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Baby & The Beach

By Amalah

Hi Amy,

You helped me out about a year ago when I was planning for my baby, and obsessing over crib mattresses, and what they were made of, and all of the terrible things that they might do to my baby. Thank you – it was very helpful, and we decided to go with the regular mattress (and so far, so good – he seems to sleep well on it, so I guess we can call that a success? I don’t have time anymore to worry about the rest of it). Well, now that the baby is here I have a new question!

My husband and I are taking our almost one year old to Florida in a few weeks for our first family beach vacation. As I started thinking about packing, I came up with all sorts of questions about what we might need to keep him happy and un-sunburned, and thus us all having a good time. I was muddling about in the internets getting utterly lost and confused. Then I saw your pictures about your recent trip and realized that you probably have some fantastic thoughts and advice about all of this.

Here are my specific questions:

1. Swim diapers – I’ve heard these actually don’t work out of the water, just hold the poop in while in the water? Is this correct? So…. if we take our son to the beach, do we have to think about changing him there to go into the water? I think there are disposables and non-disposables. Which are better? We’re a cloth diaper family (although not when traveling), so we’re up for non-disposables. What did Ezra wear in Jamaica?

2. Shoes – our son is not walking yet, but loves to be “walked.” It occurred to me that the sand might be hot on his feet, or there might be lots of pointy shells (we’re headed to Sanibel). Should I get him shoes? What kind? Aqua socks? Baby Crocs? Is this all just silly? Obviously we want him to experience the sand on the feet thing.

3. Sunscreen – last summer our son was too young for it, so I have yet to buy it. What kind should we get? Is there something to avoid (like parabens or something)?

4. Equipment – should we try to rent one of those beach tents? Is that much better than an umbrella? I can’t imagine my son being happy all cooped up when there are things to crawl to and people to watch, but I am still new to all of this.

5. Any other advice on ensuring a fun-for-all trip to the beach?

Thank you, thank you.
– G

Great question! In that I don’t have to think too hard about the answers. We’ve been taking multiple trips to multiple beaches since the first of our multiple children was about nine or 10 months old. We’ve got this all pretty down, I’m happy to say.

The first thing to do, before packing, is to revise your expectations for YOURSELF. Trips the beach with babies and toddlers (sans family members or sitters to help out) are so drastically different from any pre-baby vacations you’ve taken that you might feel like you’ve run a marathon by the end, rather than relaxed for a week in paradise. It can be exhausting. Your baby might hate the sand or water and there’s nothing you can do about it. He might insist on staying in the water hour after hour. He might shove sand in his mouth at every occasion, or demand constant walking up and down the shoreline all. Day. Long.

In other words, going to the beach with a baby or toddler is just like LIFE with a baby or toddler, only it’s not baby-proofed and you might feel a little resentful because you were hoping for at least one peaceful hour in a chair with a trashy book.

This is NOT to say it’s a bad idea, it’s just…different. I remember that, though not as much as I remember Noah’s face when his feet first touched the ocean, or wrapping Ezra up in a towel and snuggling under the umbrella. And that’s really what you’re going for, in the end.

Now! Your questions.

1. Swim diapers.

The disposables work outside of the water. Sort of. They’re just okay. They absorb pee just fine, but lose their shape and sag a lot. One good poop and the diaper is practically hanging around their knees. You need to change them quite often, at least every time you leave the water. I also find them to be terrible hard on a baby’s bottom, particularly combined with sand. And I hate how expensive they are and I hate hate HATE that they pull on like underwear, because trying to get those up and over a sunscreen-y, sandy, slightly damp wriggling toddler is a huuuuuge pain in the ass.

That said, they’re convenient (who wants to carry balled-up dirty diapers back to a hotel room?) and serve their intended purpose just fine. That’s all we ever used for Noah, though we often just let him run around naked.

In Jamaica we brought half disposables and half reusables — four Bummis Swimmis, to be exact. The resort’s nanny, unfortunately, wanted NOTHING to do with the Bummis and preferred the disposables. (Ezra wore disposables off the beach as well, because I am not that hardcore crazy.) He developed a wicked diaper rash (later turned out to be yeast) from the disposables and I switched him to the Bummis. They were GREAT for the water. Way more comfortable, super easy to change (TABS!), very cute and the real elastic is about a million times better than the disposables. I rinsed them off in hot water at the end of the day and hung them up to dry with our suits. Big thing though: We never ended up testing the Poop Issue in them, so I have no idea how they perform in that department.

If you don’t plan on going back to the beach or pool before your son would outgrow his current size (Ezra seemed on the high end of medium size chart, but they run pretty big, so he’ll use them again this summer), and won’t have any laundry access during your trip, disposables are the more economical, convenient choice. For a summer pool membership in your hometown, go with a small stash of Bummis, for sure.

2. Yes, get your son a pair of water shoes.

Doesn’t really matter what kind, just something that’s easy to get on and off and sturdy enough to protect his soles from rocks. We’ve always just grabbed a generic pair of Speedo-type knock-offs at the local Big Box Baby Store (since they’re all but guaranteed to be too small by the next time you need them). Crocs work too — they don’t always stay on as well as the fabric shoes but are easier to rinse off, and fit better if your baby has wide or extra chubby feet.

3. Sunscreen.

Whatever you buy, TEST FIRST. Not for sunburn protection, but for skin irritation. We once bought a near lifetime supply of some California Baby sunscreen for a vacation, only to find that my son Noah erupted in a rash every time we used it. (He’s also HIGHLY allergic to the Burt’s Baby Bees buttermilk lotion, just to prove that “natural” doesn’t always means it’s better for everybody.) And I admit I dislike a lot of the natural sunscreens because they use physical blocker ingredients (like titanium dioxide). There is nothing WRONG with titanium dioxide, except that it’s crazy messy and doesn’t absorb and leaves white film on your skin. If your child won’t stand still very long for sunscreen application or fights you on it, this can be extremely frustrating.

For Jamaica, buying sunscreen was on my husband’s to-do list, and instead of reading ingredients like he usually does, he just grabbed a bunch of bottles and tossed them in his cart. So we ended up with synthetic sunscreens with parabens and fragrance and all sorts of unpronounceable ingredients: Neutrogena Waterguard Kids, in both cream and spray. And I loved them. I used them on myself. Goes on quick, absorbs easily, and nobody got even a HINT of pink after days in the tropical sun. So, there you go. I’m not thrilled with everything on the label, but skin cancer trumps potential yet-not-definitively-proven danger of parabens, for now. (Related: Best Sunscreens for Kids)

Sun hats and UV-protection shirts are super good to have as well.

4. Equipment.

We bought a small pop-up sun shade for Noah’s first beach trip, and it rocked. Noah took NAPS right on the beach in it! I loved it! I thought it was beyond essential! And then I had Ezra! Who is completely different! I couldn’t find the same cabana in the stores and bought a slightly bigger, more expensive one last summer…and he wanted nothing to do with it. He’d fall asleep in my arms but would scream bloody murder every time I tried to put him in the tent. Same went for my brilliant idea of bringing a small pop-up wading pool and filling it with water. Neither of the boys liked that, not even Noah, who liked pools but hated the ocean. Other people’s kids? Had the time of their lives in our pool.

So…give yourself a day or two to decide whether you need additional “stuff.” Streamlining at the beach is soooo essential with kids — you’re so exhausted by the end of the day that lugging him and 20 pounds of gear and accessories will be hell on earth. If your son seems pretty chill at the beach or is bothered by the wind blowing sand, a tent might be nice. If he just wants to GO GO GO and play in the water and sand and everything, don’t bother. Bring a beach ball and some plastic toys. (Some baby-sized stacking buckets that he can manipulate are better than oversized big kid pails and shovels.) A stack of swim diapers and some wipes. Lots of water and a snack. And every piece of camera equipment you own.

Photo by Barefoot In Florida

About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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  • Natalie

    March 5, 2010 at 12:47 pm

    We just got from Hawaii with our 7-month old and it really wasn’t too bad.  We used something similar to the Bummis swimsuits (worked great!) and an SPF50 suit in addition to sunscreen.  The biggest problem that we had was that she wanted (and sometime succeeded) to eat the sand.  =)  I don’t think my daughter would tolerate a tent, either, but an umbrella would probably be a good idea.  Have fun!!

  • Cheryl S.

    March 5, 2010 at 12:54 pm

    I live in FLorida so we’ve been dealing with this from day 1. I agree with Amy on most stuff (Don’t know a thing about cloth diapers!) Anyway
    1. Definitely get water shoes.
    2. We love Aveeno baby sunscreen and the nuetrogena stuff too. Like Amy, I use them on myself as well. But like all sunscreen — Reapply, reapply, reapply!
    3. We have a pop up cabana/tent thing that we got at Sam’s/BJ’s. Works great if your kid will sit in it.
    4. I would recommend getting him a bathing suit and shirt with SPF built in. Just another layer of protection. They even sell them at Target now, so you don’t have to go broke.
    HAVE FUN!!

  • Clare

    March 5, 2010 at 12:59 pm

    My son reacts to the Burts Bees Buttermilk lotion too, oddly enough, and conventional sun screens as well. I’ve had good luck with Blue Lizard sun screen. It’s a physical block, so it doesn’t react with skin to form the protection, and you also don’t need to apply it 20 minutes before you head outside. I get around the more difficult application by putting my kids in UV-protect wetsuits (longsleeve shirts and board shorts). I’ve gotten them from both Land’s End and LLBean, and been happy with all of them.
    I’ve also been jealous of parents with wagons with big tires at the beach. Great for hauling kid and gear! Not so great for air travel or road trips, but I know some beach rental places have wagons of some sort.
    Happy travels!

  • HereWeGoAJen

    March 5, 2010 at 1:07 pm

    I bought my daughter this swim diaper on sale, for less than the cost of a pack of disposable swim diapers. It works great. However, we’ve never tested it on poop because she doesn’t poop outside our house. But when I used disposable swim diapers, I found that they didn’t hold pee in at all. And I had the same problem with getting them on her, as she is all wiggly. The reusable one has snaps.

  • heels

    March 5, 2010 at 1:16 pm

    We loved having a pop-up tent. We got non-disposable swim diapers from Target that were pretty cheap. They went on like underpants, which was difficult, but dang- could they hold some poop! My son is ridiculously allergic to any chemical-blocker sunscreen, so we have to go with titanium dioxide. I like the cream for bodies, but the Baby Neutrogena Stick for faces. We also got fake, but nice, “Crocs” from Payless, which stayed on fine, but my son had to keep stopping to dump sand out of them. I’d probably go with an aqua sock-type thing next time. We also had a wonderful blanket that was kind of like a tarp on one side and a nice blanket on the other. It was fantastic! I wish I could tell you what it was exactly, but my mom brought it.

  • liberrian

    March 5, 2010 at 1:20 pm

    A couple things I can add: I’ve used the Imse Vimse swim diapers for both my kids, from newborn through toddler, and love them. And they do contain poop, I can verify that. They are not absorbent at all, just containment, so you do have to change them when they’re dwelling on dry land. They also sell matching swim tops for girls, so you can have a tankini thing going on if you want it.
    And look into the long sleeve/long pant swim romper things. When I took my 10-month old daughter to the beach, I had her in one and it drastically reduces the amount of sunscreen you have to apply. Which saves you time, effort, and frustration. And lessens the importance of getting exactly the right sunscreen. This is the suit I used: (When I bought it, 3 years ago, they ran HUGE. Don’t know if they’ve corrected their sizing.) Pair it with a good wide-brimmed hat and you’re putting sunscreen on hands, feet, and face.

  • SarahB

    March 5, 2010 at 1:30 pm

    On camera equipment: For a recent trip to Maui with the in-laws, my husband researched and purchased a digital camera suitable for water use. It cost $90 and was GREAT. We took tons of photos while in the water and took real delight in tossing it back and forth. We attached a piece of foam to the cord so it would float.

  • Amy in StL

    March 5, 2010 at 1:57 pm

    Okay, so this post makes me wonder (for the trillionth time in my life) am I the weird one? The last couple years my (now 40 year old) skin is getting more sensitive including rosacea. It turns out that I break out when I use sunscreen with physical barrier protection but not with the stuff that is chemical in nature. After reading some of the comments, I’m wondering if that’s really weird.

  • Ms. K

    March 5, 2010 at 2:13 pm

    Everyone’s advice is great. Just one other tip…your kid might not like the sun/water at all. I love, love, love the beach, grew up near the ocean, find it utterly relaxing. But my daughter hates it. She’s okay with water – she likes being held (naked) in a calm lake on a cloudy day. But sun, sand, wind – every single time I tried taking her to the beach last year she huddled pitifully beneath a towel or slept in her stroller swathed in towels with a hat pulled over her face (she pulled the hat over her face, not me.)
    So maybe that’s my tip – bring a lightweight collapsible stroller to act like a portable cabana. Just as good as a beach shelter.
    I’m going to try again with the beach this year. We’ll see whether toddlerhood has softened her anti-beach stance.

  • sn

    March 5, 2010 at 2:30 pm

    can’t rave enough about the imse vimse swim diapers.

  • Ally

    March 5, 2010 at 2:36 pm

    We live near the OBX in NC. We are at the beach all the time and the best thing in the world for the beach is baby powder. It takes the sand right off (as long as it isn’t super wet). Everyone is our house uses it. It makes diaper changes and clothing changes so much easier with our kids!

  • BVS

    March 5, 2010 at 3:42 pm

    learn from my mistake. i held my 3 month old some of the time in my arms in addition to putting him in the cabana. I was under a beach umbrella and his face was shaded so i didn’t worry about it. whenever he was out in the sun he wore a hat. turns out he should have been wearing that hat the ENTIRE time because he got a little burned on his face. i felt like the worst person in the world. he didn’t have sunscreen on because they say not to let kids under 6 months use it. but i should have put it on him. or at least put on a hat any and all times we were outside, even underneath the beach umbrella.
    baby sunglasses worked really well for us, too. i think we got ours on

  • JCF

    March 5, 2010 at 7:12 pm

    I’ll give another shout out for the Bummis Swimmis. They do not contain pee, which makes sense, because if you go in the water, they’d just absorb tons of water right away and have no room to absorb any pee anyway. They do contain the poop well. Also, whatever kind you get, velcro is way better than pull up. You do not want to pull down a soggy, poopy swim diaper–biggest mess you will ever deal with. And I agree that they run kind of big. I got my son the small when he was 7 months old, and he wore that for two summers in a row!

  • cw

    March 5, 2010 at 10:05 pm

    Just in case you want some input from one of “those” moms (meaning does all shopping at Target and has no cloth diapers or all natural anything – and I don’t mean that in a bad way at all – it’s just the way I’ve chosen to go), swim diapers from Pampers or Huggies totally work for poop, do not work for pee. I was actually in a little shop with my son in an umbrella stroller and all of a sudden there was a puddle underneath the stroller coming from a steady stream from the stroller. (Hilarious now, embarrassing then – I did go fess up and ask for paper towels to clean up!)
    Highly recommend Coppertone’s baby sunscreen stick thing. Makes it REALLY easy to get sunscreen on a squirmy baby face.
    If your little one uses a pacifier, make sure you have a bottle of water to rinse off the sand as you don’t want to have to use salt water and then try and wipe it off so it’s not that bad… Also helps for those mouthfuls of sand.

  • Della

    March 5, 2010 at 10:06 pm

    tip: buy swim shoes on the big size. Not falling-off-big, but if you can get them with the velcro closures and buy them one size too big, it will be SO much easier to get them on and off while wet.
    also on the off chance that Ally returns here – how do you use the baby powder? apply it on top of the sand and then rub all off?

  • Tara

    March 6, 2010 at 4:37 am

    BVS sort of touched on this one but I could use some more advice… We’ll be traveling to Arizona with our two month old in a couple weeks and, while we won’t be at the beach, we will be in the sun quite a bit (pool, hikes, etc.) I know they say no sunscreen when they’re this young, but I’m a bit worried as to how we’ll keep him from getting burned. So… yay or nay on the sunscreen? Any other tips for keeping him covered up? Will UV protectant clothes and a sun hat be enough or are his face and hands still going to get burned? Obviously we’ll try to keep him in the shade as much as we can but I’m worried that’s not always going to be practical.

  • Kimberly C

    March 6, 2010 at 9:25 am

    We live about 45 minutes from the Gulf, so we are beach people- but we also make day trips- meaning we have to pack up and go home. The awesome baby powder trick works wonderfully for having to ride after the beach. First, dry off as best you can. This is sometimes quite hard to do because you are in a humid/ sweaty climate. Apply baby powder liberally, and wipe again. All stuck on sand comes off, yay! Also, we tend to strip the kidlet naked and let her shower at the outside shower. We kinda shield her with a beach towel for some privacy, but she was two last year, we didn’t think that it was that big of a deal. And she thought it was funny.
    Ask your pediatrician about the sunscreen issue. Mine told me that 6 months is better, but sunscreen was better than sunburn. She has been wearing sunscreen outside in Gulf Coast sun since she was about 4 months. Mostly because I couldn’t keep my sun worshiper MIL from taking her in it,and I pick my battles.
    Swimmers ear is a good idea. For everybody- but then *I* get ear infections from water still, so I may be biased.
    Check the Parent Hacks website too, they had a list of beach tips up, maybe last year? There were some pretty good ones.
    PS those water shoes work GREAT at the splash pad thingie if you have one of those around. Of course I am the only mom who has her kid wear shoes on the thing but… it is rubbery and there are FEET all over it and ew! I keep seeing foot fungus in my mind’s eye.

  • emily

    March 6, 2010 at 12:28 pm

    Exactly as you described, just rub the baby powder onto the dry sand it will come right off.

  • CS

    March 7, 2010 at 10:46 am

    One complicating factor when you’re deciding about sunscreens (chemicial or physical) for kids is the nano-particle issue. The Environmental Working Group has some good info on their website ( about sunscreen efficacy, nano-particles, and kids.
    Editor: thank you. I agree. It’s my go-to site for the efficacy vs. dangerous chemicals balance of a sunscreen. (we link to it through one of the articles in Amalah’s answer).

  • shylo

    March 8, 2010 at 11:49 am

    Another good reason to use the PUL-lined Imse Vimse rather than Bummis is that most public pools require a waterproof cover. The Bummis cover will probably hold in poop, but won’t pass the waterproof test. I know my gym’s baby swim instructors were pretty militant about this.

  • Roberta

    March 8, 2010 at 9:21 am

    On the sunscreen issue. You CAN put sunscreen on babies younger than 6 months. Pedes prefer using sunscreen to early sun exposure/skin cancer. Ask your pede about it – ours OK’ed sunscreen at 3 mos. The California Baby and Neutrogena sunscreens both worked well for us when we took our then-4 month old to Australia to visit family – our daughter never got burned. The ozone layer is all kinds of messed up in AU, the skin cancer rate is very high, so sun exposure is a big deal. All the kids are issued big floppy sun hats with their school uniforms.

  • kakaty

    March 8, 2010 at 4:51 pm

    We’ve been taking our daughter to the beach (Hilton Head, SC) 2x a year since she was 6 months. The baby I’m prego with will also meet the beach for the first time just a few days short of 6 months. I have actaully found the beach to be the most relaxing family vacation EVER. I would ONLY go to the beach if we could. The baby years are a little more work, with sand eating and all, but I feel more relaxed after a week at the beach then a week at a cabin in the woods.
    Anyway – beach shoes are a must. So are SPF tops and suits. For girls get a tankini or a 2-piece to make diaper changes easier and we always just changed into a swim diaper on the beach before getting into the water. Changed back to a regular diaper afterwords.
    You can find waterproof beach blankets all over the place now and those are fantastic. We usually just rent an umbrella (less to haul) right on the beach for shade.
    Our condo is right on the beach so we leave our stuff on the beach all day (no valuables) and go back and forth over the boardwalk to our condo as needed so hauling stuff is limited to once down and once back at night. We have a rule of one large tote per adult – if it doesn’t fit we don’t need it!

    • Beau

      May 18, 2014 at 8:09 am

      Just curious if your baby sleeps on the beach, and if so – do you have any tips?   We’re taking our 8 month old to the beach this June (HHI) and were wondering how to navigate the naps throughout the day.  

  • Deanna

    March 9, 2010 at 12:35 pm

    I used to life guard at a pool and my suggestion would be just in case your baby doesn’t like the beach and you end up spending lots of time at the pool instead bring swim diapers. They are mandatory at a lot of pools because should any poo escape (any good pool at least) will be closed for at least an hour. And the life guards have absolutely no problem closing the pool if they think there is anything on the loose. Its less work for them.

  • Margie

    March 9, 2010 at 2:39 pm

    We’ve used iPlay swim diapers with our little one and had great success, though never had to deal with a poo, so I can’t speak to that. The girl-designated prints have adorable ruffles on the back. They definitely run small, so we ordered one on the large side this year. And now that I’m typing this, I’m realizing that they’re pull-up-style, which… hmmm… but it wasn’t a problem when she was really little (around 4 months) last summer.
    And on the sunscreen issue: we talked to our pediatrician because we were headed to the beach with her at four months old, and the pediatrician okayed the Badger sunscreen we had, and noted that what we really needed to be careful of was over-heating. Not sure I would have realized that on my own.

  • Susan

    March 9, 2010 at 3:15 pm

    Another vote for the SPF long sleeve swimsuit – we put our 9 month old in a Sunbusters (available on and worth every penny) every day in Hawaii and no sunburn (or even tan). The suit also works like an insulating layer if the water is a little cool.
    I also put sunscreen (Earth’s Best mineral based SPF 30+) on him first thing in the morning when we were getting ready for the day, then just applied a dab more to his face and hands at the beach.
    We bought a tent that rolled up really small and took it with us, but never used it. I thought it would be good for naps, but our son has a very specific nap routine and it was not gonna happen on the beach.
    For the pool and extremely calm, sheltered beach areas, I love our Swimways Baby Spring Float that I bought at Target for $15. He wasn’t walking at the time, so it was particularly thrilling for him to float in water just deep enough to tickle his toes on the sandy bottom. It packs up neatly in a small storage tote; it came with a canopy that has turned out to be pretty worthless.
    We bought a sunhat at REI with the flap in the back and a long bill in the front – he was pretty good about keeping it on if we distracted him with food…
    We used the Finis swim diaper (also on which ran ridiculously small and was hard to get on and off – but I recall the only Kushies available on the site at the time were pink, and that would not fly with the ILs. Sigh. We also used Huggies Little Swimmers, which worked fine.
    Have a great trip!

  • Calee

    March 9, 2010 at 3:31 pm

    We live in southern California and just got back from our annual trip to a beach resort in Mexico.
    Our daughter is now 3, but each year we learn a little more about how to do a beach trip with kids.
    1. Notice I said trip, not vacation. Super exhausting with the little ones. Try and take turns with your husband so you each get a little chill time.
    2. Sand toys are a must.
    3. Our kid (and us too) always have preferred pool to swimming in the ocean. Buy one of those swim rafts for babies and leave it in the box until you arrive.
    4. Unless the beach you’re going to is really rocky, the aqua socks never really worked. Carry baby on hot dry sand. Wet sand is cool and easier for them to walk on.
    5. Sunscreen is good. Hats are essential. Our daughter’s scalp got a little burned on this last trip.
    6. We’re disposable diaper people most of the time but when we did baby swim lessons we were required to get a cloth swim diaper from target. Worked better than the disposables–though neither stop pee out of the water– and they’re cheap. Just get 2 or 3 plus some disposables if you find baby poops while in the water. Otherwise, use regular disposables when it looks like you’re going to be out of the water for a while (naps.)

  • Britt

    May 23, 2014 at 5:06 pm

    Just wanted to mention, I know those swim diapers are a pain because they pull up and down, but you can just rip them down the side fairly easily to get them off. Hope that helps someone!