So many of my osteopathy patients come to see me for back and joint pain that started or flared up after they had babies. There are lots of reasons for this including: more bending and lifting, less time to exercise and lack of restorative sleep. Becoming a new parent introduces huge changes not only to your lifestyle and the way you view the world, but also how you function physically.
When your baby arrives, so begins a lifetime’s commitment to someone else’s needs. As parents, we are inevitably less attentive to our own physical needs. How we sit, move, don’t move and show love for our little ones is determined by our babies. We throw them in the air to make them giggle, and literally wrap ourselves around them when they are sad.
Of course for new mums, the physical challenges are even more significant. Their bodies are still recovering from the huge postural changes caused by pregnancy and birth. Women who have been unlucky enough to have back or pelvic pain during pregnancy often find these symptoms continue after the birth. For others, the combination of weak supporting abdominal and pelvic muscles, added to the physical challenges presented by their new baby can signal the start of their back or joint pain.
But don’t worry – its not all doom and gloom! Luckily, there are some simple things you can do to help prevent aches and pains developing in the first place.
Carrying Babies & Toddlers
Carrying babies, especially once they start getting bigger is a huge cause of back and joint pain. And of course its not just carrying, but twisting and bending to put them in car-seats and lift them out of cots. So what can you do?
Alternate the side you lift on, and use different carrying positions (eg. over your shoulder, in front of you). Notice if one position causes you more pain than others and listen to your body. Slings can help… or make things worse. There is lots of useful information on choosing and adjusting baby carriers to prevent neck and back pain here and here. (Local tip: If you live close to Leamington Spa, The Cotton Nappy Company lets you borrow different slings to try out).
As babies get older, encourage them to crawl or walk themselves. Get them to practice on stairs if you have any, and soon they will be climbing up and down all by themselves.
Another common lifting injury found in new parents is tendinopathy at the base of the thumb (De Quervains Tenosynovitis is the posh name). This is caused by lifting babies with outstretched thumbs positioned under their armpits. The weight of the baby on the thumb joints causes irritation of the tendons, leading pain and tenderness in the thumb and forearm. To prevent this happening, always try to keep your thumbs tucked into the side of your hands when lifting.
Breast-feeding Posture to Prevent Back and Joint Pain
Breast-feeding is best if this is possible. I agree, in terms of baby’s health and the invaluable mother-baby bond. However, its not so great for a new mum’s posture. In addition, hormones produced whilst breast-feeding make joints more mobile, increasing their vulnerability to injury. Please don’t stop breast-feeding, but please do think about your own posture when you are doing it.
Sit in a supportive chair, with arms if possible and try to keep an upright posture with shoulders back and chest open. Of course you will want to look down at your beautiful baby, but intersperse this with periods where your head is upright and and in a more neutral position. Use cushions to support baby’s weight and your own arms if needed. This will give your arms and back a break, and reduce your chances of getting back or neck pain.
Pelvic floor and abdominal exercises are important to prevent back and joint pain, and also complications such as stress incontinence. Your midwife should have given you this leaflet which is packed full of useful exercises. Do them! Find a regular time when someone else can look after the baby and take 10mins to yourself. You will enjoy the excuse for some peace and quiet, I promise!
There are also fitness and pilates classes designed especially for new mums, that you can take baby along to. (Local Tip: if you live near Warwick or Leamington Spa check out classes run by Mum and Me Fitness or Phys-Ogue). If you are still stuck for ideas, read my article for tips on how to integrate exercise more easily into your everyday life.
This is easier said than done with babies and small children, but it is hugely important to maintain good health. Sleep when they your baby does (if they do!) and get family to help out giving you a break. If there are two of you, consider using a spare bed or sofa, so that one of you at least can get a good night’s sleep. One exhausted parent is better than two! If your baby is having ongoing sleep issues, cranial osteopathy may be able to help settle them.
Things Do Get Easier
Everyone tells you this, but things do get easier. You will start to regain some of your life back, your babies will start to walk, and gradually they’ll do more for themselves. If you do have neck back or joint pain however, don’t let it put a dampener on these precious moments with your young baby. Remember how it felt to be pain-free and seek professional advice from an osteopath, who can help you reach that point again.
Over to you…
Do you have experience of being a new parent? It would be great to hear your thoughts or tips on keeping pain-free. Please use the comment section below to add them to this post.