Washington - Three weeks after Shanti Hodges's son, Mason, was born, she felt both blissful and anxious, fearful she would develop postpartum depression and fretting over life in general. She had long found solace in the outdoors, so she asked women in her new-mother's group whether they'd like to go on a half-mile trail walk at a park near her home in Portland, Oregon.
Hodges laughs at the memory of all the baby supplies she packed for that stroll back in 2013, where she was accompanied by a handful of other women with their babies. Subsequent walks and longer hikes drew more and more adults with babies and toddlers in tow.
To help encourage more adults to take their little ones outside, Hodges recently wrote Hike it Baby: 100 Awesome Adventures with Babies and Toddlers, which details hikes suitable for the younger set around the country along with tips for taking babies and toddlers into nature. Here are tips from Hodges and other parents and experts.
Zoë Polk took her son, Quincy, to the beach near her San Francisco home when he was 8 days old. "I just wanted him to experience everything: the sounds, smells, the wind on his face," said Polk, national program director of Outdoor Afro, which connects African Americans to the outdoors. "I grew up in Newport News, Virginia, and the ocean was a big part of my life." Since then, Quincy, now 2 1/2, has accompanied her on dozens of hikes.
Minnesota residents and adventure bloggers Maura and Bobby Marko run the Facebook group Backpacking With Babies and Kids, and Maura is an ambassador for Hike it Baby. They took Jack, now 4, on his first hike when he was 2 weeks old, and daughter Rowan, who is almost 2, started even earlier.
As for toddlers, Tovah Klein, director of Barnard College Center for Toddler Development and author of How Toddlers Thrive, advises parents to take children that age outside every day.
Research trails beyond ratings
"Family-friendly" trail ratings aren't always reliable, because they're generally geared toward older children. That's where community crowd-sourcing and guidebooks such as "Hike it Baby" come in handy.
Buy an appropriate carrier
Hodges recommends researching options at the nonprofit Babywearing International, as well as trying on an assortment of carriers and getting advice from fellow hikers. Her book also includes tips for going tandem - carrying two children in carriers.
Be prepared to tend to business trailside
Polk, whose son is now 2 1/2, says many parents ask her about trailside nappy changing. Her tips include having a cloth to place children on, checking for poison plants and rocks and shielding their faces from the sun.
As for nursing and bottle feeding, it's "a really big issue," Hodges said. She perfected the art of breastfeeding while in motion with her son in his carrier and has taught many moms to do the same (it's also detailed in her book).
Don't limit yourself
In addition to hikes, Maura and Bobby Marko take their children on backpacking and canoe camping trips, which they chronicle on their blog, WeFoundAdventure.com. (Canoe camping involves traveling to your camping area via canoe rather than by driving or backpacking.)