By Eirian Hallinan
For new parents, there is a special kind of nervousness around the idea of taking the baby into public. On one hand, sometimes you just have to go out-for doctor’s appointments, especially-and of course most parents do not want to keep their infants cooped up indoors all the time. On the other hand, young babies can be unpredictable in their moods, and the last thing you want is to have your baby explode in a storm of fussiness when you are in the middle of a public place. It is embarrassing, and you get dirty looks, and sometimes nasty comments, from other people. Most of all, it is just stressful.
And as most new parents know, it is not always easy to calm a fussy infant. Sure, sometimes it works wonders to feed her or put her on your shoulder and walk around a little. But other times it may take quite a while and multiple tactics to get the baby to quiet down. When this type of fussy spell hits, you do not want to be in public, but these spells often come out of nowhere.
To complicate matters further, feeding in public can be a tricky proposition. In some places there are no public restrooms offering privacy, or else the public restrooms are not the kind of places where you want to hang out for 15 or 20 minutes with a baby. Some parents are careful to bring bottles (with expressed breast milk or formula) on any long outings, but young infants often do not take to the bottle very well.
First, find out about the regulations in your area regarding public breastfeeding. Many cities and states explicitly state that it is legal to breastfeed in public places. Of course, it is ideal to feed where you have some privacy, but in a fussing emergency it may be perfectly legal to sit down somewhere and feed, even with people around. If anyone says anything, ignore them or kindly inform them that what you are doing is legal. Try not to escalate the situation by returning their rudeness.
Also, you might consider purchasing a special blanket or cover designed to provide a little privacy when breastfeeding in public. Some babies do not like to be covered up while feeding, but you can practice at home to see whether your child accepts feeding this way.
It takes some time to learn how your baby will respond to different situations. Until your baby’s temperament becomes clear, limit your outings in both time and frequency. If your baby tends to feed every two hours or so, try to make your outings shorter than two hours. If too much activity tends to put your baby in a bad mood, limit your outings to just one a day. And when you are out and you sense your baby’s mood is declining, do not be adventurous. Head to the safety of home as soon as you reasonably can.
These limitations will not be permanent. Babies reach their peak of fussiness at around six weeks to two months of age. After that, they will become more predictable, which makes it easier for you to know when you can go out and how long you can stay out.
Things to try
With those general ideas out of the way, let us look at some of the specific things you can try to soothe your baby. Practice these things at home so that you will know what you are doing during your outings.
- Respond quickly. Infant crying often has a snowballing effect. The more the baby cries, the more upset he gets. So as soon as you notice that fussy spell coming on, start taking steps to address it.
- Start by addressing the baby’s basic needs. In addition to feeding, also try burping, see if she needs a diaper change, and make sure she is not too hot or cold.
- Stroll her. Many babies tend to fall asleep while being pushed in the stroller. And funnily enough, rough surfaces tend to be extra calming. Cobblestones, brick walks, bumpy sidewalks, and gravel drives, for example, may be tough on your stroller’s wheels but great for the baby’s sense of calm.
- Carry her. Sometimes babies just get tired of being in the stroller, and being carried over mom’s or dad’s shoulder can be a great relief.
- Reduce stimulation. There are lots of things going on in the outside world, and it can be overwhelming for babies who are used to the small spaces of your home (and, previously, the womb). Try closing the shade on top of your baby’s stroller to see if it calms her down.