Hey Mom and Dad! Getting ready to dust off your hiking boots and hit the trail? Hiking with a newborn baby can be intimidating for first time parents, even if hiking was a passion in the past. Don’t be afraid to head outside with your newest addition. But here are a few tips from the trenches.
Make Sure You Are Healed Post-Birth Before Hiking
Women bounce back after labor and delivery at different rates. I have personally found that this timeline shortens as you have additional children. Part of this is that I think your body gets wrecked pretty bad getting that first child out, and then each subsequent child only needs to wreck it a little bit more to come out.
If you are pregnant and reading this article thinking about planning a trip involving hiking right after the birth of your first child, I suggest you reconsider. I had no idea how long it would take me to recover from the birth of my first child. Turns out, I was in the hospital for four days (natural birth) and then I spent the next two weeks after being released in bed! It was a rough delivery, and I was very tired and very weak.
The bleeding doesn’t necessarily stop after the delivery is over. If you’ve seen humorous photos of women going home from the hospital wearing paper underwear, that’s all real. Doctors recommend that you keep your activity very light in the first few weeks after delivery, and monitor your bleeding carefully. In the best cases, the bleeding after delivery lasts for only a few weeks, and the amount is a lot like menstruation. In the worst cases, the bleeding is more like hemorrhaging and you can land yourself back in the hospital.
The amount of activity you do after birth can directly impact how much you bleed. The more you do right after birth, you can actually extend your recovery/bleeding time. Post-delivery, you are instructed to watch for “blood clots” in the toilet bowl when you use the bathroom. Anything larger than a golf ball is worth a call to the doctor.
Unfortunately, stitches are a possibility in labor and delivery. If you have a natural birth, the doc might put in a few stitches to help torn flesh heal up. A c-section is major surgery, and those stitches are no joke to deal with.
Too much activity after delivery can also contribute to issues with hernias or uterine prolapse.
The sum of this is–don’t go hiking with your newborn until your doctor releases you. There’s no harm in walking with your newborn, so long as you monitor your bleeding and recovery. But save the really strenuous stuff until you’ve been released.
Has Your Milk Come In Yet (breastfeeding and hiking)
I can’t imagine going on a massive hike right after birth. I remember how big my breasts got when my milk came in my with first baby. It was like I was carrying two very tender bowling balls around in my shirt. None of my clothes fit, and the rub of even soft cotton on my nipples was almost too painful to bear. Now imagine wearing a backpack, or stuffing those giant melons into a sports bra.
If your doctor has released you for any physical activity, your milk should already be in and established. But this is just another reason why I wouldn’t plan any big trips right after birth.
Wait Until Mom and Baby Are In Sync (breastfeeding on the trail)
A newborn baby doesn’t always take to nursing right away. If you take a newborn baby hiking, you might end up on the side of the trail, with a back up against the tree, trying to nurse. I’ve done it myself many, many times. I just sit right down in the middle of the trail, throw the baby over my lap, and get down to business. This is a piece of cake when nursing is old hat.
When nursing is new, trying to nurse away from home can be very challenging, or potentially problematic. If you are carrying the baby, she might be happy to sleep through a feeding, lulled by the warmth of your body and the swinging of your steps.
But if you are still working on getting your milk established, missing a feeding (or many feedings) could send a message to your body that it should produce less milk for the baby. Or you could end up with engorged breasts (and the host of other problems that can come with inconsistent feedings).
Nursing gets pretty darn easy. That is a really sweet spot to take a new baby hiking. When you don’t have to carry any food or water for her, and she is still pretty small and easy to carry.
If You Are Dead Set on Hiking with a Newborn, You Should…
Most people say that you shouldn’t even consider hiking with a baby who is less than a month old. But isn’t hiking just walking, on a trail instead of on a sidewalk? It can be done, so long as you pay attention to the health and well-bring of the mother, and adjust your expectations.
If it is your first time out with your newborn, try a short and easy hike, an out and back perhaps, with a groomed trail, and little or no elevation.
Pack up the essentials you’ll need on the trail. My list includes:
- A method of carrying the baby on the hike (front back, sling, etc) so that baby is secure, and not just free in your arms
- Small backpack for your hiking buddy to wear (if they have their own pack, you can sneak your things into their bag)
- At least one diaper and some wipes
- Change of clothes for baby
- Extra blanket/cover-up
- Hat for baby of carrier doesn’t cover her head
- Water for you
Keep the following in mind hiking with an infant:
- If you are using a front pack, make sure that the baby doesn’t get overheated by being snuggled up against your body (easy to do if you are really getting a good sweat on, check her regularly to see if her clothes need to be adjusted.
- Is she breathing? Sometimes babies in packs get scrunched up, with their chins down on their chests. This can make it hard for them to breath and they may not be able to move enough to self-rescue.
- Regardless of the carrier, make sure that her head is not swinging around or bouncing as you step. I would usually hike with my hand resting on the back of my child’s head to keep it from bouncing around. Infants have very little neck strength and they can be damaged if they bounce around too much.
- Take care to watch your step. If you are hiking with a baby strapped to your chest, it can be hard (like in pregnancy) to see where your feet are. It is easy to trip on a root or rock. This is why I don’t recommend hiking with a baby who is not strapped in, in a carrier or in a secure sling. If you trip and fall with the baby lose in your arms, you don’t have hands to save yourself, or you may drop the baby.
- Drink plenty of water. If you get dehydrated, you may not produce much milk, or your milk may taste strange to your infant and she may not want to drink it.
- Try to plan your hike around the baby’s nap, if you know when it will be. I have frequently found that my baby did well on the trip up, but that she’d wake up or her nap would be over at the top, and then she’d fuss or cry the whole way down, wanting to be out of the pack.
- You can’t put sunscreen on infants, so make sure her little face, head, and other exposed skin is protected from the sun another way.
- Same with bug repellent. You can use essential oils to repel mosquitoes, but in general it is just best to cover her up so that bugs can’t get at her.
- Keep your infant away from people, even well-meaning ones. Don’t expose your baby to any germs that she doesn’t need to be exposed to. this means that you should keep her covered up on the trail, even if people ask to see her or hold her.
- If you have a dog, consider leaving him at home for the first hike. Or, if you want to bring him, have your partner be fully in charge of him. With a newborn on board, the last thing you want to be is to be pulled around by an excited dog on a leash.
For mom, remember, you just gave birth. Take your time, and pay attention to your body. Plan lots of rest stops, even if you feel like you don’t really need them. It takes nine months to grow a baby, and you should remember to give yourself at least nine months to recover from it. You’ll find that it takes a while for everything to go back to the way it was (or as close as it is going to get to it).
Perspective Is Everything
Hiking with children is about the experience, not about summiting. Honestly, if you go into the hike with the mindset that failing to reach the top and back is a fail, you will be disappointed when you take babies on a hike.
Babies don’t care about reaching the top. They just know they are strapped in tight, they can’t move, and if they aren’t big enough to face out yet, they are stuck looking at their mom’s sternum. They KNOW that the world is out there and that they are missing it.
Babies frequently get over stimulated by spending a short period of time in the outdoors. They love it, but it is A LOT for them. The sounds, each individual fluttering leaf, other people on the trail, dogs, deer, wind, water….it is a symphony of stimulation. We think of going to the forest as a place to escape stimulation. For young children, the outdoors is really the opposite. Don’t be surprised if your baby melts down on the hike, even if she hasn’t really been doing much but sitting in the carrier.
If your baby is howling, don’t be defeated or upset about turning around and going home. Each time you hike with kids, you get a little further on the trail, and it gets a little bit easier. But it takes the right mindset to enjoy a hike when you have a fussy baby.
Before you bounce, check out one of these other great articles from our many Mom Advice Line contributors:
- How Chess Imitates Life (in Parenting)
- Yes, You Can Teach Your Baby to Swim
- Overcoming Sibling Rivalry
- Swimming Saved Our Day
- What are Godparents and Do I Need Them?
- The Never Ending Challenge of a Strong Willed Child