Cardiff city centre with a baby

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I’ve spent a good chunk of my maternity leave mulling how I can successfully combine a baby with a shopping trip to Cardiff city centre. I had visions during my pregnancy of wandering around town, long lazy afternoons drinking tea and meandering around the shops in the arcades that I’ve never had time to visit. And yes, you can do all of these things with a baby.  But the baby will probably be crying/bored/you can’t fit your buggy into that fancy tea shop with actual tea leaves.

Like most things baby-related, I’ve finally figured out the perfect solution right at the end of my time off. But mums with babies yet to be born, babes in arms and my fellow compressed-hours-having-it-all mums. Here is my formula for a perfect day shopping with baby in tow.

As all of those baby books gathering dust on our shelves tell us (particularly us preemie mums who had the baby before we could even pretend to read them), babies are so easy and have three basic requirements: to play, to eat and to sleep. Don’t skip a step – you want the magical period of sleep  last to get your shopping done or some precious ‘me’ time!

Play

It doesn’t matter if I spend all morning with L at a playgroup or hours of peek-a-boo, he will sleep in the car en route to town and expects entertainment in his new city-centre playground. I can usually get away with a little distraction from the bright lights in shops (Debenhams/John Lewis thank you) and looking at himself in the mirror of lifts (but as much as he’d enjoy it, I’m not riding lifts all day…plenty of time for that when I’m back in work!).

Rhymetime at Central Library is a fab, free way to entertain your baby for half an hour (10:30 on Wednesday and Thursdays). This is one of the better Rhymetimes that I’ve attended and you need to book in advance as it’s so popular. The lady who facilitates the session is great and makes a fuss of each child. All parents and children sit in a circle and it’s a nice cosy environment. Room on the sidelines for hangers on (dads/grandparents – me watching L’s dad moan about his legs being too long for the circle…). There is buggy bedlam by the lift, so if you’re precious about your buggy (like me) you will have to leave it unattended. I have made a mental note to leave it in the car and swap back from the carrier later (sad right, but I love our Bugaboo). Also means you avoid dashing off as soon as the last rhyme finishes to get in the lift first (also me).

The toddler area at House of Fraser (Howells) Restaurant is often mentioned on Cardiff Mums as THE thing to do when you’re in town. I had a lot of buggy faff trying to find it – it is NOT Café Zest, you need to go to the top floor. I can see the appeal for older toddlers but your child needs to be walking to really enjoy the facilities. I did manage to pass a bit of time showing L a xylophone but he mainly wanted to a) eat the filthy stick and b) get out of my arms and onto the floor.

Soft play at Queen’s Arcade is our winner. It is perfect! And free! The small area is located on the ground floor opposite Bravissimo (who did the best bra fitting I’ve ever had, FYI). It has some lovely bits for babies to play on, particularly a green tunnel with a dome at the top to see the ceiling. L loved lying in it and kicking his legs on the side. His face lit up as soon as I took him out of the buggy and put him on the padded floor – absolutely perfect for a leg stretch after being cooped up. Our last visit backfired slightly as he got too tired for lunch, but this is now a regular stop on our town trips. It is very quiet during weekdays. He enjoyed it as much as fancier soft plays that I’ve spent a few quid on, so well worth a visit.

Eat

Cardiff has loads of restaurants and cafes, so there is plenty of choice regardless of your feeding preferences. My priorities for L are a meal that we can both share, plenty of buggy room, helpful staff and suitable highchairs (he can’t sit in wooden high chairs or IKEA-style ones). After a few disasters with wooden highchairs (including falling THROUGH one!), I only ever go to one place for lunch in town with L.

Debenhams ticks all of our boxes, every time. A huge baby changing room with an adult toilet, two chairs and enough room to do a dance with your buggy if needed. A delicious carvery meal with generous portions, so I can feed L and not starve myself in the process. He loves nibbling on some meat, sharing my veg and I can spoonfeed him some mash if he’s feeling particularly lazy.  There are several high-back booths where I can breastfeed L without too many stares and he can kick about on the seat next to me if needed.  The buggy parks nicely alongside too. But the biggest perk for us is the wonderful baby cradles they offer (below), in addition to the normal (evil) wooden highchairs. The cradles are suitable for babies up to 20lbs and are simply perfect for L’s weird high-chair aversions. The staff are very helpful and always offer to take my tray to the booth/grab cutlery etc. They have plastic cutlery, a bottle warmer and microwave available for customer use too.

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Although not for us (highchair woes), I also had a good experience in Milk and Sugar (Windsor Place). Good range of healthy food that babies could share (sweet potato jacket was delicious) and the staff couldn’t do enough to help me with L.

Sleep

This is my ultimate goal in town – quality time with L, feeding us both and then a long nap for him to help with his brain development, protect his immune system…and time for me to chill. I personally try and get any shopping done asap so I can catch up on texts, read a book (ha – carry a book in my bag at least) or waste my time writing this blog. I’ve been on the hunt for a coffee shop with Wifi that actually works for months. I had some recommendations from a post on Cardiff Mums, but perhaps I’m just Wifi-challenged but I can’t get that bloody Cloud to work. Ever. It hates me. I just want somewhere with a comfy sofa, Earl Grey on tap and a bog standard Wifi like I have at home.

Through trial and error (and lots and lots of overpriced tea), I’ve finally found my spot. So please don’t steal my sofa when I share it with you…we love Coffee Heaven on St Mary’s St. The window tells me it’s an independent coffee shop, so no corporate tax guilt, and the Wifi is superb. Friendly staff, plenty of Bugaboo space and reasonably priced tea. If you avoid the lunchtime rush, it’s relatively quiet in the afternoon. They also have some seats outside on St Mary’s St – I can vouch for it being a suntrap as I’ve just squinted my way through most of this post on their patch. L has a 90% sleep success rate here but they do have wooden highchairs available and changing facilities if needed. But hey, follow my advice and you too can enjoy a child-free (ish) few hours in (Coffee) Heaven!

Amenities

Okay so I may have told a little white lie. Yes, L does sleep for hours in the afternoon when we go to town. But there are some other boring things we have to do along the way too. I’m probably repeating what you already know, but for anyone who’s planning a trip to Cardiff (does this mean you’ve found my blog on Google?!), here are some basics:

  • Parking – we tend to just splurge on the John Lewis car park, particularly if I have a lot to buy. It’s reasonably priced for a multi-storey car park and you pay-on-return which means you don’t have to wake up a napping baby. If I’m staying a long time or doing something the other end of town, we park at the Richmond Road pay-and-display bays as there are always spaces whatever time of day we arrive. We’ll usually do a quick loop around the side streets too as there is sometimes off-road spaces available for free.
  • Baby changing and toilets – Matalan has nice clean baby changing facilities, huge toilet rooms but I particularly like the big feeding pods. I have been known to use them to breastfeed L and then eat my lunch too (#budget). My mum has also used them to bottlefeed L (back in the amazing days when he’d actually accept a bottle…sob) as she felt comfortable being alone and concentrating on his feed. We’ve both had random people stumble into the pods though so not one for the conservative breastfeeder.
  • John Lewis also has good feeding facilities, with separate stalls and chairs. They do have signs for ‘bottle feeding’ and ‘breast feeding’ which I find a bit odd. We might do different things with our boobs but last time I checked we had the same bums to sit on a chair. And I always get irrationally concerned that I’ll get told off for breastfeeding in the bottle feeding seat.
  • The new JoJo Maman Bébé in Royal Arcade is very baby friendly and there is a nursing area just outside the changing rooms. They also have a large toilet with space for buggies. They also have a colouring table with crayons for older children. But don’t blame me if you end up buying something in there…inevitable.

Play, eat, sleep and enjoy your trip to the city centre!

 

The JoJo Maman Bébé Treasure Trove

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I can (just about) remember the days when I would walk past JoJo Maman Bébé and roll my eyes. JoJo was only on my radar as that-posh-baby-shop-where-Kate-Middleton-shops. Who on earth would pay so much money for BABY clothes?! Don’t they just throw up on everything?!

Yes old me, they do. And I am that person who will spend £££ on baby clothes – or the person who wants the clothes at a fraction of the price. My love of JoJo started when L was bought a gorgeous embroidered duck sleepsuit. Although it was Tiny Baby size, it still swamped my little 4lb baby on the day he left hospital. Once I was brave enough to take L into town, I’d wander around JoJo and admire the range. I couldn’t imagine L ever fitting into newborn sleepsuits, but I knew it would be ridiculous to splash out on more Tiny Baby outfits.

So I continued to admire and somehow ended up on the JoJo Maman Bébé New and Preloved Buy & Sell Facebook group. My admiration turned to obsession. I needed some breton stripes and cute dunagrees in our life asap. The JoJo New and Preloved group has over 25,000 members – it is dangerously easy to get swept up in the craze! Once L finally grew out of his 0-3 clothes, I began to fill his wardrobe with classic JoJo pieces. But one day something incredible caught my eye…there is a JoJo Maman Bebe outlet. IN NEWPORT!

The outlet is absolutely incredible. Well, for non-JoJo obsessives, it is a small hut on an industrial estate selling reasonably priced children’s clothes and accessories. For die-hard fans, it’s the adult version of an Easter egg hunt (sadly minus the sugar rush). The JoJo outlet stocks seconds (items with small defects – sometimes simply missing packaging or a small mark), old stock, samples and clothes that are still in stores…yes, some of the items outlet status is simply a mystery! Prices can range from anything to 30-70% of RRP. The range of stock varies from week to week, but as a general rule they are usually well-stocked with:

  • Maternity and nursing clothing
  • Clothing in smaller sizes (newborn/0-3/3-6)
  • Toys and gifts

The outlet can stock anything in the JoJo range. My favourite finds include a Sleepyhead Deluxe in perfect condition, wooden London themed toys minus their packaging, a Spotted in Ireland t-shirt for my friend’s baby and a teeny L-sized wooden walker.

To give an idea of typical prices, I’ve dug out the following from my stash for reference (all without defects):

Members of the JoJo Preloved Group have admired the bargains that local mums have picked up at the outlet and posts asking for advice on a trip to the outlet keep appearing. So to save my fingers from repeatedly typing recommendations and to thank the lovely ladies for introducing us to JoJo, here are my tips on making a day (or weekend!) out of visiting the outlet.

The treasure trove: The outlet address is Oxwich Road, NP19 4PU, Newport. The sale store is located next to the JoJo Maman Bébé factory (photo available on the JoJo website). There are several parking spaces outside the store and plenty of room in the overflow/staff car park. The store has a fold-down changing station but customers are also welcome to use the toilets in head office (with baby changing facilities).

Bargain hunting: If you have any room left in the boot after a trip to JoJo, there are other outlet stores in neighbouring industrial estates.

Newport (Spytty) Retail Park is a typical out-of-town complex with high-street brands including H&M, River Island, Next, M&S and New Look. A Gap Outlet (NP19 4QQ) is also located alongside the normal stores. Spytty also has a huge Tesco Extra and several chain restaurants (Nando’s, Pizza Express, Frankie & Benny’s etc). But my favourite shop in Spytty is the incredible Matalan Clearance store (NP19 4TX), located behind the main retail park. So. Many. Bargains! Prices are generally around 50% off RRP but there are random special offers. A few months ago the store had all bikinis for 25p a piece (!) and yesterday they were offering 50% off lingerie – which was already reduced. I bought 4 bras and matching knickers for under £10. Amazing! The store has a Facebook page which is updated with special offers.

Maesglas Industrial Estate (five minutes in the opposite direction from JoJo, or ten minutes from Spytty) has a number of stores, with a Next Clearance store at Mendalgief Retail Park (NP20 2NS).  Mendalgief also has branches of Argos, Smyths Toys and TK Maxx, with discount retailers Home Bargains, B&M Bargains and a Lidl across the road.

Mainstream (boring) shopping: The nearest shopping centre is Friars Walk in Newport. It has cheap parking, a great range of restaurants and most high-street shops. If you fancy more variety, St David’s 2 in Cardiff has all the big names and some *luxury* shops. And a pretty huge Primark too.

Keeping the kids happy: I can’t vouch for any of these places but places to keep babies and children entertained near the outlet include a walk around Tredegar House, exploring Newport Wetlands and soft play at Funky Monkeys (nearest to JoJo), Childsplay Cafe or Crazy Club.

And the friend or partner you’ve dragged along: Just go to the Celtic Manor. You will not regret it – an amazing resort right off the M4. Have a spa day, play a round of golf…or copy me and just have a cuppa in the bar. The Celtic Manor Resort is an incredible hotel and you can spend a good few hours simply exploring its grounds. The hotel often has good value deals for overnight accomodation – and check out the sister hotels The Manor House Hotel and Coldra Court Hotel for even better deals.

So whether you’re local or not-so-local and desperately trying to justify a trip to the outlet – enjoy! But leave some bargains for me please!

Single, Pregnant…oh, and a preemie.

It’s fair to say that my life has changed pretty dramatically over the last year. On 16 November 2016, I discovered that I was pregnant. A week later the baby’s father had blocked all contact with me and I faced the prospect of being pregnant and single. I was TERRIFIED. Surely no-one else had ever been in this situation?!

I was thrilled to discover Christine Coppa’s amazing book Rattled a few weeks later; Christine seemed to be my perfect soulmate, another career woman who had fallen pregnant while dating. She seemed pretty positive about the whole situation and had even gone on a ‘babymoon’ before her bundle of joy arrived. Except Christine had two older brothers who were clearly destined to be the perfect male role models. She had a large circle of friends who showered her with cute baby outfits throughout her pregnancy. My US geography isn’t great, but it seemed pretty simple for her to move back to her hometown and commute back to her old life. Happy days.

Rattled gave me a lot of hope that I could be single and pregnant. And I survived. But I didn’t meet anyone else in my situation. It was the darkest and longest period of my life, where I faced complete upheaval by moving back home away from all my friends in London. But of course, it wasn’t that long. Just as I was preparing to freak out put my feet up for maternity leave, my baby’s movements were reduced. Fast forward five terrifying days in hospital and my baby boy L was delivered by emergency c-section at 30+6. My little 2lb 10oz baby. I had to ride the NICU rollercoaster for six weeks before I could bring him home.

And here I am. Baby L is tucked up in bed asleep. And nearly a year after that pregnancy test, I’m still reeling. My life has changed beyond all comprehension. But I’ve survived! Somehow, it has all worked out. So I want to share my experience with others, if only to make sure that any other frightened ladies who type ‘single pregnant help me!‘ into Google aren’t faced with the same list of random articles (none of which seem relevant – except the excellent articles by Coppa, which do help) or an array of forum posts. The endless forum threads always promise the mum-to-be that things that things will get better – but the control freak in me wanted to know exactly how bad it could get! If you’re single, pregnant and end up with a premature baby, then you’re in for a real treat…(and message me, you mythical creature!)