When you become a parent a whole new world opens up to you – literally! You start to frequent places that you would never in a million years even dreamt about before. Here’s Rachel Tompkins’ run down of some of the best (or worst depending on which way you look at it…).

World Of Water Aquatics Centres

Tropical fish may never have even entered your consciousness before having a baby. But now, your local World of Water Aquatics Centre has never been so appealing on a cold, wet day.  Not only can you kill half an hour while your baby sits in their buggy absolutely mesmerised by the colourful fish swimming around in their tanks, if you’re really lucky there’ll be a vending machine for fish food and you can feed the fish too. Obviously, your baby will be too young to do this themselves yet, but they’ll be fascinated by the fish jumping and splashing out of the water. Who needs the London Aquarium?!

National Trust properties

Waste the weekend wandering around a dusty old building with a big garden? No chance! Until you have kids.  Most of them have gorgeous grounds which are perfect for pushing buggies around, and you’re practically guaranteed a cafe with high-quality cake and tea. Better still, some of them have possibly the most coveted playgrounds and gift shops ever. Whilst some might be a bit grown-up for babies, most will include some baby swings which will keep your little ones happy for a good half-hour while you at least drink your coffee in peace.

Garden centres

If the smell of fertiliser and damp plants isn’t enough to put you off hanging out at your local garden centre, then the prospect of wasting your free time walking up and down rows of foliage with a load of horticulturalists certainly will be. Until… yep, you’ve guessed it, you have a baby! Then you realise that there are far worse things you could be looking at than plants, garden furniture and bird-feeders. It’s warm, dry and provides ample space for lapping with the buggy if you’re desperate to get your little one to sleep. And if you’re really lucky there’ll be a café in which you’ll spot other mums mainlining coffee and wolfing down cake while their baby decimates a packet of rice cakes all over the floor.

Family chain restaurants

Who, in their pre-baby days, hasn’t scoffed at families who frequent those huge family chain type restaurants? We all know the ones, with the set kids’ menu (where everything comes with chips), plus colouring pencils and, if you’re lucky, an ice cream machine or chocolate fountain for dessert which makes you recoil at the cross-contamination caused by double-dipping and snotty fingers.

Then you have a baby and you start to soften a little – ‘well there’s lots of space for buggies’ you reason. Next, you could kiss them when they offer to bring over hot water to warm the baby’s bottle. And as your baby gets older it makes for a nice treat to be able to eat your dinner while it’s still hot as they chew their way through a whole pack of colouring pencils before throwing them around the floor. Furthermore, once they’re old enough to make themselves an ice-cream sundae you’ll be far too jubilant about the ten minutes of peace it provides you to worry about germs. Oh and the free balloon when you leave – it’s as good as going to a party!

Local leisure centres

The smell of chlorine permeates your pores, they’re so hot you sweat the minute you step inside, and they’re overrun with screaming kids. But once you’ve had a baby you discover that they run baby swimming classes, which are great because the pool is warm and you can chat to other mums who won’t judge your post-baby wobbly bits. They also usually have a decent creche – which is also great if you want to try and de-wobble those wobbly bits. And there’s guaranteed to be a café (of sorts) where you can feed your starving baby safe in the knowledge that they’ll sleep well later because swimming always knackers them out so much. Everyone’s a winner… apart from the posh, adults-only gym you’ve cancelled your membership for.

Soft Play Centres

They’re noisy, clammy and usually stink of any number of bodily fluids. But once your baby is old enough to sit up and starting to become more aware of the world around them, they quite enjoy sitting in a ball pool and being entertained by the older kids. It’s perfect for taking your baby on a rainy day (and often free, or very cheap, for under-ones), especially if you want them to have some tummy time or be able to move around a bit rather than being stuck in a buggy, and if you’re lucky you’ll get talking to some other mums. If you can bear the noise and the not-so-fresh aromas, you might even enjoy yourself!

The library

In these days of Kindles and podcasts, the last time many of us would have frequented a library was at university. But when you have a baby you soon discover that gone are the days when libraries were silent and stuffy, and that most of them have a children’s corner, complete with bright comfy cushions and board-books that your baby will love. Better still, there’s often a weekly story session or singing group for babies, which cost little if anything. It’s a sure-fire way to bump into other mums and feel like you’re introducing your little-one to an intellectual lifestyle.

The local park

Apart from dog-walkers and druggies, who hangs out at the local park you might wonder? New mums! It’s the perfect place for pounding around with the buggy when you’re desperately trying to get your baby to nap, and in your sleep-deprived state you’ll even get all sentimental about the beautiful bulbs, blossoms and birdsong. Those post-pregnancy hormones really do have a lot to answer for.