If you're a mom or dad of a little one, you likely know the toll that parenting can take on your spine.
And it's not just about picking up and carrying around an 8-pound-and-counting baby (even though there's that, too). You load and unload the car seat, bend over for bath time, lug around the diaper bag and even strain your neck during around-the-clock feedings.
All that manual labor can amount to serious back pain for new parents, and over time, can even lead to repetitive stress injuries that make it hard to get through the day. So what's a parent to do?
Spine Health Prevention Tips
The repetitive bending, lifting and carrying may be part and parcel of being a parent, but that doesn't mean you can't try a few life hacks to protect your spine, too. So the next time you're feeling the aches and pains of parenthood, consider these tips to ease the load.
1. Wear Your Baby
The term "baby-wearing" has gotten a good amount of buzz for good reason: Not only can it help promote bonding and attachment between parent and baby, but it can also distribute the infant's weight in a more comfortable way for everyday errands or walks around the block. And by using a sling or carrier instead of hauling around the car seat, you'll do your spine a favor, too.
2. Buckle the Car Seat from the Car
Instead of strapping baby into the car seat while standing outside, get into the backseat and do it while sitting down. That way, you can ease the strain on your back from bending over or up into the vehicle, advises the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS). And as baby gets bigger, this method will only become more helpful to adjust to the heavier weight.
3. Bend Your Knees for Pickups
When lowering yourself to pick up an infant or toddler, bend your knees and hips (as if you're doing a squat), rather than rounding the back in a downward motion. This can help protect the lower back by using your core muscles.
4. Practice Good Posture for Feedings
Whether you're breastfeeding or bottle-feeding, you shouldn't hunch over a baby during feeding time, the Cleveland Clinic says. To help, try a nursing pillow for better support, or when breastfeeding, sit up straight and bring the infant to the breast, rather than the other way around.
5. Find the Right Stroller
Some strollers have adjustable handles so that parents can raise or lower the handlebar to their comfort level. This can help minimize shoulder tension so that you're not positioning your upper body in an awkward way to push the stroller down the street. When walking with the stroller, engage your core muscles to keep your chest from hunching over.
6. Don't Carry Baby on Your Hip
It might seem like propping a baby up on your hip gives good support, but it can actually make things worse, Consumer Reports says. That's because that type of carry requires you to twist your upper body, which can exacerbate back pain. If you have to carry on the hips, try switching between your left and right hip — but even better, look for more back-friendly ways to carry a little one, like keeping your body in alignment from top to bottom.
7. Do Gentle Stretches
Even if you follow all these health prevention tips, pain might still creep up. To relieve the inevitable ache of back pain for new parents, a few simple exercises like head rolls, back extensions and seated stretches can help with flexibility and strength — as long your doctor gives the okay. Learn how with this quick-start guide from the AAOS.
After all, parenting's not always a walk in the park (even when you're just walking in the park). But while it can sometimes seem like your world revolves around your baby, make sure your own health — including for your back — doesn't fall by the wayside. Your spine will thank you.