It's an ironic fact of motherhood: Throughout your pregnancy, you want as many people around you as possible — for the initial announcement, the gender reveal, the shower, and all the last-days-of-freedom outings with your girlfriends. But once the baby arrives, you worry about exposing it to anyone outside your own four walls. You're not sure whether you should push the stroller around the block, much less take your newborn to a restaurant.
I had two very different out-in-public experiences with my own children. A week after I brought my son home, we were slammed with a blizzard that immobilized the city. With my car snowed into the street and the sidewalks too icy for a stroller, there was no way I could take the baby out even for a Dunkin' run. My daughter was another story altogether. Sadly, my father-in-law passed away the day after she was born, so she and I went straight from the hospital to the funeral home. As I sat on a sofa in the corner of the room, friends and family filed by to offer both their condolences and congratulations as my 4-day-old baby dozed. Both children survived their early weeks without so much as a sniffle.
So is it okay to bring such a small infant to a public place, or should you save the Applebee's visits for when your child is a few months old? Experts say that it's really a judgment call. Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital's site stated that it's fine to go outside with a newborn if the weather is nice, but that parents may want to wait a month or two before taking a child to public places.
"Although it’s potentially safe to bring even newborns out in the world, they’re at much higher risk for getting serious infections when exposed to other people in their first two to three months of life before they get their first round of immunizations," says Andrew Bernstein, MD, FAAP, Clinical Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. He tells Romper, "Also at that age, it’s harder to determine which child with a fever has a mild viral illness and which one has something serious like meningitis or a blood infection." In other words, if your baby does become ill after a restaurant visit, it means you might have to make an unexpected trip to the ER.
Still, that doesn't mean you have to isolate yourself and your newborn for months on end. Having an occasional meal out with a very young baby is fine, as long as you follow some commonsense precautions. "I tell parents that it’s okay to go out in public with their newborns as long as it’s not a crowded place, and as long as strangers aren’t allowed to touch or get too close to the baby," says Dr. Bernstein.
To minimize the risk of illness during a dinner out, Parents has offered some smart suggestions. Among them: Go early in the evening (say, 5:00 or 5:30), when the restaurant is likely to be emptier. Ask for a corner table or a similar private area. If you can, feed your baby just before leaving; that might make your little one satisfied enough to sleep through your meal. And you can keep your baby mostly covered to shield him or her from strangers while ensuring that they're getting ample air flow.
The other potential problem with taking a newborn to a restaurant is the risk that the child will become fussy and bother the other patrons. If that happens, says Dr. Bernstein, it's perfectly fine to try feeding, changing, or comforting your baby to see if it will settle down long enough for you to finish your meal. For some families, however, the trouble may come shortly after you pay the check and head out. "Some babies will need to have a big cry after they get home from an overstimulating environment," Dr. Bernstein adds.
There are certain advantages to eating out with such a small baby. You don't have to ask for a high chair or bring anything other than diapers, a bottle of formula, or your breast. There's no need to consult your child to make sure they're okay with Thai food rather than pizza. Newborns don't have to be entertained with crayons and lame paper placemats with mazes and riddles. And when you get home, chances are it'll be time for the baby's nap or bedtime, giving you an hour or two to relax and congratulate yourself on a successful outing. Make the most of the opportunity while you can: Once your child reaches toddler age, dining out will be an entirely different experience.