Baby Steps: Mother and Infant Share the Benefits of Snowbound Escarpment Trails

It’s cold day in January and I’m pulling up to park adjacent to a snow-filled roadside ditch. Vehicles are already parked, their occupants crouching inside slightly open doors, quickly putting on all the necessary gear for a winter hike. The trails along the Escarpment will be stunning today as a snow squall just came through the area, covering the forest in a shimmering white blanket. Crampons or snowshoes are a must as the trail is hard-packed with icy patches beneath well hidden by the new snow. Next on the to-do list: get our hiking partners ready to hit the trail. A quick diaper change and breastfeed, snowsuit and toque, and a fleece blanket for extra protection from the cold and wind. We then make our way into the calmness of an eerily beautiful snow-covered forest.

 

Illustration: Dave Barnes

words :: Laura Raimondi

I once thought my outdoor adventures were the ultimate physical and mental challenge. Then came motherhood. Becoming a new mother is full of joy and bliss. It is also a humbling, overwhelming and exhausting experience at times. I spent the summer after my second daughter was born in a sleep-deprived fog adjusting to my new community in the town of Collingwood. I quickly realized that I was in desperate need of some time outside and social connection. I learned of a baby hiking group and was acquainted with a few of the women. We made plans to meet up.

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There is something unique about meeting other new moms at scheduled mom-and-baby groups versus a hiking group. Being outside in the open air lets the conversation flow and releases inhibitions. Our babies’ sleep schedules and nursing habits are certainly a hot topic of discussion but so is our own physical and mental well-being. Hiking in the open air with nature as a backdrop, snow beneath our feet, helps us to let go of fears and judgement.

Health and self-care can be forgotten words when you have a new baby. Baby wearing and hiking are ideal ways to remember them. Infants and babies love closeness, movement and being outside. When content and calm, the youngster’s energy is directed towards growth and development rather than fussing or crying. Being out in nature, listening to the stream of conversations between hikers, provides mental stimulation which is beneficial to baby’s development. And after all that stimulation there is a good chance that baby will have a long and restful sleep in the carrier—a sliver of peace in what can be long and challenging days.

Being out in nature, listening to the stream of conversations between hikers, provides mental stimulation which is beneficial to baby’s development. And after all that stimulation there is a good chance that baby will have a long and restful sleep in the carrier—a sliver of peace in what can be long and challenging days

Hiking with baby provided me with much needed exercise, time outside and a social connection. There’s nothing better than a hike up the Escarpment carrying the equivalent of a sack of potatoes around to get the lungs burning, blood moving and the energy flowing. Some of us were merely weeks or months post-partum and our bodies were telling us to take it easy. The crunch as crampon hit snow and ice was a rhythmic drum beat to keep us moving.

Baby wearing is very much a bonding experience. Keeping baby close allowed me to learn to read facial expressions and gestures to quickly decide if baby was tired, hungry, bored or in need of a diaper change. Anticipating and attending to these needs keeps a baby calm. And a calm baby means a calm mother.

There were days that we probably should have just stayed home, grabbed our second or third cup of coffee and curled up by the fire. But the lure of a hike, a moving meditation, and a chance to off-load the baby dramas of the week was far too much to resist. Being outdoors, in the company of other women, all of whom were facing the same challenges as new mothers, was therapeutic. And for many of us the draw to nature—to feel a connection to something greater than ourselves—was too much to ignore.

 

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