It initially gave lonely new mums the chance to reclaim some form of social life once they'd finally got DD* or DS* down for the night. But the phenomenon that is mummy blogging is gaining a life of its own, turning from a virtual take on the church hall coffee morning to something approaching a business for many of the UK's emerging community of parent bloggers.
Mummy bloggers report companies are queuing up to bombard them with the latest children's DVDs, books, shoes and even kid-friendly holidays in the hope of scoring a favourable online review that might help their product to stand out amid the clutter in a fiercely competitive children's market.
Some blogging parents (there are a handful of dads among the mums) get at least 10 pitches a day from retailers and brands keen to harness one of the internet's newest sub-groups. And earlier this month, Butlins took a group of bloggers to the launch of its Ocean Hotel Spa in Bognor Regis, hoping to swap a free mini-break for some free publicity online.
Although a handful of mummy blogs were around as far back as 2006 – three years is an eternity in webworld – the vast of majority of bloggers such as mommyhasaheadache or londoncitymum are much newer to the scene. One relative old-timer, Laura Driver, who has been writing arewenearlythereyetmummy? for the past 13 months, said: "I can't believe how quickly it is snowballing. There used to be just a few high profile mum bloggers but now there are so many starting up each week that you can't keep up with them all. It seems everybody is fighting for a place in the top 100. People are getting quite frantic about it."
Last week, British Mummy Bloggers, a forum for the burgeoning community, hit a milestone when its 500th blogger signed up. By last night, it had gained another 25 members. Susanna Scott, who set up BMB in late 2008, said the UK was making up for its slow start compared with the US, which has at least 6,000 mummy – or mommy – blogs. "Mums used to share information over a coffee at the church hall. With blogging, you can effectively have a coffee morning whenever you want – even at midnight if that is when you have a laptop and a few minutes to yourself," she said.
The boom means that "everyone is targeting mummy bloggers these days", according to Ms Scott, 44, who has three daughters and writes four different blogs, including A Modern Mother. She has reviewed products for Dyson, HP, Sainsbury's, Snapfish, Disney and Blu-ray. "The whole market has gone crazy. I get, not kidding, about six to 10 pitches a day," she said.
Dulwich Mum, the nom de blog for another veteran, Bea Parry-Jones, is another popular target for companies anxious for an online mention. "I've been on luxury holidays, I've been sent designer coats, DVDs, handbags and copious amounts of cosmetics," she said.
As Dulwich Mum, she doesn't review products as such, but will instead "name drop appropriately" – product placing for a digital readership. What Ms Parry-Jones, who has more than 1,000 readers for her satirical musings, doesn't do is regard blogging as a get-rich-quick scheme. "I have a job. I don't see blogging as a business," she added.
Others, like Tara Cain, who writes Sticky Fingers, insist they're "not a news service" for new product launches. Instead, her blog is "the perfect online diary for the big things you don't want to forget" about her children. She discovered mummy blogs while she was pregnant, enjoying them for the "nitty-gritty details and brutal honesty" they provided about parenthood.
Freebies aside, most bloggers regard writing online as a form of escape. Catherine Sanderson, who is the "petite anglaise" who has been blogging about her life as an expat' British mother in Paris for the past three years, said: "I found it a nice way to reach out at a time when my social life had been reduced and I was groping to find my identity again."
*DD stands for Darling Daughter, while DS is Darling Son