The Physical Toll of Carrying Toddlers

All that lifting and carrying can wreak havoc on your body. Here's a breakdown of the physical toll of carrying toddlers and some dos and don'ts for handling your child, literally.

Drawings of heavy lifting equipment on a blue background

When you become a parent, nobody tells you how hard it will be – especially on your wrists, elbows, back and neck. All the lifting, bending and twisting to get kids in and out of strollers, cribs and car seats takes a physical toll in the form of creaky knees, a rebellious back and arm pain from carrying toddlers all over the place.

Luckily, having good posture and learning how to lift and carry your child properly can reduce your risk of injury. With that in mind, national experts flag three body-breaking moves and how to fix them.

Carrying a toddler

Don’t: Balance your child on one hip. This can strain your back and the ligaments on that side of the body, says Mary Ellen Modica, a Chicago-based physical therapist. In addition, as your arm presses against your child, your muscles continually contract, reducing blood flow. Over time, this can lead to trauma of the tissues in your arms and shoulders.

Do: Hold her in front of you with her legs wrapped around your waist. Keeping your child centered will help you stand upright – your spine’s natural position. Another option: Use a stroller (or encourage your child to walk) as often as possible.

Putting your toddler on your lap

Don’t: Lean forward while you remain seated. Why? “As you lift, the pressure on your spinal discs multiples to three to ten times the weight of your child,” Modica says. “If you’re tall, for example, lifting a 20-pound toddler from the floor could put as much as 200 pounds of pressure on your back!”

Do: Get down on one knee with the other foot planted in front of you, and hold her as you move back into your seat. Or, let your child climb into your lap.

Lifting a toddler from a car seat

Don’t: Twist your body to pick up the child. With both your feet on the ground, you twist and lean into the car seat with your arms extended, your toddler at the end of them. Lifting your toddler that way can do a number on your knees, lower back, neck, shoulder, elbows and wrists.

Do: “Put one leg into the car and face the car seat as you’re putting your child in it,” says Traci O’Hara, a physical therapist in New Jersey. You’ll take pressure off your back. If your car seat is in the middle of the back seat, climb in and face the car seat as you lift your child into it.

Of course, positioning yourself properly can take a few extra seconds you don’t always have with a feisty toddler in tow.

This post was originally published in 2011 and is updated regularly.

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