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Hiking with Baby
By Courtenay Schurman, MS, CSCS
It seemed appropriate that we celebrate Independence Day and our daughter’s birthday (well, the day she turned 7 weeks old) with a memorable trip to the mountains. I originally had planned to go by myself with another expecting mom, but circumstances dictated that my husband and I pack up baby and head to Snoqualmie Pass together to conquer Granite Mountain, (3800’ elevation gain, roughly 9 miles RT.)
We anticipated having to turn around after about an hour, but we ended up being very pleasantly surprised. Our daughter loves the rocking motion of a front carrier, and she slept nearly the entire trip, allowing us to reach the summit and return to the car with only about an hour added to our usual time for changing, feeding, burping, pumping and eating.
Yes, new hiking-loving moms, it certainly CAN be done when your child is an infant, depending on your own conditioning before, during and following pregnancy, the temperament of your baby, what season you give birth (I would anticipate that winter outings would bring a whole lot more cautions to your decision to take baby out for an extended period of time), and how comfortable your child is in a front or back carrier. The earlier you introduce your new bundle of joy to the wilderness, the more likely it is that your child will grow up enjoying nature.
TOP LESSONS LEARNED
- Get out there while baby is nice and light! The older your child is, the more weight you end up having to carry (until he/she can walk on his/her own) and the more gear you have to take with you. If you have a toddler, you will need to plan on slowing things way down with abundant stops to “smell the roses.”
- Hiking is great balm for the soul. If you were active before and during pregnancy, hiking can be one of the best ways to get back into condition, as it is walking but with the added benefit of wonderful views.
- Be sure to go early to beat the heat and sun and avoid crowds (if you like peace and quiet). Since it generally is recommended that babies under the age of 6 months old not wear sunscreen, be sure to take an umbrella or opaque cover and hat, and dress the baby in long sleeves to prevent any sun from getting to your child’s skin.
- Keep moving but drink and eat frequently as you go. As soon as we stopped, she woke up and got fussy. Choose your route wisely so a) you do not expose other unsuspecting nature-loving ears to a wailing infant, and b) you have a good place to stop for a picnic or change/pump/feed
- Take more clothing than you think you may need. We encountered a light, cool mist that ended up getting her outer layer a little damp, and since she was in the Baby Bjorn round trip for a total of 6 hours (against a sweating, hard-working body) her clothes needed changing half way through the hike. Avoid hiking on extremely warm days as your baby might develop a prickly heat rash from being encased too long in the Bjorn.
- Consider adequate places to take breaks before you ever leave the city. In the case of Granite Mountain, we had done it so many times before that we knew there was a boulder field where a winter avalanche gully would be clear of snow in July. The rest of the hiking trail would be too hilly for a good level stopping point until then, so we planned to move continuously for about 75 minutes until we could take a good long rest/feed/pump/change break, and we used it again on the way back down.
BABY TEN ESSENTIALS
Items we found to be crucial on our half-day outing were the following:
- Suitable carrier– a front carrier such as the Baby Bjorn or a comfortable, adjustable, properly fitting backpack once your child can hold her head up and sit on her own
- Sun protection – an umbrella or white lightweight blanket draped around her body can do on sunny days, or if it is chilly, a footed onesie that covers arms, hands, legs and feet may do just fine.
- Pumping supplies – or formula for baby; if mom is breastfeeding she will probably need to do so en route. Another option is to take a manual pump and a bottle if the trip is any greater than a few hours.
- Diaper supplies -- plan for at least 2-3 changes, depending on how long you will be out. We found the higher absorbability of disposables preferable to cloth so we could go longer without needing as many changes, and disposables are less messy when you tote them out (plastic bags for changed diapers and soiled clothing is of course a given – consider that the “11th essential”!)
- Diaper changing pad – so you will not have to change your baby on a cold grassy or rocky slope, or risk messing up your hiking clothes or backpack as a substitute changing station!
- Complete change of outfit -- including a layer warmer than you anticipate needing while you are still in town, as you never know exactly what you will encounter in the woods or mountains.
- Blanket – to wrap around baby while preparing for a change of clothes, or to sit on when nursing, pumping, changing, resting or eating
- Extra food and liquid for mom – she is going to be needing fuel to supply beverage and food for baby, herself, AND the additional exercise
- Camera with extra batteries – we neglected to change ours before leaving town and ended up having to rub two chilled batteries in our hands in order to allow us two precious summit shots to document her first summit.
- A Can-do attitude and willingness to be flexible. Realize at the outset that you may have to turn around if it just does not seem to be working for you or your tyke. Hiking should be an enjoyable experience, not a chore that you never want to repeat again!
Most hikers we encountered were more than a little curious about the precious little bundle we carried in the front pack. One woman even asked her age, then surprised and delighted me when she acknowledged my own accomplishment on getting out into the mountains so soon after having given birth. The take home message to new parents: if hiking is one of your passions before having a child, keep it as one you want to pass on to your baby. Get out there and show your child the wilderness! Happy hiking!