The Disastrous Toddler Hip Carry

There you are in the kitchen with a crying toddler, a baby crawling around your feet, and a pot boiling over on the stove. Everybody is hangry and you are rushing to get some food into those bellies. So you scoop up the crying child, prop them on your hip, and carry on with one-handed dinner preparations.

How many of us moms have done this? I’m pretty sure most of you have, after all we think of it as almost a survival skill, right? The problem is, I have seen countless moms experiencing pain from constantly carrying on one hip, which most of us do to free up our dominant hand. But even if you alternate sides, it doesn’t do any less damage.

The leaning tower of Mom

While this maneuver is often referred to as the hip carry, it is in fact a pelvis carry. You shove one side of your pelvis out, for example to the left, and hook your child’s legs around it. Then you lean your upper body over to the right side to counterbalance, while supporting the weight of the child’s upper body with your left arm. Shoving your pelvis out to the left shifts your centre of gravity way over to the left side where you are weight bearing on a leg that now looks like the leaning tower of Pisa.

So basically you are standing there with every part of your body crooked. Your left leg is slanting off to the outside, taking your pelvis with it. Then there is a big horizontal shearing effect across your lower back while your upper body leans right to counterbalance your pelvis shoved out to the left. Because no one likes their head leaning to one side, you then crank the neck and shoulders back over to the left so your head is vertical.

I’m sure you can appreciate how this can lead to problems, particularly in the low back and hips. The sideways shearing forces on the lower back are a certain recipe for disaster, putting a lot of strain on the small joints of your back, and the discs. If you are lucky this will lead to low back pain, which will hopefully motivate you to seek help. If you are unlucky and you don’t get the warning sign of pain (or you ignore your pain), you may just bend over to pick up the thousandth toy of the day off the floor and experience immediate severe pain – the kind where you literally can’t straighten up – and where does that leave you?

Weight bearing on a leg that is off at a wonky angle is also going to cause you pain. This could occur in the hip, but also anywhere lower in the leg. The joints in our legs were designed to bear weight in a straight alignment, so anything off from there is going to cause a lot of stress. Again, if you are lucky you may have nagging pain in the hip that warns you of a problem, or you may just slip on the ice and shatter an ankle, never realizing that the fracture occurred because of this habitual posture.

The pelvic bone’s connected to the…arm bone?

Less obvious results of the hip carry are problems in the upper back and arms. Let me explain how this works. While in this full body terribly crooked alignment, you are performing tasks (including shifting that heavy boiling-over pot off the burner) with a right arm that is working from a base that is shifted entirely over to the left. Normally when we use our right arm, we transfer our weight slightly to the right.  This helps activate our postural control muscles, which stabilize our trunk. Liken this to stabilizing the base of the crane in order for its arm to work. If the base of a crane is not stable there is a lot more strain on the arm, and if this is repeated often enough something will eventually give.

Well, your body is the same. If you are repeatedly using your right arm while your trunk is not stable because you are leaning to the opposite side, something will eventually give. So if you are experiencing pain in your upper back (where the arm of your crane joins its base), or perhaps in your shoulder, elbow, or wrist (further out in the arm of your crane) it is likely related to the hip carry posture.

So what is the solution to this problem? Some of you may be wondering if using a baby-wearing sling could alleviate the stress on your body in the hip carry position.  I do not believe that it is much better. While the sling may free up your left arm from having to support some of the weight, you are still going to have to stick out the left side of your pelvis and adjust the rest of your body to counterbalance having the weight of the child on one side.  So essentially you end up in the same alignment as when you are not using a sling. If you are going to use a baby-wearing device, you are much better off to carry symmetrically in the front or the back.

Just say no

The ultimate solution is to simply refuse to hip carry your child. I know that sounds crazy, but it is possible. When my children were little I used a baby-wearing device, but I always carried symmetrically in the front or back. When they got too big for the carrier, I just essentially stopped carrying them. Yes, I said it.  And yes, it’s possible.

Of course I got the puppy dog eyes, with arms extended upward and the plaintive “Up Mommy!  Up!” It’s very difficult to refuse, but I did. Don’t get me wrong, this does not mean I didn’t comfort my children. It just means that I would sit down for a cuddle. If I couldn’t do that, then instead of carrying them around while cooking, I simply got down to their level, hugged them, explained that I needed to make dinner, got back up and carried on. If they screamed, I would repeat the process of getting down, hugging them, and carrying on. Eventually they figured out that I was not ever going to pick them up and carrying them on my hip while doing something with one hand. Kids are smart. It didn’t take long.

When they were old enough, I would sit them on the counter where we could be at eye level and they could see what I was doing. I could easily give them a quick hug and everyone was happy. My kids practically grew up on the kitchen counter.

If you are already in the trap of hip carrying, it’s definitely hard to break the pattern once it’s established. There will be guaranteed screaming, but stay the course and your kids will eventually figure out that their hip riding days are over. Your body will thank you now and forever.

If you are currently hip carrying and having pain please get some treatment to sort out your whole body before you have an injury that stops you in your tracks. We can help you before you are trying to mom in agony.