Many parents are alone through choice, others are alone through the death of a partner or because their partner is living with another family or otherwise engaged. Even when it's been a matter of choice, finding oneself a parent and alone is always painful and distressing. All parents need to know how to get help, but those who are bringing up a baby on their own need to know this more than ever.
"I book babysitters to play with the baby on Saturday morning for two hours so I can do the housework, an hour on Saturday evening so I can have a bath, a couple of hours on Sunday so I can go for a run."
Maureen, single mother.
Make a list, with phone numbers, of all the people you know who can help you and keep it handy:
• Health visitor - when you're worried about your baby;
• Breastfeeding counsellor - for feeding or any other problems;
• Neighbour - for help in an emergency;
• Best friend - to phone when you're feeling down (very important);
• Other single parents with same-age children - to swap childcare;
• Local teenager - for babysitting;
• Bank employee - to give financial advice;
• Benefits clerk - to tell you what you can claim.
It may be worth asking about joining a babysitting circle - other parents may be happy to 'count' the hours you could offer looking after their child during the day, or, for example, even doing the ironing or typing for them. Your local NCT group should be able to help with information. Ring the enquiry line on 0870 444 8707.
Petra feels that coping alone is all about caring for yourself: "I have candlelit baths, make myself feel good, nurture myself. Then, by leading a balanced lifestyle, I am able to have time for my child."
7 Sovereign Close
London E1W 3HW
0207 488 9300
National advice line: 0800 018 4318
It also publishes a useful, free, 36-page guide: 'Gingerbread Lone Parents Handbook.'
National Council for One-Parent Families
255 Kentish Town Road
London NW5 2LX
0800 018 5026
National Debtline 0121 359 8501 - for telephone help with money matters.
From about seven months, your baby will be able to clap hands or bang two cubes together. They will tend to use their fingers at about eight months. It's a good idea to sing finger rhymes with him or her such as: '1, 2, 3, 4, 5, once I caught a fish alive,' or 'Two little dickie birds.' Pointing is usually a baby's first gesture and excitingly it can also be counted as another attempt to 'speak'.
Your baby will also want you to show them things and explain what they do. They will also drop things from the highchair so you can retrieve them. They will love games like 'Hide-the-rattle', and toys that show cause and effect.
By the end of their first year, your baby will be able to grasp things, move them from hand to hand, shake, bang two things together, find an object that's hidden, hide an object, push things, pull things, throw, stack and nest things.
Toys your baby will enjoy include:
• A set of stacking/nesting cubes;
• Wooden bricks;
• Plastic coloured rings that stack together;
• Shape sorters, though they will need help matching shapes;
• Simple jigsaws - with your help;
• Toys that do things.
For exercise, let your baby play with push-along toys or ride-ons. A simple large beach ball is fun at this stage too.
NCT Nearly New Sales are good places to buy secondhand toys.
There are many beautiful books around for children under 12 months. Spend a happy morning at a bookshop or children's library investigating what's available. At home, prop picture books against the skirting board so your baby can crawl towards them.
Keep books in little baskets with other toys, so he or she can get the baskets down and sort through them. Rotate the books in the baskets so they don't get bored. Books with simple pictures of familiar household objects are extremely popular with babies.
Also look for:
• Tough pages that won't tear;
• Bright colours;
• Different textures or sounds (squeaky books);
• Surprises - books with mirrors, or pop-up pages;
• Rhythms - a repetitive text or a nursery rhyme that you can read to your baby will show that words can be fun.