Tips for Outdoor Activities with Baby
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. This is a safer option than a carrier, a “passenger” seat that sits directly on the bike, according to Dr. Scott Bautch of ACA’s Council on Occupational Health. Dr. Bautch cautions that carriers can decrease a bike’s stability, possibly causing it to topple.
To further ensure the child’s safety while biking, keep the following tips in mind:
- Equip the trailer 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. 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.
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 large and adjustable, to fit comfortably into your hands for complete control.
- 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.
Walking or Hiking
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. “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 urges you to think about the following:
- A backpack-style or front-side carrier decreases a parent’s stability when walking or hiking. Get 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 beginner walkers or hikers.
- If using a backpack-style or front-side baby carrier, make sure to select one with wide straps. 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 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.
Follow these tips when using a baby sling:
- 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 1) pulling the child up to your chest and then 2) 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.
Avoid Pain from Backpack Use
Back pain is pervasive among American adults, but a new and disturbing trend is emerging. Young children are suffering from back pain much earlier than previous generations, and the use of overweight backpacks is a contributing factor, according to the American Chiropractic Association (ACA). In fact, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission reports that backpack-related injuries sent more than 7,000 people to the emergency room in 2001 alone.
“In my own practice, I have noticed a marked increase in the number of young children who are complaining about back, neck and shoulder pain,” said Dr. Scott Bautch, a past president of the American Chiropractic Association’s Council on Occupational Health. “The first question I ask these patients is, ‘Do you carry a backpack to school?’ Almost always, the answer is yes.’” This new back pain trend among youngsters isn’t surprising when you consider the disproportionate amounts of weight they carry in their backpacks often slung over just one shoulder. According to Dr. Bautch, a recent study conducted in Italy found that the average child carries a backpack that would be the equivalent of a 39-pound burden for the average adult man, or a 29-pound load for the average adult woman. Of those children in the study who carried heavy backpacks to school, 60 percent had experienced back pain as a result.
Dr. Bautch also reports that preliminary results of studies being conducted in France show that the longer a child wears a backpack, the longer it takes for a curvature or deformity of the spine to correct itself. “The question that needs to be addressed next is, ‘does it ever return to normal?’”
The results of these types of studies are especially important as more and more school districts – many of them in urban areas – remove lockers from the premises, forcing students to carry their books with them all day long.
The problem has become so widespread, that the California State Assembly recently passed legislation that would force school districts to develop ways of reducing the weight of students’ backpacks. Similar legislation is being considered in New Jersey as well. The ACA suggests limiting the backpack’s weight to no more than 10 percent of the child’s body weight and urging the use of ergonomically correct backpacks.
What Can You Do?
The ACA offers the following tips to help prevent the needless pain that backpack misuse could cause the students in your household.
- Make sure your child’s backpack weighs no more than 10 percent of his or her body weight. A heavier backpack will cause your child to bend forward to support the weight on the back, rather than the shoulders.
- The backpack should never hang more than four inches below the waistline. A backpack that hangs too low increases the weight on the shoulders, causing your child to lean forward when walking.
- A backpack with individualized compartments helps in positioning the contents most effectively.
- Make sure that pointy or bulky objects are packed away from the area that will rest on your child’s back.
- Bigger is not necessarily better. The more room there is in a backpack, the more your child will carry-and the heavier the backpack will be.
- Urge your child to wear both shoulder straps. Lugging the backpack around by one strap can cause the disproportionate shift of weight to one side, leading to neck and muscle spasms, as well as low-back pain.
- Wide, padded straps are very important. Non-padded straps are uncomfortable, and can dig into your child’s shoulders.
- The shoulder straps should be adjustable so the backpack to fit to your child’s body. Straps that are too loose can cause the backpack to dangle, causing spinal misalignment and pain.
- If the backpack is still too heavy, talk to your child’s teacher. Ask if your child could leave the heaviest books at school, and bring home only lighter hand-out materials or workbooks. Or encourage your local school district to purchase textbooks on CD-Rom.
- Although the use of rollerpacks – or backpacks on wheels – has become popular in recent years, the ACA is now recommending that they be used cautiously and on a limited basis by only those students who are not physically able to carry a backpack. Some school districts have begun banning the use of rollerpacks because they clutter hallways, resulting in dangerous trips and falls.
Chiropractic Care Can Help
If you or your child experiences any pain or discomfort resulting from backpack use, call your doctor of chiropractic. Doctors of chiropractic are licensed and trained to diagnose and treat patients of all ages and will use a gentler type of treatment for children. In addition, doctors of chiropractic can also prescribe exercises designed to help children develop strong muscles, along with instruction in good nutrition, posture and sleeping habits.
Keep Young Athletes Healthy and Fit
In today’s age of health and fitness, more and more kids are involved in sporting activities. Although being part of a football, soccer or Little League team is an important rite of passage for many children, parents and their children could be overlooking the importance of proper nutrition and body-conditioning needed for preventing injuries on and off the playing field.
“The majority, if not all, sports are good, provided that the child prepares appropriately,” says Dr. Timothy Ray, a member of the American Chiropractic
Association’s Council on Sports Injuries and Physical Fitness. “Without proper preparation, playing any sport can turn into a bad experience. There are structural and physical developmental issues that need to be taken into consideration before children undertake certain sports.”
Highly competitive sports such as football, gymnastics and wrestling follow rigorous training schedules that can be potentially dangerous to an adolescent or teenager. The best advice for parents who have young athletes in the family is to help them prepare their bodies and to learn to protect themselves from sports related injuries before they happen.
“Proper warm up, stretching and weight-lifting exercises are essential for kids involved in sports, but many kids learn improper stretching or weight-lifting techniques, making them more susceptible to injury,” says Dr. Steve Horwitz, an ACA member from Silver Spring, Maryland, and former member of the U.S. Summer Olympic medical team. “Parents need to work with their kids and make sure they receive the proper sports training.”
“Young athletes should begin with a slow jog as a general warm-up, followed by a sport-specific warm-up. “They should then stretch all the major muscle groups,” says Dr. Horwitz. “Kids need to be instructed in appropriate exercises for each sport to prevent injuries.”
Proper nutrition and hydration are also extremely vital.
“While an ordinary person may need to drink eight to 10 8-ounce glasses of water each day, athletes need to drink even more than that for proper absorption. Breakfast should be the most important meal of the day. Also, eating a healthy meal two to four hours before a practice or a game and another within one to two hours after a game or practice allows for proper replenishment and refuels the body,” adds Dr. Horwitz.
Young athletes today often think they are invincible. The following tips can help ensure your child does not miss a step when it comes to proper fitness, stretching, training and rest that the body needs to engage in sporting activities.
Encourage your child to:
- Wear the proper equipment. Certain contact sports, such as football and hockey, can be dangerous if the equipment is not properly fitted. Make sure all equipment, including helmets, pads and shoes fit your child or adolescent. Talk to your child’s coach or trainer if the equipment is damaged.
- Eat healthy meals. Make sure your young athlete is eating a well-balanced diet and does not skip meals. Avoid high-fat foods, such as candy bars and fast food. At home, provide fruit rather than cookies, and vegetables rather than potato chips.
- Maintain a healthy weight. Certain sports, such as gymnastics, wrestling and figure skating, may require your young athlete to follow strict dietary rules. Be sure your child does not feel pressured into being too thin and that he/she understands that proper nutrition and caloric intake is needed for optimal performance and endurance.
- Drink water. Hydration is a key element to optimal fitness. Teenage athletes should drink at least eight 8-ounce glasses of water a day. Younger athletes should drink five to eight 8-ounce glasses of water.
- Drink milk. Make sure your child has enough calcium included in his/her diet. For children over 2 years of age, ACA recommends 1 percent or skim milk rather than whole milk. Milk is essential for healthy bones and reduces the risk of joint and muscle related injuries.
- Avoid sugar-loaded, caffeinated and carbonated drinks. Sports drinks are a good source of replenishment for those kids engaged in long duration sports, such as track and field.
- Follow a warm-up routine. Be sure your child or his/her coach includes a warm-up and stretching session before every practice, game or meet. A slow jog, jumping rope and/or lifting small weights reduces the risk of torn or ripped muscles. Flexibility is key when pushing to score that extra goal or make that critical play.
- Take vitamins daily. A multi-vitamin and Vitamin C are good choices for the young athlete. Vitamin B and amino acids may help reduce the pain from contact sports. Thiamine can help promote healing. Also consider Vitamin A to strengthen scar tissue.
- Avoid trendy supplements. Kids under the age of 18 should avoid the use of performance-enhancing supplements, such as creatine. Instead, they should ask their coach or trainer to include weekly weight training and body-conditioning sessions in their workout.
- Get plenty of rest. Eight hours of sleep is ideal for the young athlete. Lack of sleep and rest can decrease performance. Sluggishness, irritability and loss of interest could indicate that your child is fatigued.
Chiropractic Care Can Help
Doctors of chiropractic are trained and licensed to treat the entire neuromusculoskeletal system and can provide advice on sports training, nutrition and injury prevention to young athletes.