Out and About with Babies

Baby's head held in mothers hands

It's important to get out of the house when you have a small baby. Follow these guidelines to ensure that you can socialise with your baby with the minimum of fuss:

- Be flexible when you're out and about. You may have elevated bedtime rituals to the status of a religious ceremony at home, but these arcane practices are not really appropriate in a social situation. Arriving at a dinner party with the baby and insisting that he must be bathed, allowed to crawl around in his jim-jams, and then read to by both his parents for a minimum of 30 minutes, is not going to win you any friends.

- Instead, work on ways of helping your baby relax in a range of circumstances - a favourite cuddly toy, a comfort blanket, a particular music box tune that signifies sleep.  If your baby's sleeping habits are reasonably adaptable you may be able to prolong the period of ease and portability.

- Be vigilant. You may well have child-proofed your own home, raising precious glass ornaments to above waist height, locking away bottles of bleach, adding gates to the stairs and safety covers to your electrical outlets - but have your friends? When you're in someone else's house, your baby's safety is your responsibility. Nobody else is accountable for potential accidents (although it helps if they're at least aware), so watch out.

- Respect other people's possessions. A crawling baby will inflict all kinds of disruption on a home and, while the chaos may not be life-endangering, a non-parent may find it distressing. Don't just sit there, chatting happily, while your baby systematically removes all the books from the shelf or builds a teetering pile of precious CDs. Your friend may well be having kittens. Monitor reactions, pre-empt the problem by finding a more suitable distraction, tidy up any baby-related mess.

- Always bring the baby's toys. To minimise the amount of damage your infant does to your friend's possessions, and to buy a little peace and quiet, always bring a small bag of 'distractions' when you're visiting friends. A few plastic bricks, a couple of books, a cuddly toy, a rattle may just keep the child busy while you're chatting.

- Always remove a screaming baby. All babies cry - for a painfully long period this is their only way of expressing needs and desires. But that doesn't mean that everyone else has to suffer. Be very aware that - of necessity - you will build up an uncanny ability to block out your baby's screams, but this insouciance is not shared by the rest of the world.

- The safest knee jerk reaction is to remove the baby as soon as it starts to cry; take it into another room, into the garden, outside the restaurant… It's boring for you, but your friends will really appreciate your efforts to save their shredded nerves.

- Don't be a fusspot about food. If you're running a strictly organic regime, and your hosts can only offer you processed yoghurt and cereals, intensively-farmed vegetables and non-free range eggs, just live with it. A couple of deviations from the straight and narrow will not kill your baby, but making a song and dance about your hosts' food predilections may kill the friendship.

- If you feel that compromise is the road to perdition, then bring your own food for the baby. But be aware that some people might find this offensive (because of the implied criticism of their food), so ease any social embarrassment by making deprecating jokes about your own fussiness.

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