Thursday, August 11, 2011

Ergonomics of Baby Care

As all of you know, we're doing surrogacy because of my medical issues. And once the pregnancy got started, my medical challenges went on the back burner since I'm pretty stable. Yet now, as we're working on getting baby supplies and furniture and the like, challenges are starting to appear again. Not challenges with my body, mind you, but challenges with the world.

After our first foray into the world of baby gear, we've had a chance to catch our breath, regroup from the shock, and head out again. And the things I've found are pretty surprising.

It's actually fascinating to me, as I've begun to explore this, how few options there are for baby equipment and furniture for for parents with disabilities. I mean, I'm an Occupational Therapist. I should know how to find adaptive equipment and things to help people with differences in their daily activities, and, frankly, in some situations I'm stumped! I've searched internet sites for hours on end, and I'm really surprised that no company out there has designed products with accessibility in mind.

For me, a big challenge is weight. My spasticity and dystonia is triggered by weight. Now, there's not much I can do about the weight of our kiddo. Hopefully, as our daughter grows, so will my work capacity! But I am quite surprised at the weight of baby items out there, particularly car seats and strollers. Now, obviously car seats need to be structurally sound to keep a baby safe. Frankly, I'd use one made out of steel if it was the safest! But, one of the items that's quite popular today is the "travel system" type car seat and stroller. The idea is that you can leave the base of the car seat in your car, unhook the "seat part" of the car seat that the baby is sitting in, and place it in your stroller. It's a great idea, however, I believe one pays for the convenience with their bodies!

The car seat parts we've looked at, that come out of the base, weight between about 7.5 pounds up to 12 pounds. That doesn't seem too heavy, but then imagine automatically doubling the weight of them by placing a baby in the seat- and that's when the baby is small! If it were a weight, like a box or something, that people just picked up off the floor and put in a car trunk that might not be too bad. But have you seen the designs of baby carriers? They aren't simply "not ergonomic," they're a major health hazard to anyone who has to carry a child in one, whether the person has a physical challenge or not! There should be a warning labels- "Like your back? Enjoy using your hands? Then Flee from this product!" The handles are awkward and put strain on your wrists and there's no way the weight be centered against your body without carrying it sideways, potentially tossing the child out, which although designed restrain a child, I'm not about to test this. Thus every parent you see who carries one of these with a child in it is either hoisting it with both hands and leaning backwards so that their lumbar spines cry out for help, or holding it away from their bodies so that their arms and wrists beg for mercy. And while it may be difficult to put a baby in a car seat, babies and children are at least bendy and can be positioned to put the least amount of stress on a parent's body when being placed in a car seat. These convertible car carrier/seat things, however, are not bendy (which, as mentioned above, they shouldn't be) but the lack of pliability means that the parent needs to bend his or her body like a vehicular contortionist to place the seat in the base appropriately, particularly if it is placed in the center of the back seats, the safest place for it to be located. I challenge you, if you'd like to see bad body mechanics in action (and a bit of comedy!) pause the next time you are at a shopping mall and watch a mother or father attempt the famed "Single Armed, 45 degree, Baby Carrier Lift, with a Twist." It's a maneuver guaranteed to get at least a 8.5 from the Russian Judge. To get a perfect 10 watch for the same manuaver while adding in the daring "Trying to Corral the 3 year old Sibling and Prevent Him or Her From Running Out Into Traffic and Certain Death" element.

So all of my OT friends out there, I challenge you to find, design or adapt the baby products on the market. And if that doesn't work, I guess I'll just have to find them myself and open my own store.

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