With my first baby, my world seemed suddenly smaller, limited to stroller walks and visits to the pediatrician's office. I couldn't imagine taking Mathilda into a bookstore or our small, crowded church: What if she made noise? What if I needed to nurse her or change a diaper? I used to shop for food late at night, after she was asleep and my husband was home, because I dreaded taking her along. When I had my second child, though, I realized things had to change. This time, I had to get out!
The truth is, almost nowhere is totally off-limits with a baby. These five should get you started:
The quick in-and-out runs you made before you had a child are as long gone as your skinny jeans. But this does not have to be an errand you dread. To make it easier...
? Start Small Instead of hauling the baby to the store for the hour-long, $200 shopping event, take her to pick up milk, eggs, and juice. Your confidence will rise and she'll get used to the routine. On later, longer trips, it's best to grab the essentials first (produce, dairy, meats -- located around the rim of the store) in case you don't make it through every aisle.
? Time it Right Weekday mornings are best, if possible; your baby is rested, and you miss the after-work and weekend rush. Of course, feed her at the last possible moment -- ideally, in the parking lot. This isn't the time to push the limits on the two-hour feeding. If you work or have an immovable morning routine for any reason, try for the same early hour on weekends. (Wave hi to the other moms while you're there.)
? Park Near the Cart Corral, Not the Store "You can load up without getting flustered and feeling you're in the way of other shoppers, juggling with your child, carrier, and diaper bag," says Brooke Thompson of New Oxford, PA.
? Take an Extra Layer Grocery stores are notoriously chilly, so even if it's 90 degrees out, bring a sweater for your baby (and for yourself, too -- this is why diaper bags are so big).
? Break Out the Sling or BabyBjorn I never got the hang of attaching the car seat to the grocery cart -- I always felt more secure with my baby next to my body. But do practice getting her in and out at home. "With my first baby, I was very nervous about using the front carrier," says Carolina Fernandez of Ridgefield, CT, a mom of four. "I watched his every breath, held his head with one hand while I reached for the groceries with the other. But after a few times, it was no big deal."
? Don't Even Think About the Self-Serve Checkout Lane Take advantage of the store's services -- bagging your groceries, pushing the cart to your car, putting bags in the trunk.Restaurant (even with a friend with no kids)
Getting out with former office mates or college buds is good for you, and motherhood is no reason to bow out. So...
? Brief your Pals Letting childless friends know what to expect -- frequent interruptions, diaper-changing breaks -- will help you relax, says Christine Louise Hohlbaum, mom of two and author of Diary of a Mother: Parenting Stories and Other Stuff. "Spell out that you might need to feed the baby before you feed yourself or leave early if she's fussy," she says.
? Choose Wisely Of course, you know to skip the five-star, white-tablecloth restaurants, but not every casual cafe is baby-friendly, either. Look for wide aisles and big, roomy booths, says Robin Gorman Newman of Great Neck, NY, founder of Motherhoodlater.com. "If your baby is still in a carrier, you can put her on the table or on the seat next to you while you eat," she says. Best bet: your local buffet. It's not trendy or chic, but there's plenty of room and you can't beat the no-waiting-for-your-food factor. Just take turns staying at the table with the baby. (Likewise, choose easy-to-eat food; messy barbecue ribs and a wiggly baby don't mix.)
? Be an Early Bird Don't wait until noon or, worse, 1 p.m. to do lunch. The last thing any of you need is an agonizing wait for a table. Instead, shoot for 11:30 a.m., which, if you're lucky, is right after your baby's late-morning nap and feeding. Another idea: Meet friends for breakfast instead -- fewer crowds and, hey, you're up anyway, right?
? Make Friends with the Waitstaff I'll never forget the time my husband, Tony, gave our waiter a $10 tip before we even ordered our food. (The young man had been exceptionally polite and accommodating in getting our drinks, and we wanted to keep the good vibes going.) And sure enough, it turned out to be one of the best dining experiences we've ever had with kids -- extra napkins, prompt milk refills, and plates of steaming pasta delivered at record speed. (If you don't want to tip early on, mention that you appreciate the extra effort that goes into serving a table with kids.)Church or Other Place of Worship
You don't have to give up your spiritual life when you become a mom. Even if your house of worship doesn't have a nursery or playroom, you can survive a service if you...
? Arrive Fashionably Late This is one time you don't want to be early -- you'll just stress out trying to keep your baby quiet for an extra 15 minutes. Get there just as the service begins and you'll drastically reduce your chance of a meltdown.
? Create a Family Section Pick a seat near another mom and you'll find strength in numbers (or at least a sympathetic face if your baby fusses). The absolute best spot is near a family with slightly older children. Babies are fascinated by big kids, and vice versa; plus, school-age kids are great at playing endless games of peekaboo. If you don't see any other families, sit near the back, preferably next to an aisle, so you can leave quickly. Older babies and toddlers, on the other hand, are sometimes more captivated up front, close to the music and colorful movement.
? Unbuckle Her Holding even a tiny baby for an hour can make your arm numb; instead, carry her inside in her car seat. But unbuckle the harness and unzip any outerwear; then you can pick her up quickly if she starts crying. (Just keep a close eye to make sure she doesn't wriggle free.)
? Open Up Your "Sundays Only" Diaper Bag Maria Bailey of Pompano Beach, FL, always kept several different diaper bags ready to go at all times. "Having three babies in twenty months, I had no choice but to figure out how to leave the house with newborns, including getting us to church," she says. Bailey's "church bag" had just enough supplies to get her through two hours, with a fancier change of clothes than the old Onesie she kept in her "errands bag." Of course, quiet toys are a must -- no rattles or beeping gadgets! Best bets: small, brightly colored pinwheels to blow or several pieces of fabric in different colors and textures. Your baby will be fascinated, especially if she sees them only once a week.
? Grow a Thick Skin Yes, you want to be considerate of other worshippers, but don't freak out if someone gives you the hairy eyeball, either. There's always one person in church (about 1 in 100, by my very unscientific calculations) who believes that babies don't belong there. Your sweet infant may just prove them wrong. If you're concerned, speak to your priest, minister, or rabbi -- he or she will likely reassure you that babies are more than welcome.
Your Doctor's Office
Don't cancel your postpartum checkup because you don't have a sitter; most docs welcome your newborn at this very important visit. But remember to...
? Leave 30 Minutes Early Especially if this is one of your first outings with the baby, you don't want to arrive late and flustered. Expect a diaper blowout, crying jag, or major spitup on your way out the door. (If you luck out and don't experience one of the above, you've just earned a relaxing half hour sitting in your car outside the doctor's office, listening to soothing music while your baby naps.)
? If Possible, Bring Moral Support Keeping track of the baby, car seat, pacifiers, bottles, and a diaper bag is nerve-racking enough without having to fumble through your purse for your insurance card. Having a friend or relative in the waiting room, holding your belongings, can be a big comfort (especially when you have to get on that scale to see how much of your baby weight you're still carrying).
? Have a Feeding Plan Assume that your baby will need to eat at the most inconvenient time possible. "My son was a two-hour eater, and since the doctor's office was forty-five minutes away, I knew I'd need to get at least one feeding in," says Thompson. Sure enough, Quinn got fussy in the middle of his mom's exam. "Thankfully, I had expressed milk with me and one of the nurses fed him the bottle," she says.
? Enjoy Being a Superstar Nurses, doctors, and office staff will make a gratifying fuss over your baby -- and you. This is a wonderful moment to revel, especially in the midst of those sleep-deprived postpartum months. And do take a photo to leave behind; the staff is proud of "their" baby, too!
Okay, so the World Series may be too overwhelming for a baby, but there's no reason you should limit your sports activities to watching ESPN. Why don't you...
? Branch Out Think beyond the major leagues. Look around for soccer matches or rowing competitions -- any activity with lots of color and movement is stimulating for babies. Even Little League games offer exciting sounds and action. Plus, they're free, close by, and you can leave anytime.
? Stick to Daytime Games Night games are too overwhelming for a tired baby. If possible, pick seats in the shade, or at least dress like you're going to the beach (with a hat and plenty of sunscreen for you and your baby).
? Get Older Babies Moving We took Mathilda to a Pittsburgh Pirates game when she was 13 months old. She didn't seem to notice the action on the field, but she giggled and stomped her feet every time the crowd chanted "Let's go, Bucs!" Walk around, too, to see the mascot, fans in funny outfits, and more.
? Adjust Your Expectations Don't plan on watching too closely, says Matt Hertenstein, who one year attended six minor-league ball games with his wife and baby in their hometown of Greencastle, IN. "Rather, think, 'I'm going to enjoy my family while we happen to be at a game,'" he says. That's an attitude wise parents will maintain for the next 18 years.Charlotte Latvala is a mom of three in Pennsylvania.