Monday, March 15, 2010

Reader Question: How to keep your baby from being grumpy while grocery shopping

Young babies' behavior can be greatly affected by their surroundings. New sights, smells, and sounds can be exciting and sometimes overstimulating to babies. Parents can find addressing changes in babies' moods more difficult when they are not in the comfort of their own home. In the past, we've provided tips about traveling with your baby, visiting friends who don't have kids, and taking your baby to the doctor. Recently, we received this question from a reader: My baby always get fussy in the grocery store. She seems to hate it but I have to take her with me sometimes. I just have to keep going but she gets pretty bad. Can I make it better for her?

Although we don't have enough information to identify exactly what is going on for this baby, there are numerous things that could be overstimulating her. The bright lights, cool temperature, music and announcements playing over the speakers, odors, and the bright colors of the products lining the shelves can quickly saturate a baby's senses. In addition, babies are often fascinated by other shoppers passing by. Even though the grocery store can be an overwhelming place for young babies, shopping trips don't have to lead to major meltdowns. Here are some tips that can help make a shopping trip easier on everybody:

  • Plan ahead. Taking your baby out in public when she is tired or hungry increases the likelihood that she'll become irritable. If you know that your baby tends to be happier at a certain time of day, plan to run errands then!

  • Try to limit stimulation. Going to the store during slow times (at my grocery store, Saturday mornings tend to be pretty calm) can help reduce over stimulation. If the baby is still in the carrier style car seat you can pull the shade up to limit the light shining in her eyes.

  • Stick to your list. By making a list and sticking to it, you limit the amount of time spent in the store and reduce the risk of over stimulation.

  • Bring help. If possible, it can be useful to have one person to attend to the baby and another to do the shopping.

  • Interact with your baby. Sometimes when we are trying to hurry through the store, it can be easy to overlook our babies' need for interaction. If your baby is giving engagement cues, try talking or singing to your baby while walking up and down the aisles.

  • Bring a snack. For my toddler, a trip through the grocery store is like torture if she can't nibble on something along the way. We usually bring a little baggy of apple slices, which lasts just long enough for me to get through the whole store.

  • Dress your baby comfortably - It can be pretty chilly in the store, so bringing a little extra clothing, especially in the summer when your baby may be dressed lightly, could prevent her from getting irritable because she is too cold.

  • Safety first. Remember that grocery carts aren't designed with the safety features found in strollers. Car seats propped up on the seat, and toddlers who can wiggle out of the safety belt can easily fall onto the floor. Always staying with your cart and being aware of your surroundings will help keep your child safe.
These are just a few tips that we have found useful. We would love to hear any additional tips you may have!


  1. I notice that ours (10 months old) does better when we bring something for her to play with. I like to bring links attached to a toy. And then I can attach the links to the cart handle and the toy doesn't fall on the floor.

    I also do some finger foods. Seeing all that food and not being able to have any can be torture for a baby.

    We also tag-team shopping. One has the cart, the other wanders to get all the food.

    I make a complete fool of myself dancing and singing to her. She loves it.

    Now for shopping at a mall or those types of stores ... that's a completely different ball of wax and I have no tips for that.

  2. Thank you for the tips! I agree, the mall is completely different, with the clothes that are right within reach.

  3. My five month old usually manages reasonably or even enjoys himself until we have to wait to check out. I've figured out he does better if I either wear him in a carrier(bouncing/pacing and chatting to him) or constantly roll the cart back and forth (admittedly this is really tricky to do if the people behind you keep pushing their cart forward). I agree with the timing comment whole heartedly - nothing jettisons the feeling of being organized and efficient like the unpleasantness going out during a grumpy time. If he's having a hard day I'll get creative with what's left in the kitchen and go shopping the next day.