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Steppin' Out With My Baby

Before I had my first baby, I imagined my outings as a mother would be much like my prepregnancy ones  -- with one small, sweet, thumb-sucking addition. Well, Lilianna was sweet, but she cried (a lot). She spit up (a lot). She nursed around the clock, required more supplies than would fit in my fanny pack, and got very heavy very quickly. Sometimes it seemed like too much trouble to go anywhere with her in tow.

But it wasn't long before I realized what great companions babies really are. They're easy to keep track of and don't require much in the way of food; they even enjoy running errands. A good trip, though, means being mindful of your baby's temperament and schedule as well as your destination. The first step: Consider your baby's disposition. While more adaptable infants seem to thrive in any environment, sensitive babies might find the bright lights at the supermarket or the crowds at the zoo unbearable. That doesn't mean you should keep your sensitive child at home. In fact, it's part of a parent's job to gently introduce a baby to the world's wonders, says Claire Lerner, child development specialist at Zero to Three. Just take it slowly if she's timid  -- first try a pit stop at the grocery store instead of a stocking-the-pantry trip. No matter what your child's temperament, try to venture out when she's well rested and well fed. This will not only minimize fussing, but it will also enable her to get the most out of the excursion.

When you arrive at your destination, don't expect your baby to entertain herself. Engage her by pointing out the sights and describing what's going on around you. It may require a little more effort, but she'll reward you by being willing to stay out longer. Learn to recognize her threshold and respect it  -- when she's had enough, find a quiet place to regroup or simply bring her home.

Karen Miles is a frequent contributor to Parenting magazine. Additional reporting by BabyTalk magazine.

Shop On

Malls and supermarkets may be all the same to you, but they're prime environments for infants: They're enclosed, they're dry, and they have myriad diversions  -- people, banners, lights, colorful produce.

What to consider beforehand: Learn where the nursing and diaper-changing stations are in your local malls, and use lockers, if they're available, to store your coat and bags. Some supermarkets supply infant seats in their carts, but they may not be in the best condition, so you may want to use your own infant seat instead.

What to avoid: Your fatigue and your infant's cranky mood. Tackle shopping when you're both fresh.

Once you're there: At the supermarket, organize your grocery list aisle by aisle if you can, so you won't have to backtrack for missed items. Pick up the essentials first, so you'll be able to make a quick getaway if your baby has had enough before you've finished your list.

Extras to pack: A baby carrier; a sweater in case the supermarket is chilly; a long-lasting and easy-to-eat snack (such as a bagel); a toy to tie onto the cart.

Go For An Artful Stroll

With our four children in tow, my husband and I ventured out to a Monet exhibit. We drove five hours to get there and waited an hour in line. Still, I was prepared to leave, if necessary, with whichever child couldn't cope. We lucked out. The paintings mesmerized even our infant.

What to consider beforehand: If you live near a museum, you might invest in a yearly pass; that way you can substitute short, frequent visits for daylong marathons. Some museums don't allow backpacks or strollers, so call ahead to find out. Decide which exhibits are a priority and where you can find a quiet place should you need to escape with the baby.

What to avoid: Crowds. You'll find them in some exhibits and most gift shops.

Best options: Jean Sousa, associate director of museum education at the Art Institute of Chicago, suggests that parents explore more relaxed areas of the museum when possible. "A walk up a light-filled grand staircase or through the halls are great ways to introduce a child to the world of art," she says. Some museums have extended evening hours, but if your baby is usually cranky then, you may find that mornings are better.

Once you're there: Remember, your baby will become fatigued, even though he isn't doing the walking. Try taking a break outside for a breath of air and a change of temperature.

Extras to pack: Toys that you can tie onto the backpack or stroller; snacks for older babies; a bottle.

Reserve Any Table

Just because you have a little one along doesn't mean you're restricted to fast-food joints. Just about any type of restaurant can be a potential baby-pleaser. "Babies are fascinated by the parade of people and the sounds  -- the espresso machine or the clattering of dishes," says Ericka Lutz, author of Baby Maneuvers.

What to consider beforehand: Is the music too loud? Are the lights glaring? Is it smoke-free? Will there be a long wait for seating? Is it so formal as to be uncomfortable for family dining?

What to avoid: If you wait until the prime dinner hour, you might feel pressured getting in and out with your baby and all of her paraphernalia.

Best options: Lutz recommends restaurants that have early-bird hours for families. Meals are often less expensive then, and there's usually a more relaxed atmosphere. (And you're less likely to have someone lurking in the doorway waiting for your table.) She's found that Chinese restaurants often have an added baby benefit of offering lots of interesting food cut into little pieces.

Once you're there: You don't have to rush through dinner, but don't order a special dish that takes an extra 20 minutes to prepare, either. Give your baby things to play with. Those little packages of saltines kept my daughter Lilianna busy while we waited for dinner  -- she tore at the unopened wrappers, threw them on the floor, then graduated to eating the crackers inside.

If your baby is crawling, you'll want to try to keep her happy at the table as long as possible  -- once she's on the floor, she'll be very hard to keep track of. Even if she's content to sit under your table, remember that anything she finds there will wind up in her mouth. And if there's a tablecloth to pull on, things could get out of control quickly.

Come tip time, be generous to a waiter who's been especially helpful (or who'll have to clean up the extra mess).

Extras to pack: Small, washable toys and books; a bottle; finger food and snacks  -- Cheerios, crackers, rice cakes.

Take a Hike

Whether it's a walk in the park or a walk on the wild side, getting outdoors is good for Baby and you. You'll get a break from the indoor routine and your baby will enjoy the sights and sounds of nature.

What to consider beforehand: Have you got what it takes gear-wise? Young babies will do well in a front pack. Once they get too heavy (your shoulders will tell you when), you'll want to move her to a sturdy backpack. (Attaching a toy to the frame will help keep Baby entertained.) If you're sticking to more well-traveled routes, a rough-and-ready jogging-style stroller may suit you both. Check out optional canopies that will help keep baby cool and protected.

What to avoid: Too much shade  -- or too little. Trails with lots of low overhanging branches pose an obstacle; bright sunshine can hurt baby's eyes and give you both a burn.

Best options: Hook up with a friend  -- or some friends you've never met. The videotape "Hiking with Baby" introduces a group of actual parents and babies hiking the trails of the San Francisco Bay Area. The insights and experiences they share could give you the confidence to try it yourself. The tape, which is available for $12.95 from Blackboard Entertainment (www.blackboardkids.com; 800/968-2261), even covers such topics as how to change a diaper on the trail and  -- believe it or not  -- nursing while hiking.

Once you're there: Don't overexert yourself  -- especially your first time out. "A good rule of thumb is to hike about half as far as you think your baby would like to," says Carolyn Sutton, a former mountaineering instructor and writer who lives in Denver. Sutton first took her 3-year-old son, Jay, hiking when he was 6 weeks old: "Experience will teach you how much your baby is ready to handle."

What to pack: You may not be a Boy Scout, but your motto is still "Be prepared." Pack plenty of water to quench your own thirst and for mixing up instant formula if that's what your passenger drinks. Don't forget PABA-free sunscreen and DEET-free insect repellent for your little one. Remember that your baby's not the one carrying the heavy load; she'll stay a lot cooler than you do. To keep her warm, think layers: a wicking layer underneath a warm layer (a sweater or a fleece), then a windbreaker layer on top. And throw in a hat for good measure.

Leavin' On a Jet Plane

There's nothing like having a baby to make you realize just how huge this country is. With faraway friends and relatives eager to meet your little one, now may be a great time to plan a trip.

What to consider beforehand: Though children 2 and under can fly free on your lap, buckling your baby into his car seat will be more comfortable for you and much safer for him. To ensure that your child can use his car seat on the plane, you'll need to purchase a ticket for him. Many airlines offer a 50 percent discount for kids under age 2. On some, parents can also book a bassinet for their baby. Even if you're not buying a seat for Baby, consider bringing your car seat anyway. If there's empty space onboard, you'll be glad you did. If there isn't, you can check it at the gate.

Since your hands will be full, try to limit carry-ons. A large diaper bag will suffice in most cases. Wheel your stroller to the gate, then check it in. When you get off the plane, it'll be waiting for you.

What to avoid: Steer clear of crowded flights with multiple connections and layovers. Instead, look for a nonstop flight at a less popular time of day. An overnight "red-eye" flight is out  -- unless Baby can be counted on to sleep the whole time.

Once you're there: Rather than stand in line loaded down with babies and bags, utilize the curbside check-in. At the gate, the early-boarding option offered by some airlines can be a boon if you're traveling with another adult, but if you're traveling solo with a toddler who likes to wriggle, run, and climb, early boarding may only make a long trip seem longer. Nurse or bottlefeed your baby during takeoff and landing to decrease pressure on his ears, and offer him plenty of fluids throughout the flight to help prevent dehydration. You can change your infant's diaper on your seat, in your lap, on the floor in front of you if you're sitting in a bulkhead seat, or in the plane's restroom; some planes have a diaper-changing "table" in a lavatory.

Best options: The Federal Aviation Administration recommends that children under 40 pounds sit in a certified child-restraint system  -- rear-facing for those under 20 pounds and forward-facing for those 1 year of age or older and 20 pounds or more. Most child-safety seats on the market are certified for air travel.

Extras to pack: A change of clothes for each traveler (that includes you), just in case your luggage gets lost or Baby's aim is worse than usual. An extra layer or two for baby; airplanes can get cool. Other essentials: diapers (one for every hour of flight), wipes, baby food, bottles, necessary medications, and a couple of small toys.

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