Saturday, July 16, 2011

Taking a baby to the beach

Jacob Riis Beach.  Photo from National Park Service.
Gone are the days of picking up a bag, throwing some sunblock, towel and book, and heading to the beach.  Trips with a baby means tripling the amount of stuff you lug around (at least), staying for half as long, and changing your expectations of ,"fun and relaxation".  Having said that, a little bit of preparation, and you can have a wonderful time going to the beach with your little one.  And if you're lucky, they'll love the sand and water.

Today we took Cupcake to the beach for the first time.  I was a bit nervous.  What if she hated it?  What if we had a total meltdown in the car?  Would we forget something vital and important?  And most importantly, would it be fun for all of us?   It was a resounding success.  So much that I've decided to compile my patented advice for posterity.  

Ways to have a wonderful time at the beach with a baby:
  • Sun Protection   I'm a little paranoid about the sun (not for myself, just the baby), since their skin is still so delicate.  So we followed the advice of overprotecting.  Applied sunblock at home before we dressed Cupcake, then reapplied at the car when we got to the beach (by this point, between getting ready, driving and grabbing a bite to eat, it had been over two hours since the last sunblocking).  And again after being at the beach for about a half hour.  Honestly, it's impossible to overprotect the skin, and though the baby lotion is grossly overpriced, I'd rather waste 5 bucks than have to deal with sunburns at 3 am.  We use California Baby Sunblock SPF 30.
  • Time the outing around naps.  No sense in dealing with a cranky and sandy baby.  We decided to hit the surf after the morning nap, hoping that she'd sleep in the car on the way there.  For this purpose, we also picked a beach that was approximately 40 minutes away.  We thought we were soooo clever.  Instead, Cupcake had a meltdown as we were arriving in the beach area, and we had to give her an Ergo nap while we grabbed lunch in an air conditioned diner.  Ended up working out.  Then we started packing up as she began to show signs of tiredness, so that by the time we drove bar she zonked out in the car.  All in all, we maximized our time in the actual sand.
  • Have the right gear.  We had a spankin' new beach umbrella (with an adjustable tilt), beach towels, a foldout chair, sun hat, plastic toys (didn't buy anything special, just used her regular plastic toys), bucket, t-shirt, water, snacks and swimming diapers.
  • Don't bring more stuff than you can carry.  Even if you are driving and the beach has on-site parking, you'll still end up walking a bunch on the sand.  Unless it's one of those beaches where you park right in front of your towel, but meh, those beaches aren't too nice in my book.  Most beaches have water, then a long stretch of sand, some type of boardwalk/ bathroom area, and then a parking lot.  And if it's a beautiful sunny day, the car ends up pretty far back.  We brought a bunch of stuff, but there were also two of us carrying it.   I wish we'd packed more compactly, as we didn't take into account that Cupcake would be super squirmy with excitement of being outside, so it ended up being one of us with just the baby, the other one in Sherpa mode with too many small bags.  Next time, larger bags so there's less packages.
  • Bring an inflatable pool.  This was a bit of a hassle but oh so worth it.  With an inflatable pool, we were able to have Cupcake play in the water under the umbrella shade right next to us.  We filled it with ocean water, and gave her some toys, and she had a wonderful time.  She played there on her own for over 20 minutes.  Time for us to relax some, chat, get some sun.  Our main issue was deflating it, because it wouldn't fit in the bag again, so next time we have to bring a much large plastic bag to squish it into.
  • Designate a non-sandy towel.  Everything gets sandy, it's just a fact.  But it helps to have a towel that stays in your bag, until it's time to dry everyone up.  This towel stays clean and off the ground, and is perfect to dry the baby before you head home.
  • Bring snacks and water.   We had bananas (her favorite), mum-mums, and sport nozzle water bottles.  When in doubt, when Cupcake got fussy, we gave her water.  One can never overestimate how much they're sweating (specially if your baby has a metabolic condition, as Cupcake does).  We also gave her milk at the beach, as I have absolutely no qualms about pulling my bikini top to nurse Cupcake (while under the shady umbrella). Hydrated well-fed baby = happy baby.
  • Address how baby is responding to the water.  In our case, Cupcake turned out to not be a fan of sitting on the shore and having the waves hit her.  And she does NOT like wet sand, hilariously.  However, she loved loved loved having us hold her and moving her around the waves.    We'd hold her in something like the "colic hold", and have her splash her arms and legs in the water, then when the waves came they'd splash her and she loved it.  I was expecting her to sit on the sand, but hey, she knows what she likes.
  • Take lots of pictures!  It took us by surprise how much Cupcake enjoyed it.  Specially a long interaction with sand.  She was absolutely perplexed at how it slid off her hands.  Glad we were able to capture ever moment.
All in all our first beach experience was a big success, and I can't wait to repeat it next weekend.  For now, we're gonna take it easy tomorrow and give Cupcake's skin a break from the sun.  We were prepared, and Cupcake is a total beach bunny.  Next adventure, the local outdoor pool.


  1. I love that we had our big beach days so close together AND that they were successful. I had hoped Klaw would sleep on the way to Jekyll (only about 20 min) but he also preferred to scream until we had been at the beach for a few minutes.

    I haven't been able to find CA Baby sunscreen around here, so I've been using Aveeno baby. I like it (bonus, it doesn't make my face break out, so I can use it, too).

  2. +1 on this tip:

    Don't bring more stuff than you can carry.

    You definitely have to check your stuff for all the things you need and fit 'em all in. These should go first. If you want to bring things that aren't at all important for the trip, just keep them at a minimum. You have to allot space for the important stuff.