Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
Gina Kruml, RN, BSN, IBCLC
Photo: Christina Simantiri
“Have baby, will travel.” Well, that’s not usually true at first. Between wanting to avoid contagious illnesses, hot sun or blustery cold, and perhaps some self-consciousness while the new baby is learning to breastfeed, many new mothers spend the first month or more of the baby’s life indoors. In fact, some cultures prescribe this as the proper way for the mother to rest up and protect her baby.
After a time of cocooning indoors with your baby, you start to return to those places you “used to” go. At first, it might be those other indoor places we go to spend money or keep appointments. But how much more truly enjoyable it is to take our new baby to those places we don’t really “need” to go: the zoo, the park, the beach.
Some babies don’t like the wind, especially at first. The bright sun, even just for a moment, can cause a little baby to squint so hard! And being separated from mom and dad, stuck in a stroller … well, that might be tolerated for about ten minutes before the long-awaited walk around the neighborhood is firmly declared to be over by the baby’s cries. To help the new baby feel comfortable with the outdoors, take him outside in more comfortable weather, bring all the hats, sweaters and blankets you might need for him, evaluate what is a healthy exposure to the sun, and carry him close to you.
Getting back to nature benefits your whole family. You can still give your baby all the attention he needs, while giving your older kids a special outing too. While you nurse the baby, you can admire your three-year-old’s pinecone. While your partner lies next to the sleeping baby on the picnic blanket, you can kick a ball around with your older kids. Getting outside after you’ve recently had a baby can provide an important lift for your own mood too, and can even help prevent or treat postpartum depression.
My son’s archery activities this weekend meant a four-hour chunk of time for the rest of us spent lounging in the grass, picnicking, and playing. Grass for a five-month-old is still so fascinating. I think I only packed two or three toys for Victor, which probably weren’t even necessary. Playing with the grass, scooting around, and watching the people provided plenty of entertainment for him.
Especially if you are not yet comfortable with nursing in public, taking the older kids on an outdoor excursion might be a lot easier than going somewhere indoors. While nursing the baby under the same blankets that keep off the sun and wind, you might find that people stop to talk to you and don’t even bat an eye. When you are all bundled up, perhaps wearing a jacket also, sitting cross-legged on a picnic blanket, it might be hard to tell that you’re nursing the baby.
Breastfeeding provides the convenience of never accidentally forgetting to pack enough milk. If we decide to stay somewhere longer than originally planned, it’s usually easy enough to find something to eat for the older kids and us parents, and keep breastfeeding as usual, without having to worry about whether the breast milk is still cold enough in the cooler, or whether they might stock our brand of baby milk at the corner store in an unfamiliar town. We breastfeeding mothers also have the assurance that in case of emergency, such as the car getting stuck in a blizzard, as long as we are with our baby, we will have something to feed him that will last for days.
Even during very warm summer weather breast milk is all that your baby needs—no water is necessary before he is about six months old. In hot weather your breast milk will automatically adjust to contain more water and during the colder months will correspondingly include a higher fat content. When it’s warm your baby will probably want to breastfeed even more frequently than he usually does to quench his thirst, but don’t be tempted to give him water which will fill him up while not providing the nourishment that your milk gives him. Likewise during chilly weather, he’ll most likely want to feed more frequently and enjoy the comfort of your warmth.
Sometimes it might seem like having a new baby has made it somewhat more difficult to enjoy time with the rest of the family. That trip to the adventure theme park: how can you do it if the baby can’t ride on any of the rides? Swimming at the beach: how can you watch a four-year-old and six-year-old in the waves with a little one riding in a sling? Maybe you can’t do these same things the way you might have done them last year. More adult family members might be needed to go along with you on these big excursions. I have told my own kids that we will not be driving more than an hour away from home for quite a while yet; an unhappy baby in the car seat can turn a three-hour drive into an eight-hour drive! Meanwhile, more backyard or close-to-home outdoor activities will get you out of the house together, and back to nature.
Have you ever noticed that the children seem to have just as much fun at a neighborhood park as at a far-away, expensive and hard to plan vacation? Starting a garden or embarking upon an exciting venture such as backyard chickens might also provide many hours of fun for your family. While most babies will do well in a sling while you work on such projects with the older children, be careful not to strain your back while bending and lifting. Older babies especially might enjoy spending some time in a small playpen set up outside near you.
After just a week or two, you might find that the same baby who was unhappy going outside is now the one who perks up and smiles to feel the fresh air. As the baby’s world expands, he will be able to see things farther and farther away from him. As he is better able to control his hands, he can now reach out to touch the soft flowers and prickly pine trees. Providing these happy times for him, you know you are doing something important for your baby, and not just for the sake of intellectual or physical development.
What fun outdoor activities will you and your family make time for this week?
Gina Kruml, RN, BSN, IBCLC and LLL Leader is mother to Sophia, Ambrose, Maria and Victor in Sierra Vista, AZ, USA.