How to Keep Your Baby’s Spine Healthy When Using Car Seats
Your chiropractor may have talked to you about your curves. Spinal curves that is. Looking at ourselves from the side, we can see that our spines are not straight. Four slight curves are visible, forming an elongated “S” shape. These curves are essential for our function and movement. They keep us flexible and balanced. They help keep our spine aligned and our nervous system functioning well. These curves also create a bit of a spring in our spine. This spring acts to absorb stresses placed on our bodies as we walk, run and sit throughout the day. However, we weren’t born with all of these curves. They develop gradually as we learn to crawl, to walk and to adapt to gravity.
When babies are born, their natural position is to be curled up. We often refer to this as the fetal position. Their entire bodies make a convex, or C-shaped curve from skull to the tailbone. As they gain head control and hold their head up, their neck curve, known as cervical lordosis, starts to develop. Tummy time and crawling help develop their low back curve. Car seats are necessary and mandatory for safe car travel. However, when babies aren’t traveling in the car, they shouldn’t be in a car seat. Too much time in car seats and strollers can affect the optimal development of their spinal curves. Car seats keep babies in a static forward flexed position. The constant pressure on the back of their skulls can also contribute to flat head syndrome or plagiocephaly. The straps in car seats prevent them from using their muscles to move around. Hip health is also important to consider when using a car seat. Choose one with a wide seat base so that your baby’s legs are able to spread out and not be squished together. There should be space between their knees, allowing them to maintain that frog-like position in the hips.
Temperature and clothing are other important factors to keep in mind when using a car seat, especially in the winter! We want to keep our babies and toddlers warm in the car but not at the expense of their safety. Putting them in a bulky snowsuit in the car seat can be dangerous. Experts warn that when you have a child in a heavy winter jacket or snowsuit, the car seat straps may appear tight over their clothes. But in the event of a sudden stop or collision, forces cause compression of the clothing, leaving slack in the straps and harness. This can put the child at risk of being ejected out of the seat.
As mentioned above, when your baby is not traveling in the car help their spinal and motor development by taking them out of the car seat. Time spent on the floor using their muscles to explore their environment is important. Babywearing is another way to carry your baby while promoting spinal health and development!
When choosing and installing a car seat, there are guidelines from the provincial Ministry of Transportation to follow to ensure safety. Various car seat safety programs exist around the city. BEST FIT Car Seat Program and SEATS for Kids offer free clinics and great resources here in Ottawa.
When carrying a car seat, you also have to consider your spinal health. An empty car seat is awkward and heavy. Now put a baby in it! We end up leaning, reaching, twisting in all sorts of ways to take the car seat out of the car, to put it back in the car, and then to carry it around. There’s no getting around how bulky and awkward it is. However, this technique can save your back and protect your arms, shoulders, and hips. Loop one arm under the car seat handle, and grab the side of the seat to lift it up with that same hand, hooking your fingers under. When you are lifting the seat, makes sure to bend your knees. This technique allows your arm to stay close to your body, avoiding stress on the upper back and a shift in the pelvis and low back.
Keep your baby’s spine healthy by using the car seat in the car only. Keep your spine healthy by limiting how much you carry the car seat, and by using proper technique when you do. Before and after long road trips, remember to get your spines checked by your chiropractor.