Sometimes eating out with your baby can be lovely: everything goes to plan, staff are helpful and other diners are charmed by your delightful, gurgling little one. But other times, she might be grouchy, which can make you unpopular with staff and other diners.
Choose your venue
You can either choose to take your baby or toddler wherever you want to go without worrying what other people think, or you can try to find child-friendly places to take your little one.
In many cultures, babies are much more welcome in public places – they are considered part of the community and are cherished and enjoyed by everyone. How many times have you heard other parents tell stories of lovely holidays in countries such as Spain and Italy where waiting staff and other guests were charming to (and charmed by!) their little ones? Things are getting much better in the UK but parents can occasionally be made to feel like they and their babies are not very welcome.
Manage your expectations
There will be periods of months at a time when the hope of having a heart-to-heart chat with your oldest girlfriend will be pretty impossible if your baby is with you. Unless she’s asleep, she’ll probably require attention. You’re likely to get stressed if you expect to have a quiet and easy outing.
Stress levels will increase enormously if you go to quiet, refined restaurants that sometimes just don’t welcome babies. Other clientele might not enjoy the idea of baby noise, and so won’t be happy to see you arrive with your baby. Rather than grow a really thick skin and ignore what other diners say or might be thinking, it’s much easier and nicer to go to places that welcome mums and dads with babies – and preferably also welcome breastfeeding.
Breastfeeding your baby in cafés and restaurants
Breastfeeding mums are protected by law and no one can ask you to stop breastfeeding in public places, on public transport or in service industries (eg cafés) that serve the public.
In addition, there are lots of great baby cafés, cinema screenings, local initiatives, public buildings and companies that actively support breastfeeding mums. Ask other mums for their recommendations.
It’s not pleasant if you feel like you need to go and feed your baby in the loo. Who else would be expected to have their lunch in a toilet! It doesn’t make for a nice day out with your baby.
Aim to be out during nap time
If you can coincide your outing with your baby’s sleep time, everything will be much easier. That said, if you’re exhausted, your baby’s nap time is when you get a chance to have your own snooze, so you’ll have to choose between you sleeping or getting out.
Have lots of familiar toys for your baby to play with, and also take a few unfamiliar ones so they’ll be intensely interested in them – even if just for a short while.
If your baby won’t be eating the café or restaurant’s food, pack some for her. But if she will be, make sure it has no added salt and that eggs are cooked through.
Call in advance to see if they have highchairs, and reserve one if you can. It’s also a good idea to take lots of wet wipes and muslin cloths. Plus, take a plastic bag to put the dirty ones in.
If your baby or toddler has allergies, make sure you have all medicine with you. Either take her food with you, or be careful at the café when her order arrives. Waiters and waitresses won’t have as much time as you do to check for stray sesame seeds, etc. They also might not know what ‘gluten-free’ means so be very careful ordering for your child and make sure that staff put a note on your order explaining exactly what your little one cannot have.