Question: I just got home from the hospital with my son and already I’m feeling cabin fever. When is it really OK to take my infant on his first outing? Can I walk around the mall or go for a drive?
Answer: Getting out of the house is a good thing when you feel up to it; a stroll or ride in the car may be just the thing to lift your mood. And as a potential added benefit, the sway and movement may help your baby get to sleep.
But babies can be very susceptible to germs at this time of their lives because their immune systems—the network of certain types of cells, organs, and special substances to help fight off viruses, bacteria, and fungal infections—are not fully functioning. Babies are born with some of their moms’ immunities in place and in time will develop their own, but they are not fully armed to handle many germs that can come their way. “Breastfeeding is an important component in helping to make and keep the newborn’s immune system strong,” advises Dr. Lori Storch-Smith, a pediatrician from Westport, Connecticut.
Your pediatrician will talk to you about his or her specific guidelines, but generally keep these timeframes in mind.
Taking a Walk
Fresh air is great for Baby and Mom (and walking can be good for Mom’s circulation, too), but going for a stroll on Day 2 of being home is overdoing it. If you’re home for a few days and are yearning to get out, it’s OK to walk around the yard and driveway. But no fitness walking! Most doctors recommend waiting until Mom’s six-week postpartum checkup to begin fitness walks.
When you go outside, take it slow and easy—your body will tell you that you’re overexerting yourself by increasing vaginal bleeding or making you feel tired or out of breath. You might even consider having a walking companion your first few times outside, just to make sure you feel fine. And don’t worry—your time for long strolls with Baby will be here soon enough.
Going for a Drive
As far as driving is concerned, most doctors will advise waiting three to six weeks if you have had a C-section, are anemic, or have had a painful episiotomy. Driving short distances is probably OK early on, but you may tire easily and you should never drive if you have taken any kind of prescription narcotic pain reliever. See how you feel and discuss with your doctor her particular guidelines.
Hitting the Mall, Park, Supermarket, Etc., with Baby
The first six to eight weeks is the time period you should be careful about taking your new baby to a place like the supermarket or other crowded venue. “A walk outside if the weather is nice is fine, but don’t take the baby to crowded areas like the mall, other children’s schools, places of worship, etc. until about eight weeks of life,” Dr. Storch-Smith says.
Again, babies’ developing immune systems just aren’t ready to cope with the germs—from common colds to bacterial meningitis—that may be present in crowded public areas. Minimizing your child’s exposure to illness will give him a chance to get his immune system up and running, rather than asking him to fight off something he’s not ready to handle.
In terms of dressing Baby for your outing, make sure the weather is not too extreme in either direction (too hot or too cold), and then choose clothes accordingly. Even if your first trip together is to the end of your driveway with Baby in her stroller, pay attention to how your body feels and don’t over do it.