If you observe their movements you will notice something quite beautiful. They sit upright effortlessly with their pelvis positioned well to perfectly stack the spinal discs and vertebrae up above. Their shoulders are well back and their necks are long and straight. When they bend to reach for a toy or other object, they hinge forward from their hips. The back stays straight and their shoulders remain back while performing this task.
If you observe a toddler standing, you will notice the same type of posture. They have quite straight spines without much of a curve at all until you get to the very bottom of the vertebral stack. Then there is a significant curve at L5- S1 where the lumbar spine meets the sacrum.
This posture is not at all strained. They carry their weight over their heels and other weight bearing bones. The body is remarkably well aligned. Babies are experts at finding the right balance and plumb line to keep their rather heavy heads aligned over their spines, which is as challenging as balancing a bowling ball on a stick.
If you look at old pictures of your ancestors, ancient civilizations or people from non-westernised cultures, you will notice that this same posture stays in tact into adulthood. The key is the alignment of the pelvis. An anteverted pelvis (one that is inclined forward) as opposed to a retroverted or tucked pelvis is the main factor in determining their posture. They stand and walk with their behinds behind them.
So if babies and toddlers are role models for natural healthy posture, why do they lose this and become the slouch potatoes that we see so often in school aged children? And when does this shift happen?
Is it our modern furniture or that they spend too much time playing on their phones or tablets? These could certainly be factors.
It also pays to look at how we handle them as babies. How are we carrying them? What types of baby furniture are we placing them into?
While carrying your baby, try supporting them with your forearm instead of your hand, providing a platform for them to sit on. Make sure their pelvis is anteverted and their behinds-behind them. This will naturally align their upper body into an upright and relaxed position. In this scenario, the parent benefits by using the larger muscles in the upper arm instead of the lesser muscles in the forearm and hands, preventing problems like RSI, tendonitis or carpal tunnel syndrome.
If you hold your child using your hand under their bottom, it forces the pelvis into a tucked position, resulting in a rounded back. You also put yourself at a greater risk of RSI and tendonitis by using the smaller muscles of the hand and bending the wrist. This carrying position, used habitually is unhealthy for both parent and baby.
Another way we perpetuate poor posture in our children is by placing them into strollers or car seats that don’t support them. Baby furnishings often have hammock-like or rounded bottoms that cause children to tuck their pelvis and slump forward.
At a time when a baby’s neural pathways are developing, we are sending them the wrong message. This can cause all sorts of issues now and later in life – slouching, digestive problems, breathing problems, back pain and more. It is best that we add some support to the furniture to get them more into an “L” shape rather than a banana shape.
It is never wise to leave a baby sleeping in a poorly designed stroller or car seat. Try to get them out of poor seating as soon as possible. Put them in a crib or on a blanket on the floor. This allows them to elongate their spines and sleep naturally aligned.
There are many ways in which you can influence your children’s posture in healthy ways. Hold them well when they are little. Place them in furniture that supports them. Abandon the old “sit up straight” and “pull your shoulders back” guidelines, as these do more harm than good.
Observe your children for hints about natural posture. Become a good role model for your kids, looking after your own posture as you go about life.