Parenting is tough—especially on your back, neck, wrists and elbows.
In a word—ow!
All the twisting, bending and lifting you’ll do countless times a day without thinking to hoist your baby/toddler in and out of strollers, cribs, car seats and on and off changing tables can take a physical toll in the form of a sore neck, creaky knees, achy elbows and a rebellious back.
“I’m constantly treating moms who are suffering from repetitive-stress injuries (RSIs) that result from the wear and tear of being a parent,” says Peggy Brill, PT, owner of Brill Physical Therapy in New York City and author of The Core Program. RSIs are degenerative disorders caused by chronically using poor posture to perform everyday tasks, such as carrying your baby in an infant car seat on your forearm like a handbag. Such poor body mechanics place too much force on ligaments, muscles, joints, tendons and spinal discs and can be harmful if you do them often. Women are especially prone to RSIs because, unlike men, they naturally lack upper-body strength.
Luckily, using key products, having good posture and learning how to lift and carry your child properly can reduce your risk of injury. With that in mind, here are eight body-breaking parenting moves and how to fix them.
Lugging an Infant Car Seat
Don’t: Lean to the side and carry it on your forearm like a purse. “This position stresses your back, shoulder, and—especially—that arm,” says Mary Modica, a physical therapist at Schwab Rehabilitation Hospital in Chicago. Indeed, “after my youngest child was born, I developed pain in my shoulders that wouldn’t go away,” says Sandy Cummings, a mother of three. “The doctor diagnosed it as bursitis.” The culprit: lugging around a 15-pound car seat with a baby inside. “Carrying an infant car seat on your arm is equivalent to walking around with three or four full paint cans in one hand, something most people wouldn’t do, but yet, they’ll carry a car seat that way,” says Modica.
Do: Put both hands on the handle, bend your elbows, and carry the car seat in front of you. The less distance between your torso and what you’re carrying, the better for your back. Using both hands also helps distribute the weight evenly.
Do: If you’re in the market for an infant car seat, consider the weight of the car seat (without the base) into your buying decision. The GracoSnugRide Click Connect 30 LX for example, weighs just 7 pounds without the base. 7 pounds is the lightweight benchmark. The Nuna Pipa (a Babyproducts Mom fave because it sports a load leg) weighs 7.9 pounds. In comparison, the GB Asana (another BPM fave because it also has a load leg) weighs in at 9.2 pounds. For more about why load legs are so great, read on.
Do: Sling your baby over one arm in an infant car seat as little as possible, such as when you’re running in to drop your snug-as-a-bug baby off at daycare. Otherwise, carry your baby or put him in a stroller/carseat carrier frame.
Do: Consider trying this new ingenius gadget, the Lugbug. It’s an ergonomic baby carrier handle that attaches to any single-handle infant car seat. Created by Nathan Day, an Arizona dad of three who injured himself after carrying around his infant daughter in her infant car seat on his arm, the Lugbug eases tension on the wrist, forearm and shoulder. It’s the only product of its kind on the market.
2. Lifting Your Baby from the Crib
All cribs sold today have stationary sides, which means you’ll be bending over to retrieve your baby, especially as your baby gets older and heavier. You’ll start out with the mattress at its highest level. That’s not so bad. But you’ll need to lower the mattress as your baby grows and can roll over, sit up and push up onto her hands and knees. By the time your baby can pull up to a standing position, the mattress should be at its lowest setting. To say bye-bye to back pain:
Don’t: Lock your knees or hold your baby at arms’ length as you pick him up. “This puts extreme pressure on your spinal discs,” says Nicholas Warren, Sc.D., the ergonomics coordinator at UConn Health Center in Farmington, Connecticut.
Do: Plant your feet shoulder-width apart and bend your knees. Then bring your baby as close to your body as possible before lifting him up out of the crib.
Do: Buy a step stool. Keep it right by the crib and changing table. “One of the best piece of advice I can give you is to buy a few inexpensive footstools about nine inches tall and 15 inches wide and use it in the nursery and other areas of your home,” says Marianne Ryan, a physical therapist and author of Baby Bod. Keeping one foot on the stool when lifting your baby from the crib takes the stress off your back. Who knew?
Do: NOT buy an older crib with moveable crib rail, no matter how great the price at a tag sale, etc. That style crib has been recalled and is no longer made or sold in stores in the U.S. It may be easier on your back, but because it’s unsafe for babies.
3. Changing Diapers
Don’t: Bend over too far. Buy a changing table at the right height. Ideally, the changing surface should be slightly below your elbows. If you can’t find one table at that’s just right for your stature, place one foot on a stepstool while you’re changing your baby. (You might keep one step stool by the crib and another by the changing table.) If you’re on the shorter side, stand on the stool when you’re changing your baby. If you’re taller, try raising the height of the table by adding a thick pad underneath it.
Do: “Position the changing table so you can stand right in front of it,” says Ryan. Your goal: To avoid bending and twisting, which can strain your neck.
Do: Keep diaper changing supplies where they’re easy to reach, such as on a shelf above the changing table or in a drawer. Positioning the shelf two to three feet above the table will give you enough room to change your baby without having changing supplies being too far out of reach.
4. Carrying your baby around
Don’t: Balance your child on one hip. This can strain your back and the ligaments on that side of your body. In addition, as your arm presses against your child, your muscles continually contract, reducing blood flow. Over time, this can lead to trauma of the tissues in your arm and shoulder.
Do: Hold her in front of you with her legs wrapped around your waist. Keeping your child centered will help you stand upright—your spine’s natural position. Another option: Use an infant carrier with a padded waist belt, such as the Baby Bjorn Baby Carrier We or Baby Bjorn Baby Carrier One. Both can be worn in the front or on your back; with the Baby Carrier We, you’ll need to keep your baby facing you. (Get the “Air” version if you’re having a summer baby or live in a hot climate.)
Keep in mind, however, that the baby-facing-inward position is more ergonomically correct for you because the weight of your baby’s dangling legs are closer to your body, Ryan says. Both of these carriers have been “acknowledged as a hip-healthy baby carrier by the International Hip Dysplasia Institute.
Do: Use a stroller (or encourage your child to walk) as often as possible when your child gets older.
5. Carrying a Diaper bag
Don’t: Load up your shoulder diaper bag and always carry it on the same shoulder. Switch shoulders to reduce the risk of wear and tear and lighten your load.
Do: Consider carrying a backpack diaper bag. “It’s better for your body because they keep your arms free and the weight of the pack gets evenly distributed over your entire body,” Ryan says. But don’t wear your diaper bag backpack so that it rides below your waist, which can pull on the back of your neck.
For more about backpack and other style diaper bags, check out “What’s Your Diaper Bag Purse-onality?”
6. Bath Time
Don’t: Lift your baby/toddler out of a regular adult tub and twist. Instead, bend at your knees and bring your child close to your chest as you lift with both arms. Keep your child close to your chest as you carry him around.
Do: Start out using a baby bathtub at the sink level for a long as possible, according to the tub’s age requirements (up to age 6 months). It’ll be easier on your back and knees.
7. Putting Your Child on Your Lap
Don’t: Lean forward while you remain seated. Why? “As you lift, the pressure on your spinal discs multiples to three to ten times the weight of your child,” Modica says. “If you’re tall, for example, lifting a 20-pound toddler from the floor could put as much as 200 pounds of pressure on your back!”
Do: Get down on one knee with the other foot planted in front of you, and hold her as you move back into your seat. Or you’re your child climb into your lap.
8. Lifting Your Toddler from a Car Seat
Don’t do the twisted car seat lift: Worst-case scenario: With both your feet on the ground, you twist and lean into the car seat with your arms extended, your toddler at the end of them. Lifting your toddler that way can do a number on your knees, lower back, neck, shoulder, elbows and wrists.
Do: “Put one leg into the car and face the car seat as you’re putting your child in it,” says physical therapist Traci O’Hara. You’ll take pressure off your back. If your car seat is in the middle of the back seat, climb in and face the car seat as you lift your child into it.
Of course, positioning yourself properly can take a few extra seconds you don’t always have with a feisty toddler in tow. Still, it doesn’t have to be perfect all the time. But the more often you lift correctly, the better you’re able to tolerate it when you don’t.
Congrats to Jason of NYC, dad to 8 month old Harper, winner of the Lugbug giveaway, which ended on June 26, 2016.