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Baby-gonomics: How to Properly Lift and Carry Your New Baby

Have you ever experienced back, shoulder or neck pain from holding your baby or toddler? Do you find yourself awkwardly leaning over the crib or twisting your way to get your baby out of his car seat and into his stroller? Yes, me too, even as Baby Elvis is almost two years old. There are many not so great ways to hold, carry, and transfer your baby, and through trial and error on my own postpartum body, I want to share some better ways to move with your baby in tow. As the gear nerd and biohacker that I am, I have 2 strollers, 3 breast feeding pillows, 4 carriers, and a ton more gadgets to help take the load off. But what I learned was good ole fashion core strength and good mechanics saved my back and neck more than anything else. Here are some tips to keep you protected while toting around your tot.

Baby-gonomics: How to Properly Lift and Carry Your New Babe

Current Biology reports holding and snuggling your new babe as much as possible has lasting positive effects on their brain, but at the same time, you don’t want to get hurt doing it. In fact, the more time you spend skin to skin in the first months of life minimizes the potential for postpartum depression, the amount of your baby crying, and soothes both of your nervous systems. But all this carrying, nursing, feeding, and being basically naked for a weeks on end doing skin to skin can take a beating on the body. I know firsthand. Luckily, there are proper ergonomic techniques for picking up and holding your little (or not so little) one so you can prevent new-parent injuries. Here are some tips to keep you protected while toting around your tot.

The more time you spend skin to skin in the first months of life minimizes the potential for postpartum depression, the amount of your baby crying, and soothes both of your nervous systems.

1.) Mind your Posture

We’ve all seen it – the jutted forward pelvis, the lean to one side, the child bouncing on one hip – but we need to undo this classic “parent pose.” Not only is it uncomfortable, it can do a number on your back, causing sharp pains and strains. Make sure you’re holding your baby with both arms close to your body, and keeping your pelvis centered. You should support your child by her bum, and if she still needs neck and head support, use your second hand to gently press her close to you. If you must do a hip carry, be sure to switch sides regularly and switch back to a balanced posture when you can. The trick is to keep the baby’s weight as close to your spine and center of gravity as possible, thus reducing the amount of pulling to the side or back. Save your lumbar paraspinals and QL muscles as much as you can!

2.) Switch it Up

Carrying your baby the same way every time can put unnecessary strain on your shoulders, neck, and chest, and even your arms and fingers! Using baby carriers can be helpful, but notice if your shoulders are rolling forward or if there is continual pressure on the neck. Once your baby turns 6 months old, back slings and carriers can help offset some of the workload. We love the Ergobaby 4 Position 360 for all your baby-carrying needs when your wee one turns 6 months or older or the ErgoBaby Organic Cotton Carrier for all the hippies at heart (including me).

3.) Lift with Care

Picking up and putting down your baby into his crib (what feels like) hundreds of times a day can put a strain on your lower back. When putting your baby down, hug him close, spread your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, bend your knees slightly, hinge those hips back, and slowly set him down. If you are too swayed in your low back, as we often are as new mamas that have carried a watermelon around for 9 months, tucking your tailbone down slightly while still keeping a neutral spine activates your abdominal muscles and protects your lower back. Using the proper technique can relieve some of the lower back pain that so often accompanies being a new mom. Picturing like you are doing a deadlift while maintaining straight posture prevents twist-induced pains and shearing on your lumbar discs. Maintain this same technique when picking up your baby from his crib. When setting down or picking up your tot from the floor, lift with your legs and glutes from a squatting position, taking care to keep your back straight, long, and upright, and your pelvis neutral.

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Baby-carrying muscles exercises

So, how can you prevent injury and strengthen your baby-carrying muscles? Try these exercises at home! Bonus points: Most of these exercises can be done while holding your little one or next to them while they nap!

  1. Shoulder reset: Roll your shoulders slowly up, down and around, one side at a time. Roll your shoulder blade parallel to your spine. You should notice your shoulders settling back after this exercise.
  2. Spine expansion: Practice your deep belly breath while visualizing a lengthening of your spine. Exhale and maintain that spinal length. Repeat 10-15 times to relieve pressure (and take a breather!).
  3. Pelvic engagement: Practice planks and pelvic floor exercises to protect the deep core muscles that support your hips, low back, and spine.
  4. Neck warm-ups: You’ll find that you tend to look down a lot at baby while she’s feeding, playing or sleeping. Remember to look up periodically and roll your head slowly from side to side.
  5. Squats: With legs shoulder-width apart, heels flat on the floor, and knees in alignment with your ankles, slowly squat into a seated position while keeping your pelvis tucked, shoulders back, and spine straight. As you return to a standing position, squeeze your glutes and tuck them slightly beneath your hips. By replicating this move when picking up or setting down your little one, you’ll ensure your body knows the proper form to do so painlessly and efficiently.
  6. Stretch: You can never stretch too much! Especially right after having a baby, your hormones are equalizing and you may still be hypermobile from the birthing process. Try holding onto a door frame, thumb upwards, while twisting your upper body away from your hand. This stretches the chest and shoulder muscles that often become tight when curling over your little one on those long and sleepless nights. Keep your ribs down and your shoulder off of your ear. Next, interlock your fingers behind your back and pull backwards, looking upwards and bending slightly at the waist, expanding the chest and loosening the shoulders. Hold for 15 seconds and release.

The American Journal of Occupational Therapy reveals that there is a “high prevalence of musculoskeletal pain in parents of children under the age of 4 years. They also “suggest the need for occupational therapy wellness programs that focus on preventing musculoskeletal discomfort and providing support for the parenting role.” To prep your posture for baby, or to treat any aches or pains you are experiencing from toting them around, visit us at Urban Wellness Clinic to find out how you can improve your baby-gonomics today!

Best in health,

Dr. Emily Kiberd