So what does an ergonomist think about in the wee hours of the morning while nursing her newborn?  Ergonomics, of course. As a diehard “ergo nerd” I find it hard to turn off my inclination to analyze everything around me, attempting to optimize performance and reduce injury risk. So why not parenting? I think that there can be a lot of lessons learned: from MMH (manual mini-me handling), to applying ergonomic design principles on the nursery layout, to using my personal anthropometrics in design of the nursery and selecting furniture.  These were things I thought about before our first child was born.  What I didn’t anticipate, however, was developing musculoskeletal injuries (MSIs). Over a series of blog posts (keep an eye for updates under “Parenting Ergonomics” in the coming weeks and months), I would like to review some of my experiences and specific MSI issues related to parenting.

First up, I’d like to introduce you to a new (well, renamed) parenting-related MSI:  Burping Wrist.

Burping Wrist sets in fast.  All the hallmark risk factors are present: repetition, duration, sustained force, and little opportunity for recovery.  These risk factors present fatigue development, and further complicating the matter, consider joint laxity (for moms), and the intense fear of not getting a burp and dealing with the gastrointestinal consequences later, ineffective job/task rotation (because what doesn’t involve hands and wrists?) and the requirement to simultaneously hold up that floppy little head and body with the other hand. This situation is the perfect recipe for injury.  This is often coupled with “Mommy Thumb” (de Quervain’s tenosynovitis), where the pain is localized over the thumb side of the wrist.

What to watch for:

  • Discomfort, aching or burning sensation within the wrist joint
  • Sharp or shooting pain
  • Swelling, warmth
  • Reduced range of pain-free range of motion
  • Tender and/or tense muscles in the forearms
  • Numbness or tingling in the hand

Here are some tips to help reduce strain on the wrists:

  • Try to maintain neutral wrist postures during repetitive and/or sustained activities such as burping (or changing, holding, carrying bucket seats, folding endless laundry, etc…).
  • Switch sides to help distribute workload between right and left hands.  For example, use your right hand to pat baby’s back at one feeding, then use the left for the next.
  • When lifting and holding baby, keep your thumb close to your hand.
  • Avoid over gripping stroller handles.
  • Use a baby wrap or carrier, even around the house!
  • Reduce, as much as possible, the length of time spent carrying the bucket seat – a stroller adapter is a wise investment!  Your back and shoulders will also thank you.
  • Keep baby in close to your body when holding and snuggling – use your torso and arms to help support baby so your wrists can relax.  Use pillows as well.
  • If in pain, take 10 minutes to ice!  Or better yet, plan an escape to the massage therapist.  You deserve it!

Up next in this blog series: Baby-Holding Tension Neck Syndrome