Introducing little ones to the great outdoors from an early age is a wonderful gift and an excellent way to look after your mental health as a parent or carer. But sometimes just getting through the front door feels like a mountain in itself.
Here are my top tips for getting out with a baby.
You may feel ready to start exploring when your baby is a few weeks old, but equally you may not feel ready until they are a little older – and that’s fine! You know what’s right for you. My advice would be to start small, start local and celebrate each outing as a victory.
If baby-wearing is an option, I’d recommend visiting a sling library or baby-wearing consultant if you can, to give you chance to try out different types of slings and learn to carry safely. Go for an ergonomic carrier that supports the natural posture of babies (your back will thank you). Wraps are ideal for newborns and most soft-structured carriers will see them through until they’re toddlers or in some cases, preschoolers – but what suits one person may not suit the next.
A framed hiking carrier could be a worthwhile investment if you’re planning on doing lots of adventuring, as they have lots of storage space and are well designed for a day out on the hills. At the same time, they can be heavy and cumbersome so it’s a good idea to try a couple first, which you can often do at large outdoor retailers. Alternatively a hiking waist pack offers easy access to essentials when back carrying.
If carrying isn’t an option or you prefer to use a pram or buggy, you might want to check out OS Maps, The Outdoor Guide or Miles Without Stiles for route inspiration. An all-terrain buggy will open up more options again.
If you’re baby-wearing, read up on how many layers to put on your baby – we’re more likely to overdress them than underdress them as it’s easy to forget that the sling acts as a layer, as does your shared body heat. Snowsuits should be avoided for younger babies – instead look at getting a baby carrier cover, baby-wearing coat or adapt your existing coat with a Zipusin (also useful for getting outdoor kit round a pregnant bump!). Protect their extremities with hats, gloves and booties in cold weather.
This was a top tip in my local Mother & Baby Walking group – pack your bag and have everything laid out ready the night before. Let’s face it, mornings are hard enough as it is! Some parents explained they keep a ‘Go Bag’ ready with nappies, spare clothes, extra layers, bottles, and snacks that just needs topping up each time you head out. I was never this organised, but both suggestions would certainly have made getting out of the house much easier.
Trying to ‘time it right’ to get out for a walk around feeds, naps and nappy changes can be a real barrier to just getting out. Friends of mine have found it much easier once they accepted there’s no perfect time and they just need to get out, or else they’ll be stuck in. That said, if you can time your walk with naptime, more often than not the gentle rocking motion will lull baby to sleep, giving you some well-earned peace and quiet!
Finding other parents or carers to walk with can make a big difference. Everyone is prepared for unplanned pit-stops, poonamis and an annoying amount of faffing. Plus, if you’ve arranged a time to meet with someone you’re far less likely to ditch the idea at the last minute. If there isn’t a baby walking group in your area, why not set one up? My local group is a community-led Facebook group where anyone can organise a walk.
In the early days it’s often not realistic to time walks around feeds. Aim to feed just before you go out, but be prepared to stop and feed en-route. If you’re breastfeeding, my best advice is to embrace the ease of being able to stop and feed anywhere with little preparation. @scenicbreastfeeds is a lovely celebration of feeding in the outdoors. If you’re bottle-feeding, insulated bottle bags help store water at the right temperature until you’re ready to add formula, though ready-to-feed formula can reduce some of the faff on-the-go. Of course, once snacks are in the equation, the general rule of thumb is you can’t have too many!
I learned this the hard way when my little one reached out of the back carrier and grabbed an ill-placed barbed wire fence – ouch. Prior to this I tended only to pack my first aid bag for long hikes further from home, but now I take it even on short local walks, along with a map, compass and power pack for my phone. Downloading the free OS Locate app is also handy in case of emergencies.
Have fun exploring the world through your baby's eyes. It's true that our definition of adventure might need to be adjusted slightly when getting outdoors with a baby but it's all big and exciting to them. And indeed, there's a lot to be said for them being portable! Once they start walking, wanting to stop and study every stick and asking for snacks all the way up a big hill, it's a whole other ball game...
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