When Maya entered our world, it was the beginning of winter.
The first snow arrived only a couple of days after her birth and a sunny and extremely warm autumn came to an end. According to our midwife, most babies get born after weather changes, not at full moon. So did ours. I was lucky enough to borrow most baby things from a good friend, and among these, a baby sling that Seon used from the first day to carry her around at home. On her third day we went outside for the first walk. With a wide jacket to close up around her, she was cozy warm and well protected during our first winter walk.
Many other walks followed, and within a month, we would do half day mountain hikes.
I soon switched to using the Ergobaby carrier with a newborn insert, since this felt more comfortably and by placing a winter cover on the outside, it provided warmth for Maya’s back without having to close a jacket around her, which was getting to warm for me when exercising.
Once more snow arrived, I tried out cross country skiing.
With the slope running through our garden, it turned out to be the perfect winter sport. Maya loved it, and in the first couple of months, she would fall asleep before I had even finished fastening the straps of the carrier. We also did easy skitours where I could ski slowly down on a forestry road.
I know there are parents who prefer to use sports as their time off from the baby.
Having tried both, I much prefer taking her with me, just for my peace of mind (I don’t have to worry if she’s alright at home) and for flexibility (if it’s nice and I am keen on a longer loop, no problem!). And if she had trouble to fall asleep, taking her for a spin always fixed the problem.
In spring, we started mountain biking, switching to carrying her on my back.
And early summer we started with the first multi day hikes. After the road trip to Morocco where we lived 2 months in our van, she was quite used to sleeping in sleeping bags, so when camping, we just tied our sleeping mats together and zipped our sleeping bags together, which created a surprisingly big space. I would say that any baby used to sleeping in the family bed, should be fine camping too.
Of course we hear a lot of comments from people seeing us doing sports with a baby, both good and bad.
There is a lot of controversy with baby carriers, if it’s bad for their back, their posture, their possibility to move, their development etc. I started reading different opinions but feel comfortable to use the carrier every day. Not all day, but I have no worries about a few hours every day, or half a day as the baby grows older and stronger.
After all, we used to carry babies on our backs for thousands of years, baby strollers only came up this past century and with a baby being such a vulnerable being, it doesn’t make sense to me personally to have it lying around there on it’s own. Although there are a lot of professional opinions supporting the benefits of a stroller. But for me, it just didn’t feel right. And in our surroundings, the carrier was the much more convenient choice as well. Strollers are useless in deep snow or on mountain paths. I also find them more complicated to take with you, or in confined spaces. But this is personal choice and what works well for us.
A few other choices we made are:
- Cloth nappies. Since disposable nappies never were an option for us, we bought second hand cloth nappies from a friend of a friend and were delighted how well they worked. Well I can’t really compare, but all I can say is that we were positively surprised since we expected it to be way more work and hassle. I did a washing every 3 days or so in the beginning and after half a year often only once a week. Maya never has had a sore bum so far. We even used them on the road trip, living in the van for 2 months. Or when we go camping. The only thing I would change for the next one, is to give nappy free (Elimination Communication) a go. Have tried it with Maya when she was already 3 months old and I think she didn’t sign very clear any more. Had a wrong concept of nappy free in my mind before researching it and when I found out how it works (babies send cues when they need to eliminate) and that you still can use a nappy, it was already a bit late to start it with Maya. You can start late as well, but it didn’t work for me at the time, or we didn’t try hard enough.
- No vitamins (K or D), no eyedrops, no formula milk. So far we have managed to not give Maya anything artificial or chemical. Just homemade food and breastmilk. While all these things have their good use in specific circumstances (premature babies etc and formula milk is a great thing if you really can’t breastfeed), for our super healthy baby we didn’t think this was necessary and so far her development confirms this.
- Co sleeping. Maya has been sleeping with us in the family bed from the day she was born. Again I think that a little baby wants to be close to her primary caregivers, so it was only natural for me that she would sleep with us in our bed. Besides it works great for breastfeeding during the night, I barely have to wake up. I never thought I could possibly squash her, especially in the beginning, we woke up with any little cough of her.
- Lots of fresh air and a reasonable dose of sunshine on the naked skin (obviously sun cream free). Both are just healthy for old and young. Sunshine creates vitamin D and when I just googled if you could say “a dose of sunshine”, I even found articles relating sunshine to increased fertility! Baseline – it’s so much better for you than its reputation!
- No letting cry. Even if we had wanted to, we wouldn’t have been able to let her cry for more than a few minutes without trying to comfort her. It’s the babies only way of communication and in early age, they don’t use it to manipulate or annoy you, but to simple say “I’m hungry, or tired, or want to be with you”. With Maya, most of the times it was one of the three. She also had a month where she cried for a couple of hours every night before falling asleep, where we could’t calm her down and just tried to comfort her as good as we could. But at all other times, food, sleep or hugs would calm her down immediately. We often found that she just wanted to be with us, so having the baby carrier was and still is an absolute life saver. She is with us and happy while I can still get things done or be outdoors.
- Baby carrier vs. stroller: there is heaps of information on the pros and cons of either. Some people use both, while others only use one, either by choice, or because one just works much better for their specific circumstances. In our case, the carrier was the weapon of choice for our active life and for where we lived. The stroller is quite impossible in snow and on narrow, steep mountain paths full of roots and rocks. Plus Maya showed a great need for body contact from very early on, so we carried her in a sling or carrier also at home. At some point I worried about the often mentioned disadvantage about the carrier having her in too much of an upright position, with too little head support. But if you consider that strollers are a relatively new invention (only a couple 100 years), while babies have been carried on the backs of their mothers for thousands of years and still turned out well, I decided not to worry too much about it. We think that it actually strengthened her quite a lot, she started with all her motor skills way earlier than average (turning around, crawling, etc). You do want to be careful though and consider a few safety instructions: TICKS (Tight, In view at all times, Close enough to kiss, Keep chin off the chest, Supported back). While we are using the baby carrier for many outdoor sports, I only do so in situations where I am as confident as I can be that I’m not gonna fall (e.g. on very easy mountain bike paths, going slow). Of course shit happens, but it can also happen when crossing the street with a baby stroller.
- Natural rhythm. Older generations often talk about feeding every 4h, a certain time to wake up, nap and go to bed. We found that it worked better for us to feed upon request and to put her to sleep as soon as she shows first signs of being tired and at a similar time at night (+/- 1h) once she was about 3 months old. This meant, she didn’t have a fixed routine, but also since we were out and about, we were more flexible too and didn’t have to watch the clock and worry about sticking to her routine.
- Breastfeeding on demand and as long as it works for baby and mum. See breastfeeding blog.
- Baby led weaning. Maya showed interest in our food since she was 4 months old and we let her try pretty much everything (except foods with sugar or lots of salt). Over time she started eating more and more of our food, while still breastfeeding. We never went through the recommended routine of first a puree of one vegetable, then adding/trying a different vegetable, then grain-fruit mash etc. With 10 months old, she would eat soft but grippy things on her own and loving it (whole banana, pasta, potato pieces, broccoli etc.
- No formula milk after weaning. The combination of breastfeeding and solids works great for us and we might get away without using any bottles at all. But when I started researching and talking to people about baby food after weaning and most people would go to formula milk, this just didn’t sound good to us as long as there is no good reason to stop breastfeeding. And even if I stopped, I probably would try to use diluted goat milk rather than formula milk. I know it is supposed to be the closed liquid to mother milk and has been developed for just that reason. But it’s artificial. It’s not natural. And as a strong sceptic of vitamin supplements, I wouldn’t want to give it to my baby as long as there are other choices available. Again, it’s a fantastic thing for very small babies who can’t have breast milk available. But at a more advanced age, I think there are natural alternatives that work just as fine. You just have to look around you, probably most people 30 years old or more have grown up without formula bottles after weaning and are doing great 🙂 I think formula milk is big business and a lot of money is spent on marketing for baby nutrition, trying to make us feel bad or think our baby might have deficiencies if we don’t use it.
- Normal water glasses instead of fancy baby drinking “devices”. There is so much stuff around, but we just found that using a small, thick glass that doesn’t break easy and that she could hold well is doing the job perfectly. She sees us drinking out of a glass and again, from very small (about 4 months) she wanted to drink from glasses and our usual stainless steel drinking bottles as well. We offered her a sip whenever she wanted (water only), holding the bottle or glass for her, showing her how to place her hands and with 8 months she could hold the glass well enough to drink on her own.
- Minimal screen time. We even tried to have wifi and phones turned off in her first month as much as possible. There is so much conflicting information on how wifi and phone signals affect the brain of a newborn (and adults as well btw) that I just preferred to be on the safe side. During the first weeks it was great just to disconnect from the outer world and focus on the baby and yourself. There is also evidence that television has a very negative impact on baby’s brain, the images move just much too fast for the baby; so while this was easy to avoid since we prefer to have no TV at home anyways, we did keep laptop screens, etc out of her field of view. And we are making an effort to limit the time we spend on laptop or phone in front of her.
- No shoes unless absolutely necessary. Usually she would just wear socks. Seon is a strong believer in barefoot walking and for me it made total sense that starting to crawl and walk would be so much easier without shoes. Just watching Maya, how far she could spread her toes apart, made clear to us, that shoes restrict this natural movement quite a lot, plus shoes with thick soles would make her loose input from the surface she is crawling or walking on. We found some thin leather moccasins (literally just a piece of thin leather in shoe shape) that we used whenever it was bit too cold or wet for socks only. Of course in winter, she needs something warmer for outside. But in summer or inside, we never made her wear shoes.