A person spending time outside with their baby.

Outside with the baby

The great outdoors, for all its beauty, is unpredictable. This is why some parents are initially hesitant to take their babies outside.

How much time should your baby spend outside?

Medical researchers have found that as long as parents take the time to prepare their babies for the elements, regular outdoor exposure is fantastic for the average baby’s mental and physical health. Here are a few things to consider before bringing Baby out into the wilderness.

The heat:

Whenever the outdoor temperature is expected to get higher than Sweaty Shirt Level, or the sun is really beating down, dressing Baby in light-colored clothing will keep her cool and comfy, as will keeping Baby in the shade wherever possible. But your biggest concern here will be hydration since Baby’s sweat glands are still developing, so it’s important to recognize the signs of infant dehydration. These include warm skin, a flushed face, and irritability. This doesn’t mean it’s time to bust out the water-bottle, though – babies under 6 months old still generally aren’t ready to drink water, and babies over 6 months but under a year old should still be getting the vast majority of their hydration from breast milk or formula, sipping water sparingly. One way to cut the odds of fluid-free frenzy is to feed Baby before stepping out into the heat. It can also help to have Baby wear a sunhat and sunglasses on those extra-bright days. This comes with the added cuteness of a baby in sunglasses. Even if you take all of these precautions, though, it’s important to keep Baby out of extreme heat whenever possible, and in a well-ventilated area.

The sun:

Baby‘s skin is especially sensitive to sun at this point, and she shouldn&;t be exposed to direct sunlight until she is at least 6 months old, since the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends against using sunscreen before 6 months old. The best way to avoid a sunburn is to keep her out of the sun, but if that’s not possible, it’s important to cover exposed skin with lightweight, breathable clothing, hats, sunglasses, and light blankets. It’s also a good idea to try to schedule outings for times other than peak sun hours, at any age, but especially before 6 months.

The buzz:

Sure, insects are pests of the micro-sized variety. But if a couple of mosquitos can drive a grown adult nuts, imagine how they could irritate someone smaller. The best prevention for bug bites is to limit exposure using mosquito nets, and by keeping Baby inside during the buggiest hours. In addition, to combat the bugs, many parents will apply small amounts of insect repellent to their babies before stepping outdoors into buggy areas. But before you grab the nearest bottle, take a look at the ingredient list. Most bug sprays contain either DEET, picaridin, or IR3535. These chemicals may ward off many bugs, but according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), they should only be applied to babies aged 2 months or older. If Baby meets the age minimum, think “minimalist” when applying any spray. Only treat areas of exposed skin, and never apply repellent on Baby’s face or hands. And though she might not listen, it’s a good idea to try to discourage her from licking the repellent. Insect repellant can be helpful for some bugs, but it doesn’t keep away stinging species like yellow jackets, wasps, bees, hornets, fire ants, harvester ants, or spiders.

The freeze:

If snow and subzero air temperatures are a part of your native ecosystem, one of the first things you can do for Baby is quite simple: buy her a decent hat! Be sure to look for a model that covers Baby’s ears and can be secured in place with a chin strap. Next, when the time comes time for a windswept excursion, try dressing her in a warm baby-sized jacket and then wrap a fleece blanket snugly around her legs (snowsuits are best saved for the walking years). Baby is as susceptible to cold as you are, so make sure she is as bundled as you are, and in her first few months of life, adding another layer on top of that might be a good idea. Most importantly, pay attention to Baby – she is the only one who can really tell if she is warm enough. Last but not least, leave the stroller at home for winter walks and use a body sling to carry Baby around. Both of you will be warmer this way – just make sure Baby doesn’t get too bundled up, and start to overheat.

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