When running a simple errand with a newborn feels like packing for a 2-week vacation, remember this advice from parents who’ve been there.
Of all the pieces of well-intentioned advice you got when you were expecting (Sleep when the baby sleeps! Choose a great pediatrician! Don’t forget tummy time!), you probably never heard about one important aspect of new parenthood: how to get out of the house with a newborn.
With all the gear babies require — not to mention timing your exit around their schedule — sometimes it seems like you spend longer getting ready to leave than actually out of the house.
If baby-stuff-wrangling feels like an Olympic sport — don’t fret. There are ways to streamline the process.
We spoke to new (and seasoned) parents to get their best tips for making leaving the house with an infant less of a marathon. Here’s their top advice:
Considering all the time most Americans spend in the car, it’s practically a second home. Why not stock it as a mini-traveling version of your baby-ready abode?
“I keep my Baby Bjorn, diaper bag, and stroller in the car,” says mom of 4, Sarah Doerneman.
Veteran mom, Lauren Woertz, agrees. “Always keep a backup set of clothes in the car,” she says. “I also always have diapers, wipes, paper towels, and an extra set of shoes in the car.”
A well-prepped vehicle means less time spent gathering stuff each time you take a trip.
Of course, it's important to make sure you've locked the car if you're keeping gear in there, and don't risk leaving anything in your vehicle that can't be replaced.
You probably have a spare set of keys for those times you just can’t locate the original. The same principle applies to baby supplies.
Double up on essentials like wipes, diapers, a changing mat, and diaper cream so you can easily grab and go. (Perhaps even store them in the car.) This is a great way to use free samples you might get from store or brand promotions.
Or take the preparedness plunge by investing in a second diaper bag, if it’s feasible. (Alternatively, you could use a hand-me-down or just reusable shopping bag as your extra.)
Having an alternate may save you the stress of running around frantically last minute.
If doubling up on baby gear sounds overwhelming or out of your budget, try a different approach.
For a more minimalist method, spend time considering what you actually need on a given outing. Just popping out for a walk or to the grocery store? The bottle warmer and extra bibs can probably stay home.
Many experienced parents have found this less-is-more style freeing. “With my last baby, I actually didn’t carry a diaper bag at all,” says Holly Scudero. “I just made sure to change him immediately before leaving. If needed, I’d stuff a diaper and a washcloth and Ziploc bag in my purse.”
The baby-gear market is saturated with a dizzying array of carriers and wraps, each with their own pros and cons.
The good news is that these devices really can make life easier on-the-go, freeing up your hands and keeping baby snuggled on your skin.
The bad news? Some of them take up a ton of space.
To lighten your load, prioritize finding a wrap that works for you and doesn’t require its own carseat-sized carrier. “I find using a ring sling really helpful,” says mother of 7, Erin Charles. “It’s really easy to put baby in and out of — not a lot of straps and complicated things.”
Others recommend compact wraps such as K’tan or BityBean, which fold up tightly for easy storage in a diaper bag.
Whether you are breast or bottle feeding, feeding baby on the go can not only be stressful, but can bog you down with equipment like bottles, formula, and nursing covers.
Eliminate the need to schlep these accoutrements by feeding baby just before leaving the house, whenever possible. It’ll keep you and baby happier while out and about.
As any new parent knows, schedules can change from day to day with a newborn. But a routine can go a long way toward helping you determine a good time to get out.
“If your baby is old enough, get them on a set sleep schedule,” says mom, Cheryl Ramirez. “It’s much easier because you know when you can leave the house and how much time you have before they lose their minds.” (Or before you do.)
It’s a basic principle that applies to any type of organizing, especially organizing baby gear: Designate a spot for every item. The stroller always goes in the hall closet, for example, or extra wipes belong in a particular drawer.
“I’m methodical about putting things in certain places,” says baby mom, Bree Shirvell. “I keep the dog leash and my keys by the stroller.”
Even when you’re on autopilot from too little sleep, you’ll know where to reach for the necessities.
There are so many unknowns on an outing with your infant. Will he get unexpectedly fussy? Will she have a blowout and need a change of clothes? Fortunately, there are certain pieces of information you can find out in advance.
When visiting an unfamiliar place, give them a quick call to see if there’s a space you can quietly nurse, or to ascertain details on the changing station. It’ll help you decide what you do and don’t need to bring, plus allow you to mentally prepare for any less-than-ideal situations.
Little odds and ends have a tendency to go MIA just when you need them most. Get proactive by strapping smaller must-haves to your stroller or diaper bag with bungee cords or carabiner clips.
“I attach everything,” says mom, Ciarra Luster Johnson. “Sippy cup and toy are both on a tether at all times in the car seat, high chair, or stroller.”
It may be a hassle, but replenishing any depleted essentials after returning from an outing saves major headache the next time you need to jet.
“I always repack my diaper bag when I get back home so I don’t end up without diapers, wipes, clothes, etc.” says Kim Douglas. After all, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure — even when it comes to diaper bags.
There’s a classic piece of baby advice that actually does ring true: Try not to run more than one errand at a time with your little one.
Neither you nor baby needs the stress of getting in and out of the car (or public transit) multiple times, or going too long without sleep or feeding. Keeping your outings short means you can keep baby gear to a minimum, too.
When you’re first starting out, there’s a serious learning curve to all things newborn-related. Leaving the house is no exception.
Don’t beat yourself up if you can’t seem to jump up and go like you used to. Simply build in an extra cushion of time whenever you can.
“Give yourself 20 more minutes to leave than you need,” advises mom, Cindy Marie Jenkins.
Having a little bit of accountability can provide the motivation you need to get much-needed time out of the house, even with baby in tow. “Set up times to meet with friends so it’s harder to bail,” says Jenkins.
Fellow mom Risa McDonnell recalls, “I was fortunate enough to have a few friends with same-age babies in the neighborhood. I never got well organized, but I made sure to schedule walking dates in order to hold myself accountable for actually getting out the door.”
As a new parent, it’s likely your emotions are running high as you face the mental and emotional adjustment to parenthood. With all the stress already on your plate, try not to let prepping for an outing get the better of you.
When the task seems daunting, take a breather.
Call a friend for a quick pep talk or try a few minutes of deep breathing. Most people will understand if you show up a bit late with an infant.
Rest assured, you’ll get the hang of this as time goes by. In the meantime, don’t be afraid to hit the road, even if you don’t feel perfectly prepared.
“Acknowledge that you probably forgot something,” encourages mom, Shana Westlake. “We bring so much stuff we don’t use when we go out. Sometimes you just have to go!”
Sarah Garone, NDTR, is a nutritionist, freelance health writer, and food blogger. She lives with her husband and three children in Mesa, Arizona. Find her sharing down-to-earth health and nutrition info and (mostly) healthy recipes at A Love Letter to Food.