Having a new baby can really disrupt the natural routine of a family and that includes outdoor play. I know that when we were young parents, we tended to stay inside most of the time because everything felt safer and more secure. With our third child, however, we have really been pushing to take him outside as early as possible. With the proper safety precautions, the whole family has enjoyed the benefits of letting babies play outside when they can!
But, when can babies play outside for the first time? While it can be scary to take a newborn outside for the first time, there is no medical reason not to take a healthy baby outside. In fact, you can head outside the day after delivery if you are both feeling up to it! Of course, you will need to use common sense by avoiding crowds of people, extreme heat or cold, and other dangerous situations. Prepare your newborn by dressing her correctly and educating yourself on potential hazards before you head out the door.
Instead of shying away from the outdoors, let’s dive into how to let your newborn explore the world safely!
Babies can play outside whenever you want if you bring a little common sense
When I was a younger parent, I had always heard that you shouldn’t take your baby outside for at least a couple of months because it was just too dangerous.
Under normal circumstances, however, there aren’t many reasons to avoid taking your newborn baby outside as early as you want. They will benefit from the fresh air and sunlight just like adults do, but don’t forget that their tiny bodies are still getting used to life outside of the womb and you’ll need to take a few special precautions to avoid putting them in a dangerous situation.
Of course, use common sense on your first few outings. As a rule of thumb, if it’s uncomfortable for healthy adults, then it is definitely going to be painful for a newborn baby! Stick with short trips at first when you choose when to play outside with babies and don’t be afraid to pack it up early if things seem to be going south with the little one. There is always another day!
Let’s go through the most common hazards to avoid!
Avoid crowds of people to minimize germ exposure
According to the Cleveland Clinic, your baby’s immune system is going to be pretty weak until they are around 2 or 3 months old because it hasn’t yet fully developed. That means she won’t be able to fight off viruses or bacteria nearly as well as an adult or even a toddler would be. She will still have some immune-boosting antibodies from mommy for the first few weeks and if you are breastfeeding it will make it stronger and last longer as well.
While it’s impossible to completely avoid all dangerous viruses and bacteria, going outside doesn’t necessarily expose your baby to anything new. The exception to that, however, is bringing him around big crowds of people. Big groups mean there is a much higher risk that your baby will be exposed to someone that is sick and random people LOVE to try to touch and hold babies, even if they are strangers!
Trust me, it’s a confirmed natural phenomenon. Baby cheeks are pinchable.
So let’s avoid crowded parks, malls, and schools and instead head towards a quiet walk around the neighborhood or some lounge time in the backyard when the baby can play outside. You’ll probably want to stick pretty close to the house just in case something happens and you need to get some help.
Once your baby gets a little older, and she’s up-to-date on all her vaccines, you can start to loosen up a bit on avoiding huge crowds. That doesn’t mean you should take unnecessary risks like letting everyone you meet hold your baby, however! If you want to find out a little more about this topic, check out my post on babies and germs.
Extreme weather is dangerous for newborns
Just like adults, little babies are probably not going to be comfortable in extreme heat or cold when spending time outdoors. Unlike adults, however, babies can’t regulate their own body temperatures nearly as well as we can.
According to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, newborns are very susceptible to high or lower temperatures and highlight a few key facts:
- Their body’s surface area is around three times that of adults when compared to their body weight.
- Babies can lose heat or overheat up to four times as fast as adults.
- Babies use up more energy and oxygen when they are cold-stressed because they can’t shiver yet to keep warm. A drop of just one degree from 97.7 degrees Fahrenheit can spike oxygen use by 10 percent!
- Although babies are born with sweat glands, they usually can’t start sweating to cool themselves down (except for on their heads) until they are several weeks old. If you see your baby sweating a lot from her head – they are probably overheating!
This means that you need to keep your baby dry and dressed for the elements at all times.
How hot is ‘too hot’ for babies?
There is no official answer to this question, unfortunately, so we’ll have to use a good dose of common sense. Most people agree that this means anything above about 80 degrees is too hot for a little baby to be outside in. Remember that if you are uncomfortable as an adult, your baby is certainly not happy about it either. With this in mind, stick to milder days in general and try to head out early in the morning or in the late afternoon when it gets cooler outside during the hot part of the year.
Dress your baby similarly to how you are dressed – a T-shirt and jeans for you means a short sleeve onesie for them. Of course, on hot days, you can let your baby rock on in just a diaper to stay as cool as possible, assuming that the sun and bugs aren’t going to be an issue. Don’t be afraid to bring a small fan outside if you are near the house to keep an area cooler.
Here are two of the biggest watch outs on hot days:
- Dehydration and heat exhaustion– Since babies can’t regulate their own temperature well, they will develop symptoms of dehydration much more quickly than adults. They also can’t drink water until around the age of 6 months, so minimizing fluid loss is critical. If your baby seems irritable or extra tired, has a dry mouth, eyes that look sunken, or other strange behavior, head in immediately! Keep an eye out for regular wet diapers and don’t be afraid to up the amount of breastmilk or formula offered to your baby at mealtime to replace what was lost outside.
- Parked cars – You should always be extremely careful when you have a child in the car because they can quickly become very dangerous places if a baby is left unattended. Even if the engine is running on the air is on, don’t leave your baby alone. If the car is turned off, even with the window down, the temperature inside can reach 110 degrees within 20 minutes even if it is only 80 degrees outside.
How cold is ‘too cold’ for babies?
Again, there is no official answer to this question. In the most extreme case, you should never bring your baby outside when the temperatures are at -15 or lower because the risk of frostbite is just too great. Even adult skin will start to freeze in a matter of minutes when it is exposed to those temperatures.
Of course, sometimes you simply have to transport your baby from one place to another and sometimes those extreme temperatures just can’t be avoided. What we are talking about here is a safe temperature to go for a walk or play outside for a short period of time.
In this case, most people will probably avoid temperatures below freezing at all or even when it’s just plain chilly. The younger your baby, the more caution you should use. In general, you’ll want to add an extra layer to whatever you would comfortably wear outside so if you need a big jacket to stay warm it’s probably going to be too difficult to dress your baby for the cold. If you can get by with a sweatshirt or light jacket, you are getting into safer territory.
Here are two of the biggest watch outs on cold days:
- Hypothermia – If your baby’s body temperature falls below 96.08 it is technically considered to be hypothermic. The problem with this condition is that it is incredibly difficult to notice symptoms in babies because they include shivering (babies can’t shiver well), fatigue (babies are often sleepy anyway), hunger (babies are always hungry), nausea (babies are constantly spitting up, etc.), and difficulty with speech/confusion (babies can’t talk and always have strange looks on their face anyway).
- Frostbite – Although core body temperature is an important indicator for hypothermia, frostbite affects areas of the body that are further from the core such as fingers, toes, and noses. If they get too cold, the skin will get red and swollen first as the body tries to warm them up and then start to turn a greyish color. Eventually, it will lose feeling and turn white.
When babies play outside, they are more susceptible to the sun than adults
Regardless of the temperature, the sun is continuously blasting down rays of sunshine that make us feel warm and good but can be dangerous for our skin. Little babies, meanwhile, haven’t developed all of the melanin in their skin they need to help naturally protect them from the sun and they are more vulnerable to the UV rays in sunshine.
Here are a couple of alarming facts:
- Many parents wrongly think that exposing their baby to sunshine in increasing amounts over time will help ‘build up’ their resistance to the sun’s rays. In a survey, 12 percent said their baby had tanned before the age of 6 months while 3 percent said they had actually gotten a sunburn!
- Sun tanning and sunburns during childhood have shown a strong connection with developing skin cancer later on in life.
Before the age of 6 months, it’s probably best to avoid sunscreen when babies play outside and instead cover them up with long-sleeved shirts, pants, and hats. If they are old enough to wear them consider sunglasses as well to protect their little eyes! If you have your baby in a stroller, be sure to open up the canopy to give them good sun protection and consider installing an umbrella or other covering in outdoor play areas!
Watch out for stinging insects and allergic reactions
No matter where you live, you are likely to run into some insects on your trip outside, especially during the warmer months. For the purposes of baby protection, especially down South where I live, these pretty much fall into three categories: bees and ants, mosquitos, and ticks.
- Bees and ants – Wasps, yellow jackets, bees, hornets, and ants are the biggest offenders here. If your baby is stung you are probably going to hear about it before you see anything because she will be crying loudly. There will likely be swelling, redness, itching, pain, and even some bleeding depending on the culprit. These insects could also cause an allergic reaction which could be even more dangerous than the sting itself. Keep an eye out for breathing problems, coughing, vomiting, dizziness, sweating, and itchiness or rash on areas of the body that weren’t stung.
- Mosquitos – The bite of a mosquito is usually pretty harmless and only includes some itchiness. The big problem with mosquito bites, however, is that they can spread diseases like Zika, West Nile, and Chikungunya, among others. For this reason, prevention is the best medicine.
- Ticks – Ticks are gross and can spread dangerous diseases like Rocky Mountain spotted fever and the dreaded Lyme disease.
Preventing bee and ant bites pretty much comes down to avoiding them when you see them. Since babies aren’t aware of the danger, it’s up to parents to keep an eye out for these stinging insects and intervening when necessary. Keeping a fan blowing on your baby in the warmer months can help keep her cool and discourage flying insects at the same time!
As far as mosquitos and ticks, there are a couple of proven deterrents and other things that have been shown to help anecdotally.
- Repellents containing DEET or Picaridin – First off, the AAP recommends that you do NOT use these products on babies younger than two months. After that point, they recommend using products that contain between 10 and 30 percent DEET and follow the directions on the product for re-application. The higher the percentage, the longer the product will last between applications. DEET works as a true repellent and prevents the vast majority of mosquitos and ticks from even coming into contact with the skin once applied. Although this is not a natural solution, tests have shown that the chemical seems to be very safe when used correctly.
- Essential oils that have been shown to work – Oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE) is NOT the same as lemon eucalyptus oil. What we are looking for comes from the gum eucalyptus tree and a 30 percent concentration has been shown to repel insects for at least 7 hours. Although deemed safe so far, it can hurt your eyes if you handle it incorrectly!
- Essential oils and other natural methods that don’t seem to work – Citronella, lemon grass, geraniol, peppermint, soybean, and rosemary are good examples of natural methods that just flat out haven’t been proven to work. Plus, they aren’t registered with the EPA which means on one hand they aren’t considered dangerous enough to worry about, but on the other hand it means that the ingredient concentrations in these products isn’t regulated.
- General avoidance – Using common sense can also go a long way towards helping avoid stings and bites when babies play outside. Avoid using strongly scented soaps on your baby or sitting or playing near stagnant pools of water like bird baths or ponds. Take care to knock down nests around the outside of the house before they become a problem.
Can I take my newborn to an all-day outdoor activity? You should avoid taking your newborn or young baby anywhere where you will have to stay outside for most of the day. You need to have access to a climate-controlled area in case your baby shows signs of overheating or is getting too cold.
The best time of year for when babies can play outside? Taking your baby outside during the spring or fall will help avoid the most extreme temperatures during the year, but always use your best judgment based on the day’s weather!