Congratulations on your new baby! Welcome to the parenting club—basically an all-day-all-night bash with a tiny party animal who requires constant love and attention. Did we mention the repetitive bending and lifting? Yep. You’ve already adapted to the endless scooping up of your baby out of the bassinet or off the changing table, leaning over to nurse or bottle-feed, and hefting around that bucket car seat, slung over your wrist like an extra-heavy handbag. Even if you’re in pretty good physical shape, chances are it’s all placing a lot of strain on your back.
What if you also live with ankylosing spondylitis (AS)—an inflammatory disease with trademark low back pain and stiffness plus the potential for limited movement of your spine? How do you handle the demands of newborn care without completely overwhelming your back and slipping into an AS flare? Turns out, there are some steps you can take. Add this article to your list of new-parent required reading. We’ve got five expert tips that will help you avoid back strain and keep you as healthy as possible.
1. Follow Your AS Treatment Plan to the Letter
Your number-one way to keep from flaring: Aim to keep your AS symptoms tamped down by following the treatment directions suggested by your rheumatologist, says Marina Magrey, M.D., professor of medicine at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, OH. Ultimately, as a new mom, you’ll stay largely symptom-free if your AS remains dormant. “How active your AS is will impact your everyday life after you deliver your baby,” she says. “This means that if your disease isn’t well-controlled, the increased activity of delivery, the days and weeks afterwards of lifting the baby and even the recuperation itself can lead to increased pain.”
2. Get a Physical Therapist on Board
Once you’ve brought your baby home and begun to settle into your new-mom routine, you will want to do your best to stay active, says Paula Tanasa, M.D., a rheumatologist in Atlanta. But, before you start any exercise regimen, always seek recommendations from a physical therapist who specializes in AS. “By doing this, you’ll learn the exercises you need to do to maintain a correct posture,” she says. “We know that with ankylosing of the spine, you need to do stretching exercises every morning to give the spine strength and to keep expanding your chest wall.” In addition, range-of-motion exercises are critically important things to do every day. “It’s important to note, however, that when you have AS, you’ll want a physical therapist to teach you exactly how to do these range-of-motion exercises,” she says.
3. Learn How to Lift Wisely
“When picking up your baby from the crib, I’d advise anyone with AS to bend smartly,” says Peter Whang, M.D., associate professor in the Yale department of orthopaedics and rehabilitation in New Haven, CT. That means bending at the knees and planting your feet wide. Then, as you stand up, try not to lean forward, which puts extra stress on the lower back. The goal is to let the muscles in your legs and butt do most of the work. Also: Make sure you opt for a crib with a drop-down side.
4. When You Actually Get to Rest, Support Your Spine
As a new mom, sleep is likely at a premium. However, there are a few important steps you can take to sleep healthfully when you do actually get some rest. “I always advise my AS patients to sleep on a firm mattress,” Dr. Tanasa says. Just as important is your pillow pick: “I recommend that AS patients use minimal pillows—a tiny cervical pillow—that’s all—to protect your back and spine.” A cervical pillow is curved to give special support to your neck.
Again, taking a break during the day is often next-to-impossible when you have a newborn. However, to keep your back as pain-free as possible, when you do take a break, do your best to lie flat on the floor or on your bed for 15 to 20 minutes. “Resting on a flat surface will help your spine stay flat,” Dr. Tanasa says. “It’s a critical way to keep the spine as straight as possible.” This can help maintain your spine’s mobility and keep stiffening at bay.
5. Sneaking Off to the Gym? Try a Swim
Not sure where to start once your OB-Gyn clears you to resume exercise? Consider trying a low-impact workout like swimming. “It’s an ideal way to strengthen the back muscles,” Dr. Tanasa says. “It also helps correct your posture, which is critical if you have AS.” If you’re not able to leave your baby to take a quick shower, let-alone a full-on trip to the pool, pull up a Pilates or yoga video during baby’s nap time or try some of these healthy-back moves you can do in your own living room with Netflix on. Remember to consult your doctor before starting any new exercise.