As a first time mother, I was very nervous about having to bottle-feed while hiking with other moms. Not only did I carry around a small amount of guilt for not being able to breastfeed, but I was also fearful of being judged by other mothers for using formula. Most of that fear stemmed from an experience I had while attending my first mom’s group at a local baby store. Having moved all the way from Ohio to New York when I was 34 weeks pregnant, I had been very excited to have finally found a mom’s group and some possible new friends. Midway through the session, the topic of conversation changed to the benefits of breastfeeding. While I don’t debate this and am a huge supporter of breastfeeding, I left that day feeling horrible and cried the whole way home. I was devastated knowing that I couldn’t bring myself to ever go back.
Soon after that experience, I stumbled upon a group of hiking moms, Hike it Baby. The leader would post a different location once a week. In the beginning, I would arrive a half an hour ahead of time to feed my two month old daughter in the car for fear of having to pull out the bottle on the trail. However, I soon learned that this group of moms was very open-minded and would never make me feel judged or ashamed. After hiking with them only a few times, I felt comfortable enough to give my daughter a bottle on the trail. Meeting up with them quickly became the thing I most looked forward to each week. I often even drove an hour away just to get out of the house and talk with these wonderful mothers!
Because of my positive experience hiking with such an amazing group of moms, I eventually started leading my own hikes, after we moved once again a few months later. It was then that I stumbled upon a brand new branch of HiB in the area close to where we relocated. I immediately began leading hikes for them and soon became a co-branch leader.
Being someone who quickly overheats, I knew that I didn’t want to carry a baby on my front AND a bag on my back during the warmer months. Since my carrier has a zipper pocket, I purchased “To Go” formula packets that came in 4 ounce servings to put in the pocket. (You could also just measure out the formula into a Ziploc bag.) Then I would also bring a bottle already filled with 4 ounces of water and use the hood of my carrier to hold it. To do this, I would flip the hood under itself and tie off the straps by looping them through additional loops on either side; creating a little pocket to hold the bottle.
If I needed the hood for some reason, I would simply stick the bottle in the carrier waist band on my back. (This never hurt my back, but I’m sure it might not be for everyone.) I would then mix the formula in the water when needed, since it has a shelf life of only 1 hour without refrigeration. Once mixed, we could carry on hiking while my daughter ate!
When we go on longer hikes, I carry a backpack with a few bottles prefilled with water and a formula dispenser. In the winter, when I’m worried about the cold temperatures making the water too cold (and therefore chilling the baby) I take a thermos with warm water along with us in a backpack. These tricks have helped us hit the trails a handful of times each week since my now one year old daughter turned 2 months old!
Hiking with my daughter has truly changed my life. It not only allows us to enjoy the healing powers of nature, but it has helped us developed new friendships and a sense of community. The moms and dads that we’ve met through our old hiking group and our new HiB branch have made us feel like family. They have become our support group and have been so very accepting; providing us with a safe place to talk and the confidence to keep coming back, hike after hike.
If you’ve never joined a hike before, please know that no matter how you feed your baby, bottle or breast, the families of HiB will be there to love and support you on your journey. I know it’s often scary to put yourself out there and meet new people, especially as a new parent and with the fear of being judged, but I promise, you will be glad you did!
Originally from Ohio, Natalie Kendrach currently lives in Saratoga Springs, NY with her husband (Mitchell) and daughter (Olivia). She is a co-branch lead for HiB Capital Region NY. When she’s not on the trail, she enjoys sewing, reading, traveling, sailing and photography.