We live at sea level but would like to go visit family living in Colorado. How should we approach adjusting our infant (eight weeks old)? Should we give her time to adjust to Denver at 5,200 feet before going to the mountains (8,000-plus feet)? If so, for how long?
The only info we’ve been able to get from our pediatrician is that the “medical literature” does not recommend taking an infant under three months above 6,500 feet.
The concern with bringing anyone — adult, child, infant — to high altitude is altitude sickness. Going too quickly to higher altitudes, with their accompanying lower oxygen, can result in headache, fatigue, and difficulty breathing. Most altitude sickness is mild or moderate and improves with a day or two of rest, although it can be severe or even life-threatening in some individuals.
Infants under six weeks, or any infant under a year with a history of breathing problems, is more susceptible to this condition, and generally it is not recommended to bring infants in this group above 6,500 feet. The risk is, again, altitude sickness, which could progress to being very serious. Your baby is eight weeks, so you’re out of this immediate zone (my source for six weeks is UpToDate, which seems different from the three months your pediatrician advised).
If you go, there are several things to be aware of.
First: Stopping in Denver for a day or two for initial acclimatization is a good idea. People do adjust, fairly quickly, to altitude, so giving your baby a little time to do so is great.
Second: Be aware of possible symptoms. A baby cannot tell you they have a headache; signs could include fussiness, malaise, and fatigue. If you notice these, it’s a good idea to check in with your doctor.
Finally: You should make sure you have a way to get down relatively quickly if you need to. There is a big difference safety-wise between driving up to a cabin, from which you can drive down if you need to, and hiking five hours to a cabin on the top of a mountain.