Caring for babies and toddlers can take its toll on the body, and not just for parents. One of the most common sources of injury I see in grandparents is their grandchildren, especially as they get heavier.
Parenthood places new strains on the body. If you are the person who has given birth, your ligaments are still unstable, meaning that the spine is more vulnerable to injury. It's ironic that just when a woman is at her weakest and most out of alignment, she has to take on the physical challenges of motherhood. A new mum is unlikely to spend a lot of time thinking about her body mechanics, but she really should. Mums, dads and grandparents all need to learn good lifting, carrying and holding techniques. This article will help.
It may seem natural to always hold baby on the same side of the body, but just think about the muscular imbalance that is created if you hold a weight on one side of your body every day. Worse still, women usually jut their hip out as a baby rest. Muscles, ligaments and discs will all be strained by this asymmetrical posture.
It will feel awkward at first but do try to hold your baby half the time on your other side. You will get used to it. When possible, hold baby in the centre of your body using both arms.
Your body’s natural preference will probably be to hold baby with a shoulder rounded forward and the upper back muscles stretched out. This is a primary reason for the spasms that many mums experience in their shoulder girdle.
Do your best to keep that shoulder down and back and your abdominals strong while holding baby.
Carpal tunnel syndrome is a common condition during and after pregnancy. Parents will often crook their wrist around baby to give baby more support as they move about their day. This repeated wrist position can exacerbate or create pain in the wrist area. If you experience carpal tunnel syndrome, try to be hyper aware of the repetitive motions of baby care and adjust your wrists accordingly.
Feeding / Nursing
Some of the biggest postural strains come from poor feeding positions (especially if breastfeeding). Some nursing mums sit down anyhow and anywhere to feed their babies. Whether breast feeding or bottle feeding, make sure to use a good chair with back support. A footrest can take strain off the back and increase blood flow.
A common nursing position is for the mother to lay the baby on her lap and literally hunch down to reach baby. The upper back rounds over and the shoulders roll forward.
Use a nursing pillow which brings baby up to you. Depending on your height and the position of arm rests, you may need additional pillows to raise baby so that you can feed in a neutral spine position. You are going to be in this position a lot so it's important that you use good posture whenever you can.
Look for baby carriers that keep the baby’s weight as close to your body as possible but with broad, comfortable straps which don’t cut into your or the baby’s body
There are slings, backpacks, front packs and wraps and while they can be convenient they can also be tough on the back. It is almost impossible to keep the chest from collapsing and the spine in neutral alignment. Consider that you are moving about your day, often sleep deprived, with this weight load on your spine.
Be very careful about your posture and your movement when using a baby carrier, particularly when doing twisting motions. Focus on lifting the chest and bracing the core (your abs) when using a baby carrier and always bring the shoulders back.
Prams should be tall enough that the adult can walk with good form. You shouldn't need to bend down to hold handles and you should be able to take natural strides.
If you look at common posture when pushing prams, you will see the head jutting forward, shoulders forward and wrists bent back.
Choose a pram which fits your body shape and work on some postural awareness. Retract the shoulders when pushing, lead with the chest and push the pram with wrists in neutral alignment (straight not bent).
If you can, alternate the children's seats regularly. Otherwise, you will always be pushing a weight that is heavier on one side, leading to further muscular imbalance.
Car Seat Carriers
Car seats that double up as a baby carrier are undoubtedly convenient but even the lightest baby becomes a heavy unbalanced weight when carried in one of these. Ideally you should remove your child from the carrier when taking them out of a car. However, if you must lift the seat with the baby in it there are things you can do. Firstly, switch sides regularly. Secondly, the best way for you to carry it is like a laundry basket in the centre of your body with both hands. It means you won't have hands free to carry other items but it really is much better for you.
If the car seat is on the ground, centre yourself in front of it, bend at your legs and brace your core when you lift. When baby is in the car, you should climb into the car, and with knees bent lift baby out.
Most parents try to do it from standing alongside the car and so bear the sheer and awkward weight of the car seat in their twisted back. This is asking for an injury.
Also remember that it's easier to lift the car seat from an already elevated position than from the ground so if it’s safe for baby you should place the seat on a table or chair rather than the floor.
Think about the weight load on the spine when you hold baby away from the body and then lower baby in the cot. To make matters worse, if you have just fed the baby to sleep you will contort in any way so as not to wake them up.
First, lower the rail on the cot. Almost all cots have rails that lower for this purpose but most parents don't do it as it is one more step. Then, stand right next to the cot so you won't have to twist to lower baby or pick up baby. Brace your core and try to keep your spine in alignment as you lower or pick up baby. Many cots are adjustable in height and the less you have to bend over, the less pressure you will be putting on your spine. The same applies to changing tables – try to use one that is the right height for whichever carer changes the most nappies, or buy an adjustable one.
Keep yourself well.
New parenthood is traditionally a selfless time, and a baby’s needs can feel all encompassing. But please do take care of yourself. A little self care now will benefit the whole family as your child grows up. The first months and years of a child’s life are a physically taxing time for its carers, especially birth mothers, but you deserve to become pain free and return to the fitness levels you enjoyed before parenthood.
We offer free spinal checks. If you have pains or twinges which worry you, come and see us. We will be glad to help.
Don’t suffer in silence, you deserve to feel pain free and become just as active and healthy as you were before your child came along.
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