The fact of the matter is, “we don’t know it all”! There is such a vast amount of information out there that it’s just not possible to know everything and as my Mum always says, “know your limits”! So, with this resounding in my mind it’s the simple truth that us ‘chaps’ don’t know what it’s like to have a baby (although some insist they think they do)!! For sure, there are an increasing number of house-husbands out there, but generally speaking it’s the ladies who take the larger share of bringing-up a young child. But, at what cost to the body? So, a good time to hand over the reins and who better than Rachel Walker, our lady Chiropractor at ‘Creative’ and someone who definitely knows a thing or two about ‘backs, bums and Mums’!!
It’s 6am and the alarm goes off; if you’re anything like me, yours has a rather distinct sound, usually: “Wake up, mummy.” Perhaps, if you are lucky, you get: “I need a wee, mummy,” repeated over (and over), until your eyes are blurrily opened and the light pours in. Or maybe yours is that of a crying baby wanting to be fed. Either way, sleep has ended and another day has begun. It is time to get up and start moving your body… but are you moving it correctly or have you slipped gradually into bad habits – because, let’s face it, when you’re tired, even standing up straight can feel like a chore?
Raising children is one of the most physically and mentally challenging job roles there is – and if you’re trying to hold another job or career down as well, then perhaps your back’s health and health in general get rather pushed down the pecking order. Either way, in no time at all, it feels like you’ve aged 20 years in the space of two.
Our spines and bodies have been perfectly designed to withstand twisting, bending and carrying. However, somewhere along the road to modern living, those best-laid plans of Mother Nature became somewhat obscured – and we’ve been left with spines and surrounding muscles not actually being very well equipped for the demands which we suddenly place on them. Take, for instance, a woman who has spent most of her working life sitting at a desk. In this position, the hips are flexed (legs bent up at the hip) and the muscles at the front of the thigh (quadriceps or hip flexors) may, over time, become tight or shortened. These muscles cross the hip and attach to the front of the pelvis. If this tightening occurs and then we stand up, the muscles will place a load on the pelvis, pulling it forward and down. This pattern then causes the derriere to stick out and creates an increase in extension in the low back. Then, your gluteal muscles (bottom muscles) are forced to try and rectify this, becoming tense and often pretty painful over time.
Unfortunately, your poor bottom muscles become fatigued and can become deconditioned (misfiring) and rather non-supportive to your pelvis. This misfiring can lead to irritation and pain because the area is not functioning as it should. The joints in the low back have also just about had enough too, because the increased extension is compressing them. Ever had low backache, when you’ve been standing up for a while? Yes? Then, this probably applies to you. This scenario is just a very small snippet of the biomechanics of the body and how our lifestyles can affect them.
During pregnancy, a huge load is placed on your low back because ‘the bump’ is pulling your centre of gravity forwards, increasing the extension in our low backs (guys – if you’ve developed a ‘sympathy bump’ recently or maybe it’s still there, even though the kids have grown up and left home, then this applies to you too).
In the latter stages of pregnancy, Mother Nature does her best to help us out – and our bodies produce relaxin, a hormone that softens our ligaments, muscles and tendons in preparation for the birth. The problem here is that this stuff loves to linger, sometimes for up to five months – and longer, if you’re breastfeeding. While you may get a week or two of help around the house, in reality, this luxury doesn’t last long. Before you know it, you’re cooking and cleaning – if this is your second or subsequent child, then you’re also busy running around after them. Your back simply doesn’t have the strength to cope and eventually pain ensues. All is not lost, though, as there are so many things that you can do to protect your spine and keep it strong – before, during and after pregnancy.
I would recommend asking for help, wherever possible. We really don’t need to be ‘the do all, be all’ parents. It’s OK to share the load. Ask family and friends to help around the house, especially for the first six months. When out doing the shopping, ask a member of staff to help you carry shopping to the car and load it. I’ve not met an unwilling member of staff yet and have given up trying to do everything myself.
If, however, you are on your own, then here are just a few tips on how to safeguard your back, while being a busy mum:
- When lifting your child/baby, keep the baby as close to your chest as you can. The weight of your baby (or anything you lift) at arm’s length will place five times the load on your body/back than if they’re held close to your chest.
- A cot, ideally, should have an adjustable side, so that it can be lowered when you lift your baby in and out of bed, so that you’re not reaching over.
- Use a changing table, when dressing/changing your baby’s nappy, and try and stand as upright as you can.
- Whether you’re breast or bottle feeding your baby, make sure that you’re sat upright, with back and head support. Use a v-shaped pillow to hold your baby in place, so you’re not using your arms or back as much. And switch sides regularly, even if you are bottle feeding.
- Get down to your child’s level, when playing or helping older children to dress, rather than bending over – and try and move positions regularly.
- Always bend from the knees and hips, keeping your back straight. Imagine that there’s a pole going from the top of head down through your spine.
- Exercise! Even if it’s going for a 30 minute brisk walk, three times a week. It’ll help keep you trim and encourage flexibility and strength. (Please always seek advice from a qualified health professional, before starting any exercise programme.)
- Eat well and drink plenty of water. Sounds obvious, but it astounds me how many people are not getting the basic requirements of nutrition and fluid intake. Ultimately, your health and vibrancy will suffer.
We’d all like to see ourselves as a ‘super mum’, but why risk our health? We’re doing the best we can – and that is often good enough. If you have any concerns or would like some further advice about your health, diet, posture and any aches and pains which you may have, either pop into the Practice, visit our website, www.creativechiropractic.co.uk, or telephone us on (01263) 715522, and book a free half-hour, no obligation, session, and come and chat to me (or one of our other chiropractors). We’re here to help in keeping you healthy, so that you can be the best you can.
Motherhood is a gift, enjoy the moment, and the mayhem!
Rachel – Creative Chiropractic