Baby Steps = Healthy Knees

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Baby Steps = Healthy KneesWhat can we learn from our children when hiking? Baby steps. Especially when knees are involved. They are some of our greatest assetts when hiking and so we need to take precautions to protect them. Our knees are incredibly designed, able to withstand enormous amounts of pressure and maintain mobility and stability all at once. Even though it’s a hinge joint (like a hinge on a door), its complex movements involve bends, glides and twists. Our knees gain stability from numerous ligaments, including the infamous ACL, muscles and many other body structures (think your calf muscles and meniscus). All of these structures work together to keep you stable and moving on the trail and elsewhere. When wearing a pack (and/or a child) the force on our knees increases by three to six times our body weight (including said child and pack). Add going downhill or stairs, as we did at Silver Falls, and the force on our knees increases even more! Sometimes we can get into trouble and have pain or dysfunction in our knees for a variety of reasons including, but not limited to: weakness around the knee (or above or below), general instability or overloading. In an effort to help, I put together some tips for protecting your knees while hiking. Here are six tips for reducing impact on your knees (and other areas) when hiking: Consider Poles Personally I like having my hands free when hiking so I have yet to convert to the pole carrying lifestyle, but properly adjusted hiking poles can do wonders on downhill and uneven terrain. Poles reduce the shock on your knees by redistributing some of the pressure to your arms. They also improve your stability on uneven terrain (or even terrain if you’re a klutz like me). There are several videos available on YouTube on how to properly adjust your poles. Invest in Good Shoes Ladies, proper support is not just for your girls; your dogs need help, too! Proper fitting hiking boots/shoes can assist your body in managing shock and give a bit of extra support as well. Well supported feet and ankles make for better supported knees. (Side note: if you have frequently sprained ankles, please consider seeing a physical therapist for a few visits. They can help create a custom plan for both strengthening and retraining your body to prevent future sprains.) Carry Wisely Carry your child properly in a good fitting pack. Keep them close, adjust the pack to fit you best and make sure the weight is distributed evenly side-to-side. A pack with a frame and a good hip belt will help in this area. Become a Beefcake (aka stretch and strengthen your legs and core) Earlier, I commented that good shoes will help support your knees. Strong, well-balanced muscles help as well! Hiking is great exercise, but please consider a strengthening program that involves weights (or body weight and children) and stretching after your exercise. Strong muscles are your natural “knee brace”. Take Baby Steps (i.e. short steps downhill) Don’t lock your knees when going downhill or take especially large steps. Small, baby steps about the length of your foot will decrease the pressure on your knees. I find that if I think of sitting back a little, this technique saves my knees and allows me to move a little faster. Don’t be afraid to experiment to find what feels best for you. Zig Zag Make your own switchbacks on steep terrain. I’ve had to do this several times, especially on rutted trails. You may feel silly, but trust me;  you’ll want to keep doing it. Bob-n-weave with the best of them. I hope this helps! Please visit for more tips and tricks, including how to set up your nursery, returning to exercise, tips for tummy time, where to find a PT, and more. Happy Hiking, Jen, PT, DPT, GCS

Jen StevensJen Stevens is a Doctor of Physical Therapy and a Board Certified Specialist in Geriatrics (surprise!). Currently, she is specializing in trucks, buses, cars, planes, mud, hiking and playing in water as she stays home with her two young boys.

This post is not intended to serve as personalized medical advice. Please seek the advice of a physical therapist or other medical practitioner if you are having pain or dysfunction.

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The joke among my friends for many years was that a depressing day for me was the same as most people’s emotional state on a good day. Then I turned 38, and I won’t go into details, but I reached a point where I couldn’t even talk to my life coach without crying, so she eventually suggestion medication. For the first time, I was depressed with a capital “D”. Things turned around eventually, and in 2013 I got married, became pregnant with my first child, and moved to Portland… an excellent change of scenery after years in Los Angeles. As my due date neared, I started to feel the old dark cloud edging back in. Everywhere I looked I saw stories on postpartum depression. People talked about it in my mama preparation classes and in prenatal yoga. I talked to my doctor about whether I could breastfeed and medicate once I had a child. I was convinced I was doomed to postpartum depression because the memories of my dark place were in the not-so-distant past. 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Shanti Hodges hikes between 3-10 miles a week on average and tries to get outside with Mason at least 3 days a week year round. In spite of being viewed as a hike addict, she is not afraid to admit that she needs the Hike it Baby 30 Challenge to motivate herself out on the bad days! Her secret to getting out on days she's not feeling it and there isn't a challenge going on is to text a handful of her hike buddies and get them to guilt or motivate her out the door.  This article first appeared in Green Child Magazine. Check them out for awesome stories about healthy parenting. ABOUT OUTGROWN OutGrown is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that works to create a world where everyone can enjoy the physical and mental benefits of spending time outside. We are focused on creating opportunities and removing barriers to access so families with babies and young children can take their first steps outside. We believe all families have the right to connect with nature, benefit from spending time outdoors and be inspired to a lifelong love of nature. Since its grassroots inception in 2013, OutGrown is a growing community of 280,000 families and over 300 volunteer Branch Ambassadors. More information on all of our programs can be found at    EDITORS NOTE: We hope you enjoyed reading this article from OutGrown. We’re working hard to provide our community with content and resources that inform, inspire, and entertain you. But content is not free. It’s built on the hard work and dedication of writers, editors, and volunteers. We make an investment in developing premium content to make it easier for families with young children to connect with nature and each other. We do not ask this lightly, but if you can, please make a contribution and help us extend our reach.
10 Tips for Keeping Babies On Trail
Arika Bauer / Zion Adventure Photog As the founder of Hike it Baby, an organization dedicated to getting kids on trail from birth to school-age, people often think adventuring outdoors with a newborn must have come naturally to me. Or they assume I was just a hardcore outdoors person pre-baby. Nope. Neither was the case. While I now may look like a seasoned veteran with my now 5-year-old, I only got to this place from a lot of trial and error and advice from others around me. Now I feel it’s my duty to pay this knowledge forward, so here goes for those of you who are hesitant to get on trail with your little one. Streamline Bring what you really need on trail and nothing more. Two diapers if you have an explosive baby. One bottom change or a onesie. The top won’t usually get soiled. One bottle. Leave the rest in the car. If you have to carry extra, how can you make it lighter? Collapsible water bottles for example can be a great way to keep your load lighter. Carriers are key A quality carrier can make or break whether or not your little one likes to hike. Hand-me-downs are great, but when it comes to carriers, if you want to get out a lot, do the research. Try a lot of brands and don’t get one just because it’s cute. Get it because it’s functional and will let you hike an hour or more comfortably without back pain. Twig and Lens Photography / Laura Castro An infant usually won’t complain about being snuggled up against your chest on hikes. A toddler, however, might throw a fit. Make sure as your child evolves, so does your carrier. When Mason was an infant, we used a Baby K'Tan because it was like a sling but had some support and was easy to get on and off on trail. Then we graduated to an Onya Baby for lumbar support as our nugget got heavier. Now we switch between that and a Deuter frame carrier depending on the type of hike and weather. The frame carrier isn’t good for a lot of ups and downs (if this is your child), but it’s great for protection from sun, rain or snow or you need space to carry things. Don't Forget the teethers and a blanket! Teething babies are no fun on trail, so remember your teething beads. Make sure they are on a necklace or tether so you won't lose it midway through a hike as well. A teether keeps them busy and calm while teething and the soft blanket is a perfect place to put your precious one on a hike break! If you haven't tried a chewy of some sort yet and you are experiencing a regularly super fussy baby, sore gums could be the cause. Pick your trail wisely What may once have been a short hike for you, now could be a pretty epic adventure with a fussy baby. Gauge how your little one is doing. Stop often, and if things are going well, honestly assess a turnaround point. Better to start heading back early over having a super unhappy child to battle with at the end of a hike. Snack it up If you are at the eating phase, bring snacks you know will work. Don’t experiment with new foods on trail. A hangry (hungry and angry) baby is not a fun hiking partner. I often travel with lollipops or gummy bears on trail so if things are going bad, I have an emergency solution. My son isn’t food-driven, but a little bit of sweets on trail will often calm down a tantrum so we can redirect. Photo: Anka Trifan Bottle feeding If you don’t nurse and need to carry milk there are lots of solutions for keeping it cold and warm. Start with frozen packs and put them in your clothes to warm up during the hike with body heat. Also, look into the soup-sized thermoses (Hydroflask makes a good one) and put hot water in. Add a cold bottle to that and heat the bottle, then drop a tea bag in and you are set. Pumping on trail It is possible to pump on trail! There are great small hand pumps that allow you to pump then add a nipple and serve. Easy as that. Look for a nice out-of-the-way bench or a tree in the woods, lay baby down and pump away. I often found myself so relaxed in the woods that my milk flow increased. Could be all of that oxygen and exercise? Find a community Having a community to help motivate you and show you new trails makes it so much easier. Even now after three years of hiking all around Portland, people in my hike group still continually introduce me to new trails. Also, the more kids on a hike together, especially at that 3- to 5-year-old stage, the more likely they are to motivate each other. We have seen 5-year-olds hike six miles because there were other kids to keep them moving. Different trails for different ages As your child ages up, different trails will work for him or her better. With little ones, you can hike almost anywhere with good footing. As they get older, you'll want to be aware of steep drop-offs, a lot of turns in the trail and things like falling rocks and slippery roots. New walkers are unbalanced, and while trails are excellent training ground for them, if they fall over every other step, it can be frustrating for them. Look at the trail you're adventuring on with a child’s eye. Look at the ground and what’s in the way. A little incline for you might be Mt. Everest for a 2-year-old. Songs and bubbles One of the easiest ways to deal with child meltdowns is serious distractions. Bubbles and songs can help a lot with this. I am a terrible singer but I have gotten pretty good at “Wheels on the Bus” and “We’re Going on a Bear Hunt” (this is a book that has a song-like feel). Bubbles combined with song can really help move the hike along and get you through rough patches. If all else fails, bribe them I know, this seems like a bad idea because you want your kiddo to love nature just because it's nature. But the reality is there are those days when lollipops are just part of the program. I keep some in my glove box for when we are having "those" days. I don't have to resort to them all the time, but when I really want to hike and my son doesn't, out they come. Share with us in the comments below some ways you get your kids on trail. Read more: 9 Tips for soothing a cranky baby on the trail Hiking with a newborn This post is sponsored by QALO.