For outdoorsy new moms who are used to the freedom of adventure every weekend, a new baby can be a huge adjustment. Somewhere between three hours of restless sleep each night and another ‘pass’ on camping with friends, it can feel like an outdoor lifestyle is out of reach, indefinitely. Add to that any difficulties breastfeeding or bottle feeding some infants, and the outdoors might as well be another planet. That’s why for moms looking to still explore the outdoors with your young one, these tips for breastfeeding and bottle-feeding in the outdoors can help.
These new moms are likely to need the outdoors now more than ever. More and more doctors are prescribing time outside as clinical treatment for all sorts of ailments, including mental health issues like postpartum depression. But getting outside isn’t easy for new moms, who tend to be fed a lot of advice about caring for their new babies, and much less about caring for themselves. For women who love the outdoors, getting outside and taking care of themselves go hand-in-hand.
Of course, getting outside sounds great on paper. But there are many hurdles to overcome. Feeding the baby is one of the biggest.
5 Camper-Approved Tips for Breastfeeding and Bottle Feeding Outdoors
As a mom of three, I’ve breastfed and bottle-fed my crew in all kinds of outdoor environments. There was the time I perched on a mound of dirt, hoping it wasn’t an anthill, while I breastfed my three-week-old. And the time I found myself mixing formula at 3 a.m. in a tent on the banks of the Green River.
I’ve lived the frustration, the discomfort, and the deeply peaceful moments of taking my babies outside. The breastfeeding tips and tricks below come from this experience, as well as the bits of wisdom I’ve gathered from moms much wiser than myself.
1. Be Flexible with Feeding Schedules
Before I jump into the breastfeeding tips for camping moms, it’s important to have scope. Your little one’s feeding schedule and needs in the outdoors may look nothing like they did inside the controlled environment of your home. Just like you, they will be hungrier and thirstier from their exertion in drier, hotter, or colder and wetter conditions. Flexibility can be challenging, but keeping things simple by not venturing far from a comfortable place to breastfeed will help.
2. Prepare for More Feedings
Breastfeeding infants will likely need to feed on demand frequently, both for thirst and comfort in a strange place. Bottle fed kiddos will also need more liquids to match the demands of exposure. For your own sanity, leave all expectations about feeding schedules behind when you head outdoors. The same goes for sleeping at campgrounds with kids—schedules are just carried away by all that fresh air.
What to Bring When You’re Breastfeeding Outside
Breastfeeding in the outdoors can present some added complications and potential discomforts, and one of the most crucial tips for breastfeeding moms involves preparing for those complications and discomforts as best as possible . Privacy is a big one for many mothers; finding a safe and comfortable position in which you and the baby can relax. Bugs, sun, and exposure to elements is the other main concern. Being prepared and bringing the right gear can help you overcome these challenges with relative grace and ease.
- Extra water for mom: If you are hydrating both yourself and your infant, remember that any increase in energy output basically doubles how much fluid you need. Lactation specialists recommend that breastfeeding moms consume about 4 liters of water a day when exerting themselves. That’s four Nalgenes, minimum.
- Front carrier: Your style of baby-wearing is very personal. Some moms can rock a ring sling like nobody’s business. I relied heavily on the infant Ergo setup. Whatever makes you comfortable is the best one. Try them out around the house and on short, neighborhood walks before stepping out on a long trek. Front carriers can be convenient for feeding at campgrounds and outdoor places. If you take the time to practice breastfeeding on-the-go (and it does take practice), then bring on the miles. Give yourself some grace while learning how to do this, however—it can feel very, very awkward at first.
- Cover (or not!): Some mothers find it easier to relax and feed their babies with the privacy of a nursing cover. If this is you, great! If it’s not you—that’s great, too! Remember that breastfeeding in public is legal in our country, so never let someone shame you for taking care of your baby while you both enjoy the scenery.
- Pump: Our generation is lucky to have such a wide variety of available breast pumps. And they can make your life much easier if you’re a breastfeeding mom who’s dying to get outside. Most insurance companies allow for full reimbursement of your first one. Choose a battery-powered breast pump that is easy to clean in the outdoors.
- Milk Storage: This is one of the trickier breastfeeding tips for camping. If your infant only takes a bottle, you can pump and feed immediately. If you need to store expressed milk, a highly insulated cooler is essential. Yeti and Engel coolers have a variety of sizes. Icemule makes a cooler you can carry like a backpack. If you’re bringing expressed milk from home, be sure to bring at least 1/3 more than your baby would normally need.
- Mom Throne: If you’re camping overnight, bring along a comfortable camp chair to relax in while nursing. Pick something that lets you easily adjust your position, but also supports your arms. If your little one likes to doze after a snack, then you can both sit back and soak in the fresh air without having to get up right away.
What to Bring if You’re Bottle Feeding Outside
Bottle feeding allows mom a bit more freedom in the outdoors. You can hand over the job to dad or a close friend while taking care of your own needs, for example. Bottle feeding does, however, increase the logistical challenge of venturing far from home. You have to bring a lot more ‘stuff.’
- Formula: Bring at least 1/3 more than their typical servings require. Store the formula container inside a heavy-duty Ziploc bag in case of lid failure and to protect against water. You can also use a double bag method for less weight.
- Hot water: Count yourself blessed among parents if your kids like cold formula. If, like mine, they demand slightly-above-lukewarm temperature, then for short outings you can bring preheated water in a Hydroflask container. For longer days (or camping with infants) and less weight, bring a JetBoil camping stove to heat more along the way.
- Bottles: Sanitizing bottles in the outdoors is almost impossible. I often rely on the rinse-and-dry method while we’re on the move. Then in the evenings at campgrounds, I boil the container. But my kids have hardy immune systems. For parents with newborns or children with immunodeficiency, consider purchasing SteriPEN or something similar. The water within the bottle is purged of bacteria, protozoa, and viruses within 90 seconds. You can also wipe with bleach wipes, air dry, and then rinse VERY thoroughly.
3. Pick the Right Destination
If you’re a breastfeeding mom who’s heading to a campground, the right destination can make your trip so much more comfortable.
There are many family-friendly campsites across the country. Check out our lists for the family-friendly campgrounds lists for the Pacific Northwest, and those near Washington, D.C. No matter how extreme your past camping experiences, give yourself a break the first few times out.
Look for comfortable campgrounds with easily accessible running water. Lots of shade is important in the summer, as infants have trouble thermo-regulating. Extreme heat can be dangerous for breastfeeding moms, with dehydration occurring much more quickly.
- One Night Only: Start with a single night out. The breastfeeding pair can get used to the extra rigors associated with outdoor life.
- Afternoon Shade: Breastfeeding or bottle feeding can be a time to relax and move your infant away from the highly stimulating experience of the outdoors. Make your tent a cool oasis of peace by seeking campgrounds with lots of tree cover.
- Privacy: Do your best to choose a campsite with some distance from other campers. This is both for your benefit and theirs. When the baby wakes up wanting to eat two or three times in the night, neighbors can get a little huffy. And there are no breastfeeding tips that will prove helpful to a tired mom and hungry infant whose neighbors are being noisy all night.
- Side-lying Snack Position: In the tent, the best way to feed is with a side-lying position. I tried to sit up for midnight feedings, but found it is much more relaxing to have your baby latch while snuggled up next to you in the sleeping bag. Take all the recommended co-sleeping precautions in this position, however, as many loose blankets can increase the chance of suffocation.
4. Embrace Communities of New Moms
This is one of the most helpful breastfeeding tips I can offer to moms who want to camp and hike with their little ones: find your community. Reach out and connect with other families. Tips for breastfeeding and bottle feeding outside will only take you so far—but a community can offer support in the most unexpected scenarios.
There are many social media platforms to connect parents with each other. Groups like Hike it Baby provide group hikes so that parents and kids can spend time together in the outdoors. Here are some of the tips I learned while spending time with moms who were, literally, walking the same path.
- Realistic Goals: One of the biggest themes in these supportive mom-groups is to enjoy being outside with your baby without the pressure of covering long distances. Stop to breastfeed on the trail whenever the baby is hungry. Don’t apologize for stopping to change a diaper or adjust. Odds are, everyone else needs a break, too.
- Ask Questions: Here’s a tip for breastfeeding moms from someone who had major pride issues: Don’t think you are supposed to know it all. If you are struggling to latch or worried about volume, ask someone how they did it.
- Laugh Often: Breastfeeding and bottle feeding are pretty ridiculous in a lot of ways. It’s messy, it’s complicated, it involves screaming, spit-up, and tears. The baby might be fussy, too. You have to get into all kinds of awkward positions. Moms who love the outdoors get it, and they want to share the experience with each other. So laugh at yourself, laugh at the struggle, smile through the frustration. A sense of humor is healthy and helpful in lowering your stress, increasing milk production, and bonding with your baby.
5. Get Out There
As a mom of three under six, I can’t promise you that it will ever be easy. In fact, I recommend that breastfeeding moms and new parents stop using that word entirely—”easy” isn’t the goal. But I can assure you that with these breastfeeding tips, the time you spend in the outdoors will always be worth it—even when you’re juggling the demands of breast or bottle feeding with your little one.