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New Parent, New Body

By Jennifer Nelson, PT, DPT, DScPT

Having a child poses a lot of new physical demands on the body. Besides the obvious physical changes on the woman’s body during pregnancy, she and her partner will find that they need to use their body in new ways to care for their new child. Postnatally, the core muscles, including the abdominals and pelvic floor muscles, are especially affected and can make lifting and holding your baby difficult. Below are some common tasks that are often challenging for new parents and some strategies to help support your body.

Lifting

  • The most important thing to remember is to keep the baby close to you. If you are lifting the baby from the changing table or the floor, make sure that you get him or her to you as close as you can to your body before you lift.
  • Plan ahead and make sure the baby/child is directly in front of you and not off to the side so that you can avoid twisting or awkward postures.
  • Position the baby as close as you can to the center of your body.
  • If possible, use your legs to lift rather then your back or arms. Bend your knees and use the leg and gluteal muscles to lift the baby, keeping your arms and back stable while holding the baby close to your body.
  • You can also kneel with one knee on the ground and the other foot in front of you if you are note able to bend your knees down far enough.

Nursing/feeding

  • While looking at your baby while he or she is feeding is completely natural, this forward head posture can lead to problems. Look for a chair with a high back rest so you may relax and lean back into the chair for support. Make sure to use pillows and arm rests to raise the baby up to breast level. If you are bottle feeding, find pillows to support both the arm holding the baby and the bottle. Keep your shoulders and head relaxed and back against the chair to prevent rounding forward. Reclining slightly will make it easier to see your baby without rounding forward, but make sure you do not slouch in the chair.

Transfers

  • New parents often find themselves lying in a bed or on the ground with their little one. When getting out of bed, do not try to sit straight up, especially if you are holding the baby, because it will create a lot of strain on your back and abdominals. Instead, turn to your side, slide your legs off the bed and then use your arms to help you sit upright.
  • When getting out of a chair or moving from sit to stand with your baby, make sure to keep the baby close to your body. Scoot your bottom to the edge of the chair. Lean forward and use your legs to push you upright instead of your back.

Baby Car Seat

  • Baby car seat carriers are heavy and can cause wrist and shoulder problems for many people. They are not meant to be used to carry a baby for long distances. Take the baby in and out of the car seat carrier and instead place him or her in a baby carrier or hold them.  When you do have to carry the carrier, make sure to keep your wrist and elbows neutral. Do not try to lift with your wrists or carry the carrier on your for arm like a bag. Ideally, carry the carrier with both hands in front of you because carrying it at your side leads to increases strain on the shoulder, wrist and low back.  If you must, make sure you are not leaning to either side.
  • When getting the baby in and out of the car, climb into the car by kneeling on the seat and/or floor. Turn your whole body towards the baby and seat instead of twisting and bending forward at the waist and leaning in.

Holding baby

  • Most people want to hold their child in their non-dominate arm to leave their dominate arm free. If the child is old enough, they will rest the baby on the hip. However, this can create a lot of strain on the quadratus lumborum muscle and low back. Instead, use a baby sling or baby carrier, which will give you two free hands, or hold the baby with two arms in front of you. If you need to hold the baby with one arm, make sure you are switching sides often.

Exercises

  • No matter how much you plan and try to use good body mechanics with a child, your body will still be doing new things and you will likely get sore. To help your body prepare and maintain good function try some of these exercises.  Exercises are for educational purposes only – performing them should never be painful and they are not a substitute for medical care or advice:
    • Pectoralis stretch on foam roller or door way (hold 30 seconds x 2)

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    • Forearm wrist stretches (hold 30 seconds x 2)

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    • Squats (10×2)
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    • Standing back extensions (10x)
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If you continue to have problems, you should consult with a physical therapist. We wish you success and congratulations on the new addition to your family!

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