Dr. Cliff Heinrich
Suggestions in Carrying For Infants, Toddlers and Children
Updated: Oct 12, 2020
This article is just my opinion after many years of experience. No research has been done in connection with what I am suggesting in this article. Check with your doctor and or healthcare professional before following any advice that I may be offering you.
Fortunately, I have seen many infants, toddlers, and children in my practice for almost 30 years. I completed my residency in both Family Practice and Osteopathic Manipulative Medicine. I have taught Osteopathy to medical students for over a decade in our clinics and worked as a professor at a medical school for a few years before relocating to another country where I continued to teach for another five years at the only osteopathic school here. I have since devoted more time to treating my patients and teaching Dynamic-Momentum to others.
Lifting children without using their armpits
I have observed for decades how parents handle their children both inside and outside of my clinic. When it comes to parents lifting their children, I often notice that they usually pick their children up by grabbing them under the armpits, as if the armpits are a pair of handles or hooks to latch on to. Did you know that we have a network of nerves that lie within the armpit? These nerves are known as the brachial plexus and they are susceptible to injury. For example, the radial nerve (one of the nerves in the brachial plexus) can be injured by improper use of crutches. Improper use of crutches would be when a person is leaning too much on the crutches (while they are placed under the armpits), creating enough of an upward force that may cause neurological damage to the radial nerve. Injury to the radial nerve may result in weakness or even paralysis in the arm (at the triceps), wrist, hand, and fingers.
I believe that when we repeatedly use the armpits to lift children, we are increasing the risk of injuring the brachial plexus. So, with that in mind, I suggest not using the armpits to pick up infants and toddlers (children included) but to use one hand/wrist underneath the bones we sit on (the ischial tuberosities) and the other hand supporting the head, neck, and upper back. So again, the fingers of the bottom hand are pointing toward the baby’s head, and the top hand is horizontal (fingers pointing away from you), supporting the head, neck, and upper back. The positions of both hands make a letter “T”, with the top hand being horizontal and the bottom hand being vertical. (Please see the videos below).
Supporting the head and neck when lifting
Another reason why I recommend lifting babies in the manner I just suggested is because I feel it helps to prevent the child’s neck from being thrown back or hyper-extended. Sometimes lifting children by the armpits does not offer protection for the head and neck, especially in newborns. Newborns in the first month or two, usually do not have enough strength in their necks to hold their heads up by themselves, let alone, have enough strength to protect their heads from being thrown back or hyper-extended. Doctors are aware of “whiplash” (rapid forward and backward motion of the head) injuries that may occur from a fall, being rear-ended in a car accident, and other types of trauma. Depending on the type of injury, whiplash injuries may result in soft tissue damage to the neck to potentially much worse injuries. I know we are just talking about lifting children, but if we repeatedly lift our children without supporting the head, neck, and upper back, we may increase the likelihood of creating strains or other injuries in these aforementioned areas.
Several months ago, I treated my friend’s son who was at the time, about 2 weeks old. They brought their son to me because he would tire quickly while eating, was restless, not sleeping so well, and was not able to suck properly because his mouth would not seal properly around the breast (he made a strange sucking noise). I noticed immediately when my friend went to lift his 2-week-old son that he did not support his child’s head and neck. I think I understood at that moment why the baby was having such difficulty with eating and the other problems mentioned. I quickly showed my friend and his wife how I believe they should lift their child. He then told me that he lifted his son in that manner to “help strengthen” his son’s neck. My friend happens to be a genius, a great mathematician, and knows several languages but no matter how smart a person may be, we sometimes need a little guidance with new and unfamiliar experiences, including myself… I then explained to my friend that he first needs to give his son some time to develop strength in his neck and in the meanwhile help to support the head, neck, and upper back when lifting his newborn. When I treated the infant, I found much tension in the head, neck, upper back, both shoulders, and his sacrum. After the one treatment he was able to eat for much longer periods of time, which enabled him to eat more, he slept better, was more relaxed, and he no longer made that strange sucking sound while breastfeeding.
I want to mention that I have successfully treated many babies who tend to throw their heads back (hyper extension of their neck) while they are lying down, sitting up, or while they are being held. I would usually help to resolve this tendency in babies within a couple of treatments. When examining these children, I almost always find much tension in the neck, especially in the area where the head meets the neck. I believe that many of these babies who throw their heads back are trying to address restrictions in the head/neck region. Maybe babies who are throwing their heads back experienced some injury while in the uterus, during the delivery process, or acquired it after they were born? We may not ever know for certain why they desire to throw their heads back, but I believe that if we support the head, neck, and upper back every time we are carrying them, we lessen the chance of injury to these areas.
Believe it or not, there still are times when my 9-year-old son is asleep, and I carry him to his bed in the same manner I am describing to you. I first roll him towards me, then I place my top hand and forearm around his head, neck, and upper back, then I place my bottom hand under the bones he uses to sit on. By first rolling his body towards me, I help to prevent his head from being thrown backwards. Incidentally, this is also a good suggestion when lifting babies, you can first roll them on their side and gently raise them to your chest, while remembering to always support the head and neck. Also, when carrying children up or down stairs, people tend to bounce while using the stairs and this may cause the child’s head and neck to be jarred or jerked around. Supporting the head and neck of your child when using the stairs may help to lessen the chance of jerking or jarring your child’s head and neck.
A long time ago, I had learned from a great osteopath that the head may function better in flexion, like Ernie’s head from Sesame Street (as opposed to extension, like Bert’s head) because it permits greater ease and motion of the brain. I believe what this world-famous doctor told me years ago to be true because of her many years of research, her vast knowledge of the cranium and brain, and her great success in osteopathy. When the head is in flexion, the paired bones such as the temporal, parietal, maxillary bones, and other paired bones in the head, are for the most part, in external rotation (rotating outward as opposed to inward rotation). I agree that when the paired bones (both the legs and arms for example) in our bodies are in external rotation, there is more inherent (inborn) motion within the body. When there is better motion of the body, I believe that the organs move more efficiently and that there is better flow of the fluids (blood, lymph, and other fluids) within the body as well.
So, when the hips are externally rotated or cross-legged, I believe that it “opens up” the pelvis and permits better flow to our legs and feet, to the pelvic organs, and contributes to our overall health and well-being. When children internally rotate their hips while sitting, the legs take on the shape of a “W” and I believe it may restrict the motion of the pelvis and prevent optimal blood and lymph flow to the lower portion of the body. I grew up sitting with my legs in a “W” shape and I always felt restricted in my lower back, pelvis, and hips. It was virtually impossible for me to sit cross-legged for events, especially when I was studying martial arts, because all my instructors and classmates would sit cross-legged, and we were to do the same. Today, I am unable to sit comfortably in a “W” shape or even cross-legged and I find it extremely uncomfortable when sitting on the ground without the support of a bench or a chair. So what I try to do when I am lying in bed at night, is to place the soles of my feet together creating a “diamond shape” with my legs, to open up my pelvis by externally rotating my hips. So, my recommendation is to encourage your children to sit cross-legged and discourage them from sitting in a “W” shape, based on my own experience and my many years of working with the body.
I also have a few suggestions when it comes to choosing a baby carrier for your child. I did a search on baby carriers and I found some that I think are good choices for children. I will tell you why I like the following baby carriers. (Please keep in mind I am not selling this product or making any money on this product).
First, I like the position these babies are facing. (Please see the pictures below) The forces of both harnesses are being directed on both the infant’s backs and buttocks.
Second, their heads and necks are being supported by the harnesses. I think when a harness does not support the head and neck, it may potentially increase the chance of injuring the child’s head, neck, and upper back, especially when walking up or down stairs, or any action that may cause the head and neck to shake too much.
But, when babies are facing forward in front of the parent, I feel that there may potentially be too much pressure on the baby’s reproductive organs, especially in boys, because their reproductive organs are located on the outside. However, newer designs have come out, that appear to lessen the amount of pressure on the reproductive organs, hopefully completely…
I like this baby carrier (please see the picture below) because the child’s head and neck are being supported. I also like the direction the baby is sitting or facing, with the carrier supporting the bulk of the baby’s weight in the region of the back and the buttocks.
I like this carrier (please see the photo below) as well. The baby’s head and neck are supported, the majority of the baby’s weight is on the buttocks and back, and the baby can see what is in front of her/him.
One last suggestion, when putting diapers on your child, notice if the diaper is too tight (but secure enough that it does its job) around their waist because it may interfere with the natural inherent flow and motion of the abdomen, pelvis, and legs. Though there may never be any visible signs of disturbances to the body, I feel that it may cause tissues to become tense and restricted, and that it may possibly interfere with the body’s gastrointestinal, genitourinary, and possibly the lymphatic systems. Though, I am not aware of any such studies that “tight diapers” may cause some sort of damage (who wants to put a baby through such a test!), I do feel it is important that diapers are not put on too tight.
I felt that it was important that I get this message out to parents and caregivers who work with infants, toddlers, and young children. Unfortunately, I do not see many people supporting the heads and necks of their children when lifting them up. I feel that improper support of the head and neck while lifting children may create strains and other problems that could for the most part be avoided. Also, I believe if we can adopt another way of lifting our children instead of using their armpits as hooks, it may help to lessen the chance of causing injury to the brachial plexus and other injuries not mentioned in this article. When using a baby carrier, I think the position in which the child is being carried is extremely important for the reasons I mentioned earlier. I believe it is particularly important to find a carrier that supports the head and neck of a child to lessen the chance of injury to these areas. These are just a few of my suggestions, please check with your pediatrician before making any decisions regarding the caring for your and other people’s children.
Dr. Cliff Heinrich has been practicing Osteopathy for approximately 30 years. He completed his residency in both Family Medicine and Osteopathic Manipulative Medicine (OMM). Dr. Cliff had been Board Certified in Family Medicine/OMM but chose to focus mainly on Osteopathic Manipulation. He had taught Osteopathy to medical students in his clinics for over a decade. He also taught Osteopathy as a professor at a medical school for a few years before he and his family relocated to another country (where he has taught osteopathy for an additional 5 years). People have come to see him from around the world for their innumerable complaints. After 25,000+ (moderate to low estimate) hours of treating his patients, he has come to believe that restrictions or areas of tension within the tissues interfere with the natural flow and motion of the body. Dr. Cliff developed Dynamic-Momentum to remove these restrictions or areas of tension in the tissues so that every individual may potentially have greater flow and motion within their bodies.