FMF: Five Minutes from Frances - Picking up Babies and Toddlers

Caveats: 1. Though we always work ‘in activity’ in ITM Alexander Technique lessons, we don't address specific issues like lower back problems directly but work to general principles, addressing root causes indirectly.  I’m always happy to explain about what is meant by this if you’d like to know more. 2. These ‘FMF’ blogs are NO substitute for actual experience in a lesson. All that said, it can never hurt to give a little thought to how you’re doing what you’re doing!

FOR ANYONE with tots in their lives this activity is a real biggie.  You lift your little ones from the floor again and again. Then they get bigger and bigger and heavier and heavier.  This combination of repetition and increased weight can really start to tell on your lower back.  This in turn leads to a certain degree of anxiety at the prospect of every lift, which in turn leads to a degree of tension before you’ve even started… ouch.

What to do.? Well, firstly, before you start – stop!  You may be so involved with your little darling, or in such a rush to scoop them up (particularly so if they’re in distress of any kind, which already sets you and your whole body on edge), you haven’t given yourself a moment to consider doing things in a less strenuous way.  Just one or two seconds’ consideration could make a massive difference and save you a lot of discomfort and distress.

What are you going to need to move, to do this job?  Your arms and your legs, basically - not so much your back.  Arms and legs have wonderful long, strong muscles superb for large movements and lifting.  Your intervertebral muscles are very short.  They make your spine nice and bendy in all directions; great brilliant for micro-adjustments, not so great for repeated heavy loading.

Your legs hinge at hips, knees and ankles.  Just ask these three joints to fold together and there you are in an easy squat. Your torso will naturally be angled forward, without you having to pull on your spine and strain those lumbar muscles.

Your arms are hinged where you’d wear your highest Brownie badge. Think on the outside, not at the front.  You don’t need to pull your whole shoulder girdle forward (or indeed up, though people often do) to take your arms forward.  You can leave your chest nice and open.

SO: look down at your little one and then STOP, just for a moment.  Your job may be to get ‘down there’ to pick them up; but begin by being as tall as you are; upright but relaxed – notstooped – no head-sticking-out-in-front-of-your-body at all.  You can still look down at your little one now by just tilting your chin down without craning your neck down.  OK, great.

Next, if you need to get really low for a teeny one, you might want to put your feet a bit wider apart.  Now, leave your head, chest and torso alone.  Just ask for your hips, knees and ankles to fold and ask for that hinge movement at the tops of your arms to reach forward.  Take hold of little one, ask for those hips, knees and ankles to just unfold again.  Come up to standing fully upright and relax everything that you can relax while holding a wriggly baby or toddler.  The more relaxed you are, the more you can adjust to the wriggling (just like a tightrope walker can adjust balance when relaxed but falls if tense).  The more tense you are, the more tense you’ll get.  Use the muscles you need for the job, leave the ones you don't alone and you'll build up more strength with less strain.  Stay loose and enjoy your cuddles!

Hope that helps. Please let me know how you get on.  If you’d really like the best kind of help with this activity, get in touch for some lessons.

If you have another activity for which you’d like a Five Minutes from Frances, please feel free to ask.

Love, Frances

Photo by Valeria Zoncoll on Unsplash