Neck & Shoulder Pain While Breastfeeding & Pumping

Written by: Sabrina Granniss, IBCLC

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Time to read 7 min

Your baby has arrived, and you are excited about the magic of bonding with your baby and beginning your breastfeeding relationship. There is a lot of focus on how our baby is positioned and ensuring they are comfortable and feeding well. But what about YOUR position and posture during nursing and pumping? Breastfeeding posture can be relaxing and enjoyable, or it can lead to a sore back, shoulder, neck, arm, or hand, which can develop into worse symptoms over time.

Posture and strain during breastfeeding

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 considerable 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 impacts how well your baby can feed, your milk output, and how you feel between sessions. 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 stressed, all of which we want to avoid when you are likely already getting less sleep as you adjust to life with your new baby.

Set yourself up for better posture while feeding/pumping

  • Choose a chair or spot on the couch that offers enough room for you to get yourself comfortable. 
  • Ensure your entire body feels relaxed and supported while nursing or pumping.
  • Use a footstool if your feet cannot 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 foot bar and your feet can’t touch the ground? Your body may be more tense, 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 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 on your body, letting gravity keep your baby well connected to you. You will not need to strain your arms, wrists, or hands as much. A laid-back position or a 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 strain 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 leads to a shallow latch. Place a pillow behind your lower back for support if you feel your body slump or slouch while leaning back in your chair.
  • 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 breast pump like the Imani i2 wearable breast pump from Legendairy Milk if your hands, wrists, or arms tire when you express milk for your baby. You can also use their Silicone Collection Cups with your pump to give wrists and arms a break.
  • Wear your baby in a sling. This keeps your baby close and can 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 right for your body, and use 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.
  • massage roller - can be used on your forearms, neck, shoulders, and back.
  • Listen to soothing music or a comedy if that helps you relax most during nursing or pumping. When you are tense, you tighten your muscles, which literally becomes a pain in the neck.

Self-care & stretches to relieve sore back & shoulders

  • Stay hydrated and feed your body colorful, whole foods, including lots of vegetables and fruits. Good nutrition helps fuel your body and makes you feel your best physically and mentally.
  •  Take a walk - getting fresh air and a change of scenery is refreshing 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 under your hips and your hands directly under your shoulders. As you exhale, arch your back, curl your tailbone and head inwards, and push into the ground with your knees, tops of your feet, and 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 up 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 complete contact with the wall. Slowly slide the backs of your hands up above your head and back down. Go slow since this exercise can pinpoint areas where you are tight and may be less comfortable at the beginning of the movement.
  • 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 benefits babies, but it can be amazing for you, too! Gentle chiropractic adjustments can help balance your body and reduce strain, tension patterns, and structural misalignments. Your body goes through many changes during pregnancy and birth that can contribute to your body being sore and strained. Chiropractic adjustments can support lactation and increase milk supply. (1)
  • Get a massage to loosen tight muscles and reduce stress. Enlist your partner to support you between appointments 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 many videos online for yourself. 

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 seeming like a necessary task. Set up your spaces to nurse or pump for your maximum comfort. You will enjoy the time to feed your baby, 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 return to enjoying your breastfeeding journey.

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