You have transitioned home with your baby and you are finally in a groove? A few days or weeks into the routine of mom life, did you start to notice a cramp in your neck or upper back and you can’t quite figure out why? This is not an uncommon experience for some moms who have transitioned to their new normal of sitting with their baby and breastfeeding several times a day. Although the experience of breastfeeding and bonding with your baby can be so sweet, the discomfort associated with these prolonged postures can really start to wear you down.
I would like to share with you a few suggestions to help avoid or manage these aches and pains associated with breastfeeding positions.
Breastfeeding pillows: I’m sure you have heard people recommend the use of a breastfeeding pillow or a Boppy. The benefit of using a pillow underneath the baby is that it allows you to bring the baby up to your breast, instead of you hunching your back to reach down to the baby. Sitting with a hunched back for a couple minutes may not do you too much harm, but after doing it repeatedly throughout the day it can start to cause stress on your back and neck. Using a pillow or other form of support under the baby allows you to relax your shoulders instead of using your neck and shoulder muscles to hold the baby up during the entire breastfeeding session.
Lumbar support: When you sit for long periods of time, it is helpful to offer yourself lower back support. The area in your lower back where your back curves in is best supported by a rolled up hand towel or lumbar support.
Posture: Since you will be spending more time looking down at your baby and bonding during your breastfeeding sessions, you may notice a strain in your neck muscles. This usually occurs because your body is not used to the amount of time you are now spending looking down. It can be helpful to try your best to maintain a comfortable neck position that we as physical therapists refer to as neutral posture, or a chin tuck. Basically, you want to avoid a forward head position for long periods of time. The picture below demonstrates what a chin tucked in posture looks like.
Stretching: Learning how to stretch key neck muscles such as the levator scapulae, upper trapezius can help tremendously. Your neck muscles work overtime in this posture. Below are pictures of how to stretch your levator scapula and upper trapezius muscles.
Levator Scapula Stretch: Sit with your feet firmly planted on the ground with upright posture. Place your left hand on top of your head and then draw your head down as if you are trying to look at and smell your left armpit. You should feel this stretch from the bottom of your head to the top of your shoulder blade on the right side. Hold the stretch about 20 seconds, then repeat it 2 more times. Remember, a stretch should not be painful. It should feel a little uncomfortable or mild to moderate tension. After you complete one side, repeat the whole thing on your other side.
Upper trapezius stretch: Sit with your feet supported on the ground and maintain an upright posture. Place one hand on your head and now gently draw your head to the same side as the hand you are using. So if you place your right hand on your head, draw your right ear towards your right shoulder and maintain the stretch for about 20 seconds. It should be a mild stretch or discomfort, not pain. Make sure you are looking straight ahead and keeping your chin tucked back during the stretch. Repeat this stretch 2 more times.
These stretches can be performed several times a day to help manage tightness in your neck.
How to hold your baby: There are different options for how to hold your baby for breastfeeding. Maybe one position will be more comfortable for you and your baby. There is the cradle hold, reverse cradle, the football hold, side-lying next to your baby, or having your baby lay on top of you while you sit in a reclined position. Check out this website to better understand these postures. https://www.kindredbravely.com/blogs/bravely/breastfeeding-positions
Experiment with different positions or ask a lactation consultant or pelvic health therapist, like Katy at The Fit Pelvis to help you find a position that is best suited for you and your baby.