Baby and Your Back: Safe Practices

Babies can be hazardous to your health—your back health. When it comes to parenting, back injury is an occupational hazard.

Low back pain is one of the most common reasons for sick leave after delivery. It can significantly reduce quality of life. 

New mothers, whose backs have just endured the stresses of pregnancy and birth, are particularly vulnerable. So are taller fathers and mothers who must bend farther than others to scoop up tots from playpens.

And think about this: When you place a baby in a car seat, you often break every rule of back health by holding the child at arm's length while bending and twisting.

Then there's another problem: kids who weigh as much as a large sack of flour—and won't sit still.

Contributing factors

With more people in their 30s and 40s having children, the likelihood of preexisting "wear and tear" on the spine can set the stage for problems. However, the risk of back pain is actually greater among young, overweight women. New parents are especially at risk because they are not conditioned for the physical rigors.

For both men and women, age is not nearly as important as fitness. Staying fit, avoiding awkward or extreme postures, and holding heavy objects close to your body can help you avoid most problems.

Some parents tend to feel the strain in the area between their shoulders more than in their lower backs, especially when doing repetitive activities such as bending and lifting the baby.

The fatigue that goes along with 2 a.m. feedings likewise contributes to injury. When parents are more tired than usual, their muscles don't respond the same way.

Lift with caution

When you're taking care of a baby, lifting is frequently required. Here are some tips for picking up your child with a minimum of strain:

  • Changing table: Use a changing table higher than your waist to minimize bending. For added support, put one foot up on a rail, stool, or bottom drawer while you bend.

  • Car seat: Minimize the reach by putting the seat closer to the window. Brace yourself by placing one knee on the seat. On long trips, loosen up by walking around a few minutes before lifting the child out.

  • Stroller: Kneel or squat when lifting your baby from a stroller. Use your legs and avoid rounding your back or twisting. Buy a stroller with a handle long enough to reach without leaning over.

  • Crib: Lower the crib side; don't bend over it. Get as close to the baby as possible, bend at the waist, and keep your back straight and firm as you lift.

  • Playpen: Coax your child to come to the side of the playpen. Then bend your knees, keep your back straight, and avoid twisting. Tighten your stomach muscles and lift with your legs. 

  • Nursing: Use pillows to bring the baby up to you and a footstool to support your legs. Or, lie down when nursing.

  • Carrying: Consider using a  "front pack," when walking.