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Stepping Out

baby wrapped in sling

The first time Jennifer Bullock, who lives in Charlotte, North Carolina, took her newborn with her to run errands, she was petrified. "I asked myself, Did I forget anything? How can I keep strangers from touching her? Will she catch germs?"

It's only natural that the new mom was nervous. Every rookie mother experiences those what-if worries. Pre-mommyhood, you sailed out the door with little more than lipstick, keys, and cell phone. Now you're responsible for a tiny baby who requires boatloads of stuff. What if you're caught without something? "The anticipation about what could go wrong is worse than the reality," says Kerry Acker, of Brooklyn, whose 1-year? old daughter, Samantha, was colicky. "Even if you can't find the pacifier and your baby starts wailing, it's not the end of the world." What you don't want to leave home without? Your sense of humor--and our get-going guide. Consider your cabin fever cured!

What to know before you go: It sounds like an Amazing Race--worthy challenge. You've been a mom for a mere few days when you're expected to whisk you, your bambino, and all his gear to the doctor's office. Ha! But you can do it. The secret is in the scheduling. Book your appointment for after 11 A.M. Even though Baby is up early, getting the two of you ready takes more prep than getting yourself anywhere. Budget a good half hour or so for the unexpected, like the diaper that leaks as you're locking the door. Dress your newborn in easy?access clothing (think leg snaps). Finally, don't forget a cover, says Elyse Bender-Segall, of Livingston, New Jersey, mother to Maddon, 10 months. At their first outing to the pediatrician, the nurse asked her to undress her son and keep him warm with his blanket until the doc arrived. "I was completely unprepared, so I ripped off my shirt and used it for Maddon," she says. "I had to stand there in a stained tank top!" Call ahead to see if the office can email you paperwork to complete in advance. Jot a list of questions to ask while you're at it.

While you're there: Mommy brain and medical instructions don't mix, so write down any recommendations from the doc. And don't forget to refer to your list of questions. (It's that Mommy brain thing again!)

What to know before you go: Mealtime with a munchkin can be a real rush. You just never know when your dozing angel may wake to clue you (and your fellow diners) in to his ravenous appetite. Kaamna Bhojwani?Dhawan, of San Francisco, found this out fast: "I booked lunch with a friend at a nice restaurant," says the mom of Karam, 2, who is expecting her second. Bad idea! "The baby started fussing before the salads arrived, and all eyes were on me." Better bet: Pick a casual place with a boisterous din so any feed-me ?now howls will blend in with the hubbub. Go before noon or after 2 P.M., and make a seasoned mommy your lunch partner. When you need to nurse or have an unapologetic vent fest midmeal, she'll understand. "I went to a diner with my sister Amy, a mother of two," say Noelle Albanito, of Morris Plains, New Jersey, whose kids are 2 months and 4. "She made sure we got a booth where I could breastfeed. And she piled our coats under me to boost up my son--insta-nursing pillow. I never would have thought of that!"

While you're there: Even if the ribs have your mouth watering, opt for a meal you can eat with one hand, such as a salad or a sandwich wrap, in case you need to hold your child or bounce him on your knee. Ask for the check when you order dessert so you can make a quick getaway if you need to. Finally, watch that servers don't pass plates or hot beverages over the baby, warns Paul Horowitz, M.D., a pediatrician at Discovery Pediatrics, in Valencia, California. Bon appétit!

What to know before you go: You're in a sacred place where stretches of silence are the norm and the pews are filled with unfamiliar faces ogling Baby. Could you blame her if she chooses to let loose with her own version of choir practice? Aim for a not? so?crowded service or a kids' mass where your little one's squeals will be muffled, says Bridget Pelosi, a mom of three in Chatham, New Jersey. If possible, arrive right after a nap when she's in good spirits. Oh, and that itchy dress with all the fancy stitching is so cute, but she'll be comfier (translation: she'll cry less) in a cotton romper.

While you're there: Snag a seat on the aisle or stand in the back of the room, where you can rock your sweetie or slip outside if she starts getting fussy. Try parking yourself next to another mom who's likely to be empathetic. What if Baby interrupts a holy moment by exercising her lungs? Bring a stash of "church only" quiet playthings that your cutie sees only once a week to hold her interest. And if your house of worship has a crying room, use it! "I discovered this the first time I took my son to a service," says Erica Zidel, of Seattle, mom to Gavin, 5. "The room is closed off from the main synagogue, but it has windows and speakers so you can see and hear the service." Above all, "don't freak out," says Virginia Babiasz, of Louisville, Kentucky, whose kids are 5 months, 1, and 3. "I figure for all these years I've had to deal with other people's kids screaming, now they can deal with mine!"

What to know before you go: Planning is as important as packing: Plot out your trip, noting rest areas and other pit stops on your route; fill up the tank (you don't want to jolt a happily snoozing little one awake); and figure you'll pull over every hour or so to check on Baby. Leave room for the unexpected by allotting double the amount of time you would if you were traveling solo. Trick out your babe's car seat bar with toys, and offer something new every so often to keep him from melting down, Dr. Horowitz says. And put diapers and a change of clothing in a zippered bag in your trunk, in case Baby spits up or his diaper explodes. You can stash the soiled stuff there to block the stench. Finally, pack some patience: "You'll get there, but you'll need to take plenty of breaks and deep breaths along the way," says Lizzie Sorensen, of Malta, New York, whose son Iver is 16 months.

While you're there: When possible, either Zidel or her husband rides in the backseat with the baby. "I can entertain him if he gets fussy," she says. If you're alone and your child is wailing, use your judgment, says Meagan Francis, a mom of five in St. Joseph, Michigan. "When you've got hours ahead of you, you'll want to pull over to calm him. But if you're ten minutes from your destination and you don't think he's in pain, crank up the radio and just get there." Whatever you do, even if you're sure his screeches can be heard on the other side of the median, never take Baby out of his seat while the car is moving, Dr. Horowitz warns. And don't leave him alone in the vehicle even for a second.

What to know before you go: Hit the store on Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday morning, when markets tend to be least crowded, and don't make your first excursion a full?on spree; instead, dip your toe in the water with a milk?egg-and-bread run. Once your confidence is stoked, you can better tackle a stock-up. And be sure to go armed with a list so you can focus and scoot to the register fast.

While you're there: If you can, park near the shopping-cart corral. An infant car seat doesn't snap safely into the top of the grocery cart, so don't balance it there or put it in the cart. Better to put Baby in a cart with an infant seat built into it, if your store offers these, or wear your cutie in a sling so you can shop hands-free. "My babies were always happier cuddled close to me," says Alissa Boyle, of Philadelphia, mom of Elizabeth, 1, and Brody, 4. "And using a carrier left more room in the cart for groceries." Once you're in the store, grab the fundamentals first: produce, dairy, meats. That way, if you need to make a beeline to the checkout, you'll at least have the basics to whip up dinner. When you're back at your car, put your sweetie safely into the car seat before you unload the groceries, suggests Charles Shubin, M.D., director of pediatrics at Mercy Family Care in Baltimore. Didn't score a space near the corral? Ask nicely and your bagger might return your cart for you after you've packed up the car. A sling also comes in handy here--you can keep Baby on your person while you're putting the bags in the car and dropping off the cart.

Originally published in the September 2011 issue of American Baby magazine.