Kid Carrier: Holding Baby Without Breaking Your Back

By Martha Michael

Ways to Hold a Baby to Avoid Back Pain

The snuggle hold. The cradle. The wrap-cross-carry. To the extent these are variations on holding a baby in your bare arms, our early ancestors probably did much the same thing we do today. Of course, there were countless differences; to them, a “sling” was more likely to be a useful tool to capture food, not a boutique item to capture baby.

Turning to early man and woman may provide some insight when it comes to the health of a new parent’s spine, says an article on Fatherly.com. Writer Steve Schiff talks about how to carry a baby without injuring your back, calling it “The Paleo Solution.”

After studying native people groups in India and South American fishing villages for 20 years, researcher Esther Gokhale has specific recommendations for parents of young children. Hold babies close to your midline, using your largest muscles, she says. When a toddler is resting on your hip, legs swinging front and back, hold the baby with your bicep. It saves your wrists and hands from injury from excessive use. The goal is for mom and dad to stand and walk with an open chest, with shoulders wide. It defers the burden of weight from centering on the brachial plexus, the network of nerves rooted in the lower cervical and upper thoracic areas of the spine.

Your shoulder placement in this stance also maximizes your ability to breathe which, in turn, means your muscles won’t tire out as readily. Gokhale adds that the ideal practice for parents and their young involves postural positioning that prevents injury to the parent, while baby sits in a spine-healthy position as well. As Schiff points out, our ancestors were experts in this regard. It seems they successfully hauled food, water and baskets of who-knows-what at the same time as they carried their babies. And they didn’t tweak their backs, at least not enough to keep them from hunting and gathering (or we wouldn’t be here).

When babies in Central India are more than 6 months old, Gokhale says, they ride on their parents’ backs. She advises the same for parents in other parts of the world, suggesting the use of fabric wraps. Of course, in the modern age, we have the advantage of ergonomically designed carriers such as the Beco Gemini, which places the child close to your spine.

Bouncing Baby Back Injuries

Unlike our forebears, you probably won’t starve if you can’t transport your child properly. But you may have some painful complaints.

You want to protect your shoulders from being pulled forward, which happens when you hold children in various positions over time. Gokhale instructs parents to take up exercises that strengthen the core.

“Gokhale is talking about ‘the three deeper layers of muscles in your belly and the deepest layer of muscles in your back,’” Schiff says. “For all you kinesiology nerds, that’s the internal obliques, the external obliques, the transversus abdominis, and the rotatores.”

You’re bound for fewer injuries if you engage these muscles with some familiar exercises -- pelvis tucks, planks and crunches, for instance. Build your abdominals; strengthening your core supports your back.

Moms and dads both have to curb the amount of time they spend standing, says an article on Livestrong.com. It places undue pressure on the spine, and when seated, your best bet is to elevate your feet with a footstool to minimize pressure. And when lifting a child, don’t reach too far forward. Instead, pick up your child from a space close to your body. Also, when you place your baby in the car seat, be careful not to twist too much to hook the seat belt around the child seat.

The Pain of Parenting

It’s nothing new (at least for modern man) to experience back pain at some point when rearing young children. It’s more strain than you’re used to, so you want to get into a preventative routine of chiropractic care. The simple force of carrying 15 pounds may not sound like much, but over time it becomes 20 pounds -- and 3-year-olds can be as heavy as 40 pounds!

Your chiropractor may suggest ice or heat packs, and sometimes a warm bath may help relieve muscle pain. Of course, if you had a Cesarean section, the baths -- and the lifting -- are subject to your practitioner green-lighting it. And new mothers should remember that their muscles and ligaments are more likely to become injured because they remain relaxed and flexible following pregnancy.

Ironically, Schiff says, a parent can follow the example of a child, whose body hasn’t been worn down by time and bad habits; the child, he says, actually walks the way adults should. Our goal as adults should be to maintain similar posture, a discovery that can benefit parents from any era, even the modern age.

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