Tips for New Parents in and around Cambridge MA
Life as a new parent is hard, and in Cambridge the logistics can be tricky – sidewalks are narrow, strollers wide, and many shops are crowded and up or down a flight of stairs! Add to that the general challenge of getting out the door with a wee one, and sometimes it can be a little overwhelming (understatement of the day?). This is a list of resources that I found incredibly helpful (as a car-free city-dwelling student-type), places with changing tables (because sometimes you just don’t want to have to change a squirmy baby on a public restroom floor), and some tips for getting that stroller on public transit so you can go further than where your two legs will carry you. I hope you find these useful, and please, if you have additions or corrections, let me know so I can keep this as up-to-date as possible! (current as of 2/2013)
May you have an easy time getting out the door, somewhere fun to go, and no diaper disasters while you’re out!
UPDATE (1/16/2014): As of this week, Isis Parenting is shutting its doors, and no classes or consultations will be available, effective immediately. I am incredibly sad to hear this news, and am compelled to inform all of you readers that these services are no longer an option. I hope someone else fills this gap soon, or Isis finds a solution!
Most recommended resources:
- Cambridge Public Library – Baby Lapsit, Monday mornings except for holidays (program from 10-10:30, but should arrive by 9:30 to get a ticket).
The library is great for hanging out in any case; the play mat at the far end is a congregation area for moms, nannies, and kids of all ages, but particularly before the lapsit on Mondays, you’ll find other parents with similarly-aged kids. The lapsit itself is a 20-minute singalong for pre-walking babies (birth-12mo), and is led by one of the sweetest librarians you’ll ever meet. Also at 11 is the big singalong for little kids of all ages, so from 10-11 there’s always a big crowd of kids and caregivers.
This is a great way to get some staple clothing items without breaking the budget. The program exists for anyone who could use assistance in providing clothing for their growing children – you don’t need to prove financial need. You need to bring a health insurance card or birth certificate with you the first time you go, and they’ll give you credits for 10 items (tops, pants), plus things like onesies, bibs, shoes, baby food, and lots of other things. They have very restricted hours, and close for a week or two each season to restock, so check their website.
- Babywearing International of Greater Boston – this group teaches you how to properly use baby carriers, which in my opinion is the absolute best way to transport your baby in the city!
BWI Boston has a lending library, where you can borrow a carrier (for a deposit, bring a check) for a month to try it out before you buy it. Their meetings change location each month, and they usually have one weekday and one weekend meeting a month, so check the website or their facebook page for the schedule.
Free new moms’/parents’ groups:
- JFCS – despite their name, these moms’ groups are totally non-denominational. They organize great support groups which are a little bit structured and meant to give moms a safe space to talk about how they’re really doing. There are meetings in most of the Boston-area towns, including Cambridge and Arlington.
- Stellabella Toys in Inman Square runs a New Parents’ Coffee Hour, with free muffins, coffee/tea, and toys for the babies to play with. Bring a small blanket for the baby to lie on, and get some coffee. Coffee and muffins supplied by 1369, which is across the street and darn near impossible to get into with a stroller. Group meets Friday mornings at 10:30 (double-check their website).
- MAMAH postpartum support – run by the midwives at Mount Auburn, but anyone can go. They bring a baby scale, and light snacks, and everyone hangs out and chats for an hour or so. Not so structured. Unfortunately, they’ve moved to out-of-the-way Waltham.
- Cambridge Center for Families – organizes many programs, including baby massage, playgroups, and educational/discussion groups for parents, all free to Cambridge residents.
- Check out Meetup.com for new parents’ groups; at the time of writing, the Arlington First-Time Moms & Pregnancy group is active and has meetups for expecting and new mothers.
- Cambridge Health Alliance has a free breastfeeding support group, Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10-noon.
Isis Breastfeeding drop-in groups (free) – the Arlington, Prudential, Merchant’s Row (Charlestown) and Needham Isis stores offer a breastfeeding support group with Lactation consultants on hand.
Go see a movie:
Baby matinees are a great way to spend a bad-weather day, and catch up on cinema culture, since you’re probably not going out for dinner and a movie so often.
- Coolidge Corner Theater’s Box Office Babies– every other Friday at 11am, $7
- Capitol Theater, Arlington – every other Monday at 1:30pm, $6
- Somerville Theater, Davis Square – every other Thursday at 1:15, $6
Where to change a diaper around Cambridge:
This is by no means an exhaustive list, and revolves around Harvard Square, which has long been my center of operations. I’ll note that changing tables are harder to come by than you’d think – there’s nary one to be found in any of the dozens of Starbucks (or many other coffee shops), nor in many public restrooms in Cambridge. Here are the good ones I’ve found (or which have been recommended to me):
- Harvard University Health Services (UHS) has changing tables in all of its restrooms, although they’re “not for public use.” If you’re nervous about the receptionists saying something to you (they won’t), use the basement restroom. – 75 Mt. Auburn St.
- Harvard Yard: Boylston Hall, Memorial Church and Barker Center both have changing tables in their basement-level accessible women’s rooms.Dudley House’s basement women’s room has a sizable counter space to use for changing.
- The women’s rooms in Harkness Commons and Wasserstein (Law School), have a changing table, as does the 2nd-floor women’s and 3rd-floor men’s room in Longfellow Hall, Harvard School of Education.
- The Cambridge Public Libraries all have changing tables in their children’s sections (the Children’s section of the main library is the 3rd floor).
- The Harvard Coop has a changing table in its 3rd-floor women’s room, as well as its basement restroom.
- The upstairs bathroom in the Charles Hotel has a great restroom with padded changing table.
- Diaper Lab, between Davis and Porter Squares, is a great baby-friendly store, with a great changing table.
- Magic Beans, with its many locations (Huron Village, Prudential Center, Coolidge Corner, Wellesley) has a great changing table.
- Porter Square Books has a changing table – get the restroom key from the register.
- The Porter Exchange Mall (Lesley) women’s room (through the food court) has a changing table.
- Dwelltime, on Broadway in Cambridge (between Inman and Central) – a spacious coffee shop, fancy pastries, and, of course, changing tables
- Border Cafe, Harvard Square has a changing table in the women’s restroom
- Full Moon Restaurant, Huron Village – caters to parents with kids, and has a play area!
- Coolidge Corner cinema has changing tables in its 1st-floor accessible restrooms
- Jam’n Java in Arlington Center has a changing table
Isis Parenting has nice changing tables in all their locations.
For clothing your rapidly-growing baby, you can’t really beat free, which is why the Cambridge Children’s Clothing Exchange sits at the top of the list, with the most valuable resources. But, for cheap, high-quality clothes, there are some other good options in the area:
- Little Fox Shop – East Arlington – This is a second-hand “shop” set within the Fox branch of the Arlington Public Library. Everything is incredibly cheap here, and the selection runs the gamut: maternity clothes, car seats, pumps, baby clothes, books, toys, shoes, baby carriers, swim diapers…you name it, they probably have it, for a great price. Limited hours – check their website.
- Two Little Monkeys – Union Square – Across from Market Basket, the home of cheap produce (and the best place to buy Happy Baby organic babyfood pouches and puffs, when you get to solids), lives Two Little Monkeys, a kids’ consignment/resale shop. They’ve got a nicely-curated selection, with good prices, including larger furniture and baby gear, as well as a selection of cloth diapers.
- Old Navy – Cambridgeside Galleria – Okay, this isn’t such an insider secret, but ON has a lot of kids’ and baby clothes, and if you check their sale rack, you can come away with some fantastic deals. Definitely get your baby socks here, the long triple-roll kind. You’ll thank me when they stay on all day.
Most of these email lists require manual approval (sometimes with a requirement that you submit a bio or questionnaire) before you’re added to the list. You may want to use the “digest” setting for high-volume lists, as they can get up to 100 messages per day.
- Arlington Parents Group (very high volume)
- SomervilleMoms Group (very high volume)
- Cambridge Families Group (high volume)
- Huron Village Parents Group
- Harvard parents list (nearly inactive)
Tips for navigating public transit with a stroller:
Bus: Most MBTA busses are the newer, “kneeling” kind, which can be lowered to meet the curb and are easy to get a stroller into. For courtesy and conservation of free space, lift up one of the benches in the front to make space for the stroller. These benches either lift straight up (no latch) or unlatch via a hook or lever on the bottom of the bench, about 3″ back from the front, on the right or left side. Lock your stroller wheels, and then you can comfortably stand or sit. When exiting the bus, be sure to back out – otherwise, you may feel like you’re dumping your baby out of a wheelbarrow when descending. If you can manage it, it’s good practice to lower the bench back down for other passengers on your way out.
On older busses, you may have to use the handicap lift at the rear door, or enlist an assistant to help you carry the stroller up the stairs.
Subway: Avoid rush hour (weekdays 8-10am, 4-6pm). All other times are relatively stroller-friendly, but you should aim to enter at the first or last door of the car, where there’s extra space for the stroller (note: on the Green Line, the accessible entrance is in the center of the car). Almost all MBTA stations are now accessible with elevators where necessary, but double-check on their website if you’re headed somewhere new.
Commuter Rail: All commuter rail trains are accessible; at some stations, you may need to board at the front of the train where there is a ramp.