Babywearing has been practiced in many different forms by many cultures around the world for centuries. As the art of babywearing grows in popularity in the industrialized world, the countless benefits of these practices are beginning to be recognized through modern research. Wearing your child allows you to keep him or her close, which promotes bonding, simplifies breastfeeding, and frees your hands to do the many things a parent must do throughout the day. Babies who are worn are shown to cry less, and parents who wear their children often feel more confident in their roles as care providers. Babywearing also has a positive impact on a child’s early development – premature babies thrive through touch, and being held close helps regulate their breathing and heartrate. For older babies, being worn by a care provider gives them first-hand exposure to daily activities in the world around them.
All of these benefits were enough to spark my own interest in babywearing when my oldest daughter was born. More than anything, though, I was sold on the fact that wearing my baby granted me the freedom to continue to get outside and have adventures. As an avid backpacker and hiker, time outdoors has long been my main tool for combatting stress and depression. I was very concerned (extremely saddened and anxious, in fact) at the idea of giving up my time in the woods and on the trail once my baby arrived. Besides, outdoor living was a staple of life for my husband and me. Between hiking along the Appalachian Trail and living off-grid in the woods, I had spent 11 consecutive months outdoors before we decided it was time to nestle in and prepare for our daughter’s arrival. I simply could not imagine bringing her into a world void of outdoor experiences.
Getting outdoors has long been recommended as a therapeutic tool for those who suffer from depression and anxiety, and it is no different for pregnant women experiencing perinatal mood symptoms and postpartum depression. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends that women with uncomplicated pregnancies engage in moderate-intensity exercise before, during, and after pregnancy. They state that regular exercise during pregnancy helps not only to maintain physical fitness and manage weight, but also reduces the risk of gestational diabetes in obese women and enhances psychologic well-being.
Hiking with your baby is the perfect way to reap the benefits of such recommended exercise combined with the benefits of time spent outdoors. Babywearing while hiking is an excellent aerobic and strengthening exercise. This type of physical activity is known to boost your mood and naturally regulate hormones as well as positively affect concentration and memory (what parent doesn’t need some help in the concentration and memory department, right?). Moderate exercise has even been shown to help reduce the fatigue experienced by patients struggling with postpartum depression. Other benefits of hiking with your baby include a sense of accomplishment and the calming sensation that comes from being outdoors in nature.
Whether you are interested in taking up hiking as a new activity or are looking to continue your adventures once your baby arrives, there are many resources available to help you do so. If you are new to babywearing, you will want to learn how to safely and comfortably wear your baby. Babywearing International is an organization that provides support and education for safely wearing your baby at any stage. Their website offers information on choosing a carrier as well as finding a local branch with meetings you can attend for hands-on help and try out a variety of carriers. If you are local to Monmouth and Ocean counties in New Jersey, I offer in home demos as part of my doula services, and I would love to help you find the perfect carrier for you and your family.
Likewise, if you are new to hiking, safety and comfort must be taken into great consideration. Look into your local town and county Parks and Recreation departments; oftentimes they will offer guided hikes and tours of your local parks. Check out your local outdoor supply stores such as REI, as many of these retailers offer community events and employ staff knowledgeable about trail activities in your local area. Last year after the birth of my twins I learned about Hike it Baby, a nationwide group dedicated to getting families outdoors by offering local group hikes and activities.
Getting outdoors with your baby offers wonderful benefits for the both of you, and it is sure to help you create wonderful memories with your family. Have you taken your little ones on trail adventures, or do you plan to? Please feel free to share your adventure tales in the comments below! Happy hiking!