How to lift a baby without wrecking your spine

Prevent back pain when lifting a baby or lifting a newborn

I felt like writing about how to lift a baby, because so many moms and dads do it wrong and thereby do their backs a big disservice and potentially create chronic future pain in their spine or even herniated discs. While many might read this and think: ‘come on, lifting a baby is a no-brainer’. You’d be surprised, because it actually isn’t, especially when it comes to lifting a newborn.

As parents, it is important to have each other’s backs, but we should have our own backs too – literally. We are all only given this one body and there is no replacement when you have wrecked the original. So we should treat ourselves kindly, as kindly and loving as we treat our children. This includes to prevent back pain and back injuries.

While most people learn at some point that it’s important to lift heavy or larger objects by bending your knees and NOT your back, all of this seems to be forgotten when we move to this new cool place called “the parenthood” and it comes to lifting a baby.

Mom's Health: How to lift your baby without wrecking your spine

Why lifting a baby the right way matters

So often when I see parents at playgrounds lift their children off the floor, I see them bend their upper spines and have to cringe a little. Not because I am Super Mom and know it all, quite the contrary, but because I have been there too. I had this inexplicable pain and stiffness between my shoulder blades that never seemed to fully go away, no matter what I tried.

It hit me, when I was once again leaning down to scoop the little one off the ground. The pain in my spine was a desperate attempt to call for help!

In a worst case scenario (besides tearing or straining your back muscles or irritating your joints),the wrong technique when it comes to lifting a baby can even lead to shifting your vertebrae out of alignment. While this might be rare, back pain certainly is not. Not for parents, neither for society as a whole as we all tend to constantly pick up stuff from the floor without doing it safely.

While this movement of bending your spine in and of itself would not be a big deal, it becomes a problem when you add a serious bit of weight to the equation. Yet, we never equate a baby or a newborn with serious weight. They are a wiggling weight though which thus intensifies the pressure on your upper spine.

Think about it! Would you randomly lean down and pick up a 17-22 lbs (8-10 kg) dumbbell or a bag of cement? Even once? Or 25 times a day? Probably not. No. Certainly not. You would stop and think, ‘wait, this is a serious weight’. Therefore, you want to keep your back straight and your feet shoulder-width apart, then bend your knees and lower yourself into a squatting position and lift by stretching your knees and engaging your leg muscles.

How to prevent back pain when lifting a baby

To prevent back pain, the key to lifting anything off the ground (including lifting a baby) is to keep it as close to your body’s center of gravity as possible. The same needs to be your goal every time you attempt lifting a baby! Thereby, you take pressure off your back and your spine and shift it to where it belongs: your powerful leg and buttocks muscles.

The positive side effect of this: not only do you prevent back pain or injuries, you also secretly train your leg, buttocks, lower back and pelvic muscles as you will probably easily do 25 to 30 squats with weight (your baby or toddler) a day. For that, you don’t even have to set foot in a gym 😉 On top of this, your “training” will gradually intensify as your baby grows heavier. A win-win situation for your body.

So keep this in mind time when your little one flings his/her arms around your legs and wants to be picked up, especially as the right lifting technique comes with one big perk: you and your baby can hug on the way up.

How to lift a baby

Prevent back pain when lifting a newborn

Now all this is fine and dandy, when it comes to how to lift a baby that is already a couple of month old and can sit, crawl or walk, but it does get a bit more tricky when it comes to lifting a newborn. Though the key to lifting a newborn is essentially the same: bend your legs, not your spine, even if you pick your mini-me up from their stroller or their crip.

It might seem so much easier and less intensive to just bend down and lift them. In fact: it’s not. Try to treat lifting a newborn like lifting anything else, even if it makes you feel weird at first, cause it feels slightly unnatural. Just keep in mind, it is in fact the more natural way to do it. Anything that helps you prevent back pain is natural. Things just tend to feel weird, if they are not yet routine for us.

If you still end up with random neck and shoulder pain, there is a simple and effective 5 minute excercise to release neck and shoulder tension.

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