Babies and back problems

PeterGray, from Kent UK, whose wife, Mary has pregnancy-associated osteoporosis, talks about their experiences of childcare equipment for parents with back problems.

I hope that anyone, with a baby, who has a back problem may find this article useful. My wife Mary had a baby girl, Emily, in July 2001. Soon afterwards Mary began to experience back pain, even though she had never had any back problems before. The pain gradually increased in severity for the next ten weeks until she was in so much pain that she was having difficulty walking or even getting out of bed. Back X-rays and blood tests confirmed a diagnosis of pregnancy-associated osteoporosis, a rare condition of thinning of the bones brought on by pregnancy and breast-feeding in susceptible women. By the time it was diagnosed, she had developed nine vertebral compression fractures.

With intensive medical treatment, Mary is now making a good recovery and her bones are strengthening again. However, she has been unable to lift Emily unaided since Emily was two months old. Most mothers take it for granted that they can lift their babies, and don’t think twice about it, but if you suddenly find yourself unable to lift, this creates a lot of practical problems. For example, how do you transfer the baby between her cot, change table, bath, highchair, pushchair and car seat? We have had to find ways to do these things using a variety of different solutions.

Our most essential piece of equipment is a mobile electric hoist. There are several different types available which all work on the same principle, and we are using an ‘Oxford 150a’. After Mary had an occupational therapy assessment, the hoist was supplied free by social services, which was a big relief for us because it would have cost several hundred pounds to buy it privately.

Because Emily is so small, we had to have some infant slings specially made to measure. These were supplied by a specialist sling manufacturer, Silvalea, based in Devon. Although Silvalea have been very helpful and have made three slings for us, you have to allow at least a month between ordering the sling and actually getting it because the manufacturing process takes so long. It is essential to have two or three slings, partly because they need to be washed daily (babies are very messy!) and also so that if one breaks, you have a backup. We had a minor disaster with the first sling, which was chewed up by the washing machine, but we had spare ones by then and Silvalea repaired it for us very promptly.

We were worried at first that Emily would be afraid of going in the sling, but the opposite turned out to be true - she loves swinging in it, and sometimes cries when she has to be put down! Luckily by the time the hoist and sling arrived, Emily was able to hold her head up well. This is essential as it is not always possible to hold the baby and push the hoist at the same time.

Pushing the hoist around the house turned out to be more difficult than we expected. It is quite heavy, and pushing it on a carpeted floor was difficult, so we had to have the carpet taken up and laminated flooring put down. The hoist now glides very easily on the floor, with minimal effort needed to push it. Because there are raised wooden sills at the thresholds of the internal doors of our house, Mary cannot move the hoist out of the lounge. We therefore have a sofa-bed and a change table in the lounge. Mary transfers Emily on to the change table for changing, the sofa-bed for sleeping and into a pushchair for feeding and going outside.

The two biggest problems to date have been bathing Emily and getting her in and out of a car. The hoist has a wheeled base that needs to fit underneath or around the sides of whatever Emily is being transferred to, and because of this, we can’t use the hoist to transfer her to a baby bath on the kitchen counter. Also, the height of the hoist and the difficulty in getting it outside the house means we haven’t been able to use it to get Emily into the car. We have thought about various ways round this, and there are some things we haven’t tried yet, but at the moment the only way Mary can do these things is if there is someone there to help her. We have ordered a bath and change unit from Mamas and Papas, and are hoping this will allow Mary to bath Emily, as the hoist legs will fit under or around the unit, and possibly to transfer her into the car.

We are hoping that when Emily starts toddling it will solve some of the remaining mobility problems, although it will probably also create new ones!

First published in Disability, Pregnancy & Parenthood international, Issue 38, April 2002.

  • Thanks PeterGray for sharing. I found this article very helpful. I am in Mary's situation and have been trying to find a way to take care of my baby. I was thinking of getting a patient lift but had no idea how practical it would be. Now I know at least for the infant stage this idea works well. That is extremely liberating! Is there a way I can get in touch with the author and learn from this creative couple who dealt with the difficulties so bravely and beautifully?

    15 March 2018

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