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Preparing for Your First Outing with Baby

Sleeping Baby in Carseat

I'll never forget the first time I ventured out of the house with my first baby on my own. My daughter, Bellamy, was 3 weeks old, and I decided to meet a friend for lunch at the local diner. It took an hour to pack the stroller (how many diapers will she need? where did I put the rash ointment?), and then I had to figure out how to carry the whole contraption down our steps.

After being stopped several times on the street by clucking old ladies, I made it to the diner. Then, just as lunch was served, Bellamy started mewling like a kitten who had just spotted a Rottweiler. For a moment, I panicked. I was breastfeeding and had never done it in public. Would I flash the whole restaurant? And just how do you comfort a crying baby, open your shirt, and wrangle with a nursing bra all at the same time, anyway?

In the end, I did the only thing I could think of and pulled up my shirt right there on the faux-leather banquette. When we finally made it back home, I was so exhausted I collapsed on the couch with the baby on my chest and didn't move for two hours.

For any first-time mom, leaving the house with the baby can be filled with SOS moments. But with a little preparation and a few words of advice from been-there, done-that moms, you'll find yourself sailing along with ease.

Your baby makes a monster poop that can be smelled three towns over. The problem? You're out shopping. Not only does the public bathroom have a broken changing station, but it also looks like it hasn't been cleaned since the Carter Administration.

If you're in a mall, try to find the nearest baby clothes store, toy store, or large bookstore with a children's section. Chances are, they'll have more adequate changing stations -- or at least the staff won't mind if you change the baby on the floor. Always have a changing pad on hand. Disposable ones, such as Pee Wee pads, are the best for big messes because you can toss them in the trash. In a pinch, you can use your sweater or jacket.

For simple diaper swaps, chairs at Starbucks, the backseat of your car, or your stroller all work well. Christy Blackmon, a mom of two in Mobile, Alabama, is a big fan of using her own lap as a changing table. "First, open the wipes and clean diaper and put them next to you. Then lay the baby across your lap, balancing his head and neck on one thigh and his lower torso on the other," she explains. "Cross one arm over him, and use the other hand to unsnap his pants and diaper. Tuck the top of the dirty diaper under the baby's bottom. Clean his bottom with a wipe, and then lift up his legs, slide out the dirty diaper, and quickly replace it with a clean one."

Blackmon advises you to flex your feet to keep your thighs even so baby won't slide off. Wherever you choose to change baby, remember to seal up the diaper in a zipper bag so others don't have to share the smell. And never throw a dirty diaper in a trash can that's close to where people are eating or drinking.

You nursed your baby before you left for the post office, but just as you're getting to the front of the endless line, she starts screaming her head off. The pacifier isn't pacifying, and your breasts are starting to leak.

When a baby is hungry, she doesn't care if you're at the post office, on a conference call, or in a receiving line to meet the Queen. She wants food and she wants it now. And since a newborn's feeding schedule can be highly erratic, it is inevitable that you will find yourself needing to nurse in the most inconvenient places.

First thing to remember: A baby is not going to starve if you wait 10 minutes to feed her, so as long as you don't mind some nasty looks from other customers, stay in line, mail your package, and then worry about mealtime. Sometimes picking her up, bouncing her around, and letting her suck on your finger will buy you a few minutes.

Then, do what you have to do, whether that means plopping down on the floor and nursing or retreating to your car for a little more privacy. "The first time I breastfed in public was when my daughter was 5 weeks old," reports Cheryl Murillo, a mother of one in Brooklyn, New York. "I was in an H&M store when she started to scream for food. There was a really long line for the fitting rooms, so I just sat down on a T-shirt display and nursed her right there," she remembers.

One popular way to feed your baby without anyone knowing is to use a sling, which positions the baby perfectly to nurse while his head and your breast are covered up. The best part about this method: You can go about your business while your baby dines away to his delight.

You finally get packed and ready to go on your first big shopping trip. When you arrive at the store, you realize your giant stroller won't fit through the aisles.

Trying to maneuver an SUV-size stroller through a display of delicate doodads is a recipe for disaster. That's why a well-prepared mom always packs an alternate mode of transportation for her baby. For a suburban mom, this means leaving the stroller in the car and popping your little one into a front carrier or sling. Many moms report that they always leave the carrier in the stroller just in case. When your baby gets a little bigger, you can buy an inexpensive umbrella stroller (a good one can be had for under $20), and use that as your shopping wheels.

If you're strolling in the city and don't have a car with you, politely ask the store manager if there's a place up front where you can leave the stroller while you shop, suggests Jennie Dunham, a mother of one in North Salem, New York. Then just carry the baby while you browse (remember not to leave any valuables in the stroller). If your stroller is so enormous that you can't even get it through the front door, well, that's why they invented Internet shopping.

After weeks of eating cereal for lunch and listening to the nonstop strains of Elmo's World, you're ready for a grown-up lunch at a cafe with your friends. But as soon as you sit down, the baby starts wailing. Her diaper is dry, she's not interested in eating, and the folks at the next table are getting fidgety.

You have a couple of choices here: You can get your lunch to go and invite your friends back to your place; you'll still get some good conversation and good food, and your baby's caterwauling won't bother a soul. Or you can stick it out by trying these methods:

Before you leave the house, make sure you've chosen a restaurant where a crying baby will simply blend in with the family-friendly ambience. This doesn't mean you're limited to kiddie cuisine at McDonald's, IHOP, or Chuck E. Cheese's. Plenty of diners, Italian family restaurants, and Chinese restaurants love and welcome babies (it also helps if you choose an off-hour, like 11:30 a.m. or 2 p.m.). My husband and I spent almost every Friday night of our oldest daughter's first six months eating at the Chinese restaurant in our neighborhood, where the waitresses would take turns carrying the baby around, showing her the fish tank, and playing with her.

Next, try the age-old distraction method. One mom I know takes a bottle of bubbles wherever she goes: Watching the bubbles float through the air entertains the baby long enough for Mom to gobble down a quick meal.

Finally, remember that nothing soothes a baby more than a brisk walk in the fresh air. Hopefully, you have friends who won't mind taking turns walking the baby around the block until she falls asleep or settles down. Mary Sternbach, a mother of two in Brooklyn, New York, remembers her first meal out after her first baby was born: "My boss offered to take me out to lunch with my 3-month-old son, who was a very colicky baby. Sure enough, just as we sat down to eat, he started screaming like a banshee. But my boss said, 'Don't worry, I'm great with babies.' She took him out of the stroller and paced back and forth with him in front of the restaurant until I finished my meal."

Another option: Try to make a habit of dining with at least two other (baby-free) friends or relatives. If one of you has to soothe the baby, the other two can keep each other company.

It's time to take your little one on a car trip to visit his grandparents, who live a couple of hours away. As soon as you get on the highway, he starts to cry, and you realize that with the rear-facing car seat, you can't even see his poor little face!

I'm lucky -- my youngest daughter is almost always lulled to sleep by the motion of the car. Other babies are not so easily pacified. "The first time I drove alone with my daughter, she was 2 months old and she hated the car seat," says Murillo. "She started screaming, and nothing would soothe her. I must have stopped three times on the 10-mile drive to try to calm her down."

Some moms report that taking a few practice drives around the neighborhood before attempting a longer ride is a good idea; it helps baby adjust to his car seat. A backseat mirror designed so you can see baby's face helps, as does taping a picture of Mom and Dad in baby's view so he won't be lonely. Some soothing music can't hurt either, so always remember to throw a few of baby's favorite CDs or tapes into your diaper bag.

The best story I've heard was about a frustrated mom who stopped at a red light, took off her T-shirt and tucked it into the car seat with the screaming baby. The baby snuggled against the shirt, which had that delicious mommy scent on it, and instantly fell asleep. Great idea -- if you don't mind driving home half-dressed. Instead, when you're packing up all the rest of the stuff in your diaper bag, toss in one of your own unwashed T-shirts, too.

All of this advice may seem like a lot for a new, sleep-deprived mother to absorb. But before you know it, all of these methods will become second nature -- just in time for your baby to think up a whole new bag of tricks to keep you on your toes!

Marisa Cohen, a mother of two, is a writer based in New York City.

Originally published in American Baby magazine, August 2004.

All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.