Baby tips for car-free biking couple in Washington DC?
November 18, 2012 4:00 PM   Subscribe

We're Brits in Washington DC about to have our first baby! We have bicycles but don't own a car (use Zipcar / taxis). All the standard baby-prep advice seems to assume owning a car... so do you guys have any tips for car-free baby living? In particular: car seats (for occasional use / quick installation), diaper services and bike trailers? Details inside!

Key questions:

1) My hospital requires me to have a "rear facing infant car seat" installed in "my car" to bring my kid home. I don't own a car but will likely take a taxi home - which car seats / legal baby-transport means do you folks recommend? All the ones I've seen are heavy, and have giant bases that are intended to be left in the car.

In general, what's the "correct" way to take a taxi with a newborn baby?

2) I'd like to get a bike trailer / stroller combo - something like a Burley D'Lite with the jogger wheel at the front. I'm told you can install an infant carseat into one of these (like a Chicco Keyfit 30) - is this a good idea? Any tips on this too?

3) Recommended diaper services for newborns? We'd like to use cloth / washable diapers but I don't have any recommendations for companies serving the Dupont circle area.

posted by tkbarbarian to Travel & Transportation around Washington, DC (16 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
No babies in bike trailers until at least a year-- their necks aren't strong enough to hold up to the bumps.
posted by instamatic at 4:35 PM on November 18, 2012 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: @instamatic thanks! That's the assumption I was operating on - I'd like to use the bike trailer as a stroller in the mean time - seems useful for luging around baby + stuff and saves on having to get another huge item to keep in an apartment.
posted by tkbarbarian at 4:39 PM on November 18, 2012

I didn't do it regularly, but I have taken a taxi with a baby and I installed the Chicco KeyFit 30 in it easily -- it takes about a minute to do either a Latch (if the cab has it) or seatbelt (if it doesn't) install of the base, and then the seat just clicks right in. Just read the manual ahead of time or watch YouTube videos (my preferred method) ahead of time.

We cloth diaper, but we bought ours off Craigslist. Do you have a washer/dryer? It's so much cheaper to just buy outright.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 4:42 PM on November 18, 2012

Best answer: We were car-free pretty the first three years with our first child in San Francisco (and make most of our trips by transit/bike even after getting a car w/ our 2nd kid). In the city with one kid, I found bike/bus/zipcar so much nicer than having a car (and cheaper too)

Here's what we found worked really well.

Car seats: Get a car seat with a base, but you'll almost never use it unless you have a permanent car. Otherwise you use the "LATCH" mini seat belt straps that come with most carseats. All new cars have the mating latch attachment burred in the back of the back seat.

Every taxi has latch attachments in the back for the car seat (no base needed)

Practice beforehand in a zip car to make sure you know how to do it and that the seat is at the right angle. I used a zipcar to get the baby home the first time (after using it to BUY the carseat, eek!) and we walked home with our second kid.

Never put carseat in front, since airbags can kill

Bikes and trailers:
The Copilot bike seat on the back rack is awesome, and can hold your kid way past 4/5 years old. We have once on the back of both of our bikes now that we have two kids, previously we would just swap bikes when we need to bike around with the single baby.

We have a bike trailer but it is VERY rarely used (I would NOT get one again). Without a garage it's just too much of a pain to get set up. The copilat is always there and "just works". It also works as a good place to put a bag or two of groceries. Bike trailer only comes out when we need to carry around kids and a kid friend.

Get good lights everywhere - spend at least 25$ each on your back red blinky and front light, otherwise they are likely not bright enough.

We both have front baskets and a cargo net / bungey cord, great for shopping and holding kid stuff.

With two kids we just upgraded to an Xtracycle with a baby seat and a set of handle bars to hold both kids (4.5 year old and 2 year old). They love it and it gets used much more than the trailer.

Diaper service:

Our service comes right to the apartment and picks up the nasty bag of used diapers. Has worked great for the last 5 years we've needed them. So much nicer than washing them ourselves.
posted by bottlebrushtree at 4:55 PM on November 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: We used a Chariot Cougar stroller/trailer (actually a Cougar 2 double trailer, since we had twins). We used the infant sling accessory for it which fully supports their bodies and necks, so no need to put a car seat in the stroller. I pulled them behind my bike from about 4 weeks old (I'm from a Dutch background, and over there it's perfectly normal to have very young kids on bikes so I ignored all the stuff about no earlier than 1 year old), and they're now 1 1/2 and doing great in every way, so no ill effects. Taking them for a long bike ride or stroll was (and still is) the best way to get them to have a long nap.

For use in cars, we got hand-me-down Safety 1st car seats, which include the base that stays in the car, but we strapped them in without the base just using the seat belts (which is an approved way to attach them) since our car was very small and the seats didn't fit with the base. It worked just fine. We live in a small rural community with no public transit or taxi service, so we do have a car for the occasions we need it, but mostly get around by bike.

Not sure if you're set on a diaper service or if you're willing to buy the cloth diapers and wash/dry them yourself. Since there's no diaper service here, we had no choice but to go the latter route. We went through a lot of different kinds of cloth diapers (mostly hand-me-downs) so can make some recommendations based on what worked best for us, if you're interested.
posted by Emanuel at 4:58 PM on November 18, 2012

thewalrus, operating costs for a car in DC are much higher than in other parts of the country, due to much higher parking and insurance costs. If the OP is living car-free now, they certainly can continue to do so.

The bike trailer/stroller combo can seem appealing, but keep in mind that they are HUGE. If you take public transport, you are going to want a smaller stroller than folds easily and will fit through narrow doorways, grocery store aisles, and in tiny elevators.

The Graco snugride installs pretty quickly in cars, and there is a stroller you can drop it into that has a HUGE cargo area underneath. It was the best combination of space-efficient and practical, and we used it nearly exclusively until our son outgrew the baby bucket. Chicco makes something similar.
posted by ambrosia at 5:02 PM on November 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

Oh, right-- if you're using the metro, you'll want a small stroller. Probably an umbrella stroller, after four months (is that the right age?). But honestly, we got by with only using baby carriers for kid one. SO much easier to manage, especially on public transportation. I'm not sure about DC proper, but there's a very active baby wearing mom's group in NoVa, who'd be happy to help you try out/borrow various options.
posted by instamatic at 5:35 PM on November 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: In my experience, the cheaper the carseat, the harder it is to install / uninstall. This has held true for the convertible seats we've tried, at least - not the infant bucket-type carseats.

We've been extremely happy with our Britax Marathon, and since you aren't going to be able to leave the base in the car and carry the baby around in the bucket carseat, this seems like it'd be a good choice for you. It works for babies as small as 5lbs, and can go up to 40lbs rear-facing (forward facing from 20lbs to 70lbs). You'll get a lot of use out of it, is what I'm saying - no having to re-buy a carseat because baby got too big for the infant one.

We have a really basic inStep bike trailer that cost us approx. $80 and we've been happy with it so far. I don't think we started using it until baby was about 15 months though.

For public transportation, I can't recommend babywearing enough - get yourself a Moby wrap (for months 0-4) and an Ergo (for months 4+) and you'll be totally set. (Or just the Ergo + the infant insert, but I really liked the Moby for the newborn stage.) I took my kid to and from daycare on a public bus for nearly a year using the Moby and the Ergo and it was totally do-able.

No advice on diaper service, but if you're looking to try out different diaper types, try the forums on - it's like Craigslist but for diapers. It takes a little while to get the lingo down, but you can buy a bunch of different styles to see what you like, and if you pick one as your favorite, it's a great way to build up your stash without spending a ton of money.
posted by meggan at 5:50 PM on November 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

We've got a generic Burley bike trailer we use for hauling little ones on the bike. I think we started using it as soon as our kid's head got big enough for the smallest helmets -- not sure how old that was, but we didn't start using it *regularly* until he was 12 months. We found in the beginning that the helmet pushed his head forward in a way that made the trailer uncomfortable for him, so we put a blanket behind him to ease that problem. We like the trailer; it's nice to be able to haul groceries as well as children, and it's nice that we can move it between bikes as we need to. I do recommend getting a hitch that allows you to easily move it from one bike to another if you intend to do that. The parents of the girl I nanny do this daily -- her dad drops her off in the morning and leaves the trailer behind, so when her mom picks her up in the evening, it's waiting.

Now that it's cold, my new favorite traveling-without-a-car tip for kids is: rice socks! Half fill an old sock with rice or other grain, tie it shut. Zap it in the microwave for a minute, and tuck it in the trailer or stroller with the kid when you go out in the cold. It's like a hot brick or hot water bottle and helps keep their little hands warm. (Obviously make sure it's not *too* hot when you hand it to them, and that they're appropriately bundled anyway.)

Baby carriers are SUPER convenient for city living -- you can go to brunch or a cafe or on the bus without being Those People with the Giant Stroller. When we do take the giant stroller, we have an extra bike lock we use to lock it someplace so we're not hauling it into shops.
posted by linettasky at 8:35 PM on November 18, 2012

Once your kid is old enough for a bike seat, get them a Yepp sleep roll (or improvise an alternative) to support their head so they can lean forward to take a nap. Much comfier than leaning back, and probably safer in the event of a sudden stop. I've seen kids fully asleep and drooling on these things while mum or dad pedals away - so cute!
posted by embrangled at 1:39 AM on November 19, 2012

I am a no-car new mom in DC, and I strongly recommend a baby carrier! My baby has been in the stroller like 5 times in his whole life, but we log many hours in the carrier. In the winter especially the carrier will be nice because baby will stay toasty. And it is much more convenient for getting around than a stroller.

For the car seat, I'd check to see if there is a taxi service that will send a car with a car seat installed. I would not want to be fiddling with a car seat on the way home from the hospital.
posted by yarly at 4:12 AM on November 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

Nthing the idea that you consider all of your purchases from the "slings are for babies, strollers are for groceries" perspective as that may prove to be the most practical for urban living. Note that it isn't unusual for each parent to prefer a different sling type, and that as your infant grows and gets more control and you get more confident with the sling, to change to different sling type(s) around 3 or 4 months.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:27 AM on November 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

The question's been answered pretty thoroughly, but given that I have 5 years of DC car-free parenting experience, I'll add a few comments: Yes, practice installing the seat in a Zipcar. If you call a taxi, there's a small chance that it won't have a Latch system, so make sure you can use the seatbelt too. Also, installation will get pretty easy after a few times, but do make sure that the seat is really secure. If you're paranoid, you can drive it over to a fire station for a check, but common sense should be fine.

For the bikes, 1 year is a reasonable rule, but obviously it varies by child. A Dutch pediatrician told me than in Holland, the guideline is that the child should be able to sit up for 10 minutes by itself. You could try that with a helmet to be safe. And at the beginning bumps should be taken very slowly - it's best to walk the bike over any significant bumps.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 7:14 AM on November 19, 2012

Have you seen this blog?
posted by kjs4 at 3:13 PM on November 19, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks everyone for the fantastic answers! I think I've got the answers I'm looking for, but if you have any more ideas - keep em coming!
posted by tkbarbarian at 4:28 PM on November 19, 2012

I ride the Metro daily with Baby Xalf in a Britax B-Agile stroller, which is not small, and it's been way easier than I expected. It helps that I always go to the front car and let very fully trains go by. Baby wearing is great too but it didn't last long for us since Baby Xalf is gigantic.
posted by Xalf at 4:30 PM on November 19, 2012

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