Anne Stein, M.S.
Sports & Fitness Journalist/Author
Whether you’re putting baby in her car seat, chasing your toddler around a playground or picking your child up off the floor, mothering involves nearly constant lifting, pushing, pulling and bending, all of which puts a strain on your neck, shoulders, and especially your back.
The key to maintaining a healthy back, says Dr. Sheila A. Dugan, a physical medicine and rehab specialist at Chicago’s Rush University Medical Center, is to maintain a neutral spine.
When you bend over to pick things up, for example, whether it’s toys, your toddler, or a car seat, try not to round or curve your back. Straighten the spine and bend down from the knees; pick things up by straightening your knees. As much as you can, be aware of your posture throughout the day to avoid back strain.
The American Physical Therapy Association offers the following guidelines to protect your back during these common ‘mommy’ activities:
Lifting your child from the floor
Stand close to your child, keep back straight, put one foot in front of the other and lower yourself (kneel) onto one knee. Hold your child with both arms close to your body (just as you would with a heavy object), tighten stomach muscles and push up with both legs to a standing position.
Putting your child in and taking her out of a crib
Lower rails as far as possible. With feet shoulder-width apart, bend at the hips and pick up baby with both arms, holding her close to your chest. Don’t curve/curl your back over the rails.
Pushing a stroller
Again, stay as close to the heavy object (the stroller) as possible, keeping your back straight and shoulders back. Maintain good posture, rather than leaning and pushing the stroller with your arms and hunching the shoulders.
Carrying and holding your child
When carrying your child, hold her close to the center of your body with both arms. Avoid the one-arm, one-hip hold; it puts too much stress on one side of your body. Be aware of maintaining good posture, with straight back and upright shoulders. Consider an infant carrier that centers the baby’s weight (see below).
Picking up toys
Keep your head and back straight, bend at the waist and extend one leg straight behind as you pick up toys.
- When nursing your baby or reading to your toddler, pick a firm chair with back support. If you nurse or read to your child in bed, don’t bend your neck or curl your back. Use a wall or headboard for back support.
- Infant carriers that are centered either on your front or back are good for even weight distribution. Infant car seats should be carried with both hands, centered in front of you. Consider using a backpack instead of a diaper bag to balance weight and avoid shoulder/back stress.
In addition to paying attention to posture and how you lift, stretching and strengthening exercises are necessary for good back/neck/shoulder health. Take at least 10-15 minutes a day to stretch, focusing on hip flexors, back, shoulders and neck, which are involved in proper posture and neutral alignment.
Strengthening exercises should focus on the abdominals, glutes, back, hips, pelvis and the scapula retractors (the muscles that pull the shoulders back) to allow the body to support proper alignment.
And while it might seem impossible to fit in cardio, aim for the recommended amount of five days a week, 30 minutes a day. Studies have shown you can accumulate this through 10-minute bouts, as well. Those few minutes spent sweating will make you a happier, healthier mom.