Ten tips At a friend’s baby shower in 2003, the guests were encouraged to offer advice to the mom-to-be while she opened presents. I had no children, so my ignorance left me with only one piece of solid advice: Read to your child. OK, it’s good advice, but not very creative.
By the time the next party rolled around, I had a 1-year-old daughter and I was ready with something no one had ever told me: Get your body ready to handle a child’s ever-increasing weight—strengthen your muscles. My advice seemed out of place with all the other cute answers, such as sing to your baby and cuddle your baby. Even the new mommy rolled her eyes and said, "You always have to be different, don’t you?"
Six months later, I heard through the grapevine that her back was aching from her son’s most recent overnight weight gain and she wished she would have paid more attention to my words.
Sally Fansler, a licensed physical therapist and owner of Clybourn Physical Therapy in Chicago, works with many parents treating parenting-related ailments. And both parent should be ready to share the heavy lifting once the baby arrives. But the physical demands of pregnancy and nursing often place a greater burden on a mom’s body. "From the time a woman starts gaining weight during pregnancy through the toddler years, her lower back takes a great deal of stress. Strength or flexibility preparation is really important to be able to withstand the abnormal stresses that her body has to go through during those years," says Fansler.
I know it’s difficult for parents to find time for an exercise routine. But the tips below provide small changes that will help parents avoid injury and strain.
1. Ask for help. While pregnant, ask your obstetrician or midwife about proper posture and exercises to strengthen your muscles. Early preparation is important for strength and flexibility during pregnancy and after your baby arrives. Moms and dads can exercise together.
2. Consider the changing table. Even before your child is born, you need to think about how caring for the baby will affect your body. While shopping for a changing table, don’t just pick one that’s cute—make sure it’s the correct height for both the new mom and dad. You’ll be spending a great deal of time bending over the table to change diapers in the years to come, and you want to make sure your arms can comfortably reach the top of the table. Don’t choose a changing table that will have either of you doubled over because back pain will soon follow.
3. Nurse with good posture. While nursing your new baby, be sure your body is well supported. Amy Johnson, a leader for the La Leche League of Schaumburg, stresses, "Mothers need to bring the baby to them instead of leaning over."
While one solution cannot help every mother, Johnson recommends keeping throw pillows handy to support the body. "A small pillow under the arms, back or the baby during breastfeeding will help prevent strain."
Even dads can benefit from this advice. While seated and holding your baby, use pillows to support your arms to avoid strain. My husband, Tim, used my support pillow just as much, if not more, than I did to ease his back strain and keep proper posture.
4. Read the instructions. Baby carriers are a great invention. They allow moms and dads to hold their child close while using both hands to complete tasks. But if your carrier is causing you back pain, be sure you are using it correctly. Some are best for infants or children under a certain weight. Others can be adjusted for your growing child.
5. Lower the railing. "Lower the crib railing each time you take the child out instead of bending over the railing to avoid lower back pain," says Fansler. Yes, it may seem easier not to do it. I know life with a baby is fast paced. There’s always a diaper to change, a bottle to prepare or a pediatrician’s appointment to make. But some tasks are too important to your health to take a shortcut.
6. Look at your baby when picking him or her up. That baby is the light of your life and no one will blame you for being focused on that sweet face. But there is more to this than love. Looking at the baby will also protect you. If you turn your neck in the opposite direction while lifting, you may be putting yourself in the position for pulled neck muscles.
7. Lift with your legs, not your back. Heard it a thousand times, right? There’s a good reason. Lifting using your leg muscles takes the pressure off those delicate muscles in your back.
"Even though new mothers are more susceptible than new dads to back injury due to the stresses of pregnancy, men also need to utilize proper body mechanics to avoid stress injuries," says Fansler.
8. Avoid "mother’s thumb" and "mother’s wrist." Lifting your baby can cause a great deal of pain and stress to your thumbs and wrists, resulting in painful tendinitis. Take the pressure off your joints by cradling your baby with your arms as you lift her.
9. Keep moving. Admit it—it’s easier to prop a child on your hip while working around the house than to have him following you everywhere, tugging on your leg. But your hips can quickly be strained by this loving hold.
Fansler suggests parents frequently switch sides when holding a child on their hips to avoid injury.
10. Seek help. If you feel any nagging pain in any of your joints, see your doctor. Don’t wait. They are exercises and your doctor can give you a referral to a physical therapist or orthopedist. Don’t let an injury worsen over time. Recover will take longer and may result in surgery.
Michelle Sussman is a mom, wife and writer living in Bolingbrook who learned about back pain and mother’s wrist the hard way.