How hard is the job of motherhood? According to Elizabethtown College professor of occupational therapy Ann Marie Potter, lifting and twisting and picking up children can take its toll on any mother’s health.
“Mothers have a tendency to always put children first,” said Potter in a press statement. “This often translates into moms not paying attention to how they use their own bodies while caring for their children. While performing daily tasks, they may strain their back, neck, knees, shoulder or wrists, which results in pain. Due to the 24/7 nature of family life, they try to keep going through the pain,” said Potter.
Statistics show that even before the child arrives, mothers-to-be have a greater incidence of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome than other women, although the reason for this is still uncertain. And with or without children, women report slightly more work-related musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) than men. Whether this is because of the way work environments are built, the way women are built, the way jobs are structured or simply because women are more apt to notice or report their own health problems has yet to be determined.
“It is evident that women are far more likely to work in jobs with high demands for rapid, precise manual activity, such as assembly or packing, and clerical data entry, and with highly regimented work routines that have limited flexibility and rest or recovery time,” Dr. Laura Punnett, Senior Associate at the Center for Woman and Work at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell, told The Ergonomics ReportTM in 2003.
Punnett said that, on average, a women’s body strength is only about two-thirds of a man’s. Studies, she notes, have suggested that women also use different strategies than men would to perform the same physically demanding task. Other research indicates that tendons in women respond differently to repetitive tasks than tendons in men. Plus there are two additional factors working against moms, particularly those who work outside of the home: a decreased recovery time and stress. Recovery time may be reduced because of strenuous off-work activities like lifting children and housework that women may perform after they clock out for the day. And stress, which has been linked in some studies to a higher incidence of upper extremity disorders, was listed by 60 percent of working women in a NIOSH study as their number one problem at work.
Regardless of whether work or home is riskier for mothers, Potter noted that “Most of the strains put on a mother’s body can be avoided by making simple adaptations to the daily routine and incorporating proper body mechanics.” Potter’s suggestions include:
- Avoid carrying a child while bending down (increases strain on the back).
- Get as close to the car seat as possible when putting a child in a car seat.
- Change a child on a changing table or surface at waist height whenever possible.
- Remove a child from the tub by putting a knee on the tub rail, wrapping a towel around the child (makes holding the child easier), positioning the child close to you and removing the child.
- Wash infants in the sink rather than the tub as the sink height is usually ideal for washing and removing the baby.
- Always lower the crib rail before putting a child in or taking the child out of the crib.
- Use a toy scooter or a bike with an extended handle or push bar to push the child at waist height.
- Place a pillow behind your back and sit against a wall or furniture for support when playing on the floor.
Sources: AScribe; The Ergonomics Report