10 Steps To Beach Baby Bliss
New parents writer Stratton Lawrence and photographer Hunter McRae share their top tips for getting the most out of beach time with baby in tow.
Seagulls, crabs, gentle lapping waves — there’s a lot going on at the beach to keep your baby entertained for hours. But what about sand, sun and big, scary waves? With a few precautions, a bit of know-how and some smart planning, heading to the beach is a fantastic way to bond with your baby.
After all, those gently lapping waves can remind them of being in the womb, so you may see your baby return to a state of fetal bliss. For a three-month-old, the perpetual motion machine of ocean waves is perhaps the only sight more entertaining than a ceiling fan. Plus, you’ll give them early exposure to nature, building an appreciation for being outdoors that can help them develop a healthy lifestyle as they mature.
However, infants under six months old shouldn’t get direct sunlight or use sunscreen and sun exposure should be limited even with older babies. Sand is also a factor — it only takes sitting your baby down for five seconds and turning your head to spend the next quarter of an hour picking sand out of a screaming infant’s eyes and mouth.
So how do you ensure that family beach day is a pleasant experience that builds happy memories, rather than leading to a stressful “never again” drive home in traffic? We’ve got you covered with this handy 10-step guide.
1. Schedule Your Fun
Although some parents of infants may still be able to wake up, make a leisurely brunch and ask, “Feel like going to the beach today?” we’ve yet to meet them. First, be willing to substitute the “beach day” of your past for “beach morning” or “beach evening.” Fortunately, this means you can get an early start and skip traffic going and coming. Likewise, it’s better to avoid the heat of the day with an infant in tow, so plan on heading back home or somewhere inside for lunch or waiting until late afternoon to head out to the beach.
2. Create Shade
Even if you’re a lifelong sun worshipper, now that you’re a parent, it’s time to invest in a quality beach umbrella. The inexpensive ones at the grocery store are difficult to get into the sand and will likely blow away if it’s windy. Get a sturdy one, ideally made of canvas, or invest in a tent like pop-up shelter. When you get to the beach, set it up immediately. Put baby under it and make it their spot for the day. It’s your home base, but it’s their safety canopy.
Likewise, bring loose cotton clothes for your baby that cover their arms and legs, plus a wide brimmed hat, in case you decide to take a walk. You may not mind a little burn now and then, but it’s irresponsible to take that risk with a baby’s delicate skin.
3. Make a Play Pit
If your baby is old enough to play but not big enough to walk, make them a play pit by digging a shallow hole and putting a blanket over it. You’ll keep the sand off them while containing them. Obviously, build this in the shade of your umbrella.
4. Pack and Be Prepared
Just getting out the door as a new parent suddenly goes from “Wallet, keys, phone,” to “Diapers, wipes, bottles, pacifier, food, stroller, stroller adaptor, change of clothes … let’s just stay home.” See “Beach Baby Essentials” below for list of things you need.
5. Invest in a Beach Wagon
You’re no longer traveling light. Get a big-wheeled wagon so you can bring the kitchen sink without cursing in the process.
6. If You Have To, Pay to Park
Whether you must run back to the car or make a quick exit, it’s helpful to have your car close by. The days of driving around for 20 minutes searching for the perfect spot or parking five blocks away to save a few dollars are over. Maximize your enjoyment and park as close to where you’re setting up shop as possible.
7. Bring Adult Food
There’s a cardinal rule of parenting: Never wake a sleeping baby. Whether nap time has miraculously occurred on the beach or everyone is simply having fun, don’t let hunger cut your day unnecessarily short. While restaurants aren’t allowed to deliver onto the beach on the Isle of Palms and Sullivan’s Island, there are many within a short walk, so one of you can pop off to grab a bite to eat for the family, but packing a lunch is also a wise idea, especially if you are solo. If things are going well, that will let you stay put and enjoy it.
8. If You Stroll, Do It Right
Most strollers on the beach are a nightmare. Don’t be the parent that other people chuckle at as they schlep their kids through the sand on tiny wheels. However, a high-quality jogging stroller is worth its weight in gold on the beach. We run several miles a week pushing one through the sand — just keep to the hard-packed stuff and keep salt water off the wheels, or your next trip won’t be nearly as fun.
9. Introduce Salt Water, with Care
Forcing your baby to “enjoy” entering the ocean probably won’t instill a lifetime appreciation for the ocean. Let them learn to love the sea at their own pace. But wade — the salt and magnesium in ocean water can clear stuffy little noses.
10. Adjust Your Beach Day Expectations
You probably won’t get through several chapters of your Dorothea Benton Frank novel when bringing your baby to the beach. But you will get a chance to see their wonder as they experience new things. Make this about them. And “this” may be an hour instead of a day. Plan be flexible with it and enjoy the magic of your baby’s trip to the beach.