If you’re raising an infant in Minnesota right now — through the lush spring and summer months — you’re lucky.
Parks and picnic blankets, zoos and nature trails, fresh air and sunshine await you!
Without scary, subzero temps and cabin fever to cramp your style, you can and should get outdoors with Baby. It’s good for both of you.
Spending time outdoors makes Baby a mover, a thinker and a talker.
Crawling and scooting across vast spaces — yes, she’ll get dirty, and it’s OK — helps develop muscle memory and strength. Opposition from the earth, changes in texture and horizons beyond your four walls will help Baby develop a sense of perspective.
Sights, sounds, smells and curiosities stimulate Baby’s senses and encourage early language development. Not only will baby coo, sigh and giggle at the wind, a flower or a particular play of light and shadow, but she also will listen as you verbally show her the world.
That’s a snail, smooth rock, puddle, leaf, butterfly.
There’s nothing quite like the rough and peculiar shape of a pinecone. There is nothing like the feeling of putting one’s bare toes in damp grass.
Out of all the stages of life, infancy is when humans are closest to nature, relatively fresh from birth and remarkably animal-like. Babies, in a sense, will feel more comfortable in nature than their adult counterparts and, though unable to suggest a trip outdoors, will crave it.
Play with bubbles
But don’t keep Baby in one.
While it’s a good idea to avoid the doctor’s office during a nasty flu season if you can help it, it’s not the best bet to keep your baby away from the world at large. In fact, a certain amount of exposure to dirt, pollen and germs helps develop a strong immune system.
There’s a time and a place for hand sanitizer, antibiotics and staying at home just to be safe. However, over-caution and obsessive sterilization actually causes bacteria and viruses to become stronger, without allowing Baby’s defenses to do the same. And remember, fresh air is cleansing and naturally dissipates germs. Dirt, grass, mud and sand aren’t the same as the petri dish that is an indoor play space in mid-January. (Such places will be — and I really mean it — your salvation during the coming toddler years.)
Do take care
Though you shouldn’t fret over grass stains or worry (too much) about the “nature” your baby explores orally, you should take care to protect her from the elements. Baby’s skin burns easily. Hats, shade tents and a gentle baby-friendly sunscreen are your friends.
Take care also to check for ticks and stay in a screened area on mosquito-heavy nights. There are some safe, natural bug sprays out there, but DEET isn’t recommended for young infants. See tinyurl.com/bug-spray-mn for a variety of ways to avoid bites.
Avoid newly treated lawns or other areas exposed to yard chemicals.
Outdoor adventures aren’t only for crawlers. Baby-wearing and stroller trail-blazing belong on long nature walks. Why not treat even a sleeping Baby to summer breezes, bird calls and fresh air?
Don’t forget to smell the flowers!
Jen Wittes is a marketing director, writer, certified postpartum doula and mom of two living in St. Paul.