The Strain of Motherhood

Lifting a growing child can cause chronic back pain, so beware

SUNDAY, Nov. 11, 2001 (HealthDayNews) -- One of the heaviest burdens facing a new mother is the endless task of having to lift her child -- from the crib, from the tub, from the car seat, wherever.

"At first, new moms are lifting seven to 10 pounds 50 times a day. And, by 12 months, they likely chasing and lifting a 17-pound child," says Dr. Alan M. Levine, an orthopedic spine surgeon in Baltimore. "Two years later, mothers will be lifting a 25-pound to 30-pound child."

Although it would seem logical that a mother's muscles would strengthen with the gradual increase of a child's weight, it's not that easy.

Children often need to be lifted from hard-to-reach places, for instance, says Dr. Joel Press, medical director of the Center for Spine, Sports and Occupational Rehabilitation at the Rehab Institute of Chicago.

"One of the biggest problems we see in lifting kids is all of the awkward positions you need to get yourself in. For instance, picking them up from the far end of the crib in the middle of the night or lifting them out of a car seat," Press says.

"And complicating matters even further is the fact that these kids are squirming all over the place," he adds. "It's not nearly as easy as picking up, for instance, a 20-pound box."

It's a perfect prescription for problems ranging from pulled muscles to chronic back pain.

So until the day comes when your baby is able to move about on his or her own, what's a mother to do?

"You want to practice proper back and body mechanics," Press says. "That means understanding how to lift -- to bend at the knees and keep the back flat."

And it's crucial to carry the child close to your body, he adds.

"Think about it -- if you're holding a 10-pound bowling ball straight out away from your body, it's a lot harder than holding it closer to your body," Press says.

Levine, who recently discussed the subject at a meeting of the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons in New York City, offers these additional tips to new mothers for avoiding back pain:

  • Start exercising soon after delivery, to restore abdominal and back muscle tone. Ten minutes of stretching exercises on the floor each day will restore hip and back flexibility. This can be done when the baby is napping.
  • Try to get back to your normal weight within six weeks after giving birth.
  • Don't stretch your arms out to pick up your baby. Bring him close to your chest before lifting. And avoid twisting your body.
  • To pick a child up from the floor, bend at your knees, not at your waist, then squat down, tighten your stomach muscles and lift with your leg muscles.
  • Remove the high-chair tray when you're trying to put the baby in or take the baby out of the chair.
  • When taking a baby from the crib, put the crib side down and pull the baby toward you, rather than lifting her up and out.
  • Consider using a front pack to carry the baby when you're walking.
  • Don't carry a child on your hip; this strains the back muscles.
  • To avoid upper back pain from breastfeeding, bring the baby to your breast; don't bend over to the baby. And sit in an upright chair rather than a soft couch.
  • Four-door vehicles are better than two-door ones for placing the baby in the car seat, which is often positioned in the middle of the back seat. Don't stand outside the car while reaching in and, at arm's length, placing the baby in the seat. Instead, you should first kneel on the back seat, then put the baby in the car seat.

What to Do: For more information, visit the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons' How to Prevent Back Pain Web site. And the North American Spine Society offers a useful Back Quiz for Women.

SOURCES: Interviews with Alan M. Levine, M.D., clinical professor, orthopedic surgery, University of Maryland, and director, Alvin and Lois Lapidus Cancer Institute, Sinai Hospital, both in Baltimore; Joel Press, M.D., medical directo, Center for Spine, Sports and Occupational Rehabilitation, Rehab Institute of Chicago
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