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Not all nursing pads are equal. My criteria for good nursing pads are simple: (1) they should effectively absorb milk and (2) they should be comfortable to wear. Now, every nursing pad that I've ever tried has been able to absorb milk effectively but the comfort issue is something else. Do you know the horrible, painful sensation of gingerly peeling a nursing pad off your tender nipple because your milk has formed some kind of super glue and every time you try to remove the pad your skin seems to be coming away with the pad? Surely it wasn't just me!
I've tried Sainsbury's own brand, Johnson's Baby and Avent nursing pads - they just stuck to my nipples when they became wet. The pads always seemed to be fat, puffy creatures with lots of wispy fibers designed to cling to your skin like tiny, white leeches, reluctant to be detached without taking tiny pieces of skin with them each and every time. Yes, they absorbed milk but my nipples were constantly sore, with wispy fibers stuck to them. And, more importantly, they took so long to peel away from my raw skin that my baby used to become grumpy waiting for her feeds. At first, I excused the pads with "my nipples are sore anyway because baby is learning to latch on". Then, it was "I'm leaking too much/too little". Next, "well, all pads are the same". Finally, I couldn't stand it any longer and contemplated doing without...
Salvation came in the form of a free sample of Lansinoh nursing pads (in a Bounty pack - by Bounty.com) - finally I'd found a pad that was wonderful to wear. Lansinoh pads are larger and slimmer than other pads, with a smooth, comfortable surface. When your milk leaks on to the pad, it is gently and completely absorbed; they also absorb more milk than other brands, so you can keep wearing them for longer. Lansinoh pads do not stick to your skin and keep your nipples feeling comfortable. They have an adhesive strip on the back, to help them stay in place when worn. If you're out and about a lot, they are also individually wrapped so you can slip them in your handbag for convenience.
When you use Lansinoh pads, you don't notice them because they are so thin and light. When you leak, the pad locks away the moisture - if you feel a used pad, it is soft but lumpy where the milk has been cleverly wicked away under the surface. It may seem way too over the top but I can't begin to describe the comfort and relief that a good nursing pad brings! Until I started using Lansinoh pads, I was beginning to dread feeds because I knew I'd have to peel away another painful, stuck nursing pad and plug my baby on to raw, stinging skin. With Lansinoh pads, I casually feed my baby "on demand" and, later on, remove the used pads and throw them away. With the other brands I tried, the best way to remove them was to sit in the shower (with the stuck pads still clinging to my skin) and wait till they became sodden so they would come away easily.
So, what's the down side then? I'm tempted to say nothing but there are a couple of points you should take note. Firstly, the backs of the pads are light pink. This is invisible under most clothes (because the pads are so slim) but if you wear white nursing tops, they may be visible if the material is thin. Secondly, Lansinoh is a premium brand so these pads are more expensive than other brands. (Using current prices* on Sainsburys.co.uk, own brand pads cost about 4p per pad, Johnson's Baby about 9p per pad and Avent about 10p per pad. Using current prices on JohnLewis.com, Lansinoh pads cost about 11p per pad. All prices exclude shipping.)
Having a baby is expensive, I know, but I've learned through experience that there are some things you simply cannot cut corners on. You must use a nappy that fits your baby (not all brands are the same shape/fit), your baby will experience nappy rash so do buy some kind of diaper ointment, mastitis is really painful so a breast pump will be your new best friend, and, you must use nursing pads that are comfortable. Breast feeding can be really easy once you get past the first couple of weeks (when you and baby are both still learning what to do) but it will never work if you are constantly in pain and/or discomfort. I simply cannot recommend Lansinoh nursing pads enough! If you balk at the cost (over twice the cost of a supermarket "own brand") then just think about how much infant formula milk would cost for 1 year's supply versus 1 or 2 nursing pads per day. I rest my case!
[*Prices checked at the time of writing - September 2007.]
Egg Pay is marketed as an email payment service. To apply for an account is quite straightforward - just the usual personal details and a statutory money laundering check. If you don't have any existing Egg accounts, your account area will be created for the first time - requiring various security question and answers to be set by you - otherwise, your new Egg Pay account will simply be added to your portfolio of existing products.
To send an email payment, log in to your Egg account area and view your Egg Pay account. Select "e-mail payment" and follow the instructions. You can send up to £200.00 in one transaction and include a brief message with the payment.
The important thing to note is the transaction security question and answer. Choose either a cell phone number starting with 07 or a password, which you should tell the recipient - it will only be used for this transaction. Only the recipient will receive the email and only they (and you) should know the correct security answer to enter.
Egg will take the funds from either your Egg Pay account, another Egg savings account or a debit card (i.e. an external current account) - whatever you have chosen. This money is then deposited into your Egg Pay account, if necessary, pending transfer to your recipient. When your recipient receives their email from Egg, it will tell them to go to a web page where they can enter their security answer and payment details. Egg transfer the money by BACS to the recipient's account number and sort-code, which takes about 3-4 days.
You can cancel an email payment if it has not been collected by the recipient. So if you've made a typo in the email address (despite entering it twice for verification) or if you've simply changed your mind, you can recall it. However, once your recipient responds to the email from Egg and starts the transfer process, it is too late.
If you have any other difficulties, there are useful help files online (the "need help" link is at the top of every web page) and you can also send a secure email to the bank or make a telephone call. I have never needed assistance with an Egg Pay transaction - and I have used my account to make personal payments, external account transfers and auction payments; however, I have contacted the bank on other occasions, unrelated to my Egg Pay account, and can assure you that they are very helpful and polite.
EGG PAY VERSUS PAYPAL
Egg Pay does not have obvious competitors although the closest is probably PayPal, which offers online payment services worldwide and is widely seen as the best choice for eBay auction transactions. However, while PayPal is not operated by a bank and does offer credit and debit card payments, Egg Pay is operated by a bank and only offers debit card payments. (Both of them also allow payments to be funded from your account balances.) Moreover, there are no fees associated with Egg Pay for both sender and recipient. (Egg have reserved the right to charge fees in the future, although they have said this for the past several years that I've operated an Egg Pay account.)
For example, if you were to send money via Egg Pay, you would pay no fees and the recipient would be certain that the transaction was final. However, if you were to send money via PayPal, you would pay no fees but the recipient could be charged 1.90% to 3.40% of the transaction amount plus Euro 0.35 (depending on level of account held). Moreover, if the payment were funded by credit card, it could be subject to a chargeback (a means of reversing payments after collection). This being the case, I really don't understand why eBay sellers aren't keener to accept Egg Pay over PayPal. I have rarely seen it offered as a payment method and have never been able to persuade my sellers to accept it. Although on eBid, a small competitor to eBay, I have seen it offered as a payment method and have successfully used it to make a couple of purchases.
The other attraction of PayPal over Egg Pay is the ability to integrate payment buttons and a shopping cart into your website. I admit that here Egg Pay do fall short. If you wished to use Egg Pay as a payment method on a commercial website, you would have to ask your customers to include a description of their order in the comments box when sending their payments - and they might need to send several payments as the transaction limit is only £200.00. The transaction limit for PayPal is several thousand pounds.
You can use Egg Pay as a regular savings account. Egg will send you a paying-in book and pre-paid envelopes for cheque deposits. You can also transfer funds from other Egg savings accounts or external accounts by debit card or BACS. You receive 2.25% gross AER, with interest paid monthly. Withdrawals are by BACS, CHAPS (£25.00 fee) or transfer to other Egg accounts. It is not intended to be a main savings account though; Egg's own "normal" savings accounts pay 5.00% gross AER, which is considerably higher.
Another benefit is the ability to transfer funds to external bank accounts. The funds are collected from your debit card (i.e. your external current account) and are paid into your Egg Pay account. Then they are transferred straight out of your Egg Pay account into the specified external account via BACS. So if you find it difficult to set up payments from your own bank, perhaps because their online banking facility is slow or difficult to navigate, then you can simply use your Egg Pay account as an easy alternative.
Egg Pay is ample for personal transactions (including auction sites like eBay) but if you operate an online business then it is too limited to be anything other than an alternative payment method. This is unsurprising as Egg only marketed this product as a personal payment method e.g. send your mate that tenner you owe them from last night.
I would recommend Egg Pay to anyone needing to send small email payments. If you already have other Egg products, then I would recommend using Egg Pay anyway because of the extra functionality e.g. making external bank transfers. With a price tag of "free" it is hard to complain, so my only reservation is that it might disappoint anyone seeking an outright replacement for other online payment providers such as PayPal.
[Please note, interest rates and fees were correct at the time of updating this - April 2008. They may vary in the future e.g. if the base interest rate, set by the Bank of England, changes.]
Egg offer a range of banking products: savings accounts, loans, credit cards and mortgages. There are also the usual in-house range of insurance products and two special services, namely Egg Money Manager and Egg Pay. The former being an account feature that uses a secure download requiring ActiveX (a component of MS Internet Explorer for Windows) to view external bank accounts within the Egg account area and the latter being a special type of Egg savings account intended to enable email payments and some external transfers. As most of these products are reviewed elsewhere on Dooyoo, I will not dwell too much upon individual features.
EGG VERSUS OTHER BANKS
The main difference between Egg and a typical high street bank is that Egg do not operate branches and they do not offer current/chequing accounts. You must consider Egg as your secondary bank and maintain a relationship with another bank that does operate a current account. However, the savings in not running branches are passed on to customers in the form of high debit interest rates e.g. the debit interest rate for Egg savings accounts is 5.00% gross AER and the debit interest rate for Egg Cash ISA accounts is 6.05% gross AER.
Another difference is the innovative fusion between credit and debit facilities. Egg offer two credit cards: the Egg Card, which is a Visa credit card, and Egg Money, which is a Mastercard credit card. You may carry a debit or credit balance on an Egg Money account; you pay credit interest of typically 7.90% APR when you owe money but you receive debit interest of 4.00% gross AER when you save money. I can't think of any bank that offers a similar product to Egg Money but, for comparison, I think it is similar to a current account mortgage.
SECURITY, SECURITY, SECURITY
So, if you like what you've read thus far, how do you apply for an Egg bank product? Simply apply online with the usual information and await a printed copy to be posted to you for verification and signing. If you apply for a savings account then you will undergo a statutory money laundering check and if you apply for an account to borrow money (e.g. a loan or credit card) then your credit history will be checked. (You can obtain a copy of your credit history by applying to Experian, Equifax or Callcredit with the statutory £2.00 fee and details of your previous addresses for the past 6 years.)
It is all very quick and easy. The only aspect to point out is the security questions - as Egg operates online, you need to set various question and answers to ensure the security of your accounts such as your mother's maiden name and a password. These are used when logging into your account area and when telephoning a customer service agent (who will ask about 8 questions to verify your identity).
Egg take account security very seriously and in over 4 years I have never experienced any fraud or account breaches. Be prepared for zealous features like having to telephone the bank if you forget your password, being logged out automatically after 15 minutes of inactivity and being telephoned to verify "unusual activities" on your credit card, which can be as innocuous as your additional card holder using a petrol station a hundred miles away at the same time that you were buying the weekly groceries.
The main point of any bank is obviously their savings and current accounts. As I mentioned, Egg does not offer current accounts but they do offer very good savings accounts. You can open several savings accounts and name each account e.g. if you happen to like earmarking different funds as "Nest Egg" and "Sports Car". There are several options to pay in money. You can post a cheque using your paying-in book slips and pre-paid envelopes, you can transfer money from an external account by BACS or CHAPS, you can transfer money from another Egg savings account or you can make a debit card payment. I prefer making debit card payments as the funds are credited for use immediately. Internal transfers take 1-2 days, with the request date as the date of transaction, and external transfers or payments depend on the external bank. Withdrawals are made by BACS, CHAPS (for a £25.00 fee) or by post. I use BACS, which takes 3-4 days. (If you didn't know, CHAPS is an urgent payment method for same day transactions. BACS is what most people use for day-to-day transactions e.g. when your employer pays in your wages.)
There are some historical savings accounts that are closed to new applicants. I will only mention that there used to be a savings account that included a cash card for withdrawing money from ATMs. I never operated this type of account and can only assume it was withdrawn from lack of interest.
CUSTOMER SERVICE SAINTS
Most banks are very hit and miss when it comes to good customer service. If you have a high street bank account, you will probably know there is a great deal of variation between branches - indeed we use a particular branch of our main high street bank that is nowhere near us, solely because the staff at that branch are so efficient and pleasant. However, I can say that customer service at Egg is invariably good. I have only telephoned the bank on a couple of occasions but I have emailed them many times in the past and they have always been pleasant and helpful. Response time is very good. They will email you when there is a response ready in your secure email area (which you then log in to read). You can also get them to email you if there is some server downtime, when the website is running again (you'll see this option when you try to log in, if they are down).
I have held accounts with many different banks in the past, and I have now reached the point where I no longer care about staff being perfect and everything going exactly to plan. I only care about staff being helpful, polite and knowledgeable. Everyone is only human. I cannot say that Egg have never made a mistake (the last one was a typo on my credit card) but they always apologise profusely and immediately rectify the problem. They answer any question, no matter how trivial, with consideration and never make you feel like you're wasting their time. Yes, sometimes it feels like you've received a tick-the-box answer but you can keep asking questions until you are fully satisfied - that's the whole point. Even now, based on my experience with other banks, I sometimes press "send" and wonder if my email has produced a fit of rage or scorn but then I open the response a few hours later and smile with relief to see the words "please" and "thank you" and the pleasantly attempted answer.
I've gone through about 4 or 5 other banks in the time that I've been an Egg customer, that I've ditched for various reasons such as ridiculously expensive fees, lacklustre service and sheer incompetence and rudeness. However, Egg have been angels throughout my time with them - touch wood, they will continue to be so for a long time to come. In fact, Egg are now my benchmark when it comes to judging a good banking experience. I know Egg have had some bad press over account closures in the 2007/08 "credit crunch" but I still think they are a great bank and I'm still willing to say: I wholeheartedly recommend Egg to everyone. You guys rock!
[Please note, interest rates and fees were correct at the time of updating this - April 2008. They may vary in the future e.g. if the base interest rate, set by the Bank of England, changes.]
Your email, anywhere, anytime, the way you want it. All you need to do is sign up, log in, set up your accounts and you're good to go. It doesn't matter how many email addresses you have to manage - you really can deal with it all in the one place.
SIGN UP, LOG IN, TUNE OUT
So, to sign up, you need to be sent an "invitation" email by an existing user. However, if you don't have a friend who can send you an invitation, most "freebie" forums will be able to help you out. Just do a search online - Google it. Then, it's the standard sort of form - pick a username and password etc. You can use both googlemail.com and gmail.com as your email domain name and it makes no difference if you receive email to either domain in upper- or lower-case or whether there are dots in the username because Gmail doesn't recognise mixed case or dots.
It's totally free to sign up. Yes, there is a wee bit of advertising but frankly you won't really notice it. There is a wee line at the top of the screen and, when you read your emails and so on, there are a few links at the right hand side. If you do happen to read them, they are relevant because they are selected based on the words on the screen - some people may not like this but it is just automated so it's not as if someone is reading your camping trip itinerary and then trying to sell you fishing tackle (although, that is the main premise) and it is often humourous e.g. if you're in the spam folder there is generally an ad link to a spam (the food, not the email) recipe.
ALL ADDRESSES, 2GB, ONE PLACE
Once you're in, you'll want to go straight to "settings" in the upper right hand corner of the screen. This has all the usual email settings, which you can customise. The ones of main interest will be "accounts" and "forwarding and POP". The latter allows you to set your account to forward to another email address or to allow POP access (for use in an external email application like Outlook, Entourage or Thunderbird). The former allows you to specify other email addresses which you want to use with your account.
So, suppose you have other existing email accounts (of course you will) such as your own domain or Yahoo or school. Then, the thing to do is "add another email address" and wait for a verification email to be sent to that address by Gmail. Follow the instructions and then you can use that address as the "from" address in Gmail emails that you send out. Go one step further and set your other account to forward to your Gmail account and then you will be receiving and sending email from your Gmail account as if you were using your other email address. Do this for all your existing email accounts and then you can use Gmail as your main central email account and storage space. After all, Gmail gives you 2 Gb of space and, being online, is totally portable so surely it's a no brainer?
STARRED, THREADED, LOST & FOUND
Gmail keeps all emails threaded together, so you can see all the responses in one place. So, if you send an email and your friend replies to it and then you reply and so on, you'll see the topic and your names with a number in brackets indicating the number of emails in that "conversation" or thread.
With 2 Gb of space, you may give up the habit of deleting your emails but if you get overwhelmed with the volume of old data, then you have a few options. You can search through your emails using the "search mail" box at the top of the screen. You can "archive" your emails, which causes them to sort of disappear from display. Although, you can always locate them again by searching for them. And, you can also star your emails - on the left hand side of each email there is a wee star. If you click on it, it turns yellow. Then if you click on the "starred" link, on the left hand side of the screen under the "inbox" link, you will bring up every starred email even if it has been archived.
CHAT ABOUT THE FEATURES
There are too many features of Gmail to mention all in the one place. However, most of them will be familiar to you and are self-explanatory. There's a "contacts" address book, for example, which you won't need to be told how to operate. There is also an excellent spam filter, which sends all spam emails to the spam folder. By default spam is deleted after 30 days, unless you manually empty the folder, which gives you ample time to check the emails. I must say, Gmail does an excellent job - it picks up nearly every spam email I receive. I hardly ever need to report spam or to declare an email is not spam. It is much better than the spam filters in Thunderbird (the email application that Firefox users will be familiar with) or Entourage (the Mac version of Outlook and, no, I don't know why Microsoft use two different names).
One feature that is different and worthy of a mention in its own right is the chat feature. You can chat to any of your contacts who are online just like any IM (Instant Messenger) application such as those by MSN and Yahoo. It sits in the bottom right hand corner of the screen or you can also sort of pop it out and have it in a separate window. You can set who can chat to you and see you online (under "settings" and then "chat") and whether it plays a sound (useful for if you're in another window because then it sort of pings when a new message is received). You can also save your chat messages, should you feel the need. I don't bother myself but if you do, you can always go "off the record" for selected chats if you don't want to save every chat you have. You then search through old chats the same way you search through your old emails.
I would totally recommend Gmail to anyone who needs an email account and even anyone who already has several email accounts. It is very easy to use and very customisable. It has more features than your average person could want or use. And to top it off, it has the best spam filter I've seen in a long time and more storage than you could ever possibly need. If you get stuck, there is online "help" in the top right hand corner of the screen when you log in. But frankly, I don't think you'll need it.