Lightening the Burden on the Back

One of the challenges of having a baby is all the carrying you suddenly have to do. Whether in your belly or your arms, the extra weight can sometimes come with back ache and tension. Faced with this extra burden myself, I use my training in body alignment to try to avoid overburdening my back and prevent injury down the road. After all, these kids never get any lighter!

When carrying a baby, or any heavy object, there’s a strong tendency to make a shelf with our hips and/or ribcage. It’s natural for our bodies to want to minimize the amount of work we are doing at any moment, but this is not always good for us in the long run. In the case of jutting out ribs and hips, we are shifting the burden of carrying something from our muscles to our ligaments. While muscles can both shorten and lengthen with use, an overburdened ligament will stretch out over time like a worn out pair of socks. We save a bit of energy, but at the cost of our joint stability.

So the question is: how are you stacking your body? In an ideal alignment, a person stands with their hips stacked over their ankles, and their ribcage stacked over a neutral pelvis. At first, it can be hard to find what this means in your body. A good place to start is to just start noticing where your body naturally positions itself, both simply standing on your own, and then while bearing your beloved baby load (if it was ever removable from your body in the first place). Where do you feel the weight of your body in your feet? Can you back your hips up a bit so most of your weight rests in your heels? Could you lift your toes here if you wanted?

You want your body to be stacked in a way that each part offers the most support to the others.

Now, find your tail—is it tucked beneath you? Can you relax your butt and low back muscles to let your tail stick out a bit more? Once you’ve done that, can you let your sternum (breastbone) settle down to look more vertical and less shelf-like? If you put your hands on your lowest ribs, are they flared out or can you relax them down to be flush with your belly muscles? You want your body to be stacked in a way that each part offers the most support to the others. Don’t worry about figuring out what perfect alignment is right away; it’s a process, not an end destination. The more you start tuning in to how you are using your body, the more automatic it will be to use it in a way that protects your individual parts from injury and pain, and strengthens your body appropriately.

One indication that you are using better body alignment while carrying your baby around is if you start getting stronger. When you stop jutting out your pelvis and chest, your arms muscles will have to work a lot more. It may be tiring at first if your body is used to shoving that extra work out on your ligaments, but the great thing about muscles is that they can adapt to heavy loads by getting stronger when we are using them right. And that’s really necessary as babies just grow heavier and heavier! A lot of parents end up relying on strollers because they don’t have the strength to carry their kids. If you work on bearing the load of your little one while they are still little, not only will you save your back from injury, but you’ll strengthen as they grow. It’s the most natural strength training program there ever was.