Family Wellness Forum: Physical Stresses of Caring for Young Ones
I am trying to provide parents of young children with some suggestions of how to take care of their own backs given the physical stresses of caring for young ones. What would you recommend as basic strategies to help parents, especially in relation to all the carrying, lifting, and transferring of young children?
The carrying of young children can surely take its toll on parents. Some practical advice is to use our legs to lift with as opposed to bending over with our backs. It is important to bring our bodies to the level of the child before we do any lifting. Many injuries to the spine occur from lifting while stooping forward. Another critical factor to avoid injury in lifting is to face the child/car seat straight on. Any twist or rotation in our spine while trying to lift significantly increases our susceptibility for injury.
Beyond lifting is the seemingly relentless (yet vital) need of the child to be carried. Although sometimes almost exhausting for the parent, I am a strong advocate of continued carrying of our children.
Carrying our infants can be honored with the potential of minimal stress to the parents. The main advice here is to vary the positions we carry our infants in and the carriers we use to do so. Continuously propping a child on one hip will stress the parent’s spine. Although it usually seems easier for the parent to carry on one side or the other, it is best to alternate sides and positions frequently.
There are numerous carriers designed to make life easier for us as parents and they all have their effects on both the parent's and the infant's spine.
Truly the most common and least desirable for body mechanics is the “car seat.” This is being used more and more by parents as a carrier outside of the car. When the parent tries to walk carrying the baby in one of these, their whole spine becomes distorted and the potential for injury is increased... Mothers who have just given birth and have relatively unstable joints in their pelvis from the hormone relaxin are at even greater risk for injury. Additionally, the Back to Sleep program for infants has them spending far too much time on their backs and the car seat is just more time spent this way as well. Car seats as infant carriers, therefore, are not the best choice for either parents or babies.
There are many baby wearers available today: wraps, slings, sacks. There are numerous benefits to wearing a baby—particularly for the baby. However, your question is addressing postural concerns and recommendations for the parent, so here they are:
It is the author’s recommendation that parents look at the pros and cons of each carrier and choose a few, rather than one select carrier for their children. Incorporating various carrying styles for the babies and alternating the stress load to the parent’s spines are ideal ways to utilize these carriers to everyone’s advantage. The various carriers are designed to hold the baby in different positions. Variety seems to offer both the mother and baby the greatest advantage in postural adaptations and therefore decreases the potential for injury.
Front carriers, slings, wraps, back carriers all have their benefits and distribute the baby’s weight differently for the parent. Alternating carriers helps the parents offer the benefits of wearing their babies without causing a repetitive type stress injury to the parents’ spines. In the course of a day, depending on how long they wear their babies, it is advisable to switch carriers so parents will need to have several to choose from.
Slings should be alternated from side to side and such type carriers, be they front or back, should be comfortably arranged on the parents’ shoulders to avoid undue stress. Parents should also take note of their upright posture while they are wearing the carrier. If it forces them to distribute their weight unevenly from side to side or front to back, then they need to either readjust the carrier or use a different style.
Finally, carrying the baby right from birth allows the parents’ spines to adapt to the rapid weight gain of the baby. It is much harder to start using a baby wearer once the baby is a few months old. Both parent and baby will find it more difficult to adapt. All in all, parents are on the move and babies need to be carried. Our website has an extensive list of the more common baby wearers to choose from. Visit this link: www.icpa4kids.org/research/children/babywearing.htm
There are many types of carriers available today. Try several and use various types for you and your baby.
This article appeared in Pathways to Family Wellness magazine, Issue #07.
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