Hiking with a baby, it may be something you’ve wondered about, especially if you love the great outdoors like we do. We all know that hiking on paved and unpaved trails can be beneficial to your heart, mind, and body. According to WedMD, hiking can “lower your risk of heart disease, improve your blood pressure and blood sugar levels, boost bone density, build strength in your glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings and the muscles in your hips and lower legs, strengthen your core, improve your balance, help control your weight and boost your mood.” Hiking also puts us better in touch with the natural world around us and helps babies start to explore the world. And if a bit of sun is shining, it provides us with necessary Vitamin D.
Teaching kids to hike will reap the same benefits for them, and including your baby in your exercise routine is a great way to model hiking habits, bond with your baby and expose him/her/them to nature from just weeks after birth. Every sight, sound, and smell is a wonderful learning opportunity, and meeting other people on trails (or even urban sidewalks) helps with social development.
REI has a section on their website called “Expert Advice”, and their experts say when starting out hiking with an infant, hike short distances and keep it close to home so that “you can most easily manage naps, feedings and an all-out bad experience…the first few times you head out.”
The editors of Backpacker magazine have also put together advice that includes the following:
- Short hikes can be done as soon as your comfortable with your infant in a chest sling so his/her head is supported.
- Carry dry formula in bottles with disposable liners and add purified water on the trail to feed your infant.
- Carry baby Benadryl, liquid pain reliever and an antibiotic 1% hydrocortisone ointment in a first aid kit.
- Attire the baby in a floppy hat, long sleeves and pants to protect from sun mostly and bugs secondary, and if the baby is older than 6 months you can apply sunscreen and insect repellant.
- Hike familiar routes as hiking with an infant “is no time to get lost.”
- Wrap your baby in multiple layers and swaddle; usually its best to put the baby in one more layer than you yourself need, especially if you are hiking in winter temperatures.
Anecdotally, parents claim that their babies sleep much better after a walk or hike, as being outdoors and breathing fresh air helps the baby be relaxed and calm. And some mothers find that babies who go for walks or hikes are more cheerful than those who spent all of their times indoors.
But taking your baby for a hike does require a little planning. Meghan J. Ward, who ran a website called AdventurousParents.com, lists 12 essentials she carries when hiking with her baby (the first items are packed permanently and others are added before she walks out the door to hike): baby sunhat, baby sunscreen, baby bug spray, baby sunglasses (the kind that strap on), clothing to layer and for changes; and then added before walking out the door: diaper kit, receiving blanket, toy, baby carrier, rain cover or jacket, food and water. Ward ends the list with this comment, “If you’re nursing on the trail, you’ll need to stay extra hydrated and well nourished.”
As John Muir said, “In every walk with nature one receives far more than one seeks.” You can experience that and so can your baby, every time you go into the great outdoors. And with early and frequent exposure (that means lots of hiking with your baby), you can help raise the next generation who loves the outdoors and nature as much as you do.