There’s no getting around it: parenting is a physically demanding job! With my training as an occupational therapist, I’ve tried different strategies to perform childcare tasks with the least physical strain on my joints. I will be sharing my strategies in a series of posts with the theme Parenting Without Pain. Today’s topic: dressing strategies and life hacks.

Soft, loose clothing with zippers

Soft, loose clothing with zippers

Strategy 1: Choose your child’s clothing and shoes wisely
My teeny tiny hand and wrist joints are the ones that have been the most inflamed since having a baby, and I have found that selecting clothing that is loose, stretchy and devoid of tricky closures has been the easiest on my joints. When selecting clothing, consider the following factors:

Resistance: How stretchy is the material, particularly on the openings (neck, arms, legs and waist)? Stretchy and soft materials are much easier to manipulate and get onto your child without causing excessive strain on your joints.

Tightness of fit: The looser the child’s clothing, the less force you need to apply to put it on, and thus the less strain on your joints. For infants, however, be sure to stick to outfits that are snug around the upper body and neck to avoid a smothering hazard while they sleep. As Charlie has grown, we’ve consistently put him in slightly loose clothing in order to prevent unnecessary strain on my hands, and he doesn’t seem to mind at all!

Comparison of different closure options

Comparison of different closure options

Closures: Please see the chart at the right for my opinion of the relative ease of different closures. Always consider how the clothing is secured: zippers, snaps, velcro, buttons, magnets, elastic waist or something else? How many total closures are there, and how resistant are they to securing (eg putting together) and taking apart? As a general rule, I preferred elastic waist pants, zippers and velcro as they required much less stress on my thumb and finger joints and were also quicker to take on and off than snaps or buttons; however, the total number of closures needs to be taken into account, along with the overall resistance of the surrounding material. For example, some zippers (especially on jackets) are more resistant to movement than big buttons. I didn’t include magnet clothing because I didn’t encounter any, but it’s worth noting that many of the Mamas Facing Forward suggested magnetic closures!

Soft, velcro shoes

Soft, velcro shoes

Shoe related decisions:
Material: Is the shoe material more on the soft side, or more stiff? I find that softer shoes are easier to get on and off.
How “high maintenance” is the shoe to get on/take off: If the shoe is super tight, or resistant to movement, you will have to apply a lot of force to get the shoe on and off.
Closures: Velcro, laces or none? In many cases, velcro is easier for me personally than laces, however if it’s brand new Velcro or the shoe is really tight, laces might be easier. Of course, rain boots are a favorite for us here in the northwest, not the least because they bypass the closure issue entirely – children generally can take off and put on rain boots before any other types of shoes!
Socks: Check the stretchiness factor for socks; the less stretchy they are, the harder they will be to get on and off (which means more “wear and tear” on your joints). I prefer the low crew length socks as opposed to taller ones, when possible.

Strategy 2: Modify your Approach
Often times, the way you approach a task can protect your body more than the specific materials you select. Here are some activity modification suggestions:
Use the child’s natural movements: Starting when Charlie was an infant/baby, I tried to wait until he moved his arms in the direction I wanted them to go before trying to thread his hand/arm through a shirt opening. This strategy takes a little more time, but it’s MUCH easier on your joints than forcing the child’s arms/legs into clothing. Ever since he’s been able to follow simple commands, I’ve asked him to participate in the process (for example, asking him to push his foot through the pant opening).

Independence with boots!

Independence with boots!

Shirt strategies — how to thread the head through the neck opening: Start at the back of the child’s neck and then thread the opening over his forehead/face when putting a shirt on, and do the opposite when taking it off (first pull the head opening over the child’s face, then the back of their head). This minimizes the discomfort they naturally feel when clothing is pulled over their face, and makes the process quicker/smoother, thus minimizing joint strain.

Making pants easier: When you are at ground level with the child, encourage the child to shift their weight to the side closer to you and then thread their foot through the opposite leg opening, and then switch legs. An easy way to help them shift weight is to gently poke their hips so they end up putting their weight on the foot you don’t want to be currently going through the leg opening. Another technique is to have the child sit in your lap facing away while you initially thread the foot openings through, then have the child stand up while you (or the child) finishes pulling the pants over their hips/bottom.

Strategy 3: Support your child’s independence with dressing

Supporting your child’s independence eases the burden on you to put on and take off your child’s clothing. Plus, it has the added bonus of helping them build a sense of mastery, and pride in their ability to help out! Of course, children will have different strengths and weaknesses in the areas of dressing, but simply involving your child in somehow (for example, having them hold one sock while you put the other one on) can have benefits long term in easing the burden on you. MamaOT has a fabulous blog post here detailing the ages at which children can dress themselves, which is broken down by skill. An easy rule of thumb to remember is that children typically develop undressing skills before dressing skills.

Spliting success

Splinting success

Strategy 4: Prevention Strategies
Here are some simple ways to prevent additional decrease additional pain and strain on your joints, in addition to the “modify your approach” strategies listed above.
Splinting: Using my soft neoprene splints as well as my custom thermoplastic hand/wrist splint has proven essential for protecting my thumbs and wrist from additional pain and strain related to taking care of Charlie. Your doctor can refer you to a hand therapist if they feel you would benefit from splinting.
Jammies versus daytime clothes to bed: Decrease the total number of clothing changes made in a 24 hour period by putting your child to bed in what you’d like them to wear the next morning.
– Plan ahead: Make sure you have all the items you need before dressing the child so you avoid unnecessarily having to stand back up, bend down, pick up, etc.
– Consider dressing location: For example, I find it easiest to put shoes on while my child is already in the car seat, as the seat itself is supporting his body and his movement is relatively restricted.
Preparation: For onesies specifically, it can work great to pre-snap the onesie, then thread it through the baby’s legs before pulling it up to the shoulders. Pre-snapping it allows you to perform the snapping without simultaneously having to pull the two sides together (which is harder once the main part is on the baby’s body, because they are squirming/moving and you have to pull with your thumbs to get the two parts of the snap aligned).
– Attend to your body dynamics (see below for more specifics!).

Strategy 5: Attend to your own body mechanics at all times

How NOT to hold a baby: adds strain to thumbs

How not to hold a baby — adds strain to thumbs. This article provides a comprehensive overview of joint protection techniques including body mechanic principles.

Here are a few basics that I find useful to remember:
– Use larger muscles/movements rather than smaller ones, if your small hand joints are inflamed. This will protect them in the long run, and is more efficient.
– Consider the height of the surface you are changing your child on: This will depend partly on your child’s age and your current areas of concern. For me, bending down to the floor is often easier as I don’t frequently have knee or foot pain, and changing my child on the floor level eliminates extra lifting, which is important as he’s always been on the heavier side. However, for others with more knee/hip pain and less hand pain, changing the child up high might be better.
– When dressing a child at floor level: if you’re having knee or back pain, consider sitting on a step stool near the child to protect your knee and back joints from excessive bending.

I would like to give credit to my fellow Mamas Facing Forward who contributed ideas on this private Facebook support group for parents who have chronic illnesses. Additionally, some of these tips were already covered in my “Bringing Home Baby Without Breaking your Body” blog post, however in this post I expand significantly on those original ideas. Please list any additional tips/tricks/strategies you or your loved ones use in the comments section!