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New-Parent Social Rules: Where You Can Take Baby

Infants seem so portable: Just buckle 'em in the car seat or carrier and you're ready to hit the road, right? Well, not always. Negotiating even the simplest errands with a screaming newborn strapped to your chest can boost any new mom's stress level. Then there's the whole germ thing; when your baby is just weeks old, you want to stay away from crowded indoor areas where she can catch a cold or an infection. But out you must go -- older siblings require rides to school, the fridge needs stocking, and the infant herself has doctor appointments to keep. Then, too, after a month or so, you'll be itching to leave the house for a more substantial change of scenery. Before you shop the mall for a new outfit or make reservations for a nice dinner out, lessen the stress of traveling with your baby by checking out our expert advice. Then pack your diaper bag and take off.

In a perfect world

The theater's dark; maybe the baby will fall asleep and you can catch the latest Bond flick.

The reality

You've heard that a vacuum cleaner can lull your baby into dreamland, but could you really expect him to sleep through those deafening special effects? We don't think so. Plus, that booming surround sound can cause real damage. "Any noise that registers 90 decibels or higher can hurt a child's hearing," says Brenda Nixon, author of The Birth to Five Book. In recent years, even children's movies have measured up to 130 decibels. Not to mention the decibel level your awake and uncomfortable baby's crying can reach, and the irritation your fellow moviegoers will feel when it drowns out the film's dialogue.

Our advice

Wait for the DVD. If you're having serious Brad Pitt withdrawal, see whether a local cinema offers matinees just for mothers and kids under 2. Often during these screenings, the sound is turned down and the lights are left on. Otherwise, go during your little one's naptime, sit in the back, and figure on leaving before the final credits roll.

In a perfect world

You're finally ready for that pair of non-maternity jeans (oh happy day!) so you'll hit the sales at the mall while pushing your baby in the stroller.

The reality

Bargain-hunting with an infant is very doable with a little planning. Shop at stores that feature a wide-open layout to avoid becoming tangled in a rack of sweaters as you maneuver your baby's wheels up and down the aisles. Also, look for spacious dressing rooms -- you can squeeze in a private nursing session or change a diaper if you need to. (Those giant mirrors are great fun for babies.) Don't be discouraged if your first attempts are rocky; as you get to know your little one better, your shopping sprees will go more smoothly, says Laura Jana, MD, coauthor of Heading Home with Your Newborn: From Birth to Reality. "Some babies do well being out and about; others don't," says Dr. Jana. Once you figure out which kind of kid you have, you'll know how long you can browse and what time of day is best.

Our advice

Shop, but be ready to cut your trip short. A tip for grocery stores: If you haven't made it to the checkout aisle when meltdown time hits, ask a manager if he can refrigerate perishables and set your cart aside until you come back later.

In a perfect world

You can be there for your favorite cousin's nuptials and show off the baby to extended family members. The invite didn't say "Kids Welcome," but who wouldn't be thrilled to see little Emma in her adorable dress?

The reality

If kids aren't invited, don't bring them. Period. If you don't know whether they are, ask before you RSVP.

Our advice

Go without your baby. Some brides and grooms set up free on-site babysitting, usually in a room at the hotel or reception hall so you can dash off to nurse or cuddle your infant in between "The Chicken Dance" and "Hot Hot Hot." If that's not the case, the bride may be able to steer you toward other guests who have little kids and might be happy to share a sitter with you.

In a perfect world

You can give the baby a bottle, eat a meal that didn't come out of the microwave, and chat with grown-ups all at the same time.

The reality

The barrage of unfamiliar sounds and smells can turn the calmest baby into one cranky little customer whose wiggling and fussing will make cutting your steak a challenge -- and will probably annoy the other patrons. But it is possible to have a nice meal out. Schedule it for a time when your baby will be rested and fed, go early -- 5:30 or 6 -- and bring toys. Ask for a booth and set him next to you in his car seat (or place it securely on top of a high chair). Keep in mind that if he begins to act up you'll have to hold him, so order food you can easily eat with one hand. And although you don't have to go to a place with Formica tables, you shouldn't choose the one in town with the linen tablecloths either. You might also call the restaurant to ask whether if it's a good place to bring a baby; the reservationist will be frank and you'll have a much more pleasant experience if your newborn is welcome.

Our advice

Go -- just be prepared to ask for a doggie bag.

In a perfect world

During your baby's naptime, you'll strap her into a sling and get that pedicure you've needed since before you were pregnant.

The reality

You might find it relaxing, but not if you think about the toxic odors that fill most nail salons. The jury is still out on the effects of phthalates -- harmful chemicals found in some nail products -- on babies. Don't wait for definitive proof, though. The strong fumes emanating from polishes, acrylics, and gels can't be healthy for your newborn. "While new moms should certainly try to find time to pamper themselves, I'd suggest erring on the side of caution and hitting the salon solo. You'll not only avoid exposing your baby to chemicals, but you'll up your chances of actually enjoying your time at the spa," says Dr. Laura Jana.

Our advice

Skip the manicure when hanging with your baby. Wet nails and dirty diapers don't mix.

In a perfect world

This kid's going to be a Red Sox fan before he can hold a baseball bat!

The reality

Much of your decision will be based on the specifics of the sport, such as where the stadium is and what the fans are like. "Ask yourself some questions," says Devra Renner, one of the authors of Mommy Guilt. "Will people be smoking around us? Will my baby end up with beer spilled on him? What are the seats like -- will I be comfortable with him on my lap for several hours? How hot is it going to be?" Obviously, avoid extreme situations: A three-hour baseball game in the midsummer sun puts your baby at risk for sunburn and heatstroke, and those rowdy fans will keep you on your toes. Your biggest challenge on a nice day will be navigating the crowds weighed down with a wriggling bundle and all of his requisite gear. Go with friends to help with logistics, and you might try arriving and leaving slightly earlier or later than everyone else to miss the throng at its worst.

Our advice

Cheer for the home team. As long as you can keep your infant comfortable (and out of the range of fly balls or stray pucks), you don't have to toss your season tickets.

In a perfect world

This is such an important day for your family, and you want your new baby to be a part of the memorial service. No one will mind a little bit of fussing.

The reality

While some think that the presence of young children at a funeral isn't appropriate, most people take their baby because they have no choice. Often, there isn't enough time to arrange for childcare; plus, many of your usual babysitters (grandparents, aunts, uncles) will probably be at the service too. Your relatives aren't likely to be offended if your baby acts up during the eulogy, but it's a good idea to sit near the exit so you can step out if necessary. If the deceased was not a close relation or good friend, make sure you talk with the immediate family before bringing your baby.

Our advice

Pay your respects.

In a perfect world

You want your baby to be a part of your faith community right from the start so that by the time she's a toddler, she'll be familiar with your traditions.

The reality

No matter what your denomination, houses of worship are traditionally welcoming of all ages. In fact, members of a congregation are usually encouraged to attend services as a family. While many churches allow you to take your baby into the service, many also have a nursery or a "crying room," where parents can hear and see what's going on while tending to their noisy or fussy little ones. Check with your church, temple, or mosque. Otherwise, sit on the aisle so you can slip out or take turns with your husband walking your baby around if she gets cranky.

Our advice

Hit the pew. Just be wary of too many people handling the baby during flu season. Offer folks cute tootsies to touch to avoid spreading germs to hands and face.

Originally published in Parents magazine.