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Carrying a Baby - tips and tricks from a physiotherapist

Carrying your baby the “ideal way” to prevent neck/back pain is easier said than done. As a mother myself I know that reality often does not match up with the theory, however the following tips may help prevent repetitive strains building up in your body if you try to implement them where possible.

Carrying a baby is much like when the cat chooses you to sit on (if you’re a cat person). You are the chosen one. You will sit in any awkward position for however long the cat chooses so long as he stays content and happy on your knee.

I often found myself doing this when my babies were young and would finally fall asleep on my shoulder. Yes! I’d gained a potential 30-45 minute window to finally do nothing, watch some Netflix, or drink a (usually cold) cup of tea.

So you slowly scoot your hips forward to slide down the sofa a little so that you’re ever so slightly more comfortable and that burning sensation in your mid/lower back can have a little respite. The resulting posture is not ideal (particularly if you are stuck there, unable to shift position for 30mins or more for fear of waking the baby).

The position you sit in is not necessarily the problem; it’s the prolonged static nature of the position that causes issues. If you are a desk worker, at least you can shift your weight in your seat, maybe give your neck a quick stretch- this however is not an option when you’re trying your best to prolong your “me” time with a sleeping infant. If you don’t believe me try sitting still for 30minutes without moving a muscle- things start to ache as muscles fatigue. It’s cheesy, but “motion is lotion” - so :

Tip #1 When carrying a baby, try and avoid static positions for prolonged periods. Trying to get in the habit of putting the baby down in a crib/day bed for naps will allow you the freedom of movement to have a stretch or properly relax in a comfortable position allowing your muscles a chance to switch off, recharge and be ready to go again when your baby next needs a cuddle.

Conversely the other predicament I found myself in when my children were little, was which carrying position was easiest to get stuff done. As a new parent, I soon learned that 2 arms/hands really isn’t enough and a third one would’ve been really useful. Since buying an extra arm isn’t a viable option on mumzworld the next best solution was to use a baby carrier as it frees up both hands, drastically improving a new parent’s productivity.

The baby carrier market is huge and when choosing which one is right for you I urge you to try them on (preferably with the baby) to see which one works best for you. I bought one when I was pregnant with my first, however when she arrived I think I used it once as I just didn’t like it, I then took my daughter to the shop and tried on several with her and then I picked one that I loved and used all the time.

Picking a baby carrier is another blog post altogether but it’s important to pick an ergonomic carrier as some carriers are not good for the baby’s hip development. I’d advise you to consider what activity or when you are planning to use the carrier the most. Is it easy to put on and off on your own? Is it comfortable on your shoulders and lower back? You should be able to fully adjust the carrier to suit your body and baby so that carrying the baby feels effortless. Using a baby carrier keeps the baby close to your body which puts the least load through your lower back (think back to how you are taught to lift heavy objects).

Tip # 2: Get a baby carrier and use it not only for walks but also round the house to limit awkward carrying of the baby whilst trying to do daily activities.

Tip #3 : Raise the cot level (if possible) so that you don’t have to repeatedly bend down far when putting your baby down to sleep. Cot sides are high and unless you are quite tall bending over them to lay a baby down puts a lot of load on your lower back (think about carrying a 5kg weight at arms length whilst bending down). If you raise the base of the cot (to an appropriate height, depending if the baby can sit/stand up), this will limit the amount of bend you have to do and thus minimise the forces going through your lumbar spine. When you are doing the same movement repeatedly throughout the day, micro strains can build up resulting in pain and/or injury in the long term.

The final tips are worth mentioning, however they can be harder to implement (as sometimes it just isn’t practical).

Tip #4: Try to alternate which hip you carry your baby on. This applies for when they are a older and can hold themselves up (6months+). Personally I used to use my left hip more so that my right hand was free to use. However keep in the back of your mind to try and mix it up to limit stresses to one side of your body which can cause tight muscles and pain i placed repeatedly under a unilateral load.

Tip #5: Try to support your back and arms when feeding your baby. Whether breast or bottle feeding, sitting unsupported, often hunched forwards whilst feeding your baby can cause neck and upper back pain. This is due to the sustained loaded nature of this position which loads the muscles in an awkward manner. You can use pillows to support your back (particularly if on a sofa, the seat is often quite deep to use the backrest), so place several pillows behind you so you are upright and supported. Use another pillow under your elbow (best under the arm that is supporting the baby’s head), this will take the strain off the shoulder. Breastfeeding pillows are great for this as are a gentle curve shape so can sit under the baby on your lap, however any cushions can also do the job.

Carrying your baby in awkward positions is unlikely to cause pain or injury if done once or twice. However when done repeatedly muscle fatigue sets in and often doesn’t have a chance to recover (since babies are quite demanding!) which is when pain, stiffness and/or injury sets in.

Making small changes to the way you carry your child can have a big impact on reducing stresses on your body and so where possible take into consideration the above tips to try and keep yourselves pain and injury free.

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