How To Pick Up A Toddler & Save Your Back, According To An Expert

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Anyone who has a toddler can tell you that they can, well, be a pain. Literally. The daily routine of picking them up, putting them down, picking them up again, and carrying them when they get tired, can make you seriously sore and, at times, even leave you in pain. It turns out that there's actually a right way to pick up your toddler, and most of us parents are probably doing it wrong.

To find out how to safely manage your toddler's desperate need to by picked up all day long, Romper spoke with physical therapist Heather S. Baker PT, DPT, COMT via email. As the physical therapist program coordinator for the Incontinence and Pelvic Pain Program at Swedish Covenant Hospital in Chicago, Baker has worked with hundreds of moms and offers practical advice to help save their backs from unnecessary pain. Namely, that the old adage that you should "lift from your knees, not your back" applies to pretty much everything, including your toddler. According to Baker, when you bend over to pick up your toddler, it’s easy to put too much pressure on your spine and the muscles of your back, which can’t bear the weight of picking up your tyke several times a day. Instead, Baker advises sinking into a deep squat and letting your legs and gluteus maximus muscles bear the weight.

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As Baker told Romper via email, many parents are picking up our toddlers the wrong way. As a result, we experience unnecessary strain on our backs and even injuries. She writes, "Many parents bend over from their waist and lift their toddler using their backs. This predisposes a person to a muscle strain, joint strain, or even a herniated disc. If a herniated disc is bad enough it can lead to pain, tingling, numbness, or weakness in the legs."

According to Baker, a better approach is to lift with your legs, instead of your back. She explains, "When lifting a child from the floor, do a squat, keeping your knees behind your toes to protect them. Squatting allows a person to use the strong muscles of the glutes and legs, and protects the back." She adds, "You should also focus on engaging the abdominals, prior to lifting to further protect the spine."

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The American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) website, Movingforwardpt.com, explains that another mistake parents make is lifting their child at arm's length, which rounds your spine and puts unnecessary strain on your back. Instead, the APTA recommends a "half-kneel lift." To do this, "First, stand close to your child on the floor. While keeping your back straight, place one foot slightly forward of the other foot, and bend your hips and knees to lower yourself onto one knee. Once down on the floor, grasp your child with both arms and hold him or her close to your body. Tighten your stomach muscles, push with your legs, and slowly return to the standing position."

As an alternative, Baker suggests bringing your toddler up to your level. She writes, "If possible, have a child climb onto a step, stool, or other elevated surface so you don’t have to bend as low to pick up the child." According to Jill Boissonnault, Ph.D., a professor of physical therapy at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, to avoid back injuries you should also not turn your body when you pick up your toddler. As she told Parents, "Avoid twisting your torso while lifting, which places the spinal area at risk for injury."

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Baker adds that carrying a child incorrectly can also cause back problems. She told Romper via email, "Parents frequently carry a toddler on one hip and often the same hip every time. This leads to muscle imbalance in the trunk, legs, and arms. Over time it may lead to overuse injuries and pain."

She offers an alternative, writing, "The best way to carry your child is chest-to-chest with their legs wrapped around your waist. Keeping your child close reduces the strain on your back and having them use their legs makes it easier on your upper body. Using a piggy-back carry is another safe option. And if you must carry a child on a hip, alternate hips each time to avoid asymmetries."

Baker adds that if your toddler can walk, it's actually good for them to do so as often as possible so they develop skills and muscle strength. She writes, "Remember toddlers can walk. Whenever possible, try walking hand-in-hand instead of always carrying a child to save your back and body."