I’ll be traveling on mass transit with my baby — what should I keep in mind?

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Photo by Flowizm, used under Creative Commons license.
My boyfriend and I are nearly at the stage of married and babies, but I’m apprehensive about one particular aspect of having a child. We have a car, but he uses it to get to work. I work in an area that is very mass transit-accessible. We know that even if there’s a baby, we won’t have enough money for a second car.

If I was traveling with the baby on my own, I’d be using mass transit. Does anybody have any extensive experience navigating mass transit with a baby (and everything that goes with the baby) in tow? I don’t want to become the woman with the huge stroller on the bus who all the other passengers hate! — Ashley

Comments on I’ll be traveling on mass transit with my baby — what should I keep in mind?

  1. Have you looked into babywearing at all? I used a wrap and then a sling to wear my son when he was little. We used public transit a lot to visit friends in the city. I had a backpack for all his stuff and then wore him in the front keeping both hands free!

    • Yes, with a good carrier and a backpack for carrying your stuff, it’s quite easy. I would almost never take a stroller on mass transit. As long as baby is attached to you, it’s no harder than getting yourself onto the bus. I sometimes worry about getting a seat (because I get worried about falling with a baby) but people are generally more than willing to give up a seat for a parent with a baby! Take advantage of that, no need to take a risk. 🙂

    • I have to agree. I always hate the gigantic wheeled thrones some parents park on the path trains/subways. The smaller, portable umbrella-style strollers are better, but not practical with a newborn or for anyone taller than say, 5’5″.

  2. Hi Ashley, I live in a city center with no car and up two flights of stairs so the stroller comes out on days where im feeling uber keen SO on those other days I babywear with a stretchy type wrap.
    One thing I have found super useful is getting a hip bag, kinda like a bum bag but waaaaaay cooler (thats what I tell myself). My fav at the mo is a leaf bag from Happy Cow. It means I got all my necessities, bus card, money, phone etc in close reach, is arms/shoulder free and doesnt require me to dig in a bottomless bag under siege by babystuff. I even wear it when ive got the stroller.
    And if im honest, it makes me feel like a cow girl some days and it gives my hips an extra swagger 🙂

  3. I don’t live in an area with much mass transit, but recently visited Chicago for about a week with an 11-month old. We didn’t even bring a stroller on the trip. I used the Ergo baby carrier for getting around. I carried the baby on the front and a backpack of supplies on my back and it worked great! This got us through the airport, a few long bus rides and lots of train rides. I kept an umbrella in the side pocket of the backpack in case of rain, and kept my wallet and cell phone in the front pocket of the Ergo for easy access. I actually found it easier than trying to get around in the city with a stroller.

  4. I was in Europe using mass transmit with my son at 9 months and again at 21 months. At 9 months I wore him and it was SOOOOOOOO easy. At 21 months that didn’t work for us anymore and he was in a stroller — a much bigger pain — we had to plan our excursions around subway stops with elevators, sometimes I had to carry him and stroller up or down multiple flights of stairs, etc.

    Babywearing, with a backpack for gear, is the way to go. And my son loved it! He was up at eye level and got to flirt with so many people!

  5. It depends on your city, check out their website to see their guidelines for strollers. My city buses won’t allow on full size strollers, just small umbrella strollers. Be aware of subways that don’t have elevators, you might be carrying a stroller up flights of stairs. (Good for the biceps tho!) Avoid rush hour at all costs! Or the passengers trying to get to work will hate you for taking up several body spaces. For shorter trips with a small baby, skip the stroller and use a sling or carrier and condense your purse into your diaper bag. Bare minimums: 4 diapers, travel wipes, 1 change of clothes. The white noise and motion of trains and buses agree with most babies and they will sleep. My 1 year old has been on pub trans in 4 cities and likes it better than a car due to the restriction of a carseat. Older babies love to look around at all the people, lights, and movement. It’s really enjoyable most of the time. Good luck!

    • Hi Liz,

      I live in Philadelphia. The transit policy here is technically that you can bring a stroller onto a bus or railcar – but you must fold it up (otherwise, it can block aisles and cause issues with safety). I think babywearing is probably the best option – I appreciate everybody suggesting it!

      • hey ashley, we live in philly too. my husband does most of the travel on septa with our little z. she’s 5 months. he uses the stroller on the El but brings the Bjorn when he has to go on the trolleys. he’s a dogwalker, so having the stroller is essential. it helps that he got the City Mini, which is pretty compact but much better quality than an umbrella stroller. in our experience, people will help a mom that they see with a stroller get up the steps at all those inaccessible stations, but so far only 2 or 3 men have helped my husband. luckily the stroller isn’t that heavy. as for buses, we use them least of all, but i don’t think i would ever try it with the stroller, even folded. they are just too crowded.

      • My husband and I commute daily on the dcmetro and bus with our heavy 7 month old. Ergo + backpack (for me) or shopping bag with book/bottles (for him). If you’re going to a daycare, you
        Likely dont need a diaper bag. Get the routine down and you’ll love it. Ergo means you both fit under an umbrella. Front carry means you can sit without a problem and many people can nurse in an ergo. We’re going to keep doing this for as long as we can but we have been doing it pretty much every day for 4 months.

  6. I traveled a lot with my baby since he was 4 months old. We did taxi, bus, train airplane and even transports system in other countries. Wears your baby in front and a light backpack at the back as the other suggested. Also brings along a light weight foldable stroller if you are going out for a longer trip. It will help lighten your load. Remember to get a stroller with big wheels. That helps a lot when you needs to use the
    stairs. A final note, if people get bother by your baby, just smile and say sorry. Keep your cheer and don’t get bothered. I wish you all the best.

    • I don’t have a baby and I really do not like children, but we all have a mother–guaranteed if someone on the bus really takes offence to your stroller being there, everyone else thinks they’re an asshole and sympathises with you. There’s way bigger things to be pissed off about on transit than strollers!

      • I admire your honesty, not liking children and all. I have a baby and I love MY child but every one elses kids drive me freaking batty. I feel like a “bad person” because of it so I just pretend to like all kids. It sucks.

  7. I personally have never owned a car and my husband (step-dad to my birth son) needs his car due to his early morning schedule, he has to be at work by 5am.
    Ok, I was the single Mama on the bus so I didn’t have anyone else backing me up, grabbing the diaper bag, folding the stroller, etc. Regardless of your parental situation there are some basic safety precautions.
    Never let anyone hold your baby on the bus or subway. I know that’s a no-brainer but I’ve literally had people try to pull my babe out of my arms. At that point I started babywearing (before I knew it was a thing). Babywearing feels so natural and it helps you to read your baby’s ques better as well.
    If you don’t want to be the lady with the giant stroller…don’t be. A relative bought us one and I swear I only used it a handful of times and never on mass transit. I personally think they are a bit of a waste (money and space) if you plan on baby wearing.
    For the early toddler years we had the baby backpack and the umbrella stroller. At this age don’t forget the snacks! I had a separate backpack for Bub’s so he could carry his own things. He had diapers, books, one special snuggly and snacks in his bag. (This helped with potty training too. He would grab his bag even at home and take it to the privy in case of an accident.)
    I carried a small first aid kit and a water bottle for myself. Sippy cup, extra hidden snacks and a toy car or two for Bub’s just in case.
    It’s good to start young with the common courtesy while on the line. We made sure we were sitting on our bottoms and not grabbing at people and using our inside voices.
    Waiting for the bus can be difficult too. It’s a great opportunity to talk about letters you see, colors, etc.
    Depending on the amount of traveling that you are doing on mass transit and at different ages you’ll need different things. You will also find a routine that works best for you and your family.
    Good luck to you on your coming bebe adventures.

    • I’m in this same exact situation and have been metroing in DC with my 5 mo. old for the past 2 1/2 months. She and I metro every day since I drop her off at school on my way into work.

      I planned a few excursions on the metro during off peak times before returning to work to get the hang of it and find out what was essential and what wasn’t. Also to see what her reaction to the metro would be. (So far, only one crying fit.)

      I wear my daughter in a lightweight Bjorn that I can leave in her cubby at school and a backpack for her bottles and my work stuff. For rainy or cold blustery days I have a blanket that is fleece on one side and water resistant on the other with strings to tie onto the straps of the Bjorn. I also make sure she’s wearing clothes that keep her covered from the elements – hat, mittens, long pants, socks, etc.

      In the backpack, I pack bare essentials – hand sanitizer (sometimes sucking my pinky is the only thing that will soothe her), a pacifier & burp cloth. Aden and Anis make a great burp cloth/bib (available at Target) that snaps around her neck and is long enough I can bring it up in between her face and my chest to protect my shirt when I’m wearing her and she spits up. (I also keep a spare shirt at my desk at work.)

      She loves looking around at the different faces and out the window. Luckily everyone I’ve encountered is accommodating and very nice – giving up their seat (more so now than when I was pregnant) or just making faces and entertaining my daughter for the ride. As she gets older, I’ll probably have one metro toy she can play with – although it may not be necessary with all the sights and sounds to discover and talk about during our ride.

      Like I said, I only had one crying fit so far and when it happened, I just got up and kept changing cars so I didn’t have to subject a car full of people to her screams for the whole ride. And actually, switching cars gave her something new to look at and she calmed down.

      Public transit with baby is completely do-able! I wish you the best of luck with it.

  8. we’ve been using mass transit since my oldest son was 2 and we now have a newborn. babywearing is a must if you don’t want to unload a sleeping baby from their stroller when you board the bus. our bus drivers make you take the baby out and stow the stroller (which is safer than having a baby in a stroller out in the aisle if the driver needs to slam on the brakes). also, like someone else said, use a backpack for your gear. bring a small umbrella for crappy weather so you can keep yourself and your baby dry. a rain jacket on you won’t help your baby much. don’t let anyone touch your baby. if someone is hacking up a lung, feel free to move to a different part of the bus. if someone offers you a seat on a crowded bus, take it!

    our light rail system is less hectic than the bus. it’s generally less crowded except during rush hour. you can bring a stroller on-board without removing your child and folding the stroller. i got by with an umbrella type stroller when my oldest was too big for me to wear/carry and it worked well. there is no need for those giant strollers. also, when the weather turns cold, dress yourself and your baby appropriately because there could be longer delays while waiting for the bus than you anticipated.

    for an older baby/toddler, bring snacks, books and toys and any other things you can think of to distract them. the bus can be pretty entertaining itself, so they may not need distractions. 🙂

    and don’t forget to have fun!

  9. I have infant twins and live in a very public transit friendly area. My husband and I moved right (like the day before) the babies came just so we could have a bus stop at our door step.

    Like everyone else has said, I used a baby carrier. When they were super tiny I carried them together in one Moby wrap. Trust me when I say that people get up for the women carrying two babies on her chest. I also liked the wrap because I could kind of hide their faces if the bus was crowded. Now that they are heavier I where a sling across each shoulder. I have a bookbag that I keep stocked with diapers, wipes, small umbrella, burp cloth, and small book. I keep my metro card in my back pocket for easy access.

    We rented a stroller when we went on vacation to Portland and using a double stroller on public transportation was the worst. Baby wearing is the way to go.

  10. I think the fallacy for new parents in a city with public transit thinking about how to get around is that one choice will solve all of your problems. It won’t. You need multiple solutions within reason for different types of outings. It’s all going to depend on where you live, what you do and what type of schedule you keep. And along with all those, there are other considerations that will pop up as well.

    We found we actually needed 4 different things as time has gone along.
    Baby wearing: Great and we did it as often as possible until our daughter got bigger than the thing and I could hold any longer.
    A Big Wheel stroller (the Bob): We live in a very snowy place, no way in hell I was going to try to fight a small wheeled stroller through our horribly plowed/shoveled streets. Also helpful when grocery shopping, the beach and while walking a dog (don’t have one of those but you can steer the Bob with one finger).
    An umbrella-ish stroller, I can’t use the Bob when needing to go downtown during rush hour. For that we have a stroller that’s a little bit more substantive than an umbrella but only just. It’s also great for hot days when we want to keep things light.
    A bike trailer. You could ditch public transportation all together. Biking is the best way to get around as much like a car as possible with very little headache. Our Chariot comes with an accessory that lets a child at about 4-5 months (able to support their own head) ride safely. And it converts into a complete stroller once we get there. It has a storage trunk for anything we might come back with. If we don’t want to bring it in with us, we lock it up and haven’t had any issues.

    Saying all that, in the city with any type of conveyance, you’ll probably have to alter your travel schedule. Avoid travel during peak hours to make it easier on you. Shifting 15 minutes earlier or later has a huge impact on the crush of people. Weather and accessibility will always play an important role in how you get where you’re going. Think about rain covers, umbrellas too.

    A note about any stroller, ask people if you can try theirs out. Seriously, if you see a stroller you haven’t seen before, talk to the mom, you’ll make a friend and get a test drive out of it. Ask her what she loves and hates about it. That helped us choose the Bob, sadly not the umbrella-ish one. The thing to remember, in the store all strollers work great. Even if they don’t work great you might lie to yourself and say “oh it’s because it’s the floor model”… wrong. It’s almost impossible to get an accurate measure of a stroller in a store. The real world has big obstacles that shiny waxed linoleum never will. If you don’t want to talk to a mom walking around, look for a new parent group that you could meet up with and test some out. Not sure what your city might have but be creative, I’m sure you can find something in order to test some out.

    • I agree with the range of options. My jogging stroller is great for groceries and in the snow, but not so awesome for taking on the bus.
      The umbrella stroller is great for transit now that my child is bigger.
      My ergo carrier is still used sometimes, but was indispensable when she was little.

  11. I used to live in NYC and see women trying to struggle up subway stairs with a stroller and kid in tow. They’d have to wait at the bottom until some kind stranger offered to give them a hand lifting the stroller up the stairs and I always thought, “What happens if there’s no kind stranger around? Why don’t they just get a baby backpack or something?!”

    Aside from that, as a daily mass-transit user, I’d advise you to be vigilant about what your child finds to put in his or her mouth, and start early on teaching them to wash hands often (esp. after using mass transit). Also, teaching your child as young as possible about “the rules” of covering your mouth when you cough/sneeze, not using your hands to wipe your nose, indoor voices etc. will gain you grateful looks from people like me who get skeeved out by seeing a toddler dripping snot on a handrail.

  12. I have a preschooler, a newborn & no car. For the first three years of parenthood we lived in London & took the tube & buses. The solutions – Ergo, Moby & Maclaren umbrella pushchair – small & light enough that I could carry it plus child up stairs by myself if necessary.

  13. Yes babywearing 100%

    The only I can think to add that I haven’t seen is to have a few travel specific toys in your diaper bag/backpack. When I was living in Colorado (first the monutains outside Boulder and then Denver) and would have to take longer bus trips I made a point of always having one or two toys/books with me to keep my daughter occupied. These toys only came out on “Bus Adventure” days (any day when I knew we’d be on a bus or train for more than 15 minutes) so they became special treats for those days.

    Now that my daughter is older and we live in an area that demands cars or a life as a hermit we have a “Travel Adventure Passport” that serves the same needs of distraction on long trips, either air travel or taking the train up and down the east coast. We choose a few things that are going to happen on each adventure and I write them in the passport, as they happen my daughter gets to put a sticker in her book and draw a picture on that page.

    Keeping a small person happy on public transit really keeps everyone around you happy. And you’ll be less frazzled if you’re traveling with a content kiddo.

    • This reminds me of the little packets they used to give out to kids on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge when I was a kid. Kept me occupied for HOURS. They were written for going to Ocean City, while we went to Rehoboth Beach, but most of the landmarks were on our route, too. My parents must have been so thankful for that, especially when I brought friends with me.

  14. I agree with baby wearing. Perfect.

    I would also like to second the “keep a cheery face” notion. Babies cry, shriek and babble happily at all volumes. If people are getting annoyed by your baby being a baby. You can politely remind him he’s a baby or just smile and continue on with your Cheerful Mass Transit Mama Sweetness and Light.

  15. I agree that babywearing is the easiest option. BUT – sometimes you need a stroller (or, at least sometimes *I* need a stroller – many people get along with one). For when you do need to drag a stroller along with you, the Baby Jogger City Mini is very easy to take on the bus, as it folds with one hand. Just a suggestion!

  16. I don’t have a car either, and have been toting my son on public transportation (we are in the UK) for all 11 months of his life. I am back at work part time and so we are on and off buses, the underground and trains all day long. I advise you to go with the babywearing thing. We have a Moby Wrap and I use that all the time, with a small backpack/rucksack that carries his changing bag (which I keep deliberately minimalist) and a small toy or two, my purse-type things and my work stuff. Occasionally I have also pulled a small wheeled suitcase as well, if we are going away for the weekend etc., and again it’s been easy. People are kind, they always give up seats so we can sit down, and in the wrap my son rarely cries anyway. And I can easily slip him out and feed him when he needs, using part of the wrap to cover myself (this is the advantage of a fabric wrap over an Ergo!). I really have no problems at all getting around, and indeed my friends constantly wrangling strollers and carseats in and out of their cars seem to be doing a lot more work than I do. And they seem to carry around a lot more stuff than I do as well. I’m not one of those babywearing evangelist types – there are lots of cons to it, sure – but for getting around without using a car it’s by far the best.

  17. Sling and backpack, or if you have some issues with slings (like I do – anything I can purchase either doesn’t fit or hurts me – thus I made my own)a great backpack and a stroller that folds super easy with one hand. Living in the San Francisco Bay Area we use public transit a lot. Often changing from bus to train to BART (sort of a subway). It is especially nice to have the baby strapped to me, a stroller that folds easily and the backpack. I have a three-year-old as well as my 10-month-old. I can put our gear in the pack and push it in the stroller for our longer distance stretches. I can fold the stroller with things in the bottom and either put it on the seat next to us, or if taking the train, we get on the baggage car. Without the stroller is much simpler, but the stroller can be a great help for distances upwards of 2 miles where toddler feet get sore and I need to “carry” more.

  18. The public transport system where I live (Perth, Western Australia) is really good about having strollers and such on public transport. The buses here are designed to take wheelchairs/strollers etc, they have an electric extendable ramp that the driver presses a button to put out to get on and off and a section in the front of the bus with the space to park wheelchair/strollers with enough room to be out of the way. Trains all have stroller spaces and such.
    I admit that I always take my stroller everywhere (BabyJogger City Elite) which is a little wide but still skinny enough for buses. I’ve only come across one bus driver who didn’t want to let me on (he bitched about prams on buses) which i believe I could have complained and won because the public transport system has a firm policy about access for all. As for other passengers, you have just as much right to use the service as they do… I just try and be polite about my stroller and if people have unwarranted issues, I point out that its my service too.

    (sorry for the ramble)

  19. As a long time transit rider, I have to say: KNOW YOUR TRANSIT STROLLER RULES! Where I live now(for school), if you have a stroller that goes over the size limit, you are required to fold it up and take your child out. Or if it is super busy (I live in a university town [St. Catharines], so students are always on transit), you have to wait until there is a bus that isn’t full. It sucks, but it really does make it easier for parent and baby and student transit riders.

    In my hometown (Toronto), there are no real laws for strollers, but its really tough for both riders and parents when you have a massive Graco/BOB/Bugaboo stroller blocking an aisle of a narrow bus. We’re talking a 2 person wide (MAX) aisle. It sucks for the riders who are tripping over the stroller wheels trying to get to a seat, and for the parents, who are giving you the look of death for disturbing their child.

    Also, check for stroller friendly buses. Toronto doesn’t have many buses that can comfortably accommodate a stroller. In St.Catharines, a lot of the buses have seats that can fold up so you can fit a stroller in where a wheelchair would usually be. Same for if you plan on using the subway. Many subways have room for strollers, but try to avoid rush hour. Its tough on riders and on parents/children because it is crowded and usually loud.

    I cannot stress baby wearing as a great way to take transit. I’ve taken the subway/bus with my little cousins in both a sling/carrier and in a stroller. Yes people are willing to give you a seat regardless, but a stroller (most often) takes up at least 1 or 2 extra seats worth of space that another rider(s) could sit on.

    Fun story: I was on a bus filled with students and 2 strollers. It took the mothers a good 10 minutes to get off the bus because about half the bus had to get off in order to let the strollers off. Then getting the students back on was also tough.

    People are considerate about parents with strollers, but it really has to work both ways.

  20. I’m getting the impression that in a lot of cities in the US, there isn’t a designated stroller space on the bus? That’s unfortunate. Where I live, there’s a space for a stroller or wheelchair (the wheelchair gets priority) and that means that taking the bus isn’t really that hard most of the time. The worst part about it is that the accompanying adult has to sit facing rearwards, and I always get motion sick!

    • The city where I grew up (NYC) did not have such a thing. If you brought a stroller on transit (particularly buses) it had to fold up or it wasn’t going to be allowed. I must admit I find buses with designated stroller spaces a bit strange, and they don’t seem like a great use of space to me. Big strollers take up a lot of space (taking away 2-4 seats for other passengers), and for children with normal development they are not required equipment. Then again, I’m not a parent, so I can’t say for sure why a giant stroller might be essential in some situations.

      Having stroller spaces is better than allowing all kinds of strollers on the bus but having nowhere to put them, as the bus system in Pullman, WA does. People completely block the aisle with their strollers and no one says anything to them. Strollers slide around with kids in them because there are no restraints for them, and some parents don’t even set the break. It’s not a good situation, and I’m always worried the kid, the parent, or some other person on the bus is going to get hurt.

  21. Another suggestion: check the “priority seating rules”. I go back and forth between Ottawa and Kingston, ON, and both have different rules for the seats at the front of the bus. When I’m in Ottawa, pregnant women and people with small children have a right to sit in the front seats (although it’s not a guarantee). Kingston? I can sit there, as long as no senior citizens or folks with physical disabilities need a place. It’s a small thing, but very helpful to know. And no matter where you go, some drivers and passengers are helpful…and some are not.

  22. I must be the lone person who finds it MORE annoying to stand next to someone on the subway with a giant backpack than someone with a giant stroller. If you’re going to wear a backpack, PLEASE be aware of the people behind you! You’re probably bumping into them!

  23. I carried my daughter in a backpack style carrier when she was an infant and we traveled via mass transit every week day. She liked the view from up there. Once she was old enough to be in my lap, I got a hip-carry sling from a back care store and carried her in that if we had to stand. If we were able to sit, I could just unclip the front, then slip her out and then I’d scoot her back into the sling before we exited the bus.

    To keep her entertained, we would sing and I would read to her or play simple games with her. We still ride the bus every week day and now that she’s almost nine, we read, knit, talk, play games, etc. I look at that commute time as our time. Sometimes we just snuggle and look out the window.

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