From biking and hiking to walking and jogging, today’s parents are keeping fit and bonding with their babies in the process. With an array of products unheard of a generation ago – like baby carriers, joggers and trailers – even the tiniest among us are enjoying the great outdoors. But while these items can make life easier and more enjoyable for both parent and child, they can be the cause of pain and injury if not used properly. The American Chiropractic Association (ACA) urges you to exercise caution and good judgment while exercising with your baby.
When biking with a child on board, use a trailer, a rolling ride-along that hitches to the back end of a bike. It is a much safer option than a carrier, a "passenger" seat that sits directly on the bike, according to Dr. Scott Bautch, a member of ACA’s Council on Occupational Health. Dr. Bautch prefers trailers because of their added stability. He cautions that carriers can decrease a bike’s stability, possibly causing it to topple and injure both the parent and child.
To further ensure the child’s safety while biking, keep the following tips in mind:
- The trailer must be equipped with a harness that can be placed over the child’s body. The harness should be complicated enough that the child cannot unhook it or wiggle out of it.
- A screen that covers the front of the trailer will add an extra line of protection against stray pebbles and other flying objects.
- Be sure to select a trailer that has large, bicycle-style tires, which will add stability and ease to your ride.
- Protect your child’s head with a sturdy, adjustable helmet that can be sized to fit properly. If the helmet rests too high, it will expose part of the child’s head, leaving it susceptible to injury.
- Bike only on smooth surfaces for optimal control.
- Only an experienced rider should attempt to bike with a child on board at all. And even then, the rider should practice with a ride-along trailer for two weeks before riding with a real child – in an effort to get a feel for the strength and coordination necessary to maneuver the bike.
If you wish to go for a jog and bring your child along for the ride, the baby jogger is your best option. A baby jogger is a rolling pushcart that a parent can jog behind, using handlebars to maneuver. Here are some rules of thumb to consider:
- Make sure the handlebars of the jogger are both large and adjustable, so that they fit comfortably into your hands for complete control. The handlebars should be kept as upright as possible.
- Handbrakes and a locking mechanism are a necessity.
- Look for a jogger with a good shoulder harness to keep the child secure.
- Large, bicycle-style tires offer more control and stability.
- A screen over the front of the jogger adds to its safety by deflecting stray flying objects.
- Jog only on smooth surfaces.
Backpack-Style and Front-Side Baby Carriers
For parents who prefer walking or hiking with their little ones, a backpack-style or front-side baby carrier could be for you. Dr. Bautch cautions, however, that there are risks involved with carrying an infant on your back in a backpack-style carrier. "The cervical spine of a child less than one year old is not fully developed. It is important at that age that the head does not bob around. The backpack-type carrier is not ideal because the parent cannot watch to make sure the child’s head is stable. A front-side carrier is better for a very young child," explains Dr. Bautch.
Dr. Bautch also urges you to think about the following:
- A backpack-style or front-side carrier decreases a parent’s stability when walking or hiking. It is critical that a parent gets into shape before attempting to use one of these products.
- Since these carriers will change the feel of walking or hiking quite a bit, they should not be used by beginning walkers or hikers.
- If using a backpack-style or front-side baby carrier, make sure to select one with wide straps for your shoulders and waist. This will help distribute the carrier’s weight evenly. The shoulder straps should fit comfortably over the center of your collarbone.
- The carrier should include a harness to keep the child stable.
- Once you place the child in the carrier, check to make sure there is no bunching of material against the child’s body, particularly on the back, buttocks and spine. Isolated, uneven pressure like this can produce pain.
The "baby sling" is becoming more and more popular for its versatility of positions and comfort. But if you wish to use a baby sling, keep in mind that it is intended only for very young infants and follows these tips:
- A baby can become very hot inside the sling, so be mindful of the temperature around you. Also, make certain the baby’s breathing is clear and unobstructed by the sling’s material.
- Never run or jog while carrying a baby in any backpack-style carrier, front-side carrier or baby sling. A baby’s body is not adjusted to the cyclic pattern that is a part of running and jogging. This motion can do damage to the baby’s neck, spine and/or brain.
Take Care of Yourself
Finally, don’t forget about your own health and comfort. When lifting a child to place him or her into a trailer or jogger, exercise caution. Don’t bend from the waist, but begin in a 3-point squat and implement a two-stage lift that consists of a) pulling the child up to your chest and then b) lifting straight up with your leg muscles. Stay as close to the car seat or trailer as possible and place the child into it without reaching, stretching or twisting. The further the child is from your body, the more strain you will place on your spine and musculoskeletal system.
Chiropractic Care Can Help
If you or your child experiences any pain or discomfort resulting from these or other outdoor activities, call your doctor of chiropractic. Doctors of chiropractic are licensed and trained to diagnose and treat patients of all ages, and can provide health tips for you and your children that will make enjoying outdoor activities safer and more enjoyable.
For Your Health,
Dr. Frederick Savard