25 Good-to-Know Tips for New Parents in New York City
Whether you moved here as a 20-something, or are a lifelong New Yorker, you might think you've got this city figured out. After all, you know the ins and outs of roommate searches, you can score theater tickets on the cheap, or find the nearest happy hour or trendy bite to eat with the blink of an eye, but once you become a parent, New York City a foreign land.
I've been in your shoes, going from a carefree young professional to a diaper-bag toting mom seemingly overnight. Really, it was nine months of staring down my "new" New York while fighting off morning sickness and simultaneously searching for birthing spots, pediatricians, day cares, and baby gear. That was (ahem) 13 years and three kids ago...so I've picked up a few tricks and tools of the trade.
Here are 25 nuggets of NYC new parent advice. Find more baby and new parent hacks in our NYC Pregnancy and Baby Guide.
1. Beware the gear. My firstborn didn't have a bedroom; he had a corner of the living room. All we really needed when he came home from the hospital was a crib, dresser with a changing mat on top, and a safe place for him to sit. Here are our best tips for paring down the essentials when you're living in a tiny space.
2. The city was your playground before baby and there's no reason to stay cooped up inside. Hop on the train and get out of there to explore everything from your favorite parks to more under-the-radar fun places to see with baby.
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Learn how to wear your baby and what the best baby-wearing gear is for you.
3. Speaking of which, I wore all three of my babies and stepped out with them as soon as we were free of the hospital. A ring sling was my go-to in the early days, and an Ergo carried us well into toddlerhood! Consider a baby wearing consultation to find what works for you and Junior.
4. Whether you're lucky enough to have a washer and dryer in your unit, your building, or have to schlep to a laundromat, know there are lots of dirty clothes in your future. The one tip I remember from my newborn care class so many moons ago: Invest in one of those mesh lingerie bags and toss all those tiny socks and booties in it come wash time. You'll save yourself the headache of keeping track of them from washer-to-dryer-to folding time, and they're super easy to pair up at the end.
5. Those fancy diaper bags are for the birds. I tried about 27 different styles in search of one that fit baby's gear and my own. My favorite combo ended up being whatever hot mama bag I was carrying at the moment with a foldable changing pad-and-wipes holder stowed inside. Other than that, I carried a change of clothes for baby and—often overlooked—a clean shirt for me. Trust me, when spit-up becomes up-chuck, you'll be grateful.
6. Some things are worth paying for. Google Express delivers from stores big (Costco) and small (Walgreens), and in many cases same-day. Use it for diapers and wipes now, and granola bars, applesauce, and fruit snacks later. Instacart and Fresh Direct make grocery shopping a breeze, and many local stores deliver for a nominal fee if you just can't stomach the idea of someone else picking out your produce.
A meal kit will simplify your life on those busy baby days. Photo by Mommy Poppins
8. A good stroller is everything. Besides honing in on your budget, consider where you'll store it (closet, lobby, hallway, trunk), as well as how much you plan to tote it on the subway. We've got a full stroller shopping guide here. Beware: If you live in an older elevator building, you'll want to measure the elevator door to make sure your choice fits inside; this is especially important if you're considering a double stroller.
Know your subway elevators! It's a subway lifesaver when traveling with a stroller. Photo courtesy of the MTA
9. Look at the ubiquitous subway map through a new lens; you'll want to locate elevators along your route, but always anticipate them not working. Strangers are generally willing to lend you a hand, too, if you're willing to accept it.
10. Always leave early. You'll need extra time for feedings and diaper changes and other unexpected occurrences.
11. When you're heading out, plan ahead. Know that you can breastfeed anywhere you're legally allowed to be, whether or not you shield your infant behind a cover-up. NYC also has a slew of lactation rooms if you prefer more privacy. Bottle feeding? Always pack extra, just in case.
12. Put all those ongoing freebies and baby events into your calendar stat. Many museums are FREE for babies and toddlers and some even offer stroller tours. You can catch a baby-friendly movie, hit up a storytime, or seek out a new mom group at your local community center—even at unexpected places like the community-minded Sugar Hill Creamery in Harlem, which served scoops alongside a new moms group all winter long.
Take a class with baby to meet other new parents. Photo courtesy of Everyday Athlete
14. Take care of yourself. The old "sleep when the baby sleeps" advice is good, but often unattainable. Take advantage of your partner to squeeze in a power nap or an extra-long shower, sign up for a baby-and-me class, or just go for a long (baby sleep-inducing) stroll in the park.
15. If you're the first in your crew to have a baby, you just might be searching for a new peer group. Consider joining a local group for a meetup. You'll find like-minded families, get some in-the-know tips for your 'hood, and maybe even find your parenting BFF! Having a friend who's been on the parenting road a wee bit longer than you can be invaluable when you have that urgent question that seems just a little too silly to call the answering service at the pediatrician's or your mother who lives cross country.
16. As you eye potty training, invest in a portable potty. Stow it in the bottom of your stroller and take the stress out of the last-second, gotta-go announcement from a toddler.
17. Hailing a cab to head to Grandma's, the pediatricians, or elsewhere? Plan in advance and book a car service with car seats. You'll save yourself the hassle of schlepping a car seat and baby will be much safer than riding in your arms.
RELATED: Top 13 Indoor Play Spaces Across NYC
Read, babble, and otherwise chat up your little one for some quality one-on-one time. Photo by Bigstock
18. You're writing your child's life story; don't forget to narrate it. I talked to my kids all the time, about everything we were doing, strangers' stares be damned. The banter of our daily routine added an extra special level of connection to those early, lonely days. Thumbs up for singing and reading picture books, too!
19. Listen to the advice of others, but trust yourself above all. There will be plenty—about socks, sunscreen, and hats; whether baby is over- or under-bundled; how you should offer baby a bottle and give yourself a break; how breast is best; and so. many. more. things. You can listen to it, but you don't need to follow it. Mother and father know best; trust your instincts and go with what works best for your family.
20. Optimize your smartphone for life with baby in the city. You can follow tweets about subway cancellations, get weather forecasts, look up museum hours, find something to do on the Mommy Poppins event calendar, entertain baby with animal flash card apps while in line at the store, and take pictures of your sweet baby going about their NYC day, then email them to the doting grandparents. Better yet? Start a photo stream just for baby if you all have iPhones, or periodically take all those photos and print out an easy Shutterfly or Google photo book.
Hit up your local spray park to cool off with baby. Photo by Meagan Newhart
21. In the summer, always carry snacks, drinks, a bathing suit, and a terry cloth dishtowel, so you can stop in at the sprinklers any time. And don't be shy—your baby will probably require holding, so you're going to have to take a dip in the cooling spray, too.
22. Make a baby bucket list. New York is a whole new city with a little one in tow. What experiences are you dying to introduce your baby to? Sure, they might not remember it, but you can get some cool photo- ops and quality time in. Need inspiration? We've put together a list of a dozen ideas to try before baby turns 1.
23. Take your explorations outside city limits: Westchester and Hudson Valley, Long Island, New Jersey, and Connecticut all offer day trips and longer getaways. The kids get excited by the train ride (Metro-North, NJ Transit, or LIRR), so the commute becomes part of the fun!
24. Rainy, dreary, or snowy days are going to happen, so keep this list of baby-friendly sensory games and activities handy for days when you just can't make it out the door but need some new entertainment.
25. If you need help, ask! New Yorkers love to offer opinions, directions, and an extra set of hands if you speak up.
A version of this article was first published in 2010, but it has since been revised and updated.