I always tell parents how much easier they could raise healthy, “happy” children if they would make outdoor living a regular habit for your babies.
Why? Because babies thrive out of doors. They sleep better, eat better, look better, play better, and learn better. Fresh air (though I realize “fresh air” is becoming staler each day) both soothes and stimulates. So, an ideal situation would be to live in a fairly smog-free area with direct access to a fenced-in yard with grass and trees. Make the best investment and buy (easily available secondhand) a duplicate crib and a playpen.
[Cara Wilson interviews Magda Gerber – Q. = question, A. = Answer]
Cara: Why couldn’t parents just take their baby out in their arms or carry a portable crib outside each time?
Magda: In my experience, when you have to carry out a crib or playpen every day, several times a day, it just gets to be too much. Like most activities in daily life with baby, whatever gets done regularly and routinely gives predictability and security to both baby and mother.
Cara: At what age should we start this “habit”?
Magda: A healthy full-term newborn can be taken out at about four weeks of age—at first, only when the temperature outside is similar to the one in the child’s room. Keep the child dressed or covered the same way he is indoors. Keep the crib in the shade and take the child out preferably after feeding and diapering. Most probably the child will fall asleep. After about 15 minutes the first time, you can increase the timing so rapidly that in a few days the child can spend longer hours, eventually the whole day, outdoors. At first, the very young babies will sleep much of the time, but as they grow older, they learn to enjoy doing outdoors the same things they would do indoors (sleep, eat, play).
Cara: All this confined in a crib?
Magda: Certainly not. When a baby becomes three months or older, most of the waking hours are spent in a playpen. Ideally, the child should have a very large playpen (small room size) in which to roll, crawl, and eventually creep. After 12–18 months, a small part (large room size) of the yard should be fenced around and eventually a safe, fenced-in yard will become the child’s territory. All playpens should have a bottom part made of wood, a firm pad covered with plastic, and a cotton cover on top, tied to the bars of the playpen. It is not pleasant to have a naked body in direct contact with plastic.
Cara: Should babies stay outdoors in both summer and winter?
Magda: It doesn’t matter what season of the year it is (especially in California). But of course, too much sun, too strong and rapid changes of temperature, extreme cold, extreme heat, dense fog, heavy smog, strong winds, etc., should all be avoided. You must use your judgment, and of course, dress the baby appropriately. In many other countries children do get accustomed and enjoy very cold weather. They sleep on terraces under protected roofs while it rains, even snows, outside.
Cara: I love to see naked babies in the sun. Is there a danger of too much sun?
Magda: To expose very young children to direct sun can be dangerous and has to be done with great caution. A baby sleeping outdoorsshould stay in the shade. An umbrella, a towel, can be used to provide shade and adjusted to change as the sunrays move. It is best to expose the legs first and slowly move upward, starting with just one minute. By the time the baby plays in a playpen, which has shade and sun, the baby will move from one area to the other and can be naked! (Sunscreen is recommended.) The morning sun is the healthiest—hot, midday sun should be avoided.
Q. Cara: Is it all right to leave the baby alone outside?
Magda: While babies are outside, you should keep checking on them. Ideally, stay at hearing and seeing distance, but still go on and do your own thing. If you start at an early age, your baby will love it and will want to stay outside, will be less inclined to be clingy, naggy, overly dependent, constantly needing company or entertainment. Do not let a baby cry outside. Try and guess what started the crying in the first place. Try to eliminate it; stay out a little with your child, and if the crying continues, take the baby inside. But by all means try to take the child out again later. Probably it just was not the right time.
Cara: But, what about boredom? Won’t the baby get bored outside? How about toys?
Magda: The stimuli nature provides are unparalleled. Even the youngest infant becomes fascinated by listening to the birds, watching the movements of flies, butterflies, shadows, and leaves. Air circulation, temperature change, the playfulness of sunspots and shade, are strong stimuli to the skin, the eyes, the lungs, and the metabolism. As the young organism learns to adjust to and cope with constant changes, it becomes more resistant. Of course, the child can also have toys in the playpen or yard. But what a different learning experience your child will have watching nature rather than watching TV! I would like to hear from those of you who tried to organize your baby’s outdoor life. How did you do it, and how did it work out?