Safety First When Exercising With Your Little One
A great way to expose children to exercise is to take them along when you run, walk, bike, or hike. Your child will enjoy the fresh air and learn early on that exercise is fun and an essential part of a healthful lifestyle. But, there are a few extra things to consider when bringing the little one along for a ride.
The main types of child carriers used in exercise are: running strollers, bike seats or trailers, and backpacks. Regardless of the type of carrier used, there are several factors to consider to ensure a fun outing for both you and your child:
- Keep a comfortable, manageable pace
- Be especially aware of your surroundings
- Watch out for dangerous terrain
- Dress your child for the elements
- Never leave your child unattended
- Use safety harnesses
- Don’t exceed the weight limit of your carrier
Look for a sturdy and stable stroller with large, bicycle-style tires that will not tip on turns. It should also have:
- Handbrakes as well as locking wheel brakes
- A secure handle that will not become slippery from sweat (adjustable handlebars are a bonus for taller parents)
- A safety wrist strap, which will prevent the stroller from getting away from you
- Secure shoulder harness for baby
Bring your baby with you to try the stroller out for size. It should have a deep seat and a secure seat belt. Your baby should have good head control before riding in a jogging stroller. Most are not recommended for babies under 6 months old. You may want to wait until the baby is 12 months so that a bicycle helmet can be used if you want extra protection. Another way to prevent excess jostling of your baby's head is to run on a smooth surface.
On Your Run
Wear bright clothing so that you can be easily seen by motorists. Dress yourself and your child appropriately for the weather. Remember that baby will not be breaking a sweat, so they may need extra layers or a blanket in cooler weather. Never, never let go of the stroller or safety wrist strap, it can easily get away from you.
Adding a child seat makes a bike unstable; this extra weight can shift unpredictably while you ride. Experts recommend that only very skilled cyclists carry a child on their bike, and that the child must be able to hold their head up, able to sit unaided, and wear a properly fitted helmet.
There are two options for bike seats: front mounted and rear mounted. Each has its pros and cons, and there is no clear consensus on which is safest.
Rear-Mounted Bike Seats
Many cyclists feel safer with their children behind them on the bike. Also, rear-mounted seats can be larger than those mounted in front and can have higher backs with greater support. However, when you need to pedal hard on an uphill, your child's head may get whipped from side to side. Another concern is that the extra weight on the back can cause the bike to tip over when you come to a full stop or when you're getting on or off the bike. Safe seats should have raised sides, leg guards, and a harness for baby.
Front-Mounted Bike Seats
Having your child right in front of you allows you to talk to them while you ride. But, this also puts the child in the direct path of a head-on collision and can make steering awkward and difficult.
A bike trailer is an enclosed seat that is towed behind the bike. It allows the child to be separate from the bike and at less risk of harm if the bike crashes or falls. A trailer also avoids the problem of top-heaviness, which occurs with some bike seats. While it may be safer on some accounts, the bike trailer can be difficult to maneuver because of the extra length it adds to your bike. Only experienced riders should ride while towing a bike trailer, and it is a good idea to practice for a few weeks before taking on a passenger. In addition, the ride can be rough and you can't communicate with your child while riding.
A safe trailer should have a harness that the child cannot unhook or wiggle out of, a screen covering the front to protect the child from pebbles or other debris, and large, bicycle-style tires for a smoother ride.
General Bike Safety
Before a young child can ride in a trailer or bicycle seat, they should have good head control, be able to sit well on their own, and be able to wear a properly fitted helmet, usually around 12 months. When riding with babies and children, follow these safety tips:
- Both you and your child must wear a helmet. A helmet should fit snugly and offer good padding.
- Wear bright, reflective clothing to make yourself more visible.
- Attach a high-flying fluorescent flag to your bike or to the trailer so others can see you.
- Be sure that child seats have spoke guards, safety belts, and adequate padding.
- Avoid blankets or loose clothing that can get caught in the spokes or other parts of the bike.
- Have the bike seat fitted to your bike. Do not use it on other bikes without having it properly fitted.
- Choose routes with little traffic. A paved bike path is ideal, especially when you are starting out.
- Teach older children basic traffic rules and bike safety.
Whether you are heading out for a hike or just strolling around town, backpacks are a great hands-free option for bringing your child along. Here are some things to look for when shopping for a baby carrier:
- Firm, padded, adjustable head supports (especially important for younger babies who may be more comfortable in a front carrier)
- Secured seating that keeps the baby's back, trunk, and head upright
- Adjustable safety straps
- Correct fit for you, including wide, padded shoulder straps and a waist belt to reduce stress on the lower back
- Built-in stands to make it easier to get the backpack on and off, especially with metal-framed carriers or when using without a partner
You should be in good physical shape before attempting to carry your baby in a backpack. Here are a few more safety tips to keep in mind when using your backpack:
Know that the backpack may affect your balance, and do the following to compensate:
- Take smaller steps.
- Avoid rough, hard-to-see, or slick terrain.
- Don't walk too fast, especially when going downhill.
- Never use the backpack when doing activities in which a fall or moving equipment could harm the child, such as fly-fishing, lawn mowing, or skiing.
- Check in on your child often to make sure they are comfortable
Consumer Product Safety Commission
Safe Kids Worldwide
Caring for Kids—Canadian Paediatric Society
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Last reviewed July 2016 by Michael Woods, MD Last Updated: 7/7/2016