Ergonomics for Parents

"As parents, your first instinct is to forget about yourself to take care of the newborn baby."

physical therapy ergonomics, baby in cribThe days, weeks, and the months following a new addition to the family is a joyous time for parents. But, it can also take quite a toll on their bodies. This, in turn can lead to injuries. Oftentimes, we think of injuries in terms of sports or a recreational activity. However, parenting can make you susceptible to injury due to poor body mechanics or to strain from repetitive movements. 

Think about the times that you carried your baby around or taken him or her out of the car seat on a typical day. You start feeling low back pain or neck pain even though there has a not been a specific “injury.” Who knew parenting can be so dangerous to the body?

As parents, your first instinct is to forget about yourself to take care of the newborn baby. I want to make sure that you take care of yourself. I want to list out a few of the situations that can contribute to your pain and also give some suggestions on lessening the chances of increasing your pain.

1. Changing table

One of the most important aspect of handling your baby on the changing table is your body positioning. Your baby should not be off centered, but should be right in front of you. If they are not centered in relation to your body and close to your body but rather positioned towards your sides, there will be a greater chance of straining your low back. The other placement that is very important is the height of the changing table. The best level is for the table is to be at the height of slightly below the parent’s elbows. In other words, avoid positions that require too much bending, leaning, or twisting that will potentially stress the spine, leading to potential injury. One last positioning advice would be to place one leg on a step stool when changing diapers to decrease low back stress.

2. Carrying your child

A common way for parents to carry their child is by positioning their hip out to one side to support their child. By doing so, this puts the spine in a poor position and shortens one side of the body over the other. One way to counteract this is to hold your child in front of you to lift them rather than towards one side over the other. It is wise to use a front carrier if possible, rather than holding with your arms. You should make an attempt to keep a posture that does not strain the upper or lower back with your shoulder blades in a neutral position.

3. Lifting child from the crib

Many parents don’t even think about back strain when they lift their child from the crib. They’ll lock their knees and hold their child at arm’s length as they lift them.  This can strain your back and spinal disks.

To lessen the potential for injury, many of the principles to changing diapers would apply here as well.  In addition, when lifting your baby into or out of the crib, make sure to position yourself as close to the crib as possible.  Some foundational principles include bending at your hips while keeping your back straight. Make an effort to engage your core/abdominal muscles to support your back. In addition, as long as your baby cannot climb out of the crib, keep the crib mattress high. This will limit excessive bending and leaning.

4. Taking your child out from the car seat

It is important to be positioned as close to the car seat as possible when placing your child into the car seat. One of the most common strains that parents put on their bodies is when they twist as they bend their child into the car seat. This repetitive motion will put quite a bit of strain on the spine, neck, shoulders, and elbows.

A helpful adjustment to make is to place one foot in the car, facing the car seat as you place your child in the car seat. For the car seats in the middle of the back seat, scoot into the car and face the car seat before assisting your child into the seat. These are common sense maneuvers, but will reduce quite a bit of strain off of your spine.

Along with proper body mechanics, there are flexibility exercises that can help in the overall health of your spine.

3 Tips for flexibility exercises

1. Foam Roller

Place a foam roller length-wise under your spine and shoulders as you lie on it. Let your head relax on to the top of the roller with the palm of your hands and arms towards the ceiling on the floor. Relax and breathe normally.

2. Wrist Stretches and Rolls

Place your arm long in front of you with your elbow straight. Gently bend your wrist and fingers down with the other hand, then up. You should feel a stretch through your forearm and wrist. Clench your hand into a fist and roll your hand to one side then the other. Perform on the other wrist and hand.

3. Child Pose Stretch

Start on your hands and knees. Exhale and lower your hips to the heels and forehead to the floor. The arms should be overhead with palms turned facing the ceiling. Breath slowly for a few seconds and return to the starting position.

In short, parenting is a rewarding experience. But if you do not take care of yourself, taking care of your child can create havoc on your body. Injury prevention can be possible by practicing good posture and safe child lifting techniques. You don’t have to be perfect, but if you can put an emphasis on being aware of these principles most of the time, you will incur less long-term negative effects and be able to recover quickly even if you do hurt yourself.


J.T. Park, PT, DPT, MTC is a licensed physical therapist at Mettler Center. Experiencing back pain? Ask an Expert. Back pain is best evaluated by a physical therapist who can detect functional problems and make the best possible recommendation for treatment. Call 217-398-9800 to schedule a free 30-minute consultation with a physical therapist or request an appointment online.