Whether you’ve got a newborn or a toddler, toting around a tiny tot can sure feel like a workout. Parents who are chronically strapped for time sometimes even joke they don’t need a gym when they’re constantly picking up, putting down, and carrying around their little ones. But are you really getting some fitness in when you’re doing this? According to the experts, the answer is, “Absolutely!”
Jimmy Pajuheshfar, DPT, the clinical director at FYZICAL Therapy & Balance Centers Whitney Ranch, is a father of three: a 4-year-old, 2-year-old, and a newborn. And he knows he’s getting in his toddler-focused fitness and then some just through his day-to-day life.
“Carrying a baby is a full-body workout,” he says. “Many areas of the body play a role in successfully lifting and carrying your baby throughout the day.”
Dr. Pajuheshfar explains that simple common daily parenting tasks—such as picking up a baby out of the crib or a car seat, and bringing them in your arms from one place to another—incorporate key muscle groups. The muscles in our legs (quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes); the core (transverse abdominis, rectus abdominus, obliques); the mid and low back (quadratus lumborum, rhomboids); and the pulling muscles of the arms (biceps) are all engaged while holding and carrying your baby. And any parent knows those muscles get an extra challenge when their little one starts to get squirmy.
“Carrying a baby is a full-body workout.” —Jimmy Pajuheshfar, DPT
“Believe it or not, carrying a baby can also qualify as both a strength and a cardio workout!” Dr. Pajuheshfar says. “Short-duration tasks such as lifting a baby from the floor, crib, or car seat are more strength-based. Longer activities such as carrying the extra weight a baby provides on your body while wearing a baby carrier or in your arms will more likely incorporate training of your cardiovascular endurance and stamina.”
How to boost the baby fitness benefits
Long-term, Dr. Pajuheshfar says this period of carrying a young child can significantly increase your stamina, endurance, and overall body strength when done safely—and those perks will come in handy as your child grows bigger and heavier. If you want to boost the benefits even further, there are ways to take this parenting perk to the next level and add more of an intentional workout to your baby carrying.
“To make things fun, you can use your baby as an additional weight with exercises such as squats, lunges, crunches, trunk twists, and overhead presses to strengthen all areas of your body,” Dr. Pajuheshfar says. But for any baby-and-me fitness, he says to ensure you move your little one in a slow and smooth fashion. And early on, always get clearance first from your healthcare provider that you have the go-ahead for more physically-strenuous activity postpartum.
Safety essentials to avoid injury
While the fitness perks of lifting and hauling kiddos are there, you also run the risk of sustaining long-term back injuries or sore muscles if you’re not thoughtful about how you carry your little one. Dr. Pajuheshfar says the most common injuries are muscle strains. To reduce your chances of getting hurt, he suggests these tips:
Use your legs when bending forward to pick up from or place your baby in a crib.
Be intentional with alternating your baby from the left to the right side of your body when carrying to avoid one-sided overuse and injury to your back.
Keep your baby close to your body when lifting and carrying them. “Think about it this way—can you hold a bowling ball longer if it is held close to your body or with your arms outstretched?” Dr. Pajuheshfar says. “The same concept applies to your baby.”
Already feeling some back pain from baby carrying? Try this workout to find some relief: