Once upon a time, getting out of the house was a breeze. The only obstacle to a swift getaway was deciding which shoes to wear. But now your newborn’s arrived, things get a little bit tricky – even a trip to the corner shop is a military operation.
In theory, newborns are fairly portable. But as soon as you set foot over the threshold with your baby, that precious little bundle swiftly morphs into a live explosive, liable to detonate from either end at any moment. Throw in a few booby traps – like unexpected pram-toppling potholes – and it’s no wonder that a simple walk in the park can leave you feeling shell-shocked.
Reporting for duty
It’s normal to feel daunted before your first solo sortie with your baby, and the challenges start before you’ve even left the house. One golden rule is to estimate how much time you’ll need to get ready, and then triple it. By the time you’ve dressed yourself, dressed your little one, fed him, winded him, mopped up the sick, changed his nappy and wrestled him into his car seat, he’ll be ready for another feed, and half the day’s gone.
Getting yourselves mobilised for action is no mean feat so try to resist the temptation to arrange meeting up with friends until you’ve done a few practice runs. Having to be in a certain place by a certain time will only make you more stressed. And don’t be surprised if you’re slightly battle-scarred by the time you leave the house. “When Dylan was 2 weeks old, I went out wearing odd shoes,” admits Sally Albright, 28, from Maidstone, mum to Dylan, 8 weeks.
Ready for action
Before you attempt your first mission, you’ll need plenty of ammunition. The days of small handbags are gone. Now, you need the biggest kitbag you can find, and it probably still won’t be big enough. Alongside the essential nappies (lots) and wipes (even more), you’ll need spare clothes, coats, hats, blankets, muslins, bottles, a sunshade and rain cover for your pushchair, etc., etc…
Babies have a knack of launching chemical warfare at the most inconvenient moments, so to avoid being caught short, restock your changing bag as soon as you get back from an outing. Pack emergency clothes for yourself, too, in case you end up in the firing line. If you’ve no room for a spare outfit, a pashmina is great for camouflaging suspect splashes and stains.
As if coping with baby biohazards isn’t hard enough, you’ll also be tackling the puzzle that’s your little one’s pram or car seat. Battling with a newborn’s buggy is a rite of passage for all new parents. Until you’ve got it sussed, consider using a baby sling to keep your newborn close by and your hands free. Just make sure you downsize your bag if you’re slinging your baby, unless you can afford weekly chiropractic appointments.
Sighting the target
Before your first mission with your newborn, try to do a reccy – ideally when you have reinforcements in the shape of your partner or mum – to identify a safe territory. The local park or café are good baby-friendly landing zones, but if you fancy meeting new comrades, look for a nearby baby group. Not only will this give you the chance to join ranks with other new mums, but they’re likely to be more sympathetic should they come under friendly fire, as Victoria Rawson, 26, from Rotherham, mum to Joe, 6 weeks, found out. “I’d taken Joe to baby clinic, and had just stripped him off to go on the scales, when he suddenly started weeing, sprinkling all the other babies waiting to be weighed,” she confesses.
Until you’ve built your confidence, confine your sights to places within walking distance. According to research, 95% of parents say that a crying baby takes their attention off the road when they’re in the car.
Beware the perils of baby brain when you’re out and about, too. “I nearly got chased out of the supermarket for walking off with someone else’s baby,” admits Steph Cummings, 34, from London, mum to 9-week-old Oliver. “Her pram was the same as mine, and I didn’t realise I had the wrong baby until his mum started screaming.”
Beating the booby trap
The most daunting part of your first trip out with your newborn is likely to be breastfeeding in public. When you’re learning the ropes, for some mums, things get messy. “I was breastfeeding Georgia, 10 weeks, at a post natal group when she suddenly fell off the boob,” says Julie Stevenson, 31, from Bristol. “The spray of milk hit the wall opposite and showered several other mums, too.”
The trick to surviving your first public breastfeeds is to treat them as an undercover operation. Arm yourself with a special breastfeeding cover, or a large muslin or scarf so you can feed your baby with minimal exposure, and try to feed him before he’s ravenous. A hungry baby is likely to attract unwanted attention with his yells, and trying to latch him on under pressure will only make you flustered. Remember, the more you do it, the easier it will get.
Indeed, the same can be said for all of your early attempts at getting out and about with your baby but as the weeks pass, you’ll become a seasoned veteran and will wonder what you ever worried about. Congratulations – you’ve earned another motherhood medal of honour.
“I was taking Sam on the train to visit my colleagues when he did an enormous poo. I managed to find space on the floor to spread my changing mat out, but just as I undid his nappy, the train stopped suddenly, making Sam roll onto his side, get his foot in the poo, and then somehow smear it all over his trousers and my skirt. To make matters worse, the only spare outfit I had with me was a sleepsuit that he’d outgrown. I ended up having to buy him a new set of clothes and myself some new jeans before I went into the office.”
Catherine Norris, 35, from Watford, mum to Sam, 12 weeks
“My mum had come to take me and Chloe out for a drive. I’d never been out without my partner, and I had no idea how to get the car seat in the car. We eventually figured it out, but then I realised that I didn’t know how to unfold the pram or fit the raincover. Again, we got it sussed, but then I couldn’t refold it, and got in yet another muddle with the car seat coming home – I ended up wishing I’d never left the house.”
Wendy Golledge, 33, from Lingfield, mum to Chloe, 5 weeks