The Physical Toll of Carrying Toddlers

All that lifting and carrying can wreak havoc on your body.

When you become a parent, you maybe expect it will be harder than you imagine, but the thing nobody tells you is how hard it will actually be on your body — especially on your wrists, elbows, back, shoulders and neck.

All the lifting, bending and twisting to get kids in and out of strollers, cribs and car seats can take a physical toll and not to mention the pain from carrying toddlers all over the place.

It’s something Dr. Sean Drake, a dad himself and general internal medicine specialist at Henry Ford Health System, knows too well. He’s had it happen to him and his friends and he sees patients now with common parent aches and pains.

Luckily, having good posture and learning how to lift and carry your child properly can reduce your risk of injury. With that in mind, he flags five 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 ligaments on that side of the body. “You are throwing off your center of gravity a bit and can get some low back pain, especially when you are holding the child for a long period,” Drake says. “It can definitely lead to some injury and problems over time.”

Do: Carry them in the front of you or on your back to keep your back straight and aligned. “It’s OK on the hip for a short period of time and the child’s not too heavy,” he says. “I would hate to walk around the park all day or walk around the zoo all day carrying a 40-pound child on my hip. That would not be a good feeling.” The best advice: Plan ahead to use a stroller or wagon for long trips for your child and all of their stuff.

Wrangling a toddler in and out of the car seat

Don’t: Twist your body to pick up the child. When you have both your feet on the ground outside of the car and you twist and lean into the car seat with your arms extended — with your heavy toddler at the end of them — that awkward angle can strain your upper back and shoulders, potentially leading to injuries, Drake says. Lifting your toddler that way can do a number on your knees, lower back, neck, shoulder, elbows and wrists.

Do: “Put one foot into the car so you are not twisting,” Drake says. Face the car seat as you are putting them in. 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. “It can be quite challenging. Be careful about putting the child into the car seat as well as getting the child out of the car seat.”

Of course, it goes without saying, you should make sure your child seat is in correctly and your child is secure, he says.

Getting them in and out of the crib

Don’t: Reach over the side and lift them up or lay them down. This puts the back in an awkward angle as you lift or lower their weight, causing possible strain, he says.

Do: Lower the crib railing to get them in and out.

Carrying your toddler and their “stuff”

Don’t: Always use your dominant hand heavy lifting (especially carrying the removable infant car seats, toddlers and all their stuff), Drake says. He sees parents come to him with Tennis Elbow, inflammation on the outer side of their arm. It’s tender and sore and can often be relieved by anti-inflammatories and stretching. In some cases, however, occupational therapy and braces might be needed. He’s even seen some rotator cuff injuries.

Do: Change it up. Alternate arms between your dominant and non-dominant hand when holding the baby or toddler or carrying anything heavy. Take a break and don’t do any repetitive motions for a long period of time.

Playing with them on the floor

Don’t: Use only your legs to get up off the floor, straining your muscles and potentially injuring yourself. “Getting back up is sometimes a little challenge the older you get,” Drake says.

Do: Scoot over to a sturdy chair or sofa and use your hands to help you get up, he says.

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

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