by Troy Vander Molen, PT, DPT
Having a baby is such an exciting time of life! And while everybody oo’s and ah’s over the sweet newborn, it’s easy for them to ignore the pain this new mother is going through physically. There are a lot of physical toils for a new mom, but back pain can be one of the most frustrating and unnecessary.
Once a baby is born, most back pain that occurred during pregnancy as a result of hormonal changes and joint laxity diminishes within a few weeks. However, caring for a growing infant can put additional stresses on the back. Increases in the baby’s weight, as well as the awkward postures young moms often assume, contribute to the continued risk of back pain after a pregnancy.
The good news is, we have a few simple but very effective tips to help protect a new mom’s (and dad’s) back as she adjusts to caring for her new baby. Let’s take a look at some common challenges, as well as a few simple pointers to help you function and feel better.
Tips for Lifting Your Baby
From the floor: Picking up a small child may seem like a simple task, but the same body mechanic techniques that benefit many people in the workplace also help protect your back when lifting your child. It may seem natural to bend at your waist with straight knees to pick up a child from the floor, the stroller, or their bouncy seat, but that posture can put a lot of tension on the lower back muscles and connective tissues. Instead, widen your stance and bend through the legs. Before you raise from the squat position, bring the baby to your chest, lift your head, and lightly tighten your stomach muscles.
In and out of the crib: Getting your baby into and out of the crib can be very difficult because the crib wall becomes an obstacle. Bending through the hips while keeping a slight inward curve at the lower back can help. Rounding the spine into a c-shape, on the other hand, is more likely to provoke your pain.
In and out of the high chair: The high chair can also be an awkward obstacle to manipulate. Don’t try to slip your child into the narrow space between the seat and the tray. Though it takes a little more time, removing the tray will help you move your baby into and out of the chair without the unnecessary obstruction.
Carrying and Traveling with Your Baby
Placing a car seat in the car with the baby already in the car seat is very difficult. Because the safest spot in the car is the middle of the back seat, reaching forward with that much weight can place a lot of torque on the back. If you are actively experiencing back pain, consider keeping the car seat in the car and moving your baby from the car seat. Don’t reach into the car from outside. Instead, sit on the seat next to the car seat and turn your body towards the car seat to limit twisting of the spine while handling the baby.
If you don’t have back pain and want to keep it that way, you may be able to keep your baby in the car seat. To reduce the leverage associated with reaching the loaded car seat into the middle seat, keep the car seat near and in front of you as you bring it into the car. Move into the back seat by placing at least one knee on the back seat while you move the car seat to the middle position, thereby reducing the distance of the reach. If you have a two-door car model, it may be worth considering trading it in for a four-door model or mini-van.
If you are going to be carrying your baby around, consider placing the baby in a front pack, which keeps the load centered on the spine and pelvis, instead of carrying your child on one hip.
Feeding Your Baby
If you are breastfeeding, poor postures can be a pain in the upper back. Sit in an upright chair with good back support instead of a soft couch (which can feel good for a while but ultimately encourages some poor postures), and place the baby on a pillow or two so that you can bring your baby up to your chest instead of leaning forward to nurse.
If you do experience back pain during or after pregnancy, resist the urge to curl up in bed and rest for long periods of time. The most up-to-date research shows us that staying mobile by moving mindfully is the best way to feel better faster, and prolonged bedrest will delay healing. Being smart but active will allow most back pain episodes to resolve within a few days to a few weeks, and nearly all of these episodes do not require any invasive treatments.
If you find that you don’t have the strength or range of motion to do any of the above lifting motions well, speak with your family physician or obstetrician to find out when you can start exercising again. The activities you do may vary greatly depending upon your pregnancy and the type of delivery you experienced. If you have any questions about appropriate exercise activities, call our office at 866-588-0230 to schedule a brief screen with one of our physical therapists who can help you determine an effective and simple routine. When you are cleared to begin exercise, using your baby’s nap time is a good opportunity to get a few simple activities in… as well as getting a short nap yourself.
*Got any helpful tips or pointers you discovered during your pregnancy? Send us your comments and we’ll share them with our friends on social media!