We’ve all heard the advice about self-care and making sure we give ourselves a break, but when you’ve got a baby on your hands, that feels easier said than done some days. Somehow nap time is over before you know it, and that tends to be when you need a break more than ever.
It might sound counter-intuitive, but when you need a boost, find a way to grab a quick 20 (or even 30) minutes outside while your baby is awake and happy. It’s not only possible (really!); it’s critical to help with your overall well-being. Aim for a time of the day when you know your baby is most content, like after a nap or a feeding.
A recent study published in Frontiers in Psychology shows that spending time—just 20 minutes—outside walking, gardening or even just standing in nature can help boost moods and reduce stress hormone levels. It’s described as a “nature pill” because the study reveals that it has a measurable effect. Dr. MaryCarol Rossiter Hunter, an Associate Professor at the University of Michigan and lead author of this research says that “… for the greatest payoff, in terms of efficiently lowering levels of the stress hormone cortisol, you should spend 20 to 30 minutes sitting or walking in a place that provides you with a sense of nature.”
There are lots of places to get your 20-minute nature pill, no matter where you live: your backyard, a rooftop garden, an urban park, or a nature trail are just a few of the options. Throw in other helpful stress busters like exercise or deep breathing, and you’ll boost the benefits even more.
So what are you waiting for? Grab that adorable baby and get outside!
First Things First: Sun Protection
Baby’s skin is especially sensitive to sunlight, so be sure to help protect them before you head outside. If your baby is under 6 months old, check with your doctor before using sunscreen of any kind. Health Canada’s list of Sun Safety Tips for Parents has great advice on playing it safe in the sun, including how to use the UV index.
The U.S. Food & Drug Administration recently proposed new rules for sunscreens and currently recognizes two ingredients—zinc oxide and titanium dioxide—as the safest. Health Canada’s Food and Drugs Act and Regulations states that “sunscreens meeting the requirements established by the US FDA Final Rule are also meeting the requirements” as outlined in Canada’s sunscreen monograph.
A lightweight, portable playpen like this one from Summer Infant helps make it possible to bring shade wherever you go in the great outdoors. The mesh sides are designed to allow for visibility and cool breezes, and the sunshade will help keep harmful rays off your baby’s skin. It is engineered to be set up or taken down in a matter of seconds and comes with a travel bag you can toss over your shoulder.
Adding a couple of quiet infant toys to the playpen can help buy you a few peaceful minutes to yourself. And when the baby toys are infant development toys, you don’t even have to feel guilty about it! These fabric blocks from Fisher-Price have a variety of textures, colours and patterns to help hold baby’s attention. The soft blocks are designed to help baby develop motor skills as they hold, flip and turn each block.
Take Some Deep Breaths
Practising deep breathing for a few minutes is a great way to get a mini break. It’s known to help reduce stress and calm your mind. There are lots of breathing and meditation apps available for smartphones and tablets. Breathe, The Breathing App, and Stop Breathe and Think are rated as some of the best apps to help you refocus.
Find a quiet spot under a tree, spread an outdoor blanket like this one from Lulyboo, and try some deep breathing exercises while your baby gets some tummy time. And, who knows, maybe your baby will reach a bit of Zen while listening to the soothing sounds of nature.
Raise Your Heart Rate
Raising your heart rate and releasing endorphins is another great way to recharge. A good jogging stroller will help keep your baby shady and comfortable while you attempt to sweat out your stress on the trail. If running isn’t your thing, just getting out for a walk with any type of stroller will help give you the benefits of a break and some exercise, so don’t feel like it only counts if your heart rate rises.
This jogging stroller from Allen Sports USA converts to a bike trailer, giving you another way to get outside with your baby in tow—literally. This model can accommodate up to two children. It’s engineered with a footguard tube to help protect little riders’ feet, and the three-season cover includes a bug screen.
Before you put baby on board, it’s important to make sure your baby’s neck is strong enough to support the weight of a helmet. Most experts recommend waiting until about 12 months before venturing out with this type of jogger and bicycle trailer. The American Academy of Pediatrics has some other good advice for keeping babies and kids safe on a bike.
On those days you can’t make it outside, take a break and connect with nature indoors. It can be something as simple as making yourself an herbal tea. Chamomile, peppermint, and lemon balm teas are known to have natural stress-reducer properties.
Houseplants not only bring the outdoors in, but they also help freshen the air. And according to this Psychology Today article, Plants Make You Feel Better. If you feel like you can’t possibly take care of one more living thing, choose a plant that has low demands, like snake plants, cacti, aloe or succulents.
Aromatherapy—the use of essential oils—can also help you bring the outdoors in. Diffuse soothing lavender essential oil or energizing lemon essential oil to help fill your home with natural, plant-based scents anytime you need a break and are not able to escape to the great outdoors.
Simply turn on a diffuser like this one from PureGuardian, close your eyes, breathe deeply and pretend you’re at a spa. This model continuously diffuses oils for 5-8 hours. It is designed to shut off automatically when empty. It features a soft-glow on/off nightlight and LED display.
Whatever mini break you choose, try to give yourself at least a 20-minute nature pill every day. Getting fresh air is beneficial for you and your baby. You might find that it helps your baby sleep better through the night. And that’s like giving yourself a break for giving yourself a break!