Made in the shade: Top tips for taking a beach trip with a baby

Mar 26, 2022

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A beach trip with your baby makes for the perfect family vacation. And contrary to popular belief, you don’t even have to bring that much with you. Assuming you have the most important things, it’s more about properly planning, packing and prepping for the trip ahead of time to ensure you’re at the right beach at the right time with the right items.

From selecting the perfect seaside accommodation to understanding exactly what to pack in your beach bag, here’s everything you need to know about taking a beach trip with a baby.

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(Photo by Cavan Images/Getty Images)

In This Post

What to know about taking your baby to the beach

Depending on who you talk to, you may hear that newborns under 6 months old aren’t supposed to be in the sun for long periods of time, but if you’re careful, you may still be able to visit the beach with your baby while keeping them safe. When I spoke to my personal pediatrician about taking my 4-month-old to the beach, she said I could, but to be extra careful about sun exposure.

Since it is generally not recommended that babies under 6 months wear sunscreen, it’s important that they don’t get much sun as their delicate skin can burn. They also shouldn’t be in cold water for very long as their systems can’t properly regulate hot and cold quite yet. Babies also have sensitive immune systems and could pick up an infection from water, so it’s best to limit water time if you have a very young baby.

If you’re wondering if your baby is old enough to go to the beach, discuss it with your pediatrician first and have a plan of action for adequate sun protection and water exposure.

How to plan a beach trip with your baby

Once you have decided now is the time to take that first beach trip with your baby from a health and safety standpoint, here are the next steps.

(Photo by Pablo Martin Rodriguez/EyeEm/Getty Images)

Select the right beach

Some beaches are more baby-friendly than others. Before planning your beach vacation, make sure your selected stretch of sand is easily accessible without any steep hikes or having to travel too far off-road. If you are considering pushing a stroller in the sand, well, maybe rethink that plan as that is darn near impossible in soft sand.

Having bathrooms or changing areas close by is always a plus. It’s also convenient to be close to restaurants, shops and bars to buy water, beach toys and snacks if necessary.

Beaches with a parking area nearby can also make your beach experience easier. One of my favorite family-friendly beaches to visit includes various wooden boardwalks that stretch over the sand almost to the shoreline, making it easy to roll a stroller or wagon much closer to a spot near the sea without as much heavy lifting.

It’s also important to choose a beach with the right safety conditions. If you plan to bring your baby in the water, consider a beach with little to no waves. If your baby is already walking, beaches with lifeguards offer an additional layer of safety. And any beach that has shallow tide pools may be fun for your older baby or toddler to explore with you.

Lydgate Beach in Kauai (Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

Choose the right accommodation

If you’re staying at a hotel or vacation rental, staying directly on the beach is a great idea. This makes it easier for you to come and go if the baby needs to nap. And amenities like beach loungers, umbrellas, tables and food and beverage service for guests are added benefits.

Some home, villa and apartment rentals even offer beach toys for babies or kids. Whenever I stay at beach vacation rentals, I always ask if they have anything extra for the beach that might be useful during my stay — chairs, tents, umbrellas or beach/swim toys.

Related: How to choose the perfect beach house vacation rental

Park as close as possible, or walk with a wagon

If you need to drive to the beach, getting as close as possible with your car means you won’t have to lug your family and your beach items too far. If the shore is within walking distance of your accommodation, roll along a wagon or cart to make it easier to carry all your items.

Park as close as possible. (Photo by Johner Images/Getty Images)

Use a lightweight/travel stroller if needed

We love taking our travel stroller to the beach — we can slip extra towels and toys in it, and my baby used to love a shady beach nap in his stroller when reclined. Just remember — those wheels don’t easily roll over sand, so the stroller should be lightweight enough that you can carry it over sand if necessary.

What to bring to the beach with your baby

Full-body swimsuits with SPF/UPF and a hat

Protect your baby from the sun with a full-body swimsuit with a sun protection factor/ultraviolet protection factor of at least 50, especially for babies under 6 months who can’t yet wear sunscreen.

When it comes to older babies, applying sunscreen to a wriggling toddler can be challenging, which makes these suits even more appealing. Full-body swimsuit coverage varies, as you can get shirts, shorts, pants, one or two-piece options, and even hooded and footed swimsuits are available. Many of these suits are also salt- and chlorine-resistant. Pair the suit with a wide-brimmed hat to protect your child’s eyes and face for the most complete sun protection possible.

Water diapers

Cloth and regular diapers won’t hold up in the water. Special swim diapers are more comfortable for your baby as they won’t absorb water and can better contain solids to prevent contamination. Swim diapers come in both disposable and reusable versions, so choose whatever you think is the best fit for your baby and family. Make sure to change the water diaper immediately after your baby leaves the water — or if they, you know, use the diaper.

(Photo by Mayte Torres/Getty Images)

Regular diapers and change of clothes

If you’re swapping between swim diapers and regular diapers, it’s important to have enough extras to put on a new diaper whenever they need to dry off. Make sure to bring additional clothing options in case clothes get sweaty, sandy or wet. A sealable wet bag of some sort is also a must to hold the wet/dirty items until you can get somewhere to wash them. Large Ziploc bags can often do the trick for small baby items.

The right toys

You don’t necessarily have to bring beach toys to the beach. I’ve actually brought plastic Tupperware from an Airbnb rental to the beach when the airline lost my luggage (complete with beach toys inside).

My son loved to use them for refilling and dumping water and sand. Anything you can find around the house that’s safe for babies can double as a beach toy, or any toy, really. Just make sure the toys and items you do bring can be easily washed and don’t bring any stuffed animals or fabric items that sand will cling to. If you do want to invest in some beach toys, consider sand toys, balls or Frisbees. Anything that folds up or can be easily stashed in a beach bag or inside of a beach bucket can help save space, especially if you’re flying to the beach.

Depending on water conditions, you may want to consider a special baby floatie to use in the water or an inflatable kiddie pool to use on the sand. Make sure to evaluate the safety of these types of products before purchasing. Also, always accompany your baby in the water or keep a close eye on your baby in an inflatable pool. Only use these types of toys if sea and weather conditions permit.

(Photo by Peter Cade/Getty Images)

Whatever you need for baby to nap

My baby always loved to sleep in his travel stroller on the beach, but also would sprawl out on a towel under the shade of an umbrella. Some babies prefer the shade of a tent — just note that sometimes tents can get very hot and little air passes through them, so use accordingly.

I even brought my son’s lovey and small white-noise machine to the beach to mimic his crib conditions as best I could. Whatever works best for your baby to nap and play in, take it along — just be aware that whatever you take might get sandy.

Baby-safe sunscreen (but put some on at home first)

Always talk to your doctor, but it can be safe for babies older than 6 months to wear sunscreen. The best kinds are physical or mineral sunscreens with zinc oxide or titanium dioxide as they’re deemed safer, although they may take slightly longer to rub in. SPF 50-plus is ideal, and an amount of about half of a shot glass is recommended for a baby or toddler. Make sure to put it on at home first, and then bring it along to reapply.

Plenty of water and snacks

Having water and snacks at the beach is key to keeping your baby hydrated, fed and in good spirits. Freezing juice boxes or teething toys before the beach can offer babies a cool, refreshing treat.

(Photo by stock_colors/Getty Images)

Extra towels

When it comes to water and sand, it’s best to have extra towels to keep your baby dry. My son used to love napping on towels in the sand. Towels can also serve as a makeshift changing table, a blanket in case it gets chilly or a soft place to play.

Use a mesh bag or beach bag in lieu of a diaper bag

Don’t get your regular diaper bag all sandy. Instead, bring a mesh bag (the sand slips through!) or a dedicated beach bag — one you don’t mind getting sandy or wet.

Tips for a successful beach day with your baby

Avoid peak hours of sun

One of the best ways to avoid excessive sun exposure for your baby is to avoid the peak hours of sunshine.

Consider visiting the beach first thing in the morning or much later in the day once the sun and heat subside. This can be a great way to expose your little one to the beach and enjoy the environment without the risk of overheating or sunburn. As an added bonus, those early hours are usually less crowded, too.

(Photo by Anastasiia Krivenok/Getty Images)

Set your alarm for sunscreen reminders

Time can easily get away from you at the beach, so setting alarms on your watch or phone to remind you to reapply any necessary sunscreen is a great tool for preventing sunburn for the entire family.

Keep a close eye on your baby

This one should seem obvious, but always watch your baby closely at the beach and especially while in the water. And while this may not be for everyone, I also find that actually letting them eat sand is the best way to stop them from doing it — after a few mouthfuls, they realize it’s not very tasty and stop eating it.

Use baby powder to take off the sand

Once your baby is dry, put a bit of baby powder on sandy areas of the skin and softly wipe and brush away the sand using your hands. The powder really works, leaving your baby sand-free.

Spritz a spray bottle with cold water for a refresh

On an extra-hot beach day, spritz your baby (and yourself) with cool water. This, combined with hydrating with water, juice, milk or formula, can help cool the baby down, especially if they look flushed.

Bottom line

(Photo by M Swiet Productions/Getty Images)

A beach vacation with a baby can be one of the best kinds of family vacations.

There’s plenty of space for kids to play and run around, absorbing all sorts of textures and exciting new things. It’s a place where you can eat and drink whenever you want, it’s nap-friendly if you bring the right accessories and can also be really affordable, too.

Parents, older children and teens will also enjoy the sun, sea and sand, making it an ideal getaway for the entire family.

Featured photo by Sven Hansche/EyeEm/Getty Images.

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