Cycling with a baby bike seat

As a keen cyclist, I couldn’t wait until my daughter was big enough for her first baby bike seat. I longed for the days when I could ditch public transport with the pushchair and get back to the speed and convenience of getting around the local area by bike. It turned out to be a little more complicated than I anticipated, but now I know what I’m doing the baby girl is almost a big of fan of cycling as I am.

When you can start using a baby bike seat

A woman takes a selfie on a bike, her toddler in a baby bike seat behind her
Baby bike seat selfie

Most baby bike seats have a recommended minimum age of nine months but more important than her age is your baby’s ability to sit up unaided. To cycle with a younger baby you’ll need a cargo bike with a child car seat mount. It’s a set up that’s fairly common in Scandinavia but is still relatively rare in the UK. Don’t be tempted to cycle with your baby in a sling, as in the event of an accident you risk falling onto her.

You can safely use a baby bike seat until your little one weighs around 15-20kg (upper weight limits vary between brands and models). After that point your best bets are a tag-a-long bike or, if your little one isn’t yet a confident cyclist, a cargo bike.

Choosing a baby bike seat

Once you’ve opted for a baby bike seat rather than a cargo bike, you need to decide between a front or rear-mounted model.

A front-mounted baby bike seat means you can see your little one at all times, making communication easier. Handling takes a bit of getting used (similar to riding with a heavily laden bike basket) but ultimately you might feel more in control than with a rear-mounted seat.

The downsides are that your bike’s steering will be slightly restricted and you might find yourself having to pedal in an awkward wide-kneed stance. Your baby will also be exposed to the wind more than she would be in a rear-mounted seat, though you can buy front seats with windshields that offer some protection. In addition, weight limits for front seats tend to be lower than rear seats so it’s a shorter term solution.

Rear-mounted baby bike seats, while a bit destabilising because of the way they are suspended over the back wheel, affect handling less and therefore tend to be safer. Larger than their front-mounted counterparts, rear seats offer more support for little heads and necks, making them more comfortable to fall asleep in. You can even get models that recline if you know you’ll be doing a lot of long cycling trips with your baby. They’re safer in the event of an accident too, offering wraparound support in case of a fall.

The other benefit of a rear seat is that you can attach additional brackets to any number of adult bikes, then switch the baby bike seat between them depending on who will be cycling with your child that day. A rear seat also means there’s space on the front of your bike for a basket.

How to cycle with a baby bike seat

Actually cycling with a baby in a bike seat isn’t very different from cycling with a heavy basket or pannier rack. With that in mind, it’s a good idea to go for a test ride with a heavy weight in your baby bike seat before taking your little one out for a spin for the first time.

I tend to cycle more slowly than I would without the baby girl, taking back routes rather than main roads (to avoid both traffic and air pollution) and being particularly careful over bumpy ground. The baby girl’s rear-mounted bike seat offers pretty good natural suspension so small bumps are quite fun, but even a large speed hump can cause an unpleasant jolt if taken too fast.

Getting on and off a bike with a baby bike seat

The tricky thing is getting you and your baby on and off the bike, locking it up and storing it. Everyone will find their own workarounds but the most practical way I found when the baby girl was little was to wear her in a sling on my front while I manoeuvred my bike out of the shed and out to the pavement in front of our house. With the bike leaning against a wall I would then strap her into her seat, put on both our helmets (she was happier to wear hers if she saw me putting mine on first) and walk the bike onto the road.

I recommend a bike with a step-through frame, as they’re easier to get your leg over. If yours has a crossbar, just be careful to step over rather than swinging your leg round, as you’ll just end up kicking the baby bike seat (I write from experience).

Locking up a bike with a baby bike seat

A toddler sleeps in a baby bike seat locked to some raillings
Fast asleep in her baby bike seat

Locking up a bike with your baby on board can be challenging, as the added weight makes the bike very unstable, so it’s always best to take her out first. Before the girl was walking I would wear a sling while cycling so as to be able to transfer her back into it when we reached our destination. Since she’s been steady on her feet I simply stand her on the ground next to me while I lock up the bike or put it back in our shed. And I have to say, cycling with the baby girl got much easier once she was walking.

The final element to consider is that while you might be enjoying yourself, your baby might not be, whether due to cold, discomfort or some other unfathomable infant unhappiness. If that’s the case, abandon the exercise and try again another day.

Essential kit for cycling with a baby bike seat

Helmets for both you and your baby are a must, as are lights if you’ll be cycling after dark. To draw attention to the fact that you’ve got a passenger, a reflective ‘baby on board’ sticker on the back of the bike seat is a good idea too.

It can get very chilly as a passenger on a bike, so you’ll need to wrap your baby up warm. At least one layer more than what you’re wearing, ideally something windproof. Warm mittens are essential come winter – if your baby won’t keep hers on (something I had to deal with my first winter cycling with the baby girl), you might prefer to wait until warmer weather to give cycling a go. A light but warm balaclava under your baby’s helmet offers protection for ears and cheeks.

Essential kit: Magic Blackout Blind

One of the challenges of travelling with a baby is getting the room where your little one is sleeping dark enough for her. While at home you might have excellent blackout curtains or blinds in your baby’s nursery, hotels and holiday rental properties are an unknown. Which is why is makes sense to always travel with a baby blackout blind if your little one is sensitive to light, particularly when travelling in the summer, when the days are long. Spending hours coaxing your little one to nap in a light-filled room or being woken at the crack of dawn probably isn’t your idea of a relaxing break.

Why the Magic Blackout Blind is the best baby blackout blind

Cutting a sheet of Magic Blackout Blind – my favourite model of baby blackout blind – to fit a window
Cutting a sheet of Magic Blackout Blind – my favourite model of baby blackout blind – to fit a window

I’ve tried a couple of styles of travel baby blackout blind and my favourite is the Magic Blackout Blind, which affixes to any window using the power of static. The blackout sheets weigh almost nothing so are convenient to pack and can be cut to fit any window shape. If fitted correctly (very easy to do) they block out virtually all the light, and I’ve never had them fall off while in use. When you’re not using them, you simply peel them away from the glass (they leave no marks) and affix to a wall until you need them again. The sheets can be reused, lasting 6-8 weeks, and can be recharged with static by placing near a TV. You can even use them in the car.

The Gro Anywhere Blind, the other baby blackout blind I’ve tried, is the more environmentally friendly option because the fabric can be reused indefinitely but is less convenient than the Magic Blackout Blind. If you know you need to cover a very large window, the Gro Anywhere Blind makes sense to use, but for smaller or oddly shaped windows, it’s a pain to fold up and can be difficult to attach. It’s also bulky to travel with and the suction cups you use to attach it to windows sometimes come unstuck.

Driving with a baby – hints and tips

Car journeys with your little one can be a nerve-wracking experience, particularly if you’re by yourself. But they’re an inevitable element of life for most parents, whether driving is something you only do in a rental car on holiday or part of your daily routine. So attach that ‘Baby on Board’ sticker – I thought they were just cutesy but actually they’re to alert first responders to the presence of a baby in the case of an accident – buckle up and away you go.

Driving with a baby

A woman changes a baby's nappy on the back seat of a van on a pause in driving
Make sure you’ve got essentials like nappies and wipes to hand while driving with a baby

Time your departure for as soon as possible after a feed, but be prepared to stop frequently if your baby needs to. Infants under the age of six months shouldn’t be in a car seat for more than two hours anyway as the angle of the seat can restrict their airway. So if you’re driving a long way, factor in regular stops to give your baby some time out of the seat.

You can alleviate the worry of not being able to see your baby while you’re driving by attaching a mirror to the headrest of the seat. Easy to set up kits are widely available.

A rear window shade will come in handy keeping the sun off your little one’s face. Models that go around the top of the car door, rather than just sticking to the window, are impossible for your little one to remove, and have the added benefit of letting you have the windows open.

A couple of toys or squishy books that you can attach to your little one’s car seat might keep her entertained for a little while. Anything that isn’t attached will end up on the floor almost immediately.

Keep essentials like wipes, your nappy changing wallet and a blanket close to hand so that you can get hold of them quickly if need be during a stop.

Driving with a toddler

A mother and toddler look out of the window on a Eurotunnel train
Enjoying the view from the Eurotunnel while driving to France

Car journeys with the baby girl massively improved once she was big enough for a forward-facing car seat (see below) and could see both the person driving and the world rushing by outside. She still gets bored after a while but is much happier than in the rear-facing seat.

Our other chief defences against boredom and the grumpiness that inevitably comes in its wake are snacks and screens (playing ‘what can you see out of the window?’ and singing nursery rhymes will only take you so far). We try and go for soft snacks on car journeys to minimise the risk of choking – oat bars, bananas, baby food pouches, that sort of thing – though we tend to be a bit more relaxed about what we give the girl if someone is sitting next to her in the back.

The screens we resisted for a long time, but a recent 9-hour drive down to nearly the south of France broke us. We try to play learning games like Smart Baby Shapes and Tozzle and interactive music apps like Nursery Rhymes but sometimes we give in and let the girl watch a couple of episodes of Hey Duggee or Sarah and Duck.

Choosing a car seat

Safety is obviously of paramount concern, with cost probably the next biggest factor for most parents when it comes to buying a child car seat. But don’t underestimate the importance of finding one in which your toddler will sleep comfortably. Because a sleeping toddler is the best kind of toddler when it comes to long car journeys.

After research using the consumer website Which? (you can join for £1 and then cancel your membership) and lots of parent review sites we went for the Cybex Pallas, which has a ‘shield’ rather than a five-point harness, which the baby girl rests her head and arms on when she’s napping in the van. The shield is more of a faff to fit than a harness, but the baby girl seems to like it.

According to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, the safest option is to use a rear-facing child car seat for as long as possible. ‘Group 0 and 1+’ seats can be used until your child is 18kg (around four years old). They’re bulkier than their forward-facing equivalents and still relatively rare in the UK but offer better impact protection in the event of an accident.

Tips for driving with your little one abroad

If you’ll be driving on holiday – or even just taking taxis – check the local regulations around child car seats well in advance of your trip. Which? has a very helpful list of the rules in lots of popular holiday destinations. You might find that your car seat doesn’t meet local laws, so be prepared to hire one that does.

Most car hire companies should be able to supply a car seat, given enough notice, though quality can be variable and staff unhelpful when it comes to fitting an unfamiliar seat. You might feel more confident booking with a specialist baby equipment hire company.

Adventure review: Beatles for Babies

Published by The Stage, 29 August 2018. The show is for children aged 0–3.

Catalan theatre company La Petita Malumaluga perform Beatles for Babies
Beatles for Babies by La Petita Malumaluga

Early years company La Petita Malumaluga have performed this tribute to the Fab Four all over the world and it’s not hard to see why this nearly wordless show has gone down such a storm internationally. These dates at the Boing Children’s Festival in Kent marks the British premiere.

The concept is simple: four musicians (Alba Haro on cello, Laura Marín on violin, Nil Villà on alto saxophone, Albert Vilà on percussion) playing stripped back, jazz-influenced interpretations of Beatles tunes in the round. Jordi Bello’s arrangements are charming to listen to, but what makes the show so effective for its audience of under-3s is the dynamic staging (by Vilà and Eva Vilamitjana). All four musicians are in near constant motion, with Vilamitjana providing additional vibrancy as the show’s only non-musical performer.

The all-white design (by Paula Bosch in collaboration with La Petita Malumaluga) means that the focus stays on the music and the music-makers, with the few choice bits of inventive percussion thrown in as the show progresses ensuring that there’s always something new and interesting to look at and listen to. Special mention goes to the section where Vilà conducts audience members playing dozens of colourful Boomwhacker tubes, and to the lovely suspended drums that also serve as little projector screens for Anna Carreras’s fun projections. Claudi Palomino’s lighting design is also instrumental in creating drama, helping to raise this sweet performance from mere tribute act to a real theatre experience for young audiences.

 

Travelling long haul with a baby

Published in the September 2018 issue of Baby Magazine, with the title ‘Take Flight’.

One of the best things about no longer being pregnant (aside from the wonderful new addition to your family, of course) is that there’s no need to worry about zika anymore. Which means you’re free to explore far-flung destinations again, taking your little one on their first proper adventure.

Travel vaccinations

Long haul with a baby: A man holds a baby in a sling in Joshua Tree National Park, California, USA
My partner and the baby girl in Joshua Tree National Park, California, USA

While the routine NHS infant vaccinations your baby receives at 8 weeks, 12 weeks, 16 weeks and 12 months will protect them for travel within Europe and to other developed nations, more exotic destinations may require additional vaccines.

Some of these vaccines – such as those for typhoid and hepatitis, as well as common anti-malarial medications – can only be given above a certain age or weight, so if you’re thinking of travelling to a high-risk area, you should talk to your GP or practice nurse before booking your trip.

Even if a destination you’re hoping to visit qualifies as high risk for a particular disease, you might still be able to take your baby depending on the type of trip you’re planning. If you’re staying in an upmarket resort and unlikely to be spending lots of time with the local population, for example, your risks are greatly reduced, to the point when you might not need vaccinations at all.

Even in destinations where malaria isn’t a risk, you’ll need plenty of baby-safe insect repellent and a mosquito net to cover your baby’s cot (and pram if you’ll be going out in the evening). There are plenty of universal-fit ones available online.

Surviving a long-haul flight

Long haul with a baby: A toddler stands in a queue for a with a buggy and a wheelie bag
Waiting to board a flight to LA in June 2018

Try to book the bulkhead row and a carrycot or child seat (depending on the age of your baby). This is sometimes more straightforward to do over the phone rather than online, and you should reconfirm the booking before you fly.

If these seats aren’t available, and there are two of you travelling with your baby, book a window and aisle, in the hope that the middle seat will be left empty. This tactic often works, and even when it doesn’t, your neighbour is very likely to be willing to swap their middle seat for one of yours, so you end up sitting together anyway.

If money is no object, you might consider paying for a seat for your baby – you won’t regret having the extra space. Children under 12 usually pay around 75 per cent of full fare.

As with short-haul flights, pack a large supply of baby food, milk and snacks. You’ll be covered in case of delays and will have reserves to hand for the moments when nothing else is working to calm your baby down. Pack all your food into one bag and all your baby toys and books into another within your carry-on luggage so everything is easy to find exactly when you need it.

Hope for the best but expect the worse: if you prepare yourself for your baby not sleeping for the entire flight, any naps they do take will feel like you’ve won the lottery.

Jet lag

Once you get to your destination, you might find that your baby sleeps really well the first night because they’re exhausted from the journey but is wakeful at night and grumpy in the daytime after that. Don’t worry, it will pass in three or four days. Being easy on yourself during this period is crucial, so avoid attempting any ambitious adventures while you’re all exhausted.

Nap when your baby does so you’ve got some back up energy to cope with additional nighttime wake ups. Being outdoors in the day time is a good idea, as the day light helps kick the body clock into line. Try to keep your baby’s bed time routine as close to what it is at home so she knows on some level that it’s time to sleep even if her body is telling her the opposite.

When to go

Long haul with a baby: A woman pushes a pram outside LACMA in LA © Steve Pretty
At LACMA in LA © Steve Pretty

December to April is the best time to visit the Caribbean, with hurricane season over and the wet season yet to start. Expect temperatures of around 30°C year-round.

Temperatures in Indian Ocean destinations stay fairly constant too – think lows of 26°C and highs of 30°C – but the Maldives get their best weather between December and April. Any later in the year and you risk running into the monsoon.

The situation is similar in Thailand. Bali’s dry season coincides with British spring and summer, so head there in May, June or September to avoid the crowds. Temperatures in Bali dip to around 22°C at night all year, making it a more comfortable option for restless sleeping. In May you can expect daytime highs of 28°C.

To keep your baby cool, make sure they’re drinking plenty of fluids. Not all toddlers are big water-drinkers, so offer snacks like cucumber and watermelon. Air conditioning is a good idea, if available, as hot weather can make napping more difficult.

Where to go…

Top travel spots that little ones will love

Dajuma Beach Eco-Resort and Spa, Bali.
This family-run resort is very popular with families with young children, especially as it provides cots and high chairs. Garden view cottages look out onto delectable shady lawn for those moments when you’ve had enough of hanging out on the volcanic beach or splashing in the pools. Rooms from £76 per night. dajuma.com

Niyama Private Islands, Maldives.
The Explorers Kids Club at this luxury private island resort is the only one in the Maldives open to babies from 12 months. There’s an extensive programme of activities on offer, leaving you to hop from white sand beach to spa, or why not give watersports a try? Rooms from £383 per night. Niyama.com

Beaches Turks & Caicos, Caribbean.
The all-day creche accepts even the very youngest guests, or take your baby along for the ride as you explore this huge all-inclusive resort, with its seven swimming pools (including a dedicated toddler pool), mini train and miles of beach. Rooms from £210 per night. beachesresort.co.uk

 

Adventure review: Toddler-friendly shows at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe

The baby girl came and visited me at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, where I’ve been working this month, and we saw a few shows together. Here are the reviews I wrote about them, all originally published in Fest Magazine.

Wriggle Around the World by Recitals for Wrigglers

Playing at Stockbridge Church until 25 Aug, times vary

A toddler and some babies listen to a classical concert at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe
Wriggle Around the World by Recitals for Wrigglers

Wriggle Around the World is a mighty civilized way to start your day at the Fringe. Even the presence of a dozen or so under-fives—this show’s target audience, to be fair—does little to mar the enjoyment of listening to two talented musicians playing a selection of short classical works in an informal environment.

Cellist Clea Friend and violinist Louise Bevan clearly know their audience, their programme mainly comprising upbeat numbers—a Scottish reel, Brahms’s ‘Hungarian Dance No. 6’—that keep the little ones entertained. Introductions to the pieces presents the show as a journey, including travel by boat, horse and train to the various countries represented, but this narrative is loose enough for the chitchat not to feel laboured. The story of The Gingerbread Man—broken up with extracts of Bach and Bevan—offers some pleasing variety to proceedings.

Circulating photographs of the various composers doesn’t add much, given the age of the majority of the audience, but the appearance of a suitcase full of rattles and noise-makers towards the end of the concert is a hit. Recitals for Wrigglers—Wriggle Around the World is one of two shows from these performers, alongside The Lion and the Mouse—won’t be changing anyone’s world this Fringe. But that’s not what this type of show is about – Wriggle Around the World is a simple format, done well. It’s no surprise it’s doing well at the box office – so it should be.

MamaBabaMe by Starcatchers and Curious Seed

Playing at Pleasance at EICC until 17 Aug, times vary

A dancer and a toddler play with a balloon at the end of a performance of MamaBabaMe at the Edinburgh Fringe
Balloon playtime at the end of MamaBabaMe by Starcatchers and Curious Seed

There’s as much for the parents as for the babies in MamaBabaMe. This beautiful show by Scottish dance companies Starcatchers and Curious Seed presents everyday moments in the lives of mothers and babies, Nerea Gurrutxaga and Hayley Earlam rolling, toddling, gurgling and cuddling to an atmospheric live sound track performed by cellist Robin Mason.

The set, by visual artist Yvonne Buskie, is immediately calming—an important quality for a show aimed at the under-threes and performed smack in the middle of both morning and afternoon naptimes—its colours, textures and shapes easy on the eye and pleasing to the touch.

Christine Devaney’s choreography evokes the mother-child relationship with real heart yet never falls into sentimentality. Gurrutxaga and Earlam portray both mother and baby, switching back and forth again and again in a way that suggests theories of child development that describe how babies ultimately come to mentally separate from their mothers and develop their own sense of self – or perhaps I’m reading too much into it.

Interaction with the babies in the audience is limited, which is a shame, because the little there is—including the balloon free-for-all at the end—goes down a storm. Each time the dancers reach out to us over the low cloud-like barrier that delineates their playing space, it feels like we’re being invited in to play, rather than just witness this jewel of a performance from the outside. It’s a feeling that bears repeating.

Kaput by Koral Chandler

Playing at Assembly George Square Gardens until 26 Aug, 1:30pm

Tom Flanagan in Kaput. © Sean Young
Tom Flanagan in Kaput © Sean Young

Slapstick is hard to get right, but amiable clown Tom Flanagan makes it look easy. A hapless projectionist attempting to screen a movie, he’s a hit with both grownups and little ones (the show is suitable for children age three and upwards) at this afternoon performance. So realistic is his tomfoolery, in fact, that my little girl bursts into tears every time he breaks something, falls down or bumps his head, and I spend a lot of the show reassuring her that’s he’s only pretending.

Flanagan has a lovely way with the audience, his amiable manner garnering no shortage of volunteers for the various fun bits of interaction, and a near constant rumble of chuckles that frequently breaks out into raucous applause.

A few impressive acrobatic tricks punctuate the performance but the main draw here is classic clowning with a silent movie vibe, including an inspired nod to one of Buster Keaton’s most famous stunts.

The only bit that strikes a bum note is when Flanagan romances a woman from the crowd, forced to recreate the plot of the film he’s failed to screen because the projector is belching smoke and the screen is lying in tatters on the floor. It’s all very mild-mannered but demanding physical affection from an unwilling participant feels like the wrong message to be giving young audiences, even in jest.

The other problem with this section is that it’s anticlimactic after the wonderful chaos of the preceding 40 minutes, slowing the action right down when Flanagan would do better to build to a glorious finish. Some aspects of clowning tradition are better left in the past.

Shhh… The Elves Are Very Shy by Ipdip Theatre

Playing at Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh – John Hope Gateway until 26 Aug,  times vary

A toddler writes on a blackboard after the end of Shhh... The Elves are Very Shy at the Edinburgh Fringe
Post-show playtime at Shhh… The Elves are Very Shy by Ipdip Theatre

Scottish early years theatre company Ipdip are back at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh with another gently interactive show for the youngest audiences. This year they’re performing inside the visitors’ centre rather than in the gardens themselves which, while a sensible move given the unpredictably of Edinburgh’s weather, loses some of the uniqueness of their previous offerings.

Shhh… The Elves Are Very Shy takes the form of a lesson in “elfology” from mild-mannered “elfologist” Dr Faye Greenwood, the aim being to put Greenwood’s titular tiny friends sufficiently at their ease so they’ll come out and play. Writer and performer Charlotte Allan is approachable and engaging as Dr Greenwood, making sure that every young audience member feels included as she cooks up sweet-smelling bubbles to tempt the elves out of their hiding place, leads some music making and supervises a stickering session. The little poems that act as introductions to each of these sections, however, are overly twee and not always clearly articulated.

The kids are having fun during all this sensory shenanigans but the show’s pièce de résistance is the eventual appearance of the elves themselves via a clever bit of video in a box made by Paul Kozinski. It’s such an effective trick that my toddler spends the walk back to the bus stop through the gardens genuinely hunting for Greenwood’s little buddies. We don’t find them – I want my money back.

Essential kit: non-spill trainer cup

The toddlers walks beside a laden pushchair
Never without her non-spill trainer cup

When it comes to travelling with a toddler – or even just going out and about near where you live – a non-spill trainer cup is a real necessity. Even if your toddler is perfectly happy and able to drink from an open cup, chances are that plenty gets spilled in the process, whether as a result of poor coordination, mischievousness, getting distracted, or a combination of all three. That’s fine at home, where you can be on hand to wipe up any spills, but it’s not ideal in a restaurant, on public transport or wherever else you happen to be. A cup with a lid keeps things nicely contained.

As well as keeping the liquid in, a good toddler cup also serves to keep anything else out, from backwash to grubby fingers. If you’ve ever let a toddler drink from your glass and instantly regretted it, you’ll understand where I’m coming from.

Make sure that any cup you take out with you has a non-spill spout so it doesn’t leak in your bag. I’ve tried various kinds and have had most success with the Tommee Tippee Trainer Sippee Cup – no leaks at all. This model also has the benefit of handles that you can hook over the handle of a pushchair or the seat pocket of a car. It’s dishwasher safe too. An all-round winner.

44711020_tt_sippee-cup_blue_product

How to do a music festival with a baby

Family-friendly music festivals offer a brilliant opportunity to hang out with your little one in a totally different way than you do at home, throwing the routine out the window and taking the days as they come. For parents of babes-in-arms that might mean revisiting your pre-child life, strapping your baby into a sling so you can stay up late and have a dance to your favourite bands. For toddlers, a festival is a (relatively) safe, contained, outdoor environment with thousands of exciting new sights, sounds, tastes and smells to experience. Watching festival gigs with the baby girl and seeing her dance along are some of my all-time favourite moments as a parent.

Of course, being at a music festival with a baby or toddler isn’t always easy. Make no mistake: it’s a very different experience from doing a festival child-free. There will be times where the lack of routine causes problems and times where you wish you’d left your little one at home altogether. But with a bit of pre-planning and a willingness to go with the flow, the good far outweighs the bad and everyone ends up having a lovely time.

Here are my tips for a successful festival with a little one, split into seven sections: how to choose a festival; camping; getting around; sleeping and napping; feeding and snacks; what to pack; and the importance of a getaway plan.

How to choose a festival

Adults and children play on the WOMAD sign at the music festival
Exploring at WOMAD Festival

If it’s your first time taking your little one to a music festival, opt for a smaller, family-focused one, such as Latitude or Just So Festival. Or if there’s one you’ve been to before and know well, that works too – just make sure you’ve done your research about family camping and other facilities for babies and small children. I’d steer clear of any festival that doesn’t have a family camping area or advice for families on its website, unless you’ve been before or have had a personal recommendation from someone you trust.

Some family-friendly festivals run a shuttle service from the carpark to the family camping area so you’re not having to lug all your gear – and your baby – by yourself, while others provide the facilities for baby bath time. Most offer a wide range of fun activities for even the littlest kids.

If your baby isn’t crawling yet, you don’t need to worry too much about activities however. Various festivals have baby areas, which are handy if you fancy a quiet sit down, and really come into their own in bad weather. More likely though, you’ll want to take advantage of your baby’s portability to make the most of the festival’s offerings for grownup punters.

It makes sense to pick a festival not too far from home for your first go with your little one, unless there’s a particularly good reason to opt for somewhere further afield. Picking up wristbands, parking and setting up camp can be time-consuming and tedious, so cutting down on your travel time will make the whole process that bit easier.

Camping

I’ve confessed my personal bias for campervans elsewhere on the blog, but that doesn’t make what I’m about to write any less true. When it comes to festival camping, more than any other camping trip, a campervan is your friend: quieter, warmer, more secure, easier to keep tidy and better for making a quick getaway if you need to. If I didn’t own one I would seriously consider hiring one for festivals. While an awning is an excellent addition for a standard camping trip, it’s not really necessary for festival camping, as you’ll mostly be hanging out away from where you’re camped. If you need extra storage space, a small pop-up tent works well.

In my post on camping with babies and toddlers I advise buying the largest tent you can afford, and that holds here too. A lot of festival camp sites will feel safe enough to leave your buggy outside at night, but you can’t guarantee that until you get there, so make sure your tent has enough room to bring your buggy inside (and bring a piece of tarpaulin to put it on so you don’t get the rest of the tent grubby).

A tent with a separate interior room means you can sleep separately from your child, and a blackout tent is an ideal solution for little ones (or their parents!) who are sensitive to light. If that’s not an option, a pop-up tent travel cot is an effective way of creating a bit of a cocoon around your sleeping baby – it doesn’t block out all the light but is better than nothing, and will keep her safe from biting insects too.

There’s lots more practical advice about camping with babies and toddlers in my dedicated post on the subject. Lots of it is relevant for camping at festivals – using pillowcases rather than suitcases for clothes, for example, and ideas for baby bedding – but don’t worry about the section on bath time as it’s unlikely you’ll have the facilities to do it properly at a festival. Baby wipes are your friend here.

Getting around

A man pushes a child in a pushchair at WOMAD Festival
The baby girl in her three-wheeled pushchair at WOMAD Festival, 2018.

A pushchair – ideally one with big wheels – is essential festival kit, as far as I’m concerned. I did Glastonbury last year with the baby girl (aged 9 months) in just a sling and it was exhausting. The combination of her weight and a backpack full of baby paraphernalia was just too much, a situation made worse by the fact that she would only sleep in the sling if I was standing up. At festivals this summer I’ve been able to put her to bed in the pushchair (see below), wearing ear defenders, and stay out late, whereas at Glastonbury last year I had to put her to bed in the van each night and miss out on the fun.

You could probably do a festival with just a sling with a smaller baby, and someone to help lug the baby stuff, if you really wanted to, but I don’t see why you would. By all means bring a sling, because it will definitely come in handy at some stage, but a pushchair just makes everything a lot easier (and doubles as a means of transporting your camping gear from the car park to the campsite). Just don’t forget the rain cover. And if you’re taking a pushchair with pneumatic tyres (which I highly recommend as they offer a much smoother ride over bumpy ground), remember to bring a bicycle pump and puncture repair kit.

Feeding and snacks

A toddler in a sun hat eats corn at a gig at WOMAD Festival
The baby girl munching on corn on the cob in a pause from dancing along at WOMAD Festival.

Jars and pouches of readymade baby food come in very handy at festivals, along with non-perishable healthy snacks such as oat bars, rice cakes, baby crisps, nuts and dried fruit. You don’t want to be queuing up and paying over the odds for food every time your little one gets peckish. And while it’s unlikely you’ll be doing much cooking, it makes sense to bring muesli or cereal for breakfast so you’re not having to leave the campsite before you’re ready to start the day proper.

For bottle-fed babies, pre-sterilised bottles, while wasteful, are the easiest and most hygienic way to go, given that you probably won’t have access to hot water for washing up. The other option is to use cold water sterilising tablets, which I’ve written about how to use elsewhere on this blog. Bottles of ready-mixed formula are much more convenient than messing around with powder with a grubby festival happening all around you.

Sleeping and naps

Part of the fun of being at a festival is the freedom from the usual routines, so it makes sense to come with a more relaxed attitude to napping and bed time. That said, foregoing naps altogether is a recipe for disaster for most small children – it’s a matter of finding the right balance for your family.

In any case, a festival is such a stimulating environment that your little one will probably just conk out of her own accord in the pushchair or sling at some point. If you can anticipate that happening, try to put on her ear defenders before she does so that you’re free to explore without worrying about noisy gigs waking her up or damaging her hearing. A pushchair sleep shade is handy for keeping the sun off her while she’s napping during the day and for blocking out bright lights at night time.

When it comes to bed time, we tend to do our usual bedtime routines at the campsite (pyjamas, teeth brushing, sleeping bag, story) then take the baby girl out with us in the pushchair. She doesn’t normally fall asleep until long after her usual 7pm bedtime, and sometimes we even get her out of the pushchair for a run around if she wants to, but eventually tiredness gets the better of her.

What to pack

A toddler wearing ear defenders watches a gig in a tent at WOMAD Festival
The baby girl in her ear defenders enjoying a gig at WOMAD Festival, 2018

These days you can buy almost anything at a festival, so it’s not the end of the world if you forget something essential. But in an ideal world, on top of all the usual festival essentials (cash, phone booster battery, etc), you’ll need:

For babies and toddlers
Sunscreen
Sun hat
Ear defenders
Plastic-coated picnic blanket
Extra baby wipes
First aid kit
Infant paracetamol/ibuprofen
Baby sleeping bag
Sling

For toddlers only
Waterproof jacket and trousers
Non-toxic permanent marker for writing your phone number on your toddler in case she wanders off

Getaway plan

In all likelihood it’ll all go smoothly and you’ll have an awesome time but when you’re travelling with a little one it’s reassuring to have a getaway plan in case unforeseen circumstances (torrential rain, for example) make you wish you were elsewhere.

Write a list of important phone numbers and keep it in your wallet so you’ve got them handy in case your phone dies. Have a look to see where the nearest hospital with an A&E department is, and write that down too. On arrival, make sure wherever you’ve left your car will be accessible throughout the festival in case you need to drive off early. Or if you’re going by public transport, do some research as to how you would reach the nearest station or bus stop in a hurry. Finally, in the event that you needed to leave late at night or just couldn’t face camping for some reason, what’s the accommodation situation like nearby?

Have fun!

Baby mosquito bite hacks

Mosquito and other insect bites are no fun at any age but particularly galling when the person who’s been bitten is too young to understand that scratching will only make the discomfort worse. When you take into account the fact that mosquitos in some parts of the world can carry dangerous diseases like malaria, zika and dengue fever, it’s important to get informed and organised ahead of time to stop your baby getting munched.

How to stop your child being bitten by mosquitos

A woman and her baby sit in a chair at a beach restaurant in Goa, India © Steve Pretty
The mosquitos only came out at dusk in Goa, so we didn’t need to cover up or use repellent in the daytime. At night we used repellent and the baby girl slept in her pop-up tent travel cot, which has integrated mosquito nets. © Steve Pretty

Mosquitos lay their eggs in standing water, so avoid hanging out by lakes or ponds, or even puddles after a storm. If your accommodation is on the budget end of the scale it’s worth doing some additional research as to its surroundings – when we took the baby girl to Goa when she was four months old I very nearly booked us into a place where the mossies would have us eaten us alive. It was only by doing some digging that I discovered the proximity of the huts to what the management called a stream but was in effect a swamp. Mosquitos and other flying insects don’t like altitude, so they shouldn’t be an issue in any destination over 2,000m up.

There are thousands of species of mosquitos, with some active during the day, some at night, some at dawn, etc, etc, but it’s fair to say that you’re most likely to get bitten at dusk. Keeping your little one covered up is the most effective way of stopping her from being munched: loose-fitting, full-length sleeves and trousers, the thicker the material the better, as the little bastards can bite through thin, tightly fitting fabric.

You can buy mosquito nets to fit around most cots – and prams and pushchairs for when you want to be and about – but more convenient is an integrated product like the NSA UK pop-up tent/travel cot. Nets treated with insecticide are more effective than those without.

Covering up isn’t necessarily the most attractive option in hot destinations, and you can’t keep a child under a mosquito net 24/7 – which is where insect repellent comes in. DEET-based products are recommended by the National Health Service for everyone over the age of 2 months – concentrations of between 20% and 30% are best for children (the higher the concentration, the longer your little one is protected). While safe for use, DEET is a strong chemical and shouldn’t be breathed in or applied near the mouth or eyes. If you can be very confident that there are no mosquitos where your baby is sleeping, it’s a good idea to wash the repellent off before bed.

Contrary to popular belief, citronella and tea tree oil have little to no repellent properties, so don’t rely on them if you don’t want to get bitten.

Treatment of bites

Baby on holiday in a pop-up tent travel cot on a beach in Goa, with the sun setting over the sea. A mini fan is keeping the baby cool. There are sun loungers on the beach.
The baby girl in her pop-up tent travel cot on the beach in Goa

Cold compresses can help to calm itching from bites, and you should trim your little one’s nails to limit the damage done by scratching. If your baby is in real discomfort, you can give her infant paracetamol. For very severe reactions to bites, a doctor or pharmacist will be able to offer advice or prescribe something to calm the symptoms (most over-the-counter insect bite relief creams are not recommended for children under the age of three).

Malaria

Malaria is even more dangerous in babies and young children than it in adults so it’s important that you take steps to avoid it. That means everything already covered in this post, but it might also mean antimalarial medication, depending on your destination, the age and weight of your child (not all medications are suitable for young children), and what you’ll be getting up to on your trip. Make an appointment with your GP or practice nurse six to eight weeks before you travel to discuss your options.

 

Essential kit: adjustable baby sun hat

**WIN one of these lovely sun hats by signing up to the Baby Adventuring mailing list and sharing this post by midnight on 26 July 2018**

A toddler on a beach at a lake in a 'grow-with-me' sun hat from Twinklebelle and UV rash guard swim vest and shorts from Jan & Jul, the company's other brand
The baby girl in her ‘grow-with-me’ sun hat from Twinklebelle and UV rash guard swim vest and shorts from Jan & Jul, the company’s other brand

When the baby girl was smaller I could put any hat on her and there it would stay. Alas, those days are gone – she was fine with warm hats throughout the winter but when it came to sun hats the girl wasn’t having any of it.

I tried a lot of different styles, tried letting her choose a hat for herself, tried wearing a hat myself in the hope that she would want to mimic me. Nothing worked. The baby girl either took them off immediately or complained so much about the way they fit that I took pity on her and took them off her head myself.

No such difficulties with the excellent ‘Grow-With-Me’ Sun Hat from Twinklebelle. Unlike all the other hats we tried, this one stays on. The girl could get it off if she really wanted to – it has a chin strap with a break-away clip – but she doesn’t even try, presumably because it’s light enough and comfortable enough not to bother her.

It’s got a wide enough brim that I don’t need to worry about sun on the baby girl’s extremely pale face and neck (I still apply sunscreen, but it’s good to know the hat has her covered just in case), and the front of the brim is strengthened so it doesn’t flop down and obstruct her vision. There’s a drawstring to adjust the size too, so it should last her a good few summers.

The icing on the cake is that Twinklebelle is a small, family-run business that is committed to providing fair and sustainable income and flexible working to the women (most of whom are mothers) who make their products in the founder’s hometown in China. I didn’t know that when I bought the baby girl’s hat but was delighted to find out about the company after the fact. Hats off to them for creating lovely and useful things and being good people to boot.

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WIN one of these lovely sun hats by signing up to the Baby Adventuring mailing list and sharing this post by midnight on 26 July 2018.

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