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Baby and Your Back: Safe Lifting

Babies can be hazardous to your health—your back health. When it comes to parenting, back injury is an occupational hazard.

New mothers, whose backs have just endured the stresses of pregnancy and birth, are particularly vulnerable. So are taller fathers and mothers who must bend farther than others to scoop up tots from playpens.

And think about this: When you place a baby in a car seat, you often break every rule of back health by holding the child at arm's length while bending and twisting.

Then there's another problem: kids that weigh as much as a large sack of flour—and won't sit still.

Older parents

With more people in their 30s and 40s having children, the likelihood of pre-existing "wear and tear" on the spine also sets the stage for problems. New parents are especially at risk because they are not conditioned for the physical rigors.

Experts say parents tend to feel the strain in the area between their shoulders more than in their lower backs, especially when doing repetitive activities such as bending and lifting the baby.

The fatigue that goes along with 2 a.m. feedings likewise contributes to injury. When parents are more tired than usual, their muscles don't respond the same way.

For both men and women, age is not nearly as important as fitness. Staying fit, avoiding awkward or extreme postures, and holding heavy objects close to your body can help you avoid most problems.

Lift with caution

When you're taking care of a baby, lifting is frequently required. Here are some tips for picking up your child with a minimum of strain:

  • Changing table: Use a changing table higher than your waist to minimize bending. For added support, put one foot up on a rail, stool, or bottom drawer while you bend.

  • Car seat: Minimize the reach by putting the seat closer to the window. Brace yourself by placing one knee on the seat. On long trips, loosen up by walking around a few minutes before lifting the child out.

  • Stroller: Kneel or squat when lifting your baby from a stroller. Use your legs and avoid rounding your back or twisting. Buy a stroller with a handle long enough to reach without leaning over.

  • Crib: Lower the crib side; don't bend over it. Get as close to the baby as possible, bend at the waist, and keep your back straight and firm as you lift.

  • Playpen: Coax your child to come to the side of the playpen. Then bend your knees, keep your back straight, and avoid twisting.

  • Nursing: Use pillows to bring the baby up to you and a footstool to support your legs. Or, lie down when nursing.

  • Carrying: If using a backpack or a "frontpack," alternate between them to avoid overstrain. Or, prop the baby on your hip with her legs around you.