Jennifer Hughes has been dealing with a mighty sore back lately — a common side effect, she’s learned, of being a new mom.
Hughes, a physical therapist at Step & Spine Physical Therapy’s Redmond clinic, had her second son July 1. Now, instead of just carrying around her 2-year-old, she’s usually loaded up with the toddler, a hefty diaper bag and a baby carrier.
Turns out, pain in the back, neck, shoulders, elbows and wrists is relatively common among new parents. It’s a side effect of the repetitive movements associated with lifting, holding, feeding and carrying babies.
“It’s something you just kind of put on the back burner because you’re so concerned about caring for your child,” she said.
Step & Spine sees lots of new moms with back pain, Hughes said. It commonly goes ignored, especially because there tends to be so much else going on in new parents’ lives, she said.
She warns parents not to ignore pain, or it could turn into an injury later on. They should see a physical therapist if it worsens or doesn’t get better on its own within a few weeks, Hughes said.
“That’s part of the problem is you just ignore the pain and think that it’s going to go away and then people come in and they’ve had pain for years,” she said.
There are practices parents should keep in mind when performing repetitive daily tasks to help prevent pain and injury.
Holding, carrying the baby
Although there is a tendency to want to hold a baby with one arm while balancing it on the hip, parents should try to avoid that, Hughes said. It can strain their backs and ligaments on the side of the body that’s bearing the weight.
Instead, Hughes advises people hold the child close to the body using both arms balanced in the center of the chest. Realistically, though, Hughes said she understands that can’t always happen, as most people want to have one arm free.
Jill Boissonnault, an associate professor in the doctor of physical therapy program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said she doesn’t have a problem with parents balancing babies on their hips — so long as it’s only for a short period of time and they’re paying attention to their spines and posture while they’re doing it. They should focus on keeping their spines in a neutral position rather than bending to one side, forward or backward, she said.
“If you can hold yourself erect while your baby is on your hip, that’s great,” Boissonnault said. “But then, it’s important to periodically shift the baby to the other hip.”
Lifting baby out of crib
The key to lifting a baby out of a crib, stroller or floor is to always keep the baby close to your body, Boissonnault said. So instead of leaning over the crib and lifting the baby from the middle of the mattress, she recommends parents move babies to the edge of the crib, position themselves directly in front of their babies and bring the babies close while lifting them so that they’re not simply stretching out their arms and holding the baby far away.
It’s also important not to do any twisting while lifting or lowering a baby, which makes positioning oneself directly in front of the baby before lifting it very important, Boissonnault said.
“When you twist and lower or twist and lift, that’s when you’re putting your spine most at risk of injury,” she said. “Be intentional about moving your feet so you are facing the baby. Then once you’ve picked the baby up, you move your feet again so you’re directly facing the surface you’re putting the baby into.”
Hughes also said parents should maintain a straight back while lifting and be sure to lift and lower using their legs, not their upper bodies.
Lifting baby from the floor
When picking up a baby from the floor, parents should try to keep their backs straight, place one foot slightly forward of the other and bend their knees and hips to lower onto a knee, Hughes said.
Once they’re down, they should hold onto the child with both arms, hold it close to the chest and rise to a standing position using the legs and abdominal muscles, she said.
Using car seats
Boissonnault said one of her “pet peeves” is watching people walk through malls or down streets carrying car seats. Car seats were designed for transporting babies very short distances, like from the car to the house, she said. “They’re not meant for carrying the baby while you walk through Target because they’re too heavy to maintain a good, normal, upright posture.”
The large handle on car seats makes parents believe they can carry their babies in them while they walk around, Boissonnault said. In truth, doing so promotes poor posture, which can lead to pain and injury, she said.
Instead, Boissonnault recommends parents buy the car seats that can be hooked into strollers or that can be turned into strollers after they’re removed from vehicles.
For her part, Hughes said she is not opposed to carrying infants in car seats. Parents doing this should hold the handle with both hands with their elbows bent. They should also hold the car seat in front of their bodies — never to one side of the body — so their weight is evenly distributed.
Lugging the carseat on the forearm places unnecessary stress on the back, shoulder and arm, she said.
Nagging pain often makes it difficult for people to sleep. New parents likely aren’t getting great sleep in the first place, Boissonnault said, but if they notice the pain associated with these repetitive movements wakes them up at night or makes them unable to sleep, it’s probably a sign they should be seen by a physical therapist.
It’s normal to go through periods of mild aches and pains.
“For most of us, those will go away,” Boissonnault said. “But if something is persisting for more than a couple weeks and it’s intensifying and it’s interfering with normal daily function, then it shouldn’t be ignored.”
— Reporter: 541-383-0304,