People, it’s finally, finally summer. As you may have heard, Boston got a bit slammed with snow this past winter so my kids and I started daydreaming about going to the beach sometime around February.
This isn’t a novel activity for us. My in-laws retired to the ocean so we visit them there frequently. And a few years ago my husband and I decided to buy our falling-down, almost condemned house (think The Money Pit) based on its close proximity to a lake with a swimming beach. Yes, we are beach/sand/water people. I’ve survived six summers of hauling babies and toddlers of various ages to the beach so allow me to drop some wisdom. Please, please learn from all my mistakes.
First off, let’s just get this out of the way: don’t expect trips to the beach with a baby to resemble beach trips in your former, pre-baby life. You’ve probably already figured this out based on every other day of your life as a parent, but having a small human with you changes everything. Swap your Solo cup of beer for a giant iced coffee and be prepared to have a fun, but different type of day.
Here are some things that will probably happen:
- The moment you let your attention wander is when your wee one is going to roll/scoot/crawl/toddle/run to the open water with the urgency and speed of David Hasslhoff.
- Your baby is going to eat sand. Some kids do this by accident (picking up a Cheerio and shoving a handful of sand in the mouth) and some do it on purpose (dining on the sand as if it contains the extra fiber they’ve been sorely lacking in their diet).
- You might not have a full morning at the beach, as planned. It might end up being an hour, or a half hour. On his first beach trip my infant middle child was so freaked out by the blinding brightness of the ocean and the crash of the waves that he dissolved into tears and we had to leave 45 minutes in because I could not soothe him.
- So yeah, having a baby at the beach doesn’t always go as planned. But here are my tried and true tips for making the beach a bit easier for you:
This is one of those things that mystified me as a new parent. What are they? Why do I need them? Here’s the deal: your typical cloth or disposable diaper is meant to absorb pee so it gets big and puffy as it gets wet. This is no bueno if your kid is trying to move around and play. A swim diaper is designed to stay light and comfy when wet and therefore catch poop, not pee. Pee just kind of leaks out into the water or onto the sand. Yes, if your baby is sitting on your lap in a swim diaper your risk getting peed on. It has happened to me many, many times. I typically use disposable swim diapers but here are some good cloth ones if that’s what you prefer.
A Diaper-Friendly Swimsuit
As stated above, you will be changing diapers at the beach. Even if your baby doesn’t drop a deuce while there you will have to have him in a regular diaper in the car and then you’re not going to want to change him into a swim diaper until right before he is ready to go in the water (due to aforementioned pee issues). And then once it’s time to pack up you’re going to have to wrestle a clean, regular diaper back on that wet, sandy butt. One of the best things I ever did to streamline my beach trips was buy my babies and toddlers swim outfits that unbuttoned in the crotch. No more tugging soaking wet swim trunks off my son. No more stripping my daughter completely buck naked in front of strangers on the beach. I now just lie my kiddo down on a beach towel, unsnap the crotch, and do a quick switch. Done!
This summer my son is sporting my current favorite suit is the Snap Me Maximus, pictured here. My son’s best friend is wearing the Exclusive Amelia. I know they are blindingly cute toddlers (I’m a bit biased) but check out those awesome swimsuits.
See how easy diaper changes are? This would also be handy for a newly potty trained toddler—easy access means fast access!
I’m also a fan of my son’s suit, in particular, because it covers his torso and neck, which means way shorter fights about sunblock application.
If your tiny person is toddling around you’re gonna need some shoes this summer. The sand will be hot and so will the parking lot so barefoot is a no-go. PLEASE do yourself a favor and buy a pair that is washable. Every year I say I’m going to do this and then I forget and by mid-July my kids’ sandals smell so rancid that they need to be incinerated. This year I wised up and got my toddler a pair of Pediped Flex Sahara/ Air Force Camo. And as you can see, my son put them through a decent test by stomping in the swampy part of our local lake. I threw them in the washing machine and they came out looking (and smelling!) good as new.
Sun Hat and Sunglasses
I’ve gone through about a gazillion sun hats in seven years of parenting so I don’t have a particular brand I love. But I do feel strongly about the design: get something with a chin strap, preferably tie-on. It prevents your babe from ripping the hat off her head and it’s also less likely to fly away on a windy beach day.
If your tot will tolerate sunglasses, I’m a huge fan of Babiators—they are bendy and shatter-resistant so even if your toddler sits on them they won’t break. My son who detests bright sunshine (I’m pretty sure he’s a vampire) never left the house without these the summer he was 2 years-old.
[Editor’s note: I love Baby Banz as well.]
Yes, these can be a giant pain in the ass to put up but it’s worth it to have a dark little spot to retreat to when baby starts to get hot/fussy/hungry/tired. Both my sons have taken cat naps at the beach in a tent—it’s so magical. Whatever you decide to get, make sure it pops up fast and you can put it away even faster because nothing makes me sweat more than trying to get the damn thing back in the bag when baby is DONE for the day.
I like the Genji Sports Pop Up Family Beach Tent.
If you don’t already have a family beach blanket, I recommend one that is washable and resists moisture on the ground—that way you can put it down on wet sand or grass without your own ass getting wet. I love this J.J. Cole one and have used it for years!
Small Inflatable Pool
So maybe you and the older siblings are huge fans of the ocean waves, but your baby finds the pounding waves and cold water a bit overwhelming. A great solution is to bring along a cheap-o inflatable pool, set it up next to your beach blanket, and fill it up with salt water. The water warms up quickly in the little pool and your baby can enjoy splashing away in her own private pond while the bigger kids hit the ocean.
There’s also the shower curtain in the dugout hole trick.
Beach Bag Essentials
What about all the other STUFF you need to haul along? There’s a ton of it. Don’t forget to pack:
- Sunblock. Duh. Bring your favorite brand and don’t forget to re-apply frequently.
- Plenty of Water and Smart Snacks. What are smart snacks? Nothing sticky. Cheerios: good. Peanut butter: bad. Have you ever seen a toddler drop a PB & J in the sand and then try to keep eating it? It’s not pretty.
- Baby Powder. Have you heard about this trick where you can use baby powder on a kid’s ass and it makes all the sand disappear? Voila! Well, the sand doesn’t magically come off. The baby powder dries off the skin so the previously wet sand is a bit easier to brush off. It’s definitely a bit of a time saver.
- Wet bags or extra plastic grocery bags to pack out all your nasty, wet swim diapers and such
- Camera, obviously, because THE CUTE will be happening and you’ll want to capture everything.
What did I miss? What are your tried and true beach-with-a-baby tips?