Have you ever noticed your baby become more alert when you take them outside? Fresh air and sunshine have well-documented benefits, but being outside is good for your baby in other ways too. Their senses are stimulated by the visual contrast of trees or buildings against the sky overhead, a breeze on their face, and new scents and sounds. Spending time outside can also improve language skills—and maybe even their sleep.
If you don’t happen to have immediate access to nature, don’t worry about your baby missing out. Simply being outside in the midst of a busy city can give them as many benefits as a walk in the forest, even if it feels a little different ❤️
Here are some of the many reasons to take your baby outside:
New sensations lead to brain development
New sights, sounds, smells, and textures are enjoyable and exciting for your baby. Even if they’re strapped to your chest or riding in a stroller, they receive all kinds of stimulation outside that they don’t get when they’re indoors. This stimulation helps build the synapses—connections between cells in your baby’s brain—that are crucial to cognitive development.
Coming up with new ideas for what to talk about with your baby can be a challenge 🙃 Outside time can give you some new ways to engage with your baby. You can narrate what you see or tickle their arm with a leaf. If your baby looks at a tree, get close to it and invite them to touch it as you describe what they’re seeing and feeling: “you’re touching the bark of the tree. It feels rough, doesn’t it? The bark helps protect the tree.” If your baby reacts to a sound they hear, try to find the source and name and describe it.
Exposure to sunlight plays an important role in how our bodies secrete melatonin, often referred to as the “sleep hormone.” A 2004 study in the Journal of Sleep Research found that babies who slept well at night were exposed to significantly more light in the early afternoon period. Particularly if you have a fussy baby, time outdoors in the afternoon—leading up to the late afternoon into evening— may help regulate their sleep-wake cycle. Even on a cloudy day, exposure to the outdoors can help establish your baby’s circadian rhythms more quickly than if they’re indoors all day.
A few considerations and rules of thumb can tell you when it’s safe to bring your baby outside, and how to dress them for hot or cold weather. Here are some to keep in mind:
Babies can’t cool off the way we do; their sweat glands take time to develop. When it’s particularly hot out, do what you can to avoid the sun shining directly onto your baby. The FDA doesn’t recommend sunscreen for babies 6 months and under, so put a hat on their head and use a sun shield on the carrier or stroller. Babies should not be outside for prolonged periods when the temperature is over 90°F.
Infants also get cold more easily than adults do, so dress your baby in layers. That way, you can add or remove a layer as needed. When you’re dressing your baby for cold weather, don’t forget their feet, hands, and face. Babies can overheat easily, even in cold temperatures, so always keep an eye on them when you’re out—and be sure to remove extra layers as needed.
Learn more about the research
Bento, G., & Dias, G. (2017). The importance of outdoor play for young children’s healthy development. Porto Biomedical Journal, 2(5), 157-160.
Harrison, Y. (2004). The relationship between daytime exposure to light and night-time sleep in 6–12-week-old infants. Journal of Sleep Research, 13(4), 345-352.
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