Originally posted December 23, 2015
The Mommy Body
Mommies (and caregivers) are constantly bending over to pick up baby, toys on the floor, the dog bowl, the spilled peas and the arsenal of strollers, car seats and diaper bags. The constant and repetitive bending adds up to strain and unfortunately pain in our body’s tissues. Ultimately the best way to save our backs is to use alternative methods of lifting and carrying: we can encourage our toddlers to walk more, employ a stroller or place our child at our center of gravity in front of our body in a carrier or wrap, but when those aren’t an option we can employ Mommy Mechanics.
What is “Mommy Mechanics”?
“Mommy Mechanics” refers to the implementation of correct body mechanics specifically geared towards Mommy or Caregiver-specific activities. Body mechanics is the umbrella term for describing the utilization of proper movement involved in performing daily activities. These daily activities are often repetitive, prolonged and mostly done improperly which can lead to strain and pain in the body.
Postural alignment is extremely important in alleviating the aches and pains associated with pregnancy and motherhood. Good posture includes standing straight with your head centered, shoulders back, a normal hollow in your low back with hips under you and knees relaxed. But it can be tough to remember all of that when nursing, running after toddlers, and being supermommy eight days a week!
This is where physical therapy can help you employ “Mommy-Mechanics”! Learning how to enact the proper procedures for the million movements you do a day can help alleviate pain and start healthy life-long habits.
New moms and mothers of young children are constantly bending over to pick up their child, the toys all over the floor, the dog bowl, the spilled peas, and the arsenal of strollers, car seats, and diaper bags. This constant bending, lifting then carrying can add a lot of strain on the low back which can lead to discomfort and varying extremes of pains.
The “Mommy-Mechanics” of Lifting
The best way to save the strain on your back is to use alternative methods for lifting and carrying. Encouraging your toddler to walk more, employing a stroller or placing your child in front of your body in a carrier or wrap at your center of gravity will dramatically reduce the strain and pain in your low back.
But here are the “Mommy-Mechanics” of lifting, when lifting and carrying is your only option:
- Plan ahead. Make sure you have a clear path and are able to stand directly in front of your child. This will help you to avoid any awkward or sudden movements that can strain your muscles.
- Get as close to your little one as possible.
- Use a half-kneel. While keeping your back straight, place one foot slightly forward of the other, and bend your hips and knees to lower yourself onto one knee. Do not bend your back.
- Tighten those tummy muscles! Do not lift with your back.
- Hug your child with both hands, keeping them as close to you as possible.
- Straighten your strong mommy legs at the knees and extend your posture to stand tall. Do not twist!
- Whenever possible, have your child straddle the front of your body in the middle, this creates less stress on your body than carrying your child on one hip.
Mommy Mechanics vs The Car Seat
If your baby is awake, place the car seat into the car first then load baby into the seat. Similarly, if you get home and baby is awake, take your baby out of the car seat and leave the seat behind. It is best to avoid carrying baby in the car seat as much as possible to avoid muscular strain.
When Picking Up a Car Seat from the Floor:
- Stand directly in front of the car seat, getting as close to it as possible. Make sure the seat is centered to your body.
- Bend at your hips and knees, tightening your tummy into a squatting position.
- Grasp the car seat with both hands, one at the head and one at the feet. Think of carrying it like a laundry basket.
- Straighten knees, raising from the squat with a straight back standing tall. Avoid using back and any twisting motions.
- You should hold the car seat directly in front of you, close to your body at the waist.
Never carry a car seat like a purse (balancing the weight on the forearm or one-handed).
When Loading the Car Seat into the Car:
- Start by planning ahead. By opening the car door ahead of time it saves you from more bending and lifting with baby.
- Keep car seat centered in front of you. Avoid twisting as you load the car seat into the car.
- Keep your back straight and tighten your tummy muscles! Avoid twisting when locking car seat into place.
Remember that the less distance between your torso and the car seat the better it is for your back. The further away any object is from your body the more torque and force you must apply upon your spine.
If you have a taller vehicle and choose to place the car seat in the middle, you can lay baby on an adjacent seat while locking the seat into place to avoid further bending and lifting.
The Mommy Mechanics of Diaper Changing
When you’re on the go anything stable becomes a changing table: a dresser, a kitchen counter, the table or even the floor in a pinch. Three out of the four are good alternatives but can you tell me the one that isn’t? If you answered “the floor”, then ding-ding we have a winner!
Changing tables or surfaces should be at the appropriate height which is at your waist or slightly higher but slightly below the elbows. You want to avoid locking your knees and hips while bending forward. Bending and twisting while in this dangerous stance can cause strain and even serious injury, like a herniated disc!
- Stand directly in front of the changing surface, and adjust your height by either widening your stance or bending at the knees to the appropriate level.
- Keep your abdominals tight, shoulders back with your back straight and bend at the hips and knees to lean over.*
- Place all your supplies within arm’s reach! Reaching can strain, and strain can lead to pain!
*This same advice can be applied to washing dishes!
Mommy Mechanics and Physical Therapy
Employing “Mommy-Mechanics” is great way to alleviate the everyday strains of being supermommy, but sometimes the pain still persists. This is where physical therapy can benefit you.
Seeing a physical therapist allows for a movement and body mechanic expert to assess your current state and customize a treatment plan specifically for you. They will be able to target specific issues, assign the appropriate exercises and make preventative efforts to avoid re-injury, which often wards off prescription pain relief and even surgery!
Please note that “Mommy Mechanics” are applicable to all caregivers.
Written by Valerie Watase, PT Owner and Director of Lafayette Physical Therapy
Arranged and Edited by Julia Slater, BA Community Outreach Coordinator
This article is intended as general health information and is not intended to provide individual specific medical advice, professional diagnosis, opinion, treatment or services to you or any other individual. Please consult your doctor or a medical professional before starting or changing a fitness or nutrition program.