Tips from Adventure Mum, Mrs GPS
Mrs GPS's Tips for Adventuring with a Baby
As I’m sure the staff of TriHards sponsor PANDSI would agree, braving the great outdoors with a baby or toddler is one of the best ways to shake off the baby blues. It’s a chance to get some fresh air and exercise and allow the hollering of your offspring to dissipate into the atmosphere. Somehow, being out of the house can just make things that little bit easier for both parents and babies, especially if you take along some friends to help out. However, to fully enjoy the experience, a little planning makes all the difference.
1. Allow yourself plenty of time and choose an achievable destination
Be it a picnic, a hike or a fundraiser-walk, for those first big adventures out with your baby, keep the day free of other commitments and plan to take it one step at a time. Most newborns will sleep or feed anywhere, so now’s your opportunity to get them familiar with the outdoors (watching nature shows on TV doesn’t count!) Allow time to feed or change nappies as often as you need to. Do your research and make sure you choose an achievable route so you’re not rushing to get home before peak hour or nightfall. Picnics are good adventures if you’re starting out, but if you step it up to a bushwalk or light hike than you have the added advantages of exercise and a real sense of achievement. Fun-runs and fun-walks are a fantastic way to be part of a positive community activity for parents who are feeling a bit isolated, but you need to plan things like parking, meeting points and feeding times if you want to avoid getting stressed.
What is achievable once your baby becomes a toddler will vary on the type of toddler you have, but don’t let an extra-active or demanding toddler keep you at home. Mini-Miss GPS can manage an all day hike as long as she’s either moving or eating for the whole trip. However, other toddlers may prefer a picnic destination with plenty of room to run and play (and hopefully wear themselves out.) Even the most resistant toddler will usually fall asleep if youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re taking a long walk. Try not to worry if there’s a little crying along the way. If they’re safe and in a comfortable position for sleeping, it shouldn’t last long. If you have more than one child or a particularly active toddler, then even the odds by inviting extra adults to help you out. Other kids are also great for entertaining little ones. Stay away from water or other potential dangers if you have a toddler that may run off.
2. Have a feeding strategy
“Feeding strategy” sounds serious, I know, but whether it’s taking an outing, planning a holiday or returning to work, feeding is the one thing that can bring us to tears and it can feel like no-one else fully appreciates the pressure it puts us under. There’s no one best strategy - it will vary for each mother and baby. The good news is that once you’ve settled on a method that suits you, going on adventures becomes a whole lot easier.
If you’re breastfeeding, then you have the advantage of a sufficient supply of milk no matter how long you’re out for and there is little preparation required. That said you do need to make sure you’re going to be comfortable. A muslin bunny rug draped over your shoulder will help if you’re self-conscious and also protect baby from the sun and wind. Small blankets can also be used to sit on or to fold up and use for support while feeding. Don’t forget to take a hat and sunglasses for your own sun protection and make sure you’re not going to get cold while feeding. As with feeding at home, when your baby starts to imply that the world’s going to end if she doesn’t get her milk within the next three seconds, stay calm and get yourself comfortable with everything you need within reach before you start. It’s very important to stay hydrated while breastfeeding, so always have a bottle of water handy. If your baby likes to take their time feeding, then take an mp3 player or book so you can settle in for as long as it takes (if you haven’t learnt to read while breastfeeding yet, grab a pillow for support and start practicing!)
I’ve never needed to transport formula myself, so I’ve drawn my information from more experienced parents. Most recommend not carrying warm milk around as it might cause bacteria to breed. Instead, sterilise as many bottles as you think you’ll need and purchase a measuring container designed specially for transporting formula powder. Pack more formula than you think you’ll need so you don’t have to rush home if you’re enjoying yourself. Fill a thermos or some bottles with hot boiled water and one of the bottles with cooled boiled water. Once baby is ready to feed, mix the powder and hot water (and cooled water if needed). This is a bit of a fine art each parent develops over time and I’ve heard it helps to wear a lab-coat (joking!) If it seems complicated at first, don’t worry - feeding does get easier as bub gets older and becomes less fussy about the temperature of her milk (although at 18 months Mini Miss GPS still insists that only her daddy can make Weetbix cereal at just the right temperature for eating without pulling a face.) If you’re worried, look for botanical gardens and national parks with cafes so you can get help warming up the milk.
3. Pack plenty of healthy food and drink
Don’t make the all-too-common parental mistake of packing all the baby food and then forgetting to bring food for yourself! Being outdoors, especially if you’re breastfeeding, can work up your appetite. And as Mrs Capt’n (wife of Capt’n Courageous and mother of the three mini adventurers) always says, “A happy mother means a happy baby!” Pack plenty of healthy food so hungry toddlers and adults can eat as much as they like without worrying. Finger food is particularly good for older babies as it leaves your hands free and provides a great distraction for baby. If you’re breastfeeding, then pack finger food for yourself so you don’t have to wait to eat. For healthy snacks, Mini Miss GPS recommends cheese and crackers, yoghurt, vegemite sandwiches, any kind of fruit (especially berries or grapes) and her all-time favourite, sultanas.
Always pack more food than you think you’ll need as you’ll be surprised at how hungry you get when out in the fresh air. There’s nothing worse than turning up to a picnic with your cheese sandwiches only to find that Mrs Capt’n has somehow managed to provide team Courageous with home-made bread and dips, hot curry meatballs with rice, garden salad, potato salad and a fruit platter. The situation only gets worse when your infant daughter promptly abandons you to plonk herself in the middle of her newly adopted Courageous family and proceeds to help herself directly from Mrs Capt’n’s very own plate. Being less skilled in the culinary arts than Mrs Capt’n, we have learnt to always drop by our favourite bakery beforehand to pick up a freshly baked quiche or some yummy gourmet rolls. A bit of treat, but what parent hasn’t earned it?
If it’s cold or you’re heading up a mountain, consider taking on the extra weight of a thermos. A cup of tea has never tasted so good as when you’ve finally lugged baby and gear to your chosen destination and you can sit down and enjoy the view.
Finally, take plenty of water for yourself and older babies and toddlers. If it’s hot or if you’re out longer than you planned, then it’s essential that you have enough water. Milk is fine for younger babies, but they might need more than usual if it’s hot. Wet face-washers in a zip-lock bag are also good for babies to suck on or to wipe down hot or sticky faces.
4. Pack lightly
Ok, I know I’ve already mentioned a lengthy list of things to take along, but the important thing is to only take what you need and put plenty of thought into packing. Remember, you’re on an adventure, so it’s ok to make-do without some of the comforts you and your baby are use to at home, such as toys. Take your mobile phone, wallet, keys, a small camera (unless you have a phone-camera), nappies, a handful of nappy-sacks, a packet (not box) of wipes, spare set of light baby clothes if you think you’ll need them, beanies and jackets only if cold, sun-hats and sunscreen if it’s sunny, tissues, light bunny rugs, food, water, milk or formula, bottles and basic picnic gear if required. I also take a fold-up change-mat, which is not essential if you have bunny rugs, but I’ve found it useful for changing nappies on rocky terrain and also for when Mini Miss GPS went through her phase of not wanting to come in contact with grass.
Pack as much as you can the day before and try to organise your baby bag and pram (or other carrier) compartments so that you can find everything quickly and with one hand. If you’re pram has compartments, then use these as much as possible to avoid having everything stuffed into one large, heavy bag. If your bag cannot be transported in the pram, then use a backpack. If on a fun-run or fun-walk, keep drinks and snacks where you can reach them without stopping. When it comes to baby gear, Mr GPS and I always take size and travel convenience into account before buying. Even if you never take it on outings, at least it takes up less storage space at home.
5. Choose the most appropriate baby carrier
When it comes to baby-carriers, we’re spoilt for choice. Back-packs, front-packs, slings, wraps, prams, strollers, jogging-strollers and bike-trailers - who can decide?! If possible, have a couple of options available for different occasions. If you ask around you should be able to pick up good quality products secondhand. I ended up having no less then three secondhand front packs given to me. Whether you’re carrying or pushing, the main thing is to use a carrier suitable for the terrain and difficulty level of the adventure. You also need to take into account protection from the elements and visibility for older babies who like to have a view. For hiking, we always take the Macpac, which Mr GPS and Mini Miss GPS both love. However, being not much larger than the Macpac myself, I always stick to stroller-friendly tracks when I’m not with Mr GPS. For the City to Surf fun-walk Mrs Capt’n passed on to us her trusty jogging stroller, which has the benefits of being extremely light and sturdy. If you’re a keen bike-rider, a little bit of research will usually find you a secondhand bike-seat or bike-trailer that’s barely been used. Your baby will need to wear a helmet, which can get pricey as their heads just don’t stop growing, so factor that into your budget.
6. Be safe
Safety - you know it’s important! Here are the basics. Always take water, baby’s milk, sun-hats and sunscreen. Baby sunscreen for extra sensitive skin is available for babies aged six months plus, but normal sunscreen is fine for many babies over six months. Keep a bottle in the car and another in the baby-bag. Roll-on sunscreen is the easiest to apply to wriggly babies. Make sure babies have some kind of cover from the sun, such as a pram sun-cover, especially if they’re too young for sunscreen or hats. Don’t go out in extreme temperatures and if it’s hot, check on babies and toddlers regularly to ensure they’re not overheating, especially if they’re sleeping. Try to park your car in the shade and make sure it’s not too hot inside before you put the baby in to go home.
Charge your mobile phone the day before and, if you or your baby are unwell in any way, keep the activities light, stay close to civilisation and avoid adventuring alone. If near water, such as lakes or rivers, then keep babies and children close by and in sight at all times. Consider purchasing a safety strap for your pram or stroller. It’s a basic strap that loops around your pram handle and your wrist to prevent the pram rolling away if you lose your grip. If youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re worried, then avoid areas with water, steep drops or other potential dangers.
If you’re travelling further afield, make sure you tell somebody else, such as grandparents, your plans including where you’re going, what time you’ll be home, and who should be the first people to call if they haven’t heard from you by a set time (for example, if walking in a national park, it may be better to call a Ranger before the police.)
7. Enjoy yourself - you’ve earned it!
Adventuring with babies is not about proving you’re a super-parent or achieving a supermodel’s figure. It’s time-out to spend with your baby, family and friends and to take a hard earned break from the daily routine. So choose an adventure that you’ll enjoy. A long hike can really clear your head and give you perspective. Reading your favourite magazine with a cup of tea under a tree while bub is absorbed in feeding her biscuit to the ants can go a long way in making up for sleepless nights. Chatting to other parents while their children play with your baby or toddler can be refreshing and remind you of the rewards of being a parent (and we all need a little reminding sometimes!)
Try not to set specific expectations, but instead enjoy each moment for what it is. The needs of your baby, toddler or child will always determine the type of adventures you have, but don’t let them be the only focus. Make sure the whole family, especially you, gets a chance to relax. Try not to worry if wet nappies are not changed as frequently as they would be at home or nap routines are interrupted - it’s an adventure! I hope the benefits for you and your baby will be worth the effort and set you on the path for bigger and better adventures in the future.
Mrs GPS is the dedicated wife of Mr GPS, and mother of Mini-Miss GPS. She has gone on several adventures with the family, including climbing Pigeon House Mountain, the Mother’s Day Classic, The Canberra Times Fun Walk, the City2Surf, trekking around Hawaii and much more. Stay tuned for her reviews of baby adventuring gear!