Germs, crazy people and tons of stairs are just a few reasons I hesitated to take my newborn baby on the New York City subway.
I’ve been more adventurous than some of my new-mom friends; I took my baby to Target when he was one week old and bundled him up for brisk stroller walks in arctic temperatures. (I envy those moms with Spring and Summer babies).
Still, the subway seemed like an insurmountable obstacle until I met Noelia, a new mom who was going on regular subway trips to the New York Public Library and various museums with her newborn. She offered me some excellent advice and her can-do spirit was contagious.
At about two months old, my son made his debut on the NYC public transit system. Keep reading for my top tips– and remember, the first trip is always the hardest!
1. Opt for a Lightweight Stroller
It you are a NYC mama, you might have a luxurious (aka huge) stroller that can plow through snow piles and seamlessly navigate over sidewalk cracks. This is not the time to use that stroller! Most subway stops do not have an elevator, and you will be navigating steep stairs to get in and out of stations. You’ll need the lightest stroller possible.
I opted for the Key Fit Caddy, a lightweight, plastic base that fits my Key Fit 30 car seat. The car seat snaps into the stroller and can be hoisted fairly easily by a mom who is in OK shape but has not exercised since the first trimester (trust me). Simply grab the stroller from the side with your left arm holding the front (make sure to grip the stroller base, not the actual car seat ) and your right arm holding the rear. Then brace yourself for those stairs!
An easier option would be a baby carrier like a Baby Bjorn, Ergo Baby or sling. However, you’ll still need to carry a diaper bag for longer outings. Unfortunately, my baby could only stand carriers for short bursts so this was not an option.
2. Make Sure There is an Emergency Exit Gate
Strollers won’t fit through subway turnstiles, so you’ll need to enter through one of the special “emergency exit” gates (see photo below). Most entrances have these, although I recently discovered they don’t always work!
On a recent outing, I trudged down a flight of stairs with the baby stroller to find caution tape covering the gate and was told it was out of order. So back up the steps I went! If you are traveling with a companion, have them scout out the entrances (there are usually more than one per subway stop) to make sure there is a functioning gate.
To pass through the gate, you will need a MetroCard. If there is a subway employee present, point to your stroller and say you are going through the gate. Then swipe your MetroCard at a regular turnstile and pass through the gate. Again, be careful when choosing your subway entrance– look for one with a 24-hour booth.
If there is no MTA employee at the entrance and you have a traveling companion, have them go through the turnstile then open the gate for you. I recommend still paying the fare yourself on a turnstile since you don’t want to risk a fare jumper fine!
If you are by yourself and there is no MTA employee at the entrance, you are on shaky ground. You could ask someone to open the gate for you who has already paid their fare; I would definitely NOT recommend swiping your card in a turnstile, leaving the stroller on one side of the gate and passing through to open it. This is New York City, not Mayberry! You don’t want to take your eyes off that baby for a second.
The emergency gates all have a sign saying that an alarm will sound if you open them. This is not true 99% of the time. Even if it is, you need to get on and off the subway with your stroller so ignore the noise.
3. Choose an Elevator Entrance When Possible
If you are lucky enough to live near a subway stop with an elevator, rejoice! This makes your baby outing much easier. If you are averse to stairs, you might still be out of luck– it’s unlikely there will be an elevator in the station you are transferring in or exiting at your final destination.
The elevators are slow but easy to use. At the Court Square 7 train stop in Queens (shown below), one elevator takes you and your baby up a flight to the turnstiles. Once you pass through the emergency gate, there is another elevator that takes you to the platform.
4. Ask for (and Accept) Help!
When I was 9 months pregnant and commuting to work every day on the subway, I learned that you can’t always depend on the kindness of strangers. Even when I was obviously pregnant, panting and resting my hands on my stomach to accentuate the bulge, I was only offered a seat on about half of my subway rides. (Usually by a young female who presumably could relate).
I’ve had similarly mixed results with the stroller. While scores of passengers have watched me struggle up multiple flights of stairs and not intervened, a surprising number of men have offered to help, unsolicited. A few times in Long Island City, men offered to help when I was merely standing by a subway entrance taking a photo or checking my phone. Chivalry may not be dead!
If no one comes to your aid, don’t be afraid to ASK for help. I’ve seen plenty of moms stop other passengers at the foot of a stairway and ask for assistance with their strollers. I’ve never seen anyone decline.
5. Hermetically Seal Your Baby
Just kidding! You don’t need to wrap your baby in plastic to shield him from airborne diseases and creepy riders. But it was convenient that, on my first subway outing with baby, the weather was so cold and snowy that the plastic cover was on my stroller. It definitely calmed my nerves a bit to know my baby was sealed in his little protective shell. Since then, I have not used the plastic cover.
Observe proper subway etiquette by trying to minimize your stroller’s footprint. Don’t block the entrance or aisle if possible, and always sit or stand next to the stroller with the brake activated. Since this is New York, most people will ignore your baby completely.
6. Feel a Sense of Accomplishment
When your biceps are burning from lifting that stroller up two flights of stairs, take pride in knowing that you are raising your baby to be a true New Yorker!
Have you taken your baby on public transportation?
Please share your tips for bringing a baby on the bus, train, subway or trolley by leaving a comment below!