Hiking with a Baby
Pennsylvania is filled with trails, paths and places to walk. After all, the state name itself roughly translates to “Penn’s Woods,” as sylvania is Latin for “forest land”. The County of Allegheny funds and operates nine parks, and North and South Parks alone form a combined total of more than 5,000 acres, with plenty of paved and unpaved trails.
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 or her to nature from just weeks after his/her birth. Every sight, sound and smell are wonderful learning opportunities, 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.”
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 runs the website 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.”
Rebecca, who runs the website HikeLikeaWoman.net, said she grew up in an “outdoorsy town where it was the norm for parents to strap their babies and toddlers into a pack and head into the wilderness on foot, ski or snowshoe.” When she had babies of her own, she did just what her parents did: invested in gear to take her babies along to explore the wilderness. She claims “a hiking kid is a happy kid”, but she does acknowledge that time in nature is not without risks.
She recommends that if you plan to head out into nature you should familiarize yourself with local wildlife and know how to respond if you encounter such. (In western Pennsylvania you should be able to identify various snakes, even if you plan to walk in North or South Park.) And if there’s a trail register, sign in on it.
Or, hike with a group, such as the over 2100-member Hike It Baby Pittsburgh, a closed Facebook group https://www.facebook.com/groups/hikeitbabypittsburgh. Hike It Baby is a national non-profit organization, with groups in every state, that “is dedicated to building communities that support getting families outside with children from birth to school age,” according to their mission statement. They want parents to raise a generation who loves the outdoors, and they do this by planning hikes in urban and more rural areas almost daily all over the country. Hikes are open to anyone who joins ($10 per family annually), whether the person with a baby or child is a parent, nanny, grandparent or friend, and hikes are tailored to all hikers’ abilities, meaning stops may be frequent because if one person needs to stop, the whole group stops. Go to the Facebook group or to www.hikeitbaby.com for more information.