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Top 10 Essentials for a Road Trip with Your Baby & Toddler

November 23, 2011

Road trip! What used to be spur of the moment fun, now requires a bit more planning and a lot more gear. I reluctantly parted with my convertible for a more family & 4-seasons friendly vehicle – and used , car reviews by and for moms, as a resource in choosing my current ride. Now that we live driving versus flying distances from our families, we’re really racking up the freeway miles. Here’s what makes our trips survivable, sometimes even enjoyable. Once the car is packed with these items, you too will be well equipped for a road trip, family-style!

What to pack

#1 Infant Car Seat – Graco Infant SnugRide & Base

#1 Convertible Car Seat – Britax Roundabout 55

#1 Harness to Booster Car Seat – Britax Frontier 85

#2 Travel Tray

#3 Sun Shield

#4 Soft Cooler

#5 CamelBak 0.4-Liter Kids Bottle

#6 Munchkin Snack Catchers

#7 Kalencom 2-in-1 Potette Plus or Kalencom Quick Change Kit

#8 Toys & Books

#9 Kids Music

#10 Favorite stuffed animal or blanket

#11 Tablet

Where to buy

For the items in today’s list, I shopped at,,, Target, my local grocery and our toy room. One Step Ahead carries inventive baby gear for traveling and other kid adventures. For more about where I like to shop for all things baby, check out Where to buy.

Why to buy

Timing is everything. If your child normally falls asleep in the car, plan to leave just before nap time. And if your trip culminates at a particular destination versus along a scenic journey, take the “red eye” and drive during the night after the typical bedtime routine. Otherwise, prepare to transform yourself into a one man variety show for hours of nonstop entertainment!

Build in an additional 15-20 minutes for every 2 hours of driving for potty breaks, diaper changes, and feeding. Don’t skip that last exit for 50 miles because your newly potty trained toddler says he doesn’t need to go. Anticipate that he will change his mind and stop. The potential messes and meltdowns are not worth arriving early, or even on time.

Pack everything you might need to attend to your child in small organized bags within arm’s reach. Remember there is no flight attendant button to ring for a blanket. Do the same for your more self-sufficient toddler.

#1 Transport infants in the rear-facing Graco Infant SnugRide with base. Use a car mirror like the SafeFit Jumbo Mirror to see baby while driving. Transition to the Britax Roundabout or Marathon once baby outgrows his infant seat. The Roundabout fits more easily in a coach airplane seat. Add the Kiddopotamus Deluxe PiddlePad Waterproof Seat Liner for newly potty trained toddlers. Next move your child to the Britax Frontier 85 Combination Harness to Booster. I so wanted to use the Sunshine Kids Radian XTSL for its narrow frame, 5-point harness up to 80lbs, and fold flat ability. Unfortunately, safety issues (2011) related to their highly touted Super Latch deterred me. While I do use seat protectors under my car seats, some car seat manufacturers void their warranty with use.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the center rear seat is the safest place for a child. Data exists to support that both the right and left rear seats are the second safest position. Keep your child rear-facing as long as possible per the seat manufacturer’s instructions. I agree that the second safest seat is behind the driver who will subconsciously protect his side of the vehicle, when possible, in a crash. With an infant and toddler, I sat the rear-facing infant car seat in the middle with the forward facing convertible seat behind the driver. Now we have transitioned to a rear-facing convertible seat behind the driver and harness-to-booster style seat behind the passenger because the latter is too wide to fit adjacent to the former.

#2 This tray is a great play and snack surface with mesh pockets around the perimeter for toys and drinks. Anything to facilitate self-sufficiency in your toddler helps.

#3 I don’t have a good product suggestion for sun shades. My vehicle has them built in and my husband’s has dark tinted windows. The two styles we tried in past vehicles didn’t work well – the Eddie Bauer Cling SunShade and Munchkin White Hot Safety Safety Sunblock Shade (rolls up). Gauze breatheable blankets do the trick over an infant car seat as long as they don’t obstruct the driver’s view. A hat or kids sunglasses perhaps?

#4 Choose a soft cooler to accommodate sliced fruit, portable yogurt sticks, string cheese, pureed pouches, a thermos to refill your toddler’s sippy cup and to store baby’s bottles. I like the coolers at L.L. Bean and a soft versus hard one is easier to pack.

#5 These cups don’t leak. Juice boxes are a mess; they are just too tempting to squeeze and watch the liquid fly through the air.

#6 Mindless eating passes the time. Bring boxes of your toddler’s favorite dried fruits and crackers to refill their snack cups. Fill the snack cups by hand instead of pouring the crackers straight from the box so you don’t end up with the tiny broken crumbs at the bottom. I use a large zip top tote with lots of inner pockets for transporting all the dry goods and empty eating/drinking utensils. See Top 10 Essentials for Feeding Baby on the Go for more tips on feeding baby.

#7 This potty works as a stand-alone potty chair with any plastic shopping bag as well as reusable toilet seat cover. Great for side of the road emergencies and gas station restrooms. Pack a spare outfit, more diapers and wipes than you think you’ll need, hand sanitizer, and a few plastic shopping bags for trash, wet clothes, and for use with the potty seat.

#8 Choose a bag with a zipper or snaps, something that can close to prevent spills. Make sure it’s not too big or heavy for your toddler to manage and place it within her reach. Fill it with a small Etch-A-Sketch, crayons, paper, Matchbox cars, trains, dolls or figurines, and books. A child’s atlas if age appropriate. Keep a few “surprises” with you to give her when the mood sours. Nothing with sound.

#9 Load up with kids music and “books on tape.”

#10 This is critical. Don’t forget his favorite stuffed animal or security blanket.

#11 I purposely purchased a vehicle without video screens…arrogantly thinking my kids were going to be happy looking out the window and listening along to NPR..ha! We have since caved and bring a tablet (i.e., iPad) loaded with our toddler’s favorite videos. Headphones aren’t recommended for little ones.

And once you’ve reached your destination..congratulations! But remember there’s still the return trip..

Top 10 First Finger Foods for Baby

November 13, 2011

Your baby is growing up!  Once he is about 8 months old and showing more interest in the food on your plate than those delicious purees you’ve been feeding him, it’s time to introduce finger foods.  I really enjoyed this stage with my first son and am happily in the midst of it with my second.

Be prepared for a mess.  The clean up isn’t quite as bad for those of us with a dog.  And keep your camera out to capture more hilarious reactions to those foreign objects entering his mouth. Here is what I prepare, where to buy it, and why giving your baby a solid start with solid foods is so important!  (Please add more steamed green vegetables to your list..I just don’t like them..)

What to prepare

#1 Happy Baby Organic Puffs

#2 Ripe banana, diced

#3 Ripe mango, diced

#4 Ripe avocado, diced

#5 Extra firm tofu, diced

#6 Boiled egg yolks, diced

#7 Cooked small wheat spiral pasta

#8 Soft wheat bread

#9 Baked sweet potato, diced &

partially mashed

#10 Steamed peas

#11 Pasteurized soft cheese, diced

Where to buy

For the items in today’s list, I shopped at my local grocery.  During the winter here in Chicago, I grocery shop online at Peapod.  For more about where I like to shop for all things baby, check out Where to buy.

Why to prepare

Feed baby secured in her high chair, always keeping her in your line of sight and within reach. Review Infant First Aid for Choking & CPR should the need arise.  Add a sippy cup (Munchkin Mighty Grip Trainer Cup) with breast milk/formula or water to mealtimes if you haven’t already.

Mealtime is not a battle to train for or to attempt to win.  No food flying into baby’s mouth on airplane spoons required.  Just set a few finger tip sized pieces on her tray and let her feed herself by hand.  (Resist the urge to push baby to eat since mother knows best and she must be hungry…  That is an internal war waging inside every caregiver!)  Developmental food issues aside, babies eat when they are hungry, just like their other human counterparts, adults.  While it is certainly important to feed your baby healthy, age appropriate foods, her main source of nutrition is still breast milk/formula.  Don’t worry or give up if her first response to a food is NO. Keep whatever it is that didn’t suit her in the rotation and reintroduce it a few days later.  Wait 3 days between introducing each new food so you can watch for allergic reactions.

You are laying the ground work for an individual with a wholesome and varied palate.  And even more important than an adventurous eater, someone who doesn’t have unhealthy emotional ties to food that may lead to eating disorders.  Even when she turns into a boundary pushing toddler, refusing foods she once liked, know it has nothing to do with the food, but with asserting newly acquired freedoms.

Continue nurturing a pleasant, messy, experimental eating environment.  You will soon be the envy of all your friends, dining out at restaurants without crayons and paper placemats!


What to Pack for the Hospital–Only the Essentials

November 9, 2011

The big day is just around the corner and it’s time to pack your hospital overnight(s) bag. Aside from the Birth Plan, this is one of the last in preparation for baby items on the list – and one of the final things you actually have control over before labor & delivery…and a newborn. I can’t truthfully say that filling your bag with this stuff will make the experience any more pleasant, but it always feels good to think you’re prepared, right? So get out your bag, and round up the following for your life changing 2-4 night getaway!

What to pack

 #1 Graco SnugRide Infant Car Seat & Base

 #2 Birth Plan x4 copies

 #3 Phone/Camera & Power Cords

 #4 Baby Announcement Email Address List

#5 Toiletries

#6 Boppy Pillow

#7 Sleep Sheep On the Go Sound Machine

#8 Kiddopotamus SwaddleMe Small/Med

#9 The First Years Newborn Pacifier

#10 Born Free Wide Neck Bottle, 5 Ounce

#11 Going home outfit for baby

#12 Robe & going home outfit for mom

#13 Baby book

#14 Overnight bag for significant other

Where to buy

For the items in today’s list, I shopped at and around my house. See Where to buy for more information about online shopping.

Why to pack

#1 Leave your properly installed car seat and base in the car until you’re ready to go home. The rooms are small and you may deliver in one room and recover in another so it’s easiest to retrieve it later. I used the Graco Infant SnugRide with both of my babies. Unlike me, be sure you know how to operate the seat’s 5-point harness, WITH a child inside. We strapped my first son in without removing his swaddle blanket and just thought it was a weird fit. Not completely unsafe and illegal. Lucky for him, we were just driving through the traffic-less streets of Los Angeles to get home…  And yes I did say L.A., but that isn’t a recent collagen injection in my face pictured here, but pregnancy puffiness that didn’t immediately recede, as I naively expected.

#2 The Birth Plan. A wonderful exercise to think through your ideal birthing experience and discuss with your doctor and partner. Used as scrap paper by the nursing staff to write down their lunch order. But just in case they’ve already eaten, bring several copies to hand out to each new shift.

#3 Bring your phone/camera and power cord. Some moms bring their own music too. If we have nothing in common and you’re interested in videoing the birth, check with the hospital in advance as some do not allow recording of medical procedures in the event of a lawsuit.

#4 Create your baby announcement email contact list ahead of time and send to your partner. You might not feel up to the task.

#5 Think camping trip, not the Ritz. Pack basic toiletries including shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste & brush, deodorant, lotion, chap stick, hairbrush, and under eye concealer if you’re having visitors. They are there to see the baby, but you’ll be in the pictures.

#6 Whether you are planning to breast or bottle feed, a nursing pillow like the Boppy is convenient for both. It minimizes the strain on your hands/wrists/arms. And it’s a great way to prop baby on your bed and just stare at her sweet face.  (While looking for a Boppy link for today’s list, I came across a new to me product that got rave reviews – Boppy Newborn Lounger– and just purchased one for a friend who brought her new baby home this afternoon.  Only a place for baby to hang out, not for nursing.)

#7 Continue the white noise baby was listening to in utero with the travel size Sleep Sheep Sound Machine. With hospital staff in and out of your room every few hours, it’s nice for both yourself and baby. I’m actually listening to my favorite ocean waves sound right now via my son’s monitor.

#8 Hospitals provide perfectly adequate swaddling blankets, but the Kiddopotamus SnuggleMe velcro swaddlers are more user friendly and require less repositioning of baby to secure them tightly.  They run small, go with the Small/Medium if you’re baby is full term.  Once baby outgrows this one, move on to the HALO SleepSack Swaddle.

#9 I am an advocate of the pacifier to satisfy baby’s need to suck as a means of self soothing. (See American Academy of Pediatrics Oct 2011 SIDS journal under Articles) If you are too, pack a few different brands to give your little one some options to choose from. My oldest child liked Born Free pacifiers and my youngest started with the The First Years Soothie Newborn pacifier pictured to the right, and has since transitioned to the MAM Pearl Silicone Pacifier.

#10 If you are planning to nurse, also plan for the unexpected. I needed to pump in the hospital with both boys, and fed my second formula in order to be discharged due to his nearly 10% weight drop. Consider a bottle no matter what your position on bottle feeding should the need arise. I use Born Free Wide Neck bottles.

#11 The super cute baby outfit you bought finally gets worn! Baby also needs mittens to protect his face from those unruly newborn fingernails, a hat, socks, and blanket.  The hospital provides diapers and wipes.

#12 Don’t bother with cute pajamas or underwear; they will get ruined. And if you don’t know why, check out Top 10 Essentials for a Healthy Mama. Cover up your hospital gown with a robe for visitors. A nursing bra is optional for support, or if you’ve somehow managed to deliver a baby and still retain any sliver of modesty. The hospital provides disposable underwear and socks. You will still be wearing maternity clothes out of the hospital so leave the pre-pregnancy jeans at home.

#13 Bring the baby book to capture baby’s footprints and fill out any special details of his big day before you get home and forget them.

#14 It’s a nice gesture to pack clothes, toiletries and snacks for the one who likely landed you on this overnight getaway. And consider surprising them with something as it will be the last time for some time that you won’t be totally focused on someone else!

Don’t forget your insurance card if you are not already registered with the hospital.