Dr. Lena Shahbandar is a physiatrist based in Chicago who has more than 20 years of medical experience. A graduate of Northwestern University, she practices outpatient musculoskeletal medicine with a particular area of interest in women’s musculoskeletal health and pain in pregnancy.
Shahbandar sat down with Jessica Abo to discuss her new company, Nessl, and why she wants to change the way you carry your baby.
Dr. Shahbandar, what can you share about the kinds of patients you treat as a physiatrist?
Dr. Lena Shahbandar:
I treat patients who have back pain, elbow pain, joint pain, hip pain, and women who have pain in and around pregnancy. Their bodies have changed so much, that they don’t know what to do with themselves, and, there’s really a lot of dysfunction around that.
Tell us a little bit more about those symptoms and how do you treat them?
Some of the symptoms that we see in pregnancy have to do with the fact that joints and ligaments loosen as you’re making way for the baby and your center of gravity changes. So people end up with really bad pain. They can describe what they call sciatica or even SI joint pain, which are types of back pain issues. They can get carpal tunnel syndrome where their hands go numb and tingly. And then they have their babies and they have to lift them and shift them and move them and all of that is something that we can work on by strengthening up muscles and addressing posture. But really at the end of the day, the problem is that these patients have to deal with the world around them, which doesn’t want to stop and doesn’t want to give them a break.
What made you go from seeing patients in your clinic to wanting to start your own company?
I actually was treating a friend of mine who had back pain in pregnancy, and she came in carrying her infant in a car seat. And as she was about to leave, I noticed that she was going to be lifting this car seat and I said, you know what, don’t do that. It’s going to wreck your back. Let me carry your car seat to your car. So I carried it for her. And at that moment, I had a re-injury of an injury that I had from when I was pregnant. And I realized that the world is just not working for my patients and I have to change this. I decided to go about starting to solve the problem of the way babies are carried and how car seats are used in real life.
How is this carrier different from what’s out there?
We use very lightweight fabrics that are very high quality and have a reduced environmental footprint. The waist strap is removable so the body of the carrier becomes very small and you can even use it in a car seat.
What steps did you take to make sure this product is safe?
We developed it knowing that our goal was to get it inside of a car seat. So there are certain rules you need to follow to do that. One is that you don’t impede the shoulder straps or the buckle of the car seat at all. Two is that the fabric has to be very thin, like T-shirt thin. And so that’s where we went and got really high quality, very strong, very thin fabrics in order to do this. Three was that we uncoupled the waist strap from the body of the carrier altogether. So you didn’t have extra fabric around the baby at all. And then when we did all of that, we took it to a university lab and we just gave them the baby carrier and we gave them the car seats. They crash-tested these things completely independently of us. In our results the difference between crash testing with the Nessl Baby Carrier in it and crash testing a car seat without the Nessl Baby Carrier in it was effectively no difference. So our baby carrier is safe and that is very reassuring and important to us.
Dr. Shahbandar, what should we all keep in mind when it comes to joint pain and back pain? How can we all try to be healthier?
We have to really be proactive about taking care of our bodies. We only have one spine. We don’t get spine replacements as we age. Some things that are really important to pay attention to are things like being aware, and just knowing what is normal for you and what is not normal for you. Sometimes people don’t realize something’s wrong until it’s too late. Also, focus on your posture, and make sure that you sit upright, almost like you’re putting your elbows in your back pocket. So you bring them back and down and nice and relaxed. Pay attention when you’re stressed and what impact that has on the muscles in your body. And then consider weight training, strengthening up your muscles around your spine, in your core, and in your glutes really will make a difference for you in the long run. Being careful with carrying posture really matters. So when you carry things, the reason I made the car seat is it’s so far away from your center of gravity and it just destroys the back. Whereas if you can keep something nice and close to your center of gravity, you do a lot better.
I love that advice. Dr. Shahbandar, what’s next for you?
We are selling our first 500 units and we’re really excited to share that with these first 500 units, we’re going to be offering a free coaching session for all of the purchasers. I will be leading the session as a coach and will help you sort out things ergonomic, lifestyle confidence, all the things that can make parenting a little bit challenging. At Nessl really what we want to do is nestle you. So then you can nestle your baby.