Forget Expensive Presents, This Is What New Mums Really Need From Their Pals

A new study estimates that we spend £288 on our friend's baby in their first year – but I'm here to gently whisper that we're getting it quite wrong.

What’s your first reaction when you find out a close friend is expecting a baby? Joy? Envy? Perhaps a little nostalgia, for the days when you’d have no further responsibilities than working out how much to put in the drinks kitty on a night out?

We feel all these things in spades, but as anyone who’s experienced their best friends becoming parents knows, there’s something else to worry about, too: cold, hard cash.

According to a new survey, we can expect to spend £288 on a friend’s baby – just in the first year – on everything from the baby shower or ‘gender reveal party’ to new baby gifts, the child’s baptism or a christening present (if they have one). Then, there’s their first birthday, plus Christmas and even Easter.

Totalling up every annual celebration after that, the research estimates your friend’s baby will cost you £1,242.

It’s completely understandable, for we love our friends dearly. It makes sense that we would want to express our love by spoiling their children. But as a mother of two, I’m here to gently whisper that we’re getting it quite wrong.

I can’t speak for everyone, but I couldn’t have cared less what material gifts my friends bought for my children when they were born.

For one thing, I couldn’t bear the thought of people splashing out on something brand-new. The world has enough ‘things’ – and kids outgrow perfectly good toys and clothes in next to no time at all.

Instead, I loved receiving hand-me-downs and pre-worn clothing – there’s something extra-special about watching your own child wearing something you recognise from a friend or relative’s offspring, that they’ve grown too big to wear.

But more than that, what I wanted, or needed, from my friends wasn’t immaculate gift-wrapping and gifts for my kids – but knowing they had my back.

Becoming a mother for the first time was a magical, but truly overwhelming experience. It left me tearful, sleep-deprived and – while I was never anything less than besotted with my beautiful babies – I spent much of the time feeling like I wasn’t coping very well at all.

And during those times, the friends who came over to sit with me, who gave me a hug, who listened and who minded the baby while I made a cup of tea or got myself something to eat were exactly what I needed. After all, they’d heard me joke about what I ate six days post-partum with my son, when my husband had to go out for the evening (the last Chicken Kiev in the freezer, which I accidentally burnt and then ate from a saucer like a sandwich).

They pulled out all the stops when I needed them – and I needed them far more than I needed anything from Mothercare. My friend Gemma was pregnant herself when she came over to hold my daughter while I took my first shower that week. I messaged another friend, Hannah, in tears one morning to tell her I hadn’t slept all night and, despite having a son of exactly the same age, she came over to watch them both while I crawled back to bed.

Dayna ordered me to take some time out to write when she realised I wasn’t coping well with the pressures of 24/7 parenthood, looking after all four of our children by herself; and Mel was heavily pregnant, too, when I went into labour with my second – yet came over the moment I called her to watch my daughter while my husband and I drove to the hospital to give birth.

Sarah regularly picked my daughter up from nursery when I was having trouble getting back early enough from work – to the extent that people assumed we were a romantic couple; and Claire (my ‘everyday best friend’) remembered everything (and still does) – messaging me to ask how potty training was going, or whether I had a full night’s sleep.

I didn’t need gifts. My children didn’t need more presents. I needed the reassurance that, without fail, my friends would be there.

And even now, as our children are growing up, there are countless women I couldn’t get through each day without – Emma, Katy, Roz (always on hand with a bottle of wine or home-cooked meal), Lorna, Rachel, Amelia. We don’t buy presents – unless there’s a birthday party – because we don’t need to.

What we give each other is unconditional love and support. And that’s worth a whole lot more than something with a posh bow, a label and a gift receipt.