As a Minnesota transplant, I have a lot of catching up to do if I want to cover this great state on foot. I’ve lived here for almost twelve years now and I’m still blown away by the magic of our trails and waterways.
I found out I was pregnant in May 2017. Among plenty of unknowns, I didn’t know how pregnancy, or having a baby in tow later on, was going to factor into one of my favorite hobbies – hiking. At first, I didn’t think there would be anything different about it. That quickly changed as my body and family grew. Just like everything about the pregnancy and new parent life, there are things I wish I would have known and things best to learn the hard way. Mostly, it has just made adventures even more magical. Here’s what I’ve learned over the last two years.
Give Yourself Extra Support in Pregnancy
The rule of thumb is that if it is an activity you did safely before pregnancy, it should be safe during. That’s assuming you don’t have any special considerations or conditions that arise in pregnancy. I thought I didn’t. I wasn’t high risk and there weren’t any concerns from my health providers (who are always your first resources before any friends or web searches).
After a ten-mile “hike” through Brooklyn, NY in my trusty slip-on sneakers (something that would have never been an issue before) I developed extremely painful tendinitis in every part of my feet. I was told the amount of the hormone relaxin my body was producing set me up for extreme stretching of tendons, especially in the feet. Being only three months along and barely showing, it wasn’t even on my radar. After a visit to a podiatrist, I was put on two weeks of mostly sitting (which turned into six with the amount of pain I was in), to constantly wear tennis shoes with supportive insoles even around the house, and that it might take a couple months to heal. It did not heal until after I gave birth six months later. Remember that your body is changing in unpredictable ways.
My Pregnancy Hiking Takeaways
- Take care of your tootsies! I really hope I’m driving this one home. Wear supportive shoes that have quality insoles (think running store or gear outfitter over pharmacy or big box stores) as soon as you become pregnant for long walks and hikes. As someone who had to wear tennis shoes to work every day, date nights, and a wedding, no one cares except your feet and they take priority anyway.
- You might appreciate the support of a belly band. With the extra weight on your pelvis and groin and all that good relaxin hormone I mentioned, hiking can get painful. I picked up a belly band at my hospital’s pharmacy and found it helped relieve some groin pain when used sporadically. Talk to your provider about their take on it for you.
- Assist your balance. Not everyone experiences balance issues while pregnant, but if you do a set of trekking poles will really come in handy. They’re also a good idea if you’ll be on any sort of uneven terrain or on or near steep grades.
- Snacks and all the water. After a few weeks of whatever your pregnancy symptoms are, I’m sure you won’t need me to remind you to load up on your essentials, but for me, things could go from zero to I need a cracker or I’ll die in a nanosecond. Same with the insatiable thirst. Pack for those moments.
- Play it safe. Many trails don’t get the greatest cell reception and there’s no guarantee you’ll be in any position to call someone should something happen either way. Try to always bring a buddy. If you do hike solo (besides the person kicking you when you take breaks), make sure someone close by knows where you are and when they should expect to hear back from you. Bring your fully charged cell phone, a map, and never hike close to nightfall. It might take you longer to finish your loop than you’re used to.
Postpartum aka Extra Tiny Hiking Partner
Having a late January baby meant I was beyond cabin fever level when spring came around. Some of my favorite hikes are those first couple times when the leaves aren’t quite in and Minnesota wildflowers take advantage of the sun before it’s gone from the forest floor. Determined to instill a love of nature and hiking in our daughter, taking her with us for every hike was a non-negotiable. I also planned our first family camping trip for Father’s Day weekend, so this was happening.
Baby and Now Toddler Takeaways (so far)
- Practice. Before heading out deep into the woods an hour away from home, do a few practice runs. Do a lap or two around your nearest lake with everything you plan to carry, especially the baby. I had done many walks with my daughter in her stroller, but only a few in her carrier and none while also carrying the backpack. Probably should have. This helps narrow down what is worth taking and leaving behind. I also really should’ve brought my husband on more of those walks and not just my best friend/lake walking partner. It turned out we had a lot of differing opinions, such as is she too hot or too cold (spoiler alert: she’s neither, she’s asleep and dandy) which would’ve been nicer to work out closer to home.
- Know the route or find someone who does. Finding out a trail is flooded, is mostly steep staircases, or has numerous downed trees is a bummer when you have the extra challenge of a baby. Minnesota State Parks, the Three Rivers Parks District, and many of the different county parks have staff with a plethora of knowledge. I always stop to talk to them, even when I know a trail by heart. You can even call ahead if the office will be closed when you arrive. They make great personal suggestions for your skill level, age of your children, and can give you a heads up on any obstacles or even fun things like flowers or animals to be on the lookout for.
- The Gear. For something so tiny they sure need a lot of stuff! I always appreciated what little you need to hike around, but with a baby, I’ve found that is not quite the case anymore.
- A map. Do not rely on your phone. Either print a map or pick one up at a trail office if applicable. Getting lost might have been dangerously fun before, but I guarantee your baby who wants to eat/sleep/be changed as soon as possible will not agree.
- Baby or Toddler Carrier. The options are dizzying. Check out your local babywearing groups and bring your little one to a meeting to actually try them on, get help, or even borrow from their carrier library for a fee. You can also try on at certain baby stores. See a friend with one that looks good? Ask to try it on. If you’re hiking with another adult, it helps if it can be easily adjusted to the both of you so you can share the load, er, baby. Once your little one is walking I think it’s really fun to let them explore. I still like bringing the carrier for when there’s a lake or waterfall coming up and I don’t feel like spending thirty minutes holding her back from jumping in headfirst.
- Stroller, maybe. There are some strollers that do well on trails. Ours is not one of them, but we’ve seen plenty others do it if you think you’d rather go that route. You’ll also want to be really familiar with the trail and what recent weather may have done to it.
- Backpack. Snacks, water, map, camera, bug sprays, sunscreens, SNACKS. A thermal pocket or thermal lunch tote for milk or formula if needed. Snacks for you too! No toddler wants a hangry mama in the woods.
- Mosquito hat net. Our daughter tolerated this at four months. At over a year I’m guessing she’d only wear it if I snuck it on her asleep.
- Umbrella. This works for rain of course, but also for sun and entertaining a fussy baby that really should be napping (why aren’t they napping?!).
- Bug repellent and post-hike checks. Talk to your pediatrician to see what is safe for your child at different ages. Either way, taking your own precautions may help you both. Always wash your hands after applying, if using a spray or lotion. I found wipes to be really nice when I didn’t want to spray things around my daughter. Whatever you choose, always do physical checks for ticks and bites within a couple hours on people and gear.
Locations, Locations, and more Locations
Here are some of my favorite places to hike with my daughter before and after she was born. If you have favorites not listed, please comment below! This is a big ‘ole state, so I need all the tips I can get. (Wisconsin spots are great too!)
Around the Twin Cities:
- Minnehaha Regional Park
- Crosby Farm Regional Park
- Fort Snelling State Park
- Theodore Wirth Regional Park
- Lebanon Hills Regional Park
Around the State:
- Banning State Park
- Bear Head Lake State Park
- Jay Cooke State Park
- Nerstrand Big Woods State Park
- Gooseberry to Grand Marais and everywhere in between
- Minneopa State Park
On My Wish List
- Tamarack Nature Center
- Whitewater State Park
- Frontenac State Park
- Eloise Butler Flower Garden
- Interstate State Park
Enjoy your hike!