within weeks, unused breast pumps and even well-known brands of nappies - all can cost a packet, and many mums, particularly those on lower incomes, tell us they now regret spending so much on them.
Some 70% of women who responded to the survey advise expectant mums to take more advantage of hand-me-downs, and 63% recommend thinking carefully about budgeting and saving.
The polling showed that some poorer parents have to cut back on essential needs such as food and heating in order to afford baby-related costs.
It's not just poorer families who struggle though. Even better off households are taken aback by the cost of childcare: overall a concern for nearly a quarter of mums polled. So many new parents need and want to return to work. The government should look again at what more it can do to help families return to work. If parents who want to work are unable to do so because of the prohibitive costs of nursery or day care places then that is a national problem that needs a national solution.
Our report shows that the pressures of having a baby are broader than money worries alone. Although having a baby is a source of so much joy for most, some women struggle emotionally, or mentally, during or after their pregnancy, with a sense of isolation compounding feelings of distress. Some partners can also be affected by exhaustion and depression. Increased financial pressure may also worsen depression before and after birth.
Groups of mums that Family Action is working with, in children's centres and parenting classes across the country told us of their exhaustion and sometimes depression following the birth of their baby. We know that around one in six pregnant mothers are affected by mental distress, and failure to deal with these issues can affect the relationship between mother and child and impact on a child's long-term development. That's why the mums we spoke to expressed appreciation for the support services offered by Family Action and a range of other voluntary organisations, to fill the gap left by mainstream services. Such services include Family Action's Perinatal Support Project - aimed at giving new mums befriending and practical support when they need it most.
Interestingly, our report finds that the most important thing a partner can do to help is to be emotionally supportive. Being thoughtful and considerate is judged by British mothers as even more essential than bringing a wage into the home - although the latter is still most important to younger women.
The report underlines the need for a full range of support services, from both statutory and voluntary sectors, to help expectant and new mums, and their partners, find their feet in the crucial first months. Currently the spread of services is patchy across the country, and too often dependent on insecure and short-term funding arrangements. Children's centres have a vital role to play.
The top advice for all prospective parents is to plan ahead. We hope our report will encourage those who are considering becoming parents to do so - and give their child the best possible start in life.