Growing pains

Raising children doesn’t have to hurt so much


Michelle Sussman


Ten tips At a friend’s baby shower in 2003, the guests were encouraged to offer advice to the new mom while she opened their presents. Before I had my daughter, my ignorance of children left me with only one piece of solid advice: read to your child. While that’s good advice, it’s not very creative.

By the time this party rolled around, I had a 1-year-old daughter and solid advice that no one ever told me until it was too late: strengthen your muscles. Your body must be ready to handle your child’s ever-increasing weight. When I gave my smart advice, everyone looked at me funny. Even the new mom rolled her eyes and said, "You always have to be different, don’t you?"

Six months later, I heard that her back was aching from her son’s most recent overnight weight gain and she wished she had paid more attention to my advice.

Sally Fansler, a licensed physical therapist and owner of Clybourn Physical Therapy in Chicago, works with many parents and their parenting-related ailments.

"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 to exercise. I have only one child and my yoga sessions are sporadic, at best. But by following these tips, parents can change their habits in small ways to help avoid injury and strain.

1Ask for help. While pregnant, ask your obstetrician or midwife about proper posture and exercises to strengthen your muscles in preparation for your baby. Moms and dads can exercise together.

2Consider the changing table. Don’t just pick a changing table that’s cute, make sure it’s the right height for mom and dad. You’ll be spending a great deal of time bending over and changing diapers for the next couple of years. You want to make sure that your arms can comfortably reach the top of the table. Don’t choose a changing table that will have either of you doubled over—or back pain will follow.

3 Nurse with good posture. While nursing your new baby be sure your body is well supported. "Mothers need to bring the baby to them instead of leaning over," says Amy Johnson, a leader for the La Leche League of Schaumburg. Johnson also recommends using throw pillows. "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, support your arms with pillows. My husband, Tim, used my Boppy support pillow as much, if not more, than I did to keep proper posture.

4Read the instructions. Baby carriers allow parents to hold their child close while using both hands. But if your carrier causes back pain, be sure you are using it correctly. Some are best for infants. Others can be adjusted.

5Lower the railing. Life with a baby is fast paced. But some shortcuts only cause more pain. "Lower the crib railing each time you take the child out instead of bending over the railing to avoid lower back pain," says Fansler.

6Look at your baby when picking him up. That baby is the light of your life. No one will blame you for focusing on his sweet face. They’ll never suspect you’re protecting yourself. If you turn your neck the opposite direction while lifting, you risk pulling neck muscles.

7Lift with your legs, not your back. This takes the pressure off of 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.

8Avoid "mother’s thumb" and "mother’s wrist." Lifting your baby can cause pain and stress to your thumbs and wrists, resulting in tendinitis. Take the pressure off your joints by cradling your baby with your arms as you lift her.

9Keep moving. Admit it—it’s easier to prop a child on your hip than to have him following you everywhere, tugging on your leg. But this loving hold can quickly strain your hips. Fansler suggests frequently switching sides when holding a child on your hip to avoid injury.

10 Seek help. If you feel any nagging joint pain, see your doctor. He or she can offer exercises and referrals to physical therapists or orthopedists. Don’t let an injury worsen over time. Recovery will only 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.

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