“Rookie,” mumbled the cashier while my 6-month-old daughter wailed in the shopping cart. “And incompetent,” I silently added, realizing that Rachel and the cashier were paying the price for my last-minute decision to squeeze in one more errand.
A sheepish grin and a quick exit did not salvage my dignity. Would I ever leave the house again? Indeed I would, once I learned that planning and preparation were the keys to running errands with my daughter in tow.
The big plans you used to make are a thing of the past – at least for now. You’ll wipe yourself out if you plan to grocery shop, hit the local dollar store, meet your best friend for lunch and get some gas on the way home, all while attending to your baby’s needs.
Efficiency is now a fond memory. Because naps, baths and feedings currently dominate your schedule, time for running errands is limited. Your best bet is to set realistic goals:
1. Plan errands that will keep the entire trip to an hour-and-a-half – driving and store time – and consider location. Are your destinations in the same part of town? Can you park close to the door so you won’t have to carry your baby a long way? And what about the store layout? Do you know it well? Will you find what you need quickly?
2. Identify the time of day your baby is alert yet calm. If your baby consistently naps at about the same time every day, you’ll know when she’s likely to be awake and rested. If not, do your best to assess your baby’s mood on the day you plan to run errands.
3. Consider traffic patterns (avoid rush hour, for example), road construction and special events. You don’t want to get stuck downtown when a Predators game lets out – at least if you can help it.
Don’t confuse preparation with planning. When planning errands, you decide what to do and when. When preparing, you arrange everything you’ll need on your quest. Here are standard preparation tips:
- Create a shopping list and place it in your bag, purse or wallet.
- Pack the diaper bag ahead of time, perhaps while your baby naps, and be sure to include two to three diapers, a changing pad, wipes, a change of clothes, burp cloth, extra pacifiers, breast milk or formula. Keep in mind that breast milk can normally sit at room temperature for four hours before spoiling. For babies who drink formula, pack a bottle of water and a bottle with powdered formula or an unopened single serving packet. A prepared bottle of formula only lasts for one hour before spoiling.
- If at all possible, put the baby down for a nap before running errands. A short nap significantly decreases the chances that your baby will have a meltdown while you’re out. Plus, well-rested babies are usually happier babies.
- Feed and change the baby shortly before leaving for your errands.
- Dress your baby in comfortable clothes. If she’ll only be outside for a few seconds, from the house to the car for example, don’t overdress her or she’ll be too warm in the car and store. This tactic also saves time, especially when dealing with more than one child.
- If possible, do all extraneous errands without your baby. For example, fill your car with gas on the way home from work or while your spouse or sitter cares for the baby.
Be On Your Way
To run the errands, keeps these pointers in mind:
- Perform the essential errand first. If you’re out of bread, stop at the grocery store first.
- Once inside the store, place your infant car seat in the main part of the cart. Do not set it on top of the cart. If Baby is happiest in a snuggly or some other baby-carrying device, consider using that instead while you’re in the store.
- A baby’s mood can change abruptly, so it’s best not to dawdle over the 63 flavors of yogurt. Get the strawberry banana, and get on with it.
- If your baby becomes fussy, it might be that she’s hungry. Find a quiet place to feed her. When she calms down, continue shopping. If she doesn’t, quickly pay for the items already in your cart and head for home.
- When your baby has a bowel movement during your errands, things can get dicey. If your destination has clean bathrooms and one of those handy baby changing tables that fold down from the wall, great. If not and the weather is warm enough, change your baby in the back seat of your car.
- Check your baby’s temperament. A meltdown after your first errand should signal a return home. If she seems alert and happy, continue to your next destination.
While it’s true that running errands with a baby has no guarantees, many babies enjoy the bright lights and variety of people you encounter when shopping. With proper planning, preparation and a bit of luck, you might actually enjoy the experience, too.
Eric Olive is a father and freelance writer.
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Been There, Done That
As a new father, there was much I didn’t know. Two veteran moms (and friends) offered me some great tips to help make running errands with a baby run smoothly.
- Spare keys are great. They help when you lock your original set in the car with your brain, and also double as a distraction when things get ugly in the checkout.
- If you have a toddler and an infant, the most important aspect of running errands is to make sure the toddler is well rested and well fed. If your toddler is hungry, tired or both, errands just do not work out. Obviously the same goes for an infant, but the chance of both napping at the same time is not always good. Infants are usually easier to settle down than toddlers.
- Note which stores have which types of carts. It is hard to find stores that accommodate both an infant and a toddler in one cart. Several grocery stores in the area have cars that toddlers can use to “drive” through the store. This can keep them entertained for a longer period of time.
- Give your toddler a few choices. When you enter a store, you might let your toddler choose from two types of carts. Or, you could let her choose the yogurt flavor. If you give her choices, she’ll feel more a part of the shopping experience. Just make sure you give her choices that you can live with either way.