I’m about to do a workshop on baby-carrying, kind of because that’s what I do all day long. Also, as an explorer of movement, I have some ideas that could help your baby-carrying be a more awesome experience for both you and your little one. For those reading this with no baby in your life right now, what I’m going to share applies to any other heavy-lifting activity—with the exception that you can’t expect that box of books to start holding on at some point.
The first thing you have to be able to do when you’re going around carrying babies and heavy objects, is to bend down to pick your new burden up. Since babies don’t just float around at waist-level (unless they are in a stroller or other device, but that’s another story), it’s important to be able to bend over in a way that will load your muscles, joints, and all your other parts in a sustainable manner. By sustainable, I mean that you’re not planning on just replacing your body parts when they wear out, or trying to make up for the damage later on.
How do you bend over?
Try this experiment: stand with your butt against a wall, leaving some space between your feet and the wall. Now, bend over. As you do so, can you feel your butt slide against the wall? That indicates your pelvis is participating in the movement (like the second person pictured) and the big, meaty muscles on the backs of your legs are helping to lower your top half in a controlled manner. What if you don’t feel your butt moving, but you are still bending over? That means the action is all happening at the spine (like the first person), resulting in some very overworked back muscles. The first step is just to be aware of what you are doing. It can help to look at yourself sideways in a mirror to see if your back is rounded or maintaining its normal curves.
A lot of people these days have heard that you want to “use your legs” to do any heavy lifting. However, I’ve found that it can be more than a little difficult to know just what that means, much less teach your body how to do it. Starting to identify the “hip hinge” motion, as we did against the wall in the exercise above, is just the start. At a certain point on the way down, you might need to bend your knees and work on your squat, but I’ll discuss squatting another time. Now you have to lift yourself back up again, possibly with the added weight of a big, chubby baby in your arms.
A visual I like to use is to imagine myself cross-country skiing. Can you picture yourself doing a similar activity, and feel the movement required in your legs as you push away at the ground in order to propel yourself forward? Now, take that feeling and apply it to standing up from a bent over position. Push away at the ground with your feet and the backs of your legs in order to propel your upper half up. Hopefully, this visualization can help you recruit the muscles of your posterior (hamstrings and glutes) to hoist you up by your pelvis, rather than your vertebrae.
Remembering to use my hip joints and leg muscles to lower me down and power me up makes a huge difference as I pick up my ever-needy baby all day long. With less aches and pains in my back, I have more energy to focus on my daughter. If you noticed that bending over is painful, or you have a hard time using your hips instead of your back, you might need to address some other issues first, such as tension in your hamstring muscles. Changing your movement habits will likely take some time. Working one-on-one with me or another movement professional can be a powerful way to create an individualized progression toward greater freedom of movement.
I hope to see you at my next workshop where we’ll address what to do now that bundle of joy is in your arms…to stay.