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Personal finance: Expensive baby care items guaranteed to give anxious parents sleepless nights: From pounds 250 an hour for a 'sleep guru' to pounds 30 for a nappy bin ... Donna Ferguson looks at the big-ticket payouts that mums and dads most regret

August 31, 2014

Donna Ferguson

A third of parents waste more than pounds 200 on useless baby gadgets in their child's first year of life and one in 10 spends more than pounds 500 trying to speed up their child's development, according to research.

In a survey of more than 1,000 parents by for the Observer, 92% said they had spent money on so-called baby "essentials" which turned out to be useless, and 69% admitted that to help get their child to go to sleep they had spent more than pounds 50 on gadgets, health remedies and advice from so-called "sleep experts".

The baby goods market (equipment, safety, transport, furniture and feeding products) is worth pounds 900m a year, research by market intelligence GfK suggests, with the typical mother spending at least pounds 1,000 on baby products before her child is even born, according to a recent survey by Netmums.

So what do parents most regret buying? We asked five parents what they think they wasted money on in their baby's first year.


Vanessa Rolf, a 37-year-old textile artist, spent pounds 250 on an hour with a "sleep consultant" over Skype when her daughter Eva was 10 months old. "I would have paid that sum five times over to get some sleep. Eva was waking up eight times a night on average. She'd only sleep for 90 minutes at a time, and she'd been like that since she was born."

Paying an expert to tell her what to do made her feel like she was taking positive action. But following the consultant's advice - to sleep in her child's bedroom - made the situation even worse. "We did it for seven nights and Eva started sleeping for only 40 minutes at a time. She was so exhausted in the morning that she'd just wake up and cry for 20 minutes."

She also spent pounds 30 on "Ewan the dream sheep" - an award-winning toy that promises to "settle babies into a peaceful sleep" using a heartbeat and womb recording. "It drove us bonkers. It would put her to sleep but switch itself off after 20 minutes, at which point she'd wake up and cry."

Other parents, however, say that such toys are "an absolute godsend". "We bought Henry a 'Slumber Bear' for pounds 30 and I remember vividly the first time we used it, he went from screaming to fast asleep in seconds," says Rob Gill, a London-based mortgage broker.

Similar anecdotes abound online, but Netmums spokeswoman Nicola Lamond warns parents against paying much attention to "magic cures".

"The problem with buying products and gadgets that promise a quick fix is that, if it isn't the answer, then it's tempting to keep on throwing money at other 'solutions'. It can very quickly add up."


It is estimated that breastfeeding mothers save at least pounds 550 on the cost of formula every year. Yet the pressure to breastfeed means that for some, these savings are lost on expensive gadgets and lactation consultations. For example, Rachel Rowan [not her real name], a 34-year-old radio producer, spent hundreds of pounds trying to breastfeed her daughter Lily. "My lactation consultant advised me to hire a breast pump for pounds 40 a month and express 10 times a day to increase my milk supply. I even bought a special pounds 25 bra with holes in it so that I could express my breastmilk hands-free."

She spent another pounds 30 on a supplemental nursing system, taping the end of a tube of formula to her nipple so that her baby had to suck on her nipple to get the formula milk.

"It may help other women but personally, I felt ridiculous," says Rowan. "Then again, I desperately wanted to maintain the amazing bond of breastfeeding."

She also paid pounds 50 for baby Lily to have a craniosacral massage to improve her latching on to the breast. This alternative therapy, which is also popular with parents of colicky babies, involves placing a hand on different parts of the body and "feeling for a very subtle movement".

"It can look like you're just sitting there lightly touching a baby, but the therapist is actually communicating with the baby's body," says Jonathan Poston, chairman of the UK'sCraniosacral Therapy Association.

"It felt like paying a witch doctor," says Rowan. "I suspect it didn't make any difference at all."

Poston agrees the practice won't work for every baby, but argues that "if it didn't work, people wouldn't keep coming". He also says that midwives regularly recommend the therapy to parents.


Ever seen a drooling baby wearing a necklace of amber beads? It's not a fashion statement - it's "stone therapy" for teething. "Amber is a natural analgesic and will help to calm a baby without resorting to drugs," says necklace retailer

These claims are often repeated online, and convinced 34-year-old artist Daniella Bowyer to shell out pounds 12 for an amber necklace for her seven-month-old baby, Matilda. "I was happy to try it because it didn't involve giving her drugs." She believes it was "definitely" worth the money. "I noticed a difference within 48 hours, so Matilda wore her necklace until she was two. She didn't have any major teething problems."

In addition, Bowyer also gives her daughter almost 100 sachets of homeopathic teething granules over the course of each year, at a cost of around pounds 20. "I sprinkle the granules in her mouth, and it calms her down and relieves her pain."

Rolf, who at one point was spending pounds 5 a week on teething granules, disagrees. "I think the granules provide a distracting sensation, which was useful when Eva was screaming in public, but it didn't actually ease her pain. Inevitably, she'd start crying again."

Consultant paediatrician Donald Macgregor says neither "therapy" is likely to have any medical or painkilling qualities. "However, if a mother believes it will work, then it will probably have some effect on their baby. Babies whose mothers are calm and settled become more calm and settled themselves."

However, Trading Standards has warned about the potential choking hazards of amber teething necklaces.


For Alexandra Vanotti, a 35-year-old news producer, the biggest waste of money was an "innovative nappy disposal system" that offered "protection against germs and odours" by sealing each individual nappy. A bin, in other words, but one that cost pounds 30 and needs special bin liners that cost pounds 5 each.

"A normal bin would have been fine. I bought it before Albie was born and only realised afterwards that you can buy 300 nappy bags for about 35p from a supermarket."


The latest "must have" gadget (according to its manufacturers, the Gro Company) for sleep-deprived parents is a Gro-Hush (1): a small pad you attach to the palm of your hand, and then press against the baby's head, or your bump.

It transmits soothing "white noise" directly at a subtle volume only the baby can hear and promises to "keep your baby relaxed and happy" without disturbing any nearby adults. It launches in September at an RRP of pounds 34.99. Meanwhile, the latest baby monitor innovation is the Sproutling, (2) which involves putting a tag around your child's ankle. The tag transmits data to an iPhone and aims to predict how long your child will sleep, based on, for example, the baby's heart rate and the light and temperature of the room. What's more, the device claims to be able to learn from the data it has registered so it can make more accurate predictions in the future.

It's due to launch in the US in 2015 for $299 (pounds 180), but eager buyers can pre-order now online. You can join a mailing list and the company will let you know when the product is available in the UK.

For teething babies, there's also a new "hi-tech" solution: a vibrating teether from Munchkin that costs pounds 7. "When a baby bites down on the teether, gently massaging vibrations are activated, providing relief exactly when it's needed on the gums," a spokesperson said.

Finally, a new product is out that demonstrates that all parents and their offspring have - so far - been living in the dark ages: a potty with an automatic movement sensitive night light. Designed for night-time toilet training, the Lumipotti (3) promises to "help children get a good night's rest". It launched in February and costs pounds 20.


Alexandra and Alfie Vanotti's nappy bin for baby Albie used liners costing pounds 5 each. Photograph by Katherine Rose for the Observer

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Source: Observer (UK)

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