A healthy newborn can go outside sooner than you may think. Here’s why it’s important to get them outside, and how to prepare for your first outings.
When our twins were born in early January at 32 weeks, they spent 13 days in the NICU, where they put on weight and learned how to feed properly.
Taking them home was a combination of excitement and nervousness: excited to finally take them home, but nervous about leaving the safe, sterile confines of the place they’d spent the first two weeks of their lives.
Before we left, the nurses reminded us that it was peak flu and RSV season, and that it would be helpful to minimize their exposure to people for a while. We limited visitors for the first few weeks, but when it came time to take them outside, we didn’t know when the time was right.
Fortunately, they were hardier than we expected, and within a week or two we started going on walks outside. We live in the Southwest, where mid-January walks are still comfortable, and we soon found that going outside was one of the most refreshing parts of our new routine.
For us, taking our newborns outside had more to do with personal choice than anything medical related, and it turns out that’s usually the case when it comes to healthy newborns.
“The idea that babies have to stay inside the house for several weeks after they’re born is false,” says Anne Hansen, MD, MPH at Children’s Hospital Boston. “In fact, as long as your baby is healthy, getting some fresh air can be great for mom and baby if you take a few precautions.”
Deciding when to take your baby out in the world isn’t easy for first-time parents, but fresh air in the first few weeks of your baby’s life can benefit everyone.
Why Going Outside Early Can be Helpful
1. Going outside offers a dose of Vitamin D.
“The two main ways to get vitamin D are by exposing your bare skin to sunlight and by taking vitamin D supplements,” says the Vitamin D Council.
Vitamin D helps promote bone growth and calcium absorption, and deficiency in the vitamin has been linked to health problems like cancer, heart disease and diabetes.
Aside from the biological benefits of sunlight, simply going outside with your baby is a great way to get a change of scenery and even improve your creative brain functioning.
Pediatrician Yael Wapinski says that taking baby outside, even after just a few weeks, can have a positive impact both on baby and mom.
“There is nothing more refreshing than going out for air and sun, and taking a walk is great exercise and can help the post-partum body move back into shape,” Wapinski says. “Re-connecting with the outside world helps moms not feel isolated while they’re going through the difficult beginning weeks and months.”
2. Nature provides excellent sensory stimulation.
Taking your newborn outside exposes him or her to many sensory stimuli that won’t happen naturally in the home: cars and trains going by, birds chirping, plants and trees swaying in the wind.
“Children are born with eyes that aren’t yet well organised,” says Angela Hanscom. “Nature offers an array of visual stimuli for babies to observe without overwhelming their visual system.”
Although home is where most of this learning takes place, taking your baby outside will introduce many more sensory opportunities for your baby to experience at a young age.
3. Fresh air can offer relief for colic.
For babies with colic, going outside may help alleviate symptoms, which usually appear when a baby is several weeks old.
“Babies like to be outside, especially in the evening hours,” says Jill Mallory, MD. “There are countries of the world where every evening after suppertime, all mothers are outside walking their babies. It’s almost as if they know culturally that this is what keeps babies happy and prevents colic.”
How to Start Your Outside Routine
1. It’s still important to be cautious.
For all the benefits of taking your newborn outside, you’ll still want to exercise caution when it comes to exposing her to public places and crowds of people. The idea of keeping your baby inside for a certain amount of time has a lot to do with the fact that when newborns do get sick, it can be very serious.
“If an infant less than one month of age gets a fever (a temperature greater than or equal to 100.4), that child needs to be admitted to the hospital, have invasive tests done (including a spinal tap), and receive antibiotics through an IV for at least 48 hours,” says Sara Connolly, MD, FAAP.
One ER pediatrician said that the rule of keeping babies inside for one to two months also depends on the season: if your baby is born in peak flu and RSV season, it’s important to keep them away from others who may be sick.
In our case, we were cautious with visitors because our twins were born in January in a year where flu and RSV was extremely common. We kept visits to a minimum until the girls seemed to have adjusted to their environment, feeding schedule and daily routine.
When you do go outside, stay away from large, crowded areas – malls, hospitals, movie, children’s parties – where your baby could easily come into contact with someone who’s sick.
2. Be prepared for an adjusted schedule.
“The minute you and your newborn step out the door, any semblance of a feeding schedule you may have achieved within the confines of your home has the distinct possibility of flying right out the window,” says Heading Home With Your Newborn.
You may have a nice schedule at home, but going outside means different environments that can lead to different responses from your baby. Don’t be surprised if this changes feeding, pooping or sleeping routines – it’s something new and unexpected, and your baby may keep you on your toes because of it.
If you’re going far, keep a checklist handy to make sure you have all the essentials covered for your outings.
3. Match their layers to yours.
Parents sometimes overdress (or underdress) their newborns when going outside, so it’s important to be aware that overheating your baby is a real possibility.
“Dress your baby in roughly the same number of layers as an adult would wear, though you may want to add a light blanket or jacket for good measure,” says pediatrician Jennifer Shu.
Shu also recommends taking your newborn outside when you can avoid extremes in temperature: between 20 and 90 degrees is usually okay for baby.
4. Get moving!
“We’re not talking about climbing a mountain or walking ten miles to the grocery store,” says blogger Haley Campbell. “Think small, five to ten minute excursions that tick something off your “to-do” list while getting you moving.”
Taking a walk or jog instead of getting in the car is a great way to get moving, and it’s been shown to improve mood levels, help you maintain healthy weight levels and strengthen muscles.
“Walking is the No. 1 exercise I recommend to most of my patients because it is very easy to do, requires nothing but a pair of tennis shoes, and has tremendous mental and physical benefits,” says Melina B. Jampolis, MD, author of The Doctor on Demand Diet.
Whether it’s for you or your baby, getting outside early is key to your family’s wellbeing. The fresh air, movement and scenery can be a great way for you and your little human to spend time together doing something new.