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Neck & Shoulder Pain While Breastfeeding & Pumping

Mom experiencing neck and shoulder pain while nursing

Your baby has arrived and you are excited for the magic of bonding with your baby and beginning your breastfeeding relationship. We focus a lot on how our baby is positioned and to make sure they are comfortable to be able to feed well. But what about YOUR position and posture during nursing and pumping? 

Babies nurse every 1.5-3 hours around the clock in the early weeks. They may space feedings out a little more as they get older, but let’s face it, breastfeeding and pumping are still a huge part of your day and take a lot of physical and mental energy. Neck, shoulder, and back pain start to set in if we neglect ourselves during all those times we are nursing and pumping every day not to mention the middle of the night.

Your posture during nursing and pumping sessions has impacts on how well your baby can feed, your milk output, and how you feel in between. Poor posture can have a ripple effect of symptoms and lead to headaches, neck pain, back pain, sore shoulders, and even plugged ducts or mastitis. When your body doesn’t feel its best, you will feel more tired and more stressed out all of which we want to avoid when we are likely already getting less sleep as you adjust to life with your new baby.

Set yourself up for good posture while feeding/pumping 

  • Choose a chair or spot on the couch that offers enough room for you to get comfortable. 
  • Make sure your entire body feels relaxed and supported in the spot you’re nursing or pumping.
  • Use a footstool if your feet are not able to be flat on the floor. It can take pressure off your back by elevating your legs that extra little bit. Have you ever sat on a tall stool with no footbar and your feet can’t touch the ground? Your body may be tenser or it may just be more difficult to feel settled and relaxed.
  • Use pillows to support you so you can support your baby. Adjust the pillows before you latch your baby. You may need different pillows for nursing on the couch than when you nurse lying down in bed in the middle of the night. Avoid using a pillow under your baby because that can interfere with their head and neck being able to extend for a deep latch.
  • Position your baby at your chest letting gravity keep your baby well connected. You will not need to strain your arms, wrists, or hands as much. A laid-back position or side lying position is great to try out. 
  • Skin-to-skin contact with your baby helps them to feed better and reduces stress levels.

Posture tips while nursing & pumping

  • Check-in with yourself often - are you comfortable? Are you well supported? Do you feel tension anywhere in your body?
  • Lean back - a laid-back nursing position can help keep you from slouching forward. When you slouch forward, you put a strain on your shoulders and neck as you crane to look at your baby. It also makes it harder for your baby to latch without tucking their chin downward which is the opposite of how to help the baby get a deep latch. Place a pillow behind your lower back for support if you feel your body slump or slouch while leaning back in your chair of choice.
  • Shoulders should be relaxed and open. Get in the practice of taking a deep breath after setting yourself up to nurse or pump, reminding yourself to relax your shoulders down. 
  • Use a hands-free pump like the Imani i2 wearable breast pump from Legendairy Milk if your hands, wrists, or arms get tired when you express milk for your baby. You can use their Silicone Collection Cups as an option with your pump to give wrists and arms a break, too.
  • Wear your baby in a sling. This keeps your baby close and able to nurse while you walk around giving you a break from sitting every time you nurse your baby. Make sure you have a sling that is the right choice for your body and are using it as directed.
  • Use a heat pack on your shoulders to help relieve sore muscles and melt tension away. Heat is also shown to help increase milk flow.
  • A massage roller - you know the one you use to help gently stroke your chest to work out a clog or encourage milk flow, it can also be used on your forearms, neck, shoulders, and back.
  • Listen to soothing music or maybe a comedy if that is what helps you relax most during nursing or pumping. When you are tense, you tighten your muscles which becomes a pain in the neck, literally.

Self-care & stretches to relieve sore back & shoulders

different stretches to relieve sore back and shoulders

  • Stay hydrated and feed your body colorful whole foods including lots of vegetables and fruits. Good nutrition helps fuel your body and feel your best physically and mentally.
  •  Take a walk - getting fresh air and a change of scenery is great for you and your baby. Walking can help strengthen your back muscles and reduce backaches.
  • Take an Epsom salt bath to relieve sore muscles. Epsom salt baths give you a dose of magnesium which helps the body relax, reduce stress and help you get better sleep.
  • Lumbar stretch - lay on the floor with a firm bolster under your lower back. Allow your body to melt and relax as you stretch your lower back
  • Shoulder stretch - stand in a doorway with your elbows, forearms, and hands-on either side of the doorway and lean in as you stretch your chest open and shoulders back.
  • Cat cow yoga pose - get on your hands and knees on the floor with your knees lined up directly under your hips and your hands directly under your shoulders. As you exhale, arch your back curling your tailbone and head inwards and push into the ground with your knees, tops of your feet, and your hands. As you inhale, you will curve your spine in the opposite direction gently looking up towards the sky, shoulders back and away from your ears and tailbone lifting as you continue to push your knees, tops of your feet, and hands into the ground. Continue alternating between cat and cow following your breath.
  • Neck and shoulder wall stretch - sit on the floor with your back to the wall and your arms bent with your elbows at your sides and the backs of your hands facing the wall. Your arms and back should be in full contact with the wall. Slowly slide the backs of your hands up above your head and back down. Go slowly since this exercise can pinpoint areas you are tight and it may be less comfortable at the beginning of the exercise.
  • Child’s pose- kneel on the floor with your knees wide and feet close together or touching. Sit back on your heels and bend forward with your arms stretched out in front of you and your forehead on the ground. Relax and let your shoulders and neck loosen.

Bodywork beyond home care

  • Chiropractic care is beneficial for babies but it can be amazing for you too! Gentle chiropractic adjustments can help balance your body and reduce strain and tension patterns and structural misalignments. Your body just went through lots of changes during pregnancy and birth that can contribute to why your body may be sore and strained. Chiropractic adjustments can support lactation and increase milk supply.(1)
  • Get a massage to loosen tight muscles and reduce stress. In between appointments, enlist your partner to support you by rubbing your neck and shoulders. It is a great way to connect and spend time together in between taking care of your baby.
  • Acupuncture is another modality that has benefits for milk production as well as reducing stress and anxiety.(2) When we hold on to stress, we tense our bodies and end up with tighter shoulders, necks, and backs.
  • Physical therapy - if you are doing stretches at home and fixing your posture and position while nursing and pumping but still having pain, there could be more going on including a bulging disk.(3) This requires professional examination by your physical therapist to help determine the right care plan for you. Physical therapists often give exercises for you to do at home to make healing quicker.
  • Yoga is a great way to move your body, loosen tight muscles, gain flexibility and reduce stress. You can check out a Baby & Me yoga class or find plenty of videos online just for you. 

Other benefits of good nursing and pumping posture

  • More milk - when you are relaxed, oxytocin is released. Oxytocin is the feel-good love hormone also responsible for milk flow. So good posture can directly impact your milk flow and production. It can increase milk output while pumping.
  • Overall stress reduction - the more you can relax, the better you will feel and more capable of all the demands of parenting.

Time nursing or pumping milk for your baby is special and can be relaxing and enjoyable when you are comfortable rather than seem like a necessary task to be done. Set up your spaces to nurse or pump for your maximum comfort. You will be able to enjoy the time to feed your baby and bond with your baby more and avoid unnecessary sore muscles. Sometimes a kinked muscle happens anyway, so use the tips and tools to get rid of discomfort quickly and back to enjoying your breastfeeding journey.

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Footnotes:

  1. http://haydeninstitute.com/chiropractic-blog/chiropractic-adjustment-helps-restore-lactation-with-new-mother
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK501890/
  3. https://www.optimusphysiotherapy.com/blog/breastfeedingbackpain  

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