Caring for a baby is tough. Really tough. It takes a huge physical toll on the body. And sleep deprivation makes the body even more prone to injury and physical break down. The fact is, preventing injury is a challenge.
If you’re in the trenches of baby care, you know the last thing you need is an injury that could have been avoided through the use of proper ergonomics and body mechanics while caring for the little munchkin.
Since occupational therapists can help people by teaching them principles of ergonomics and energy conservation in order to better perform their daily occupations (you know, all that stuff about using good body position and “lifting from the legs, not the back”?), I thought it might be helpful to address this commonly problematic yet rarely recognized topic as it relates to baby care.
So whether you are a parent, babysitter, nanny, family member, childcare worker, or someone else who cares for babies, we want you to stay healthy! Here are 25 of my top tips (many learned from from experience!) for preventing injury in those who care for infants:
1. Lift from the legs, not the back. Car seat transfers, play time on the floor, diaper changes. Everything. Use your legs. Especially if you’ve recently given birth. They are your back’s best friend.
2. Bend your knees when stooping over to place baby on a lower surface (crib, floor, changing table, etc.). This naturally shifts your weight backward a bit and takes some strain off your back.
3. Use a raised surface for changing baby rather than using the floor. Again, it’s all about saving your back. And many Pack n’ Plays now have changing tables attached to them for your convenience. The safest option is to use something with a safety buckle rather than changing baby on top of a couch or dresser, where he could potentially roll off.
4. Keep your wrists in neutral position when holding baby, rather than using extreme flexion. Notice the way my wrist is bent in the cover photo? Big no no. Over time, those wrists will pay…for some pain pills…or maybe even a splint.
5. Keep your thumb tucked close to your hand when holding baby. This minimizes strain on two major muscles and tendons that control movement of the thumb. Again, notice the terrible thumb position in the cover photo above. Don’t do that. Ever heard of the painful condition called “Mommy Thumb”? I’m sure you have if you’ve ever developed it. It officially goes by a more scientific name (De Quervain Syndrome) and frequently occurs in new moms/caregivers (though females are more likely to develop it simply based on anatomy of their thumb/wrist). It’s basically an overuse injury caused by poor ergonomics that is often treated with a splint, occupational or physical therapy, anti-inflammatory medication and, in severe cases, a cortico-steroid injection or surgery. But let’s avoid all that. Just keep your thumb close to your hand when you carry baby, okay?
6. Keep your back straight when holding baby up to your shoulder, rather than arching back. Less arch = less strain.
7. Keep your hips and body in a straight line when holding baby on your hip, rather than sticking one hip out to the side. Are you catching on that the cover photo pretty much shows you everything NOT to do when holding baby? The more symmetrically you can stand, the better for your body.
8. Carry baby with two hands in a tucked, face out position to minimize strain on your back and arms. It’s amazing how much pressure this takes off your own body. Plus it’s good for baby, too, as it gets her body ready for rolling!
9. Keep heavy items close to your body when carrying them. Car seats, strollers, diaper bags and, oh yeah, the baby! All are heavy, and the farther away they move from your body, the more strain it puts on your back and your joints.
10. Only take what you need when leaving the house. This is a tough one. We want to get everything out to the car in one trip. DON’T DO IT. Your body will thank you. The less weight you carry in one shot, the less likely you are to hold items in an awkward, injury-prone position, and the less likely you are to drop the baby. Kind of important.
11. Take breaks when carrying heavy items. Again, super tough. I get it. You want to get all the groceries in the house or the whole box of toys across the room in one trip. YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE A SUPERHERO! Put it down for a second. Take a break. No need to pull a muscle here. And if you’ve had a C-section and are on lifting restrictions for the first 6+ weeks…FOLLOW THEM! Period.
12. Use a hands-free baby carrier that provides symmetrical support and allows baby to sit above the level of your hips. The keys here are symmetrical support and above the level of your hips. Both are important for preventing injury to your hips and back. Some goods ones that meet this criteria (and are also good for baby) are Moby Wrap, Baby K’tan Carrier, and Ergo Baby Carrier.
13. Use good biomechanics when placing baby in your hands-free baby carrier. Yes, baby carriers are awkward when you first use them. Extra fabric is hanging off your front, you can’t see what you’re doing, and baby is flailing and practically sideways once you try to get him in. So have the carrier strapped on and ready to go, sit down while placing baby in the carrier, keep baby close to your body, sit while placing baby inside, try standing with one leg propped up on a higher surface such as bench or floor of car in order to situate baby, and maybe even insert baby while standing in front of a mirror so you can see what the heck is going on. Keep yourself safe. And don’t drop your baby.
14. Adjust height of handlebar on stroller so it’s at a comfortable level, around the height of your belly button. If the stroller handle is around the height of your belly button, that should put your arms just high enough to push forward without having to hike up your shoulders and overuse the muscles in your neck and upper back.
15. Push stroller with wrists in neutral position (not bent back) with thumbs not wrapped around handle. A more neutral position means less strain on joints and nerves.
16. Use a nursing support pillow when breastfeeding or bottle feeding baby to minimize strain on back, shoulders, and wrists. Babies eat ALL. THE. TIME. Especially if they’re nursing (like, 45 minutes each feeding, every 3 or so hours). So save your joints and prop yourself. Two good ones are the popular Boppy Pillow and the not-as-well-known-but-very-good My Breast Friend Pillow (terrible name, great product, especially if you’ve had a C-section).
17. Delegate tasks to other family members, including children! Don’t be a supermom (or dad, or whatever you are). Let others help with carrying groceries, lugging the diaper bag, pushing the stroller, or carrying the baby. Conserve your energy and save your joints.
18. Be mindful of how you get baby into and out of the crib. You will face unique challenges depending on your height. But whether you are short or tall, keep baby close to you when placing in the crib, set him down in a side rolling motion (babies are stronger in this position so it’s easier for you), and pick him up in a similar side rolling position. And as an added bonus, this side rolling business is GREAT for preparing babies’ bodies to roll!
19. Minimize kneeling on the floor to change baby. This becomes especially more difficult as baby reaches birthday number one. But avoid it if you can, it’s hard on your back and your knees, even if you have no history of pain.
20. Wrap your arm around baby when holding to the side on your hip, rather than holding with arm under bottom and flexing wrist up. As always, let’s minimize strain on our joints, shall we?
21. Lick your palm and fingers before holding baby on your hip. Seriously. Do it. Much like licking your finger to turn a page in a book, this makes your hands a little more grippy and, let’s be honest, you’ve totally done grosser things for the sake of your baby. Yes, you have.
22. Switch sides you carry the baby on to give the other side a break. This one’s hard. We all naturally tend to carry on the right or left. But try to even things out. Your back, hips, and neck will thank you. Plus it’s also good for helping baby’s neck muscles develop evenly as she looks to both the left or right sides depending on which side you’re holding her.
23. Use a stool to obtain out-of-reach items rather than straining to reach up or standing on the counter. Don’t hurt your back or shoulders. Don’t fall off the counter. And ask for help if you need it.
24. Limit the amount of time you spend sitting on the floor with your back unsupported. It’s easy to just sit on the floor, legs criss-crossed, as you feed the baby, chat with friends, play with baby on the floor, or watch TV. Do your very best to sit in a supportive chair that allows your feet to rest flat on the floor. Or at least lean up against a couch or wall so your back doesn’t wear out. No need to walk like a granny after you’ve been sitting on the floor without any back support.
25. Rest when you can. I know. Yeah, right! But the body repairs itself during rest. Though “rest” can mean taking a nap (which I know is virtually impossible for most of us), it can also mean having some quiet time during the day or conserving energy simply by the way your hold or tend to the baby.
Please take care of yourself! I hope these tips will help keep you healthy and prevent injury as you care for the sweet, growing baby in your life.
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