Have you ever experienced back, shoulder or neck pain from holding your baby or toddler?
New mums may be predisposed to developing musculoskeletal pain in their neck, shoulders, forearms, wrist and back. Pregnancy and the postpartum period place unique strains on a woman’s body. Often the aches and pains experienced are a consequence of several factors, including weak, lengthened muscles, ligament laxity, repetitive movements, poor posture, hormonal changes, sleep deprivation, as well stress and anxiety. Your body is also subjected to repetitive activities, such as feeding, bathing, changing nappies, putting the baby down to sleep and getting the baby in and out of the cot and the car, which puts extra stresses on your muscles, ligaments and joints.
Motherhood related repetitive strain injuries and discomfort can be avoided by using proper ergonomics. Here are some tips to help avoid injury while taking care of a child.
✔ Whether you bottle feed or breastfeed, you need to maintain proper posture while sitting to feed your baby. Many new mums tend to bring their breast down to their baby during nursing, rather than bringing their baby up to their breast.
✔ Pillows will be your best friend! Put regular pillows or a nursing pillow under your arms and under the baby’s bottom. Using these pillows, will help you to reduce the risk of hunching forward and straining the upper back and neck.
✔ Placing the pillow/towel in the small of the lower back, and/or at your mid-back position can give more support for your back.
✔ Alternating feeding positions from the left to the right side helps reduces the risk of muscular fatigue and also allows for comfort for both you and the baby. It also avoids your neck and their neck being in the same rotated position every time.
✔ Some other tips are reclining back slightly and putting your feet on a footrest or squarely on the floor to also help reduce strain on the neck and back.
✔ If you have to carry your baby on your hip, keep your body straight and switch sides every 15 – 20 minutes to even out the strain on your hips and low back. Avoid sticking one hip out to the side.
✔ The more symmetrically you can stand, the better for your body.
✔ Carrying your child with both hands on the front of your body with her legs wrapped around your waist can minimize strain of your back, hips, and arms.
✔ Hold heavy items, like car seats, carriers, and strollers, close to your body. The further out you hold them, the more strain they place on your arms, shoulders, and back.
✔ When lifting and turning, ensure that you turn your whole body, including your legs and not just your torso and keep your lower abdominal muscles engaged and activated.
✔ Keep your wrists in a neutral position when holding baby, rather than using extreme flexion.
✔ Also keep your thumbs tucked in close to your hand.
Lugging an Infant Car Sea
✔ When carrying an infant car seat carrier, use both hands, put them on the handle, bend your elbows and carry the 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.
✔ Don’t lean to the side and carry it on your forearm like a purse, as that can strain your back, shoulders, and arms.
✔ 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 child at the end of them.
Lifting/Lifting Your Toddler from a Car Seat
✔ Bend your knees or adopt a wide stance with the feet, and preferably with one foot slightly in front of the other, when you bend over to pick up your baby and when placing the baby on a lowered surface, like a crib, floor, bathtub, or changing table). Then bring your baby as close to your body as possible before lifting him up out of the crib. This will help reduce stress and pain on the lower back. Even if you have to lean slightly, assume the above stance and bend from the knees rather than the back.
✔ Don’t lock your knees or hold your baby at arms’ length as you pick him up.
✔ Buy a step stool/footstools about 9 inches tall and 15 inches wide. Keep it right next to the crib, changing table, nursery or other areas of your home. Keeping one foot on the stool when lifting your baby from the crib takes the stress off your back.
✔ Don’t bend over too far. Buy a changing table at the right height. Ideally, the changing surface should be slightly below your elbows.
✔ Position the changing table so you can stand right in front of it. Your goal: To avoid bending and twisting, which can strain your neck.
✔ When your baby is small, put their baby bath in the sink to eliminate bending over which can increase stress on the lower back.
✔ As your baby grows and takes baths in the bathtub, make sure you have knee pads, a pillow or thick rug under your knees when bathing your baby to help maintain proper posture and reduce back pain.
✔ 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.
✔ Before you buy a pram ensure that the handles are approximately waist height and that the baby does not sit too low which will require a larger effort for you in bending to get the baby in and out.
✔ Adjust height of handlebar on pram/pushchair so it’s at a comfortable level, around the height of your belly button.
✔ Push pram/pushchair with wrists in neutral position (not bent back) and with thumbs not wrapped around handle.
✔ Don’t push from the heel of your hand. Don’t jut your head and chin out, lock your elbows, lock your knees, or stand too far from the stroller.
✔ Stand with your pelvis and back upright with your feet directly under your body. Keep your knees and elbows soft. Pull in your chin and keep your head over your body to avoid straining your neck muscles. Keep your wrists neutral so you can push through your entire arm and core and keep the pushchair closer to your body.
It can be difficult to do every step and movement in a perfect way. And you do not need to be perfect! Just be aware about your posture and the way you do things. Gradually introduce a proper movement habit into your daily routine. It may be too difficult to start using all the tips at the same time. Start by choosing the most strenuous or painful activity for you. For the next few days, or even a week, try to apply the proper movement and posture every time you do that activity. Use visual cues to remind you about that (put post-it notes as a reminder or always keep pillows/towels next ready where you feed your baby). We hope these tips will help you create more healthy habits for your body.
Mothers tend to give too much and forget to take care of themselves. It can be difficult to find time for yourself but self-care is very important. Remember, the better you feel, the better you are able to care for your baby and family.
If you are struggling, don’t suffer in silence, here at Woodside Clinic we can get you back on your feet faster, call us on Dunstable – 01582 608400 or Leighton Buzzard on 01525 372 447 to book an appointment with one of our physiotherapists or osteopaths or you can book online.