Protecting Your Posture: What Parents Need to Know

BIPOC man playing with his kid.

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When you’re a parent of young children, it's easy to underestimate how the physical demands of the role can affect your posture. The constant strain of lifting, carrying, and even playing can cause repetitive stress injuries.

By becoming aware of how you're moving and adopting some good habits, parents can perform common activities safely to promote better posture and overall health.

Is Poor Posture Bad For Your Health?

Poor posture can, in fact, have negative effects on your overall health and strength over time. Dr. Wilson Wang, DC, a chiropractor notes that poor posture can lead to strain on the body.

Wilson Wang, DC

Poor posture increases stress and strain on your joints and muscles. This in turn can lead to excessive wear and tear of your joints.

— Wilson Wang, DC

Other long-term issues like scoliosis, carpal tunnel syndrome, and chronic lower back pain can develop from poor posture. In the short term, poor posture can also lead to issues like neck pain, headaches, and TMJ.

Common Parenting Activities That Cause Poor Posture

Parents of young kids do a lot of bending and heavy lifting. According to Dr. Caroline Long DC, CACCP, a chiropractor at West University Wellness who sees many patients with injuries sustained from being a “human jungle gym," parents can carry up to 60 pounds of excess weight without realizing it. 

Carrying and Playing With a Child

Babies may be light and easy to hold, but picking up a baby still requires bending over the crib, the bouncer, the stroller, the car seat, and the floor.

As each month passes, these babies grow. Without realizing it, parents are soon lifting much heavier children in and out of vehicles, onto playground equipment, and up and down the stairs.

In addition, excess use of one side of your body, like carrying a child on one hip, can lead to spinal issues and pain.

Tips For Carrying and Playing With Your Child

Here's some tips to keep in mind as you carry and play with your child while also protecting your posture:

  • Be mindful of how you lift and carry your child. Just like lifting and moving any heavy object, you should be mindful of how you lift and carry children as well. If you can, avoid bending over and picking up your child with your back hunched. Instead, bend your knees and get lower so that the child is close to your body. Then use your leg and buttock muscles to lift them up off the ground. 
  • Try not to hold a toddler on your hip. Instead, balance them in front of you if possible, with their legs wrapped around your body. If you're going out, don't forget the stroller!
  • Purchase baby equipment that is level to your height. To prevent constantly bending over to put down or pick up a child, you might want to consider baby equipment that is designed to be higher off the ground. Baby swings might be a better choice over bouncers that usually sit right on the floor.

Loading and Unloading a Vehicle

When you have kids, you have gear. Hoisting strollers, infant car seats, and even heavy diaper bags in and out of your car several times a day counts as repetitive motion. The same thing goes for hauling groceries.

When you’re shopping for a family, your trunk is likely fully packed after each grocery run. Often, parents want to get everything unloaded and into the house in one trip, weighing down their arms and shoulders with heavy bags.

Tips For Loading and Unloading a Vehicle Safely

Below are some ways that can help reduce strain on your body as you juggle your family's groceries, baby gear, and other items:

  • Be aware of how much you’re carrying. Make multiple trips to unload the groceries. It may cost you a few extra minutes of your time but doing so can also save your back and posture.
  • Carry infant car seats with both hands in front of you. To avoid putting unneeded stress on your back, shoulders, and arms, don't carry it to one side of your body or on your forearms.
  • Try to consolidate the baby gear whenever possible. For example, there are newer models of infant car seats that turn into strollers, reducing the amount of loading and unloading you have to do for each trip.

Tidying Up Around the House

At some point kids will be old enough to pick up their toys but when they’re still small, parents are the ones doing the cleaning up.

Something as innocent as bending over and clearing all the playthings off the floor can take a toll on your back, especially if you are doing it throughout the day. 

Tips For Cleaning Up the House

Keep the following suggestions in mind as you pick up after your kids:

  • Let kids play in an area where you don’t need to continually tidy up. A playroom or a play corner can be allowed to get messy and remain that way for a while.
  • Have kids pick up their own toys. As soon as they’re able, have kids pick up their own things and put them away in their designated place. Children as young as 18 months are old enough to do simple chores.

Doing the Laundry

More clothes and linens to wash means more hefty laundry baskets to haul. If you have stairs in your home, this means increased wear and tear on your joints and back. And if you’re using cloth diapers, that could add an additional three loads of laundry a week.

Tips For Doing the Laundry

Here's some ways to manage all of your laundry without putting so much strain on your body:

  • Wash clothes more often. Washing clothes regularly will prevent you from having extra-large loads to lug around.
  • Avoid overloading a laundry basket. You may have to make multiple trips to put away all the clothes, but it could potentially save you from back and shoulder pain.
  • Use appropriately-sized laundry baskets. Make sure your laundry baskets are the proper size for your laundry load so that you are not struggling with an oversized one on your hip. Carry them properly in front of you with both hands.

Ways Parents Can Improve Their Posture

The good news is that you can take proactive steps to improve your posture and prevent, as well as treat, posture problems.

Add Strengthening Exercises

Improving your core muscle strength will automatically improve your posture. Although new parents do not have a lot of free time to spend at the gym, even a set of hand weights and a yoga mat at home can do the trick. According to Dr. Long, 10 minutes of yoga each day helps to decompress the spine and lengthen muscles.

“Hand weights can be used to strengthen the trapezius, rhomboids (muscles between your shoulders), and back muscles to counteract flexion and keep your muscles and bones strong and healthy,” says Long. “The American Heart Association recommends at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise which also helps improve your skeletal muscle tone.”

Wear a Posture Corrector

Posture correctors work like a brace to help guide your body into a natural position. It's especially important to choose a soft brace which helps activate the muscles while reminding your body to align properly.

There are concerns that constantly supporting the spine makes the muscles around it atrophy, but posture correctors can still be useful in certain instances, especially when coupled with exercise.

Caroline Long, DC, CACCP

Although posture correctors do help to some extent, they do not provide sustainable benefits or replace good-old-fashioned exercise.

— Caroline Long, DC, CACCP

Adjust Your Office Set-Up

According to Dr. Long, “Parents who are frequently looking down at their phone, squinting at a screen, or working on their computers for long hours at a time are more likely to lose the natural curvature in their neck.” Poor posture related to these kinds of work habits can lead to headaches, poor circulation to the shoulders and hands, and clenching of the jaw.

Make sure you take lots breaks when you’re working behind a desk as well. Dr. Wang helps resolve issues for many patients at his Seattle practice who suffer from symptoms seemingly unrelated to poor posture.

According to Dr. Wang, "Sitting for prolonged periods causes structural and muscle imbalance, but also limits breathing and circulation and slows digestion."

Parents may be behind a desk for much of the day, and even into the evening, now that working from home is becoming popular. More than ever, it's important to pay attention to your home office ergonomics: check that your computer screen is at or just slightly below eye level, and that your chair allows you to maintain straight body posture.

Visit a Chiropractor

Many parents who are suffering from back, neck, and shoulder pain find relief after chiropractor visits. Chiropractors perform orthopedic, neurological, and range of motion tests to assess your posture and prescribe a course of treatment.

Chiropractic adjustments done by trained professionals can help balance your posture and properly align your body. They can restore your range of motion, which means less inflammation and pain when you move.

A Word From Verywell

People often take for granted how physically demanding parenting is in the early years. When kids are young, mom and dad literally shoulder the burden of toting, carrying, and moving children and all their necessities everywhere, day in and day out.

Parenting will always be hard work, but it will take less of a toll on your body as children grow up.

Meanwhile, if you think that you might have pushed yourself too hard while participating in the daily activities of parenthood, take the time to get a potential injury checked out. Children are best served when their parents are taking care of themselves too.

By Vicky Yip
Vicky is a freelance writer specializing on topics relating to prenatal care, motherhood, parenting, family, and home life. She is also a Senior Contributor for HoustonMoms (City Mom Collective).