On the Go!

How to deal with feeding, diapering, crying, and more when you're out and about.

mother on the go Shannon Greer

If you think that caring for your baby at home is a challenge, just wait until you take the show on the road. Feeding, changing, and soothing your infant when you're away from home requires a cool head and plenty of preparation. "Pack like a Sherpa," advises Jen Singer, author of You're a Good Mom (And Your Kids Aren't So Bad, Either). "The smallest person in the house requires the most stuff."

It doesn't hurt to prepare mentally, either. The most important things you'll need are flexibility, creativity, and humor, says Marcia VanVleet, M.D., staff pediatrician and director of the Newborn Nursery at Women and Infants Hospital of Rhode Island, in Providence. We asked experts to tell us the best ways to deal with four common situations.

1. You're at the mall and your baby is hungry. Help!

You're at the right place. Most big shopping centers have "family restrooms" and quiet lounges where you can breastfeed in privacy and comfort. A maternity store can be a safe haven too. Ask to use one of their dressing rooms, which should have a bench and plenty of room for a stroller. Or head to the furniture department and test a recliner, draping a blanket over your shoulder -- other shoppers will be none the wiser. When all else fails, retreat to your car for a little bit of calm and privacy.

Bottle feeding takes more preparation. Try to feed your infant before you leave the house. Second choice? Pack smart. Take along your formula, bottle, and a thermos of hot water. (Don't mix formula in advance and keep it warm in an insulated carrier -- harmful bacteria can grow in there.) You can travel lighter if you invest in a bottle warmer that plugs into your car adaptor, or plan to get the water at the mall. Ask a friendly vendor at the food court for hot water, or just fill the bottle from the restroom tap. It should be fine, even without boiling. "You don't need sterile water -- that's a myth," says Irwin Benuck, M.D., Ph.D., attending pediatrician at Children's Memorial Hospital in Chicago. But be sure to stir and test the temperature before feeding formula to your baby; there could be hot spots within the liquid.

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    Tired traveler

    2. You're having lunch at a friend's house, and your baby needs to take a nap. But where?

    If your baby's under 3 months, he'll fall asleep anywhere -- just put him down on the floor in a safe spot. As he gets older, it can be tougher to get him to nap away from home. Look for a quiet bedroom, and set up camp. "Find a safe place on the floor where you can lay down a thin blanket or a towel," says Parents advisor Jennifer Shu, M.D., a pediatrician in Atlanta. Never leave your baby on a bed unattended, and make sure there aren't any extra blankets or pillows nearby that could pose a suffocation danger. If your host has a pet, close the door or make sure she's contained in another area.

    The right equipment can be bulky, but it may be worth the peace of mind. A Pack 'n Play or a folding baby swing will keep your baby safe as he's lulled to sleep. If possible, take along a baby monitor. Otherwise, check on him from time to time to see if he's up.

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      Dirty diaper emergency

      3. You're with the baby at a ball game, and there's no denying her dirty diaper. But the stands -- and the bathrooms -- are filthy.

      You can't count on cleanliness in public restrooms, so a well-stocked diaper bag has never been more important. Don't risk the baby-changing counter if it doesn't have a safety strap or if it looks unstable. Instead, put the changing pad on the floor. Better yet, spread out paper towels underneath the changing pad. The more layers between your baby and who-knows-what, the better. You'll need your wipes, diapers, a distracting toy, and hand sanitizer within easy reach. This is no time to be fumbling around.

      If the bathroom is too gross to handle, you may just have to do it at your seat. With a little practice, you can master the art of diapering your baby on your lap (the changing pad will come in handy, as will a zip-top bag, lots of wipes, and a friend). "One person can hold her while the other one changes her," says Judith Goldstein, M.D., assistant clinical professor of pediatrics at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, in New York City.

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        Public meltdowns

        4. Your baby has a meltdown at church. What does he want?

        Don't panic, or he may pick up on your frustration and get more upset. Besides, other parents should sympathize. The best thing to do is to leave first, and ask questions later. Sit at the end of the pew for a quick exit at the first sign of fussiness. And keep a pacifier handy -- it may help him calm down while you make your escape.

        Next, solve the mystery of what's wrong. If you've just fed and changed your baby he might be reacting to an overwhelming environment. There are a number of things that could trigger an upset during Sunday services: loud music, new faces, and a lively sermon. Many churches have a nursery -- or a crying room -- for this reason. Don't be afraid to use it. Or you and your husband can switch off taking him outside. "Sometimes simply a change in temperature or a short walk can help calm a fussy baby," says Mayri Sagady Leslie, a nurse midwife at Georgetown University's School of Nursing and Health Studies. Don't be discouraged. You can always try again next week.

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          Packing the diaper bag

          The Well-Stocked Diaper Bag

            • a change of clothes for your baby
            • an extra shirt for you
            • an infant hat with a brim
            • sunblock
            • a receiving blanket
            • a burp cloth
            • a bottle
            • a snack (if she's on solids)
            • plenty of diapers
            • a changing pad (usually comes with the bag)
            • diaper-rash cream
            • a small package of wipes
            • hand sanitizer
            • pacifiers
            • her favorite plush toy or comfort object
            • plastic bags for dirty clothes and diapers
            • an index card with your info and your pediatrician's name and phone number

              Originally published in the September 2010 issue of Parents magazine.

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