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Four year old Dante carries a sleeping bag into their tent as mom Kerrie Palmer , and two year old sister Rose, look on. (Christinne Muschi/Christinne Muschi for The Globe and Mail)
Four year old Dante carries a sleeping bag into their tent as mom Kerrie Palmer , and two year old sister Rose, look on. (Christinne Muschi/Christinne Muschi for The Globe and Mail)

How to camp with a baby Add to ...

Kerrie Palmer and her husband own a roomy tent, so they didn't think anything of bringing extra guests along on their camping trip to an 85-site park in nearby Val-David, Que., two summers ago.

When it came time to hit the hay, Ms. Palmer's husband snuggled up beside their then-two-year-old son Dante on an air mattress. Ms. Palmer and their one-month-old daughter Rose lay on another air mattress beside them.

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Instead of rising at their usual 7:30 a.m., Dante and Rose were awake at the crack of dawn. They had enjoyed a night of uninterrupted slumber. But not their parents.

"I don't think I was sleeping very well. ... I was like, 'Is [Rose]still breathing?' " says Ms. Palmer, 32. "I was a wreck in the morning."

While the trend among parents just a few years ago was to coddle their infants, not even to take wee Isabelle on a plane till she had all her adult teeth (" She has sensitive little eardrums!"), a new generation is exposing young children to the elements before they're out of diapers.

But the challenges of camping with infants - from figuring out how to bathe them to muffling their midnight screaming sessions - catch many parents by surprise.

Ms. Palmer's newborn daughter didn't require much attention on the trip (she wasn't mobile and was still nursing), but Ms. Palmer hadn't anticipated how uncomfortable it would be to have the baby strapped to her torso in a Moby Wrap for two days.

"I was boiling, and I know she was probably a little hot if she was in the sun," she says. "That was a bit of a shocker. The second day, my back was giving out."

Still, the family made it through the whole trip, which isn't always the case.

As soon as Elizabeth Castro-Giles, 31, and her husband pulled up to their campsite last fall, their one-year-old son Mateo went into culture shock.

The site wasn't far from their home in Washago, Ont., but the cool temperatures, the incessant chirping of birds and crickets, and the lack of creature comforts were too much for Mateo.

Instead of giving him a proper bath, Ms. Castro-Giles carried Mateo into the coldwater campground shower to get him clean before bed. He wailed as soon as the icy water hit his skin.

Without the convenience of her electric bottle warmer, Ms. Castro-Giles improvised with a camp stove to heat her son's milk. Mateo expressed his disappointment by drinking less than usual, and didn't fully digest his food until he was at home.

But things reached a boiling point when the family retired for the night. Mateo had always slept in his own room, and now was placed in a playpen in the tent beside his parents. He slept for a few hours, but woke up at midnight.

"[He]was uncontrollably wailing," Ms. Castro-Giles says.

The couple knew their son's cries could be heard by people on neighbouring campsites, so they raced to the car to take Mateo on a drive to calm him down. When that didn't work, they admitted defeat and cut the trip short.

While Ms. Castro-Giles was concerned about disturbing her neighbours, sometimes it's the neighbours who make camping hard for parents with babies.

Last summer, Lisa Dennis, a 31-year-old resident of Surrey, B.C., took her then-three-month-old son Scott to what turned out to be a "party campground."

At their site in the Chehalis River campgrounds near Mission, B.C., neighbours stayed up late, gabbing loudly by the fire.

"We actually went and asked them to be quiet. [We said,]'We're right next to you and we have a baby.' "

The neighbours apologized and were quiet for 15 minutes before starting up again.

"People are generally receptive, but after they've been drinking they forget and get carried away again," Ms. Dennis says. Scott still slept through the night, for which Ms. Dennis credits the trailer the couple opted for over a tent.

For many parents, camping isn't an option without the comforts of an RV or trailer.

Dawnn Whittaker, a 35-year-old child sleep trainer in Vancouver, says tents aren't ideal for very young children, since they don't properly block light or noise. With an RV, she was able to mimic the nighttime ritual she had at home during a trip this April. She gave her then-four-month-old son Hendrix a bath in the RV's sink, laid him down to sleep in a bassinette in a room at the quiet end of the vehicle, and switched on a white-noise machine.

Bringing the right gear was the key to keeping things running smoothly, she says.

She packed a stroller that had a bassinette attachment, and also brought along a portable playpen with an attached change table.

Retailers have picked up on the trend of parents bringing their ever-younger spawn on camping trips, and have produced a range of specialty gear.

Mountain Baby, a store in Nelson, B.C., sells infant-sized long johns made from Merino wool, and high chairs that can be clipped to picnic tables.

Parents such as Tracey L'Espérance in Port Coquitlam, B.C., have done short "trial runs" before attempting longer trips.

Instead of taking her eight-month-old daughter Abielle camping on a busy weekend, when provincial parks are overrun with campers, she and her husband headed out this past Monday for a one-night trip.

The couple packed foods that would be easy for Abielle to eat and didn't require refrigeration, like avocadoes. They skipped canoeing and took a hike, with their daughter fastened into a baby carrier.

"If you overstimulate them, you're asking for trouble," Ms. L'Espérance says.

When the couple had to pitch their tent or wash dishes, they strapped Abielle into a Jumperoo - a portable bouncer - so they didn't have to worry about her wandering away.

At bedtime, Ms. L'Espérance put her daughter in a playpen in the tent. She was asleep within five minutes.

After the trial run, Ms. L'Espérance is confident about longer getaways planned for later this summer. Abielle is a fan of roughing it.

"She loves it. She'll watch the birds and chipmunks," Ms. L'Espérance says. "I find for her, too, the fresh air really helps her sleep."

Clarification: Elizabeth Castro-Giles, quoted in a story on Friday, described the weather at her campsite as cold, not the temperature of the water from the showers.

Editor's note: The name of Tracey L'Espérance's daughter, Abielle, was misspelled in an earlier version of this story that appeared online and in Friday's newspaper. This version has been corrected.

 

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