Fatherhood is a period that will bring with it a bevy of new responsibilities and intense emotions, ranging from anxiety and exhaustion to unparalleled joy. As you care for your child (often with very little sleep, at least at the beginning), you may also quickly find that being a dad requires demands of your body that you aren’t used to.
The repetitive movements involved in seemingly low-impact activities like frequent diaper changing, picking your child up and putting them down, or lugging a stroller or diaper bag up and down flights of stairs, can all put excess strain on your back. This can put parents at risk for serious injury, potentially sidelining you and keeping you from enjoying some of parenthood’s most precious moments with your child.
Wondering what steps you can take to take care of your back while you take care of your baby? Here are a few basic tips to observe, some of which were shared by National Spine Health Foundation Medical and Scientific Board member and Dad of three, Dr. Colin Haines:
Be mindful of your posture. Caring for your child will invariably involve having to bend your body in all directions, sometimes unexpectedly. Try to limit constantly bending all the way over – especially as your child grows older and heavier – to avoid straining your back. Instead, whenever you need to bend down to pick up your infant or child, stand close to them and descend down onto one bended knee while keeping your back straight. When you set up cribs and diaper changing tables, adjust the height to minimize your need to bend down, and keep essentials like diapers, wipes, and toys within an easy arm’s reach.
Invest in, and use, proper back support. When you finally get a moment to put your feet up for some rest, the last thing you want is a bed that’s going to add to your back pain. Memory foam and latex mattresses are usually good options to provide back support, as they conform to the body and help keep the spine properly aligned. Similarly, if you find yourself down on the floor for playtime or bath time, invest in a foam mat or some other supportive cushion that you can place under you to reduce pressure on your spine.
Try to exercise regularly. You may not have the time to do the two-a-day workouts you were used to pre-fatherhood, but finding a few minutes each day to move your body is essential to staying limber and healthy. Incorporating dynamic movements into your workout routine will prepare your body to be able to toss older kids in the pool, push them on the swing, and give piggyback rides.
Or at least stretch. Your back, like all your muscles, can become tight from staying in the same position for too long (like sitting in a chair, rocking your little one to sleep or watching yet another episode of Peppa Pig). Doing regular back stretches for a few minutes at a time can increase flexibility, reduce tension, and lower risk for injury.
Maintain a healthy diet. This may not always be easy as a parent, but increased consumption of convenient “junk” foods can lead to unwanted weight gain, which can increase the pressure load on your lower back. Try keeping your pantry stocked with healthy snacks, or making time during the week to prepare multiple healthy meals in advance.
If you are a father who has experienced back or neck pain, the National Spine Health Foundation invites you to join our private support group and be encouraged by others on a similar journey toward healing. We also have resources available to help you learn more about prevention, diagnosis, treatment, and most importantly recovery!