Easing Back and Neck Pain While Breastfeeding

Nourish your baby and save your spine with these tips

Breastfeeding is one of the best things you can do for your baby, but it can take a toll on your back and neck. Once active women may find themselves sitting for hours each day, mom’s neck can feel sore from craning it to meet baby’s gaze, and a stiff low back is a common result from hunching over to find the perfect nursing position—and that’s all on top of the exhaustion that comes with being a new mom. SpineUniverse reached out to Joshua M. Ammerman, MD, for his thoughts on how nursing mothers can keep a healthy spine while breastfeeding.
Mother looks lovingly at babyA stiff low back is a common result from hunching over to find the perfect nursing position. Photo Source: 123RF.com.

While keeping a baby's gaze during feeding, women may feel their neck strain when they twist their neck. Do you have any tips to help reduce pain?

Dr. Ammerman: Reclining during feeding can permit you to gain a more comfortable neck position while meeting your baby's gaze. Alternatively, a circumferential neck pillow (like an air travel pillow) can give you some support if your baby feeds best upright.

Are there any breastfeeding positions that tend to be less taxing on your back and neck?

Dr. Ammerman: Reclining 20 to 30 degrees is best. Alternatively, walking during feeding may put less stress on your back.

During middle of the night feedings, is it best to stay in bed to nurse or sit down in a glider or chair?

Dr. Ammerman: Much of this decision relates to mom's level of fatigue, which can be immense with a new baby. That said, a glider or recliner permits better neck support than sitting in bed. If you prefer to sit in bed, a "husband pillow" can provide lumbar support for moms with back pain.

Are there any items that breastfeeding moms should invest in to make their nursing experience more enjoyable?

Dr. Ammerman: Wrap-around pillows can help to free mom's hands, and the lumbar pillow can provide back pain relief via postural correction when sitting for long periods of time.

Sometimes, nursing sessions can last upwards of an hour—that means moms are spending a great portion of your day sitting. Any quick stretches that busy moms can do to help undo that damage?

Dr. Ammerman: The Williams flexion exercises are a great quick daily option for keeping your back strong and pain away. Below is a brief look at these exercises:

  1. Pelvic tilt: Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on floor. Flatten the small of your back against the floor, without pushing down with the legs. Hold for 5 to 10 seconds.
  2. Single knee to chest. Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Slowly pull your right knee toward your shoulder and hold five to 10 seconds. Lower your knee and repeat with the other knee.
  3. Double knee to chest. Begin as in the previous exercise. After pulling your right knee to your chest, pull your left knee to your chest and hold both knees for five to 10 seconds. Slowly lower one leg at a time.
  4. Partial sit-up. Do the pelvic tilt exercise and, while holding this position, slowly curl your head and shoulders off the floor. Hold briefly. Return slowly to the starting position.
  5. Hamstring stretch. Start sitting with legs extended and toes directed toward the ceiling. Slowly lower the trunk forward over the legs, keeping knees extended, arms outstretched over the legs, and eyes focus ahead.
  6. Hip flexor stretch. Place one foot in front of the other with the left (front) knee flexed and the right (back) knee held rigidly straight. Flex forward through the trunk until the left knee contacts the axillary fold (arm pit region). Repeat with your right leg forward and left leg back.
  7. Squat. Stand with both feet parallel, about shoulder's width apart. Attempting to maintain the trunk as perpendicular as possible to the floor, eyes focused ahead, and feet flat on the floor, slowly lower your body by flexing your knees.

Women who delivered via C-section may need to modify these exercises with their doctor’s approval to prevent abdominal strain.

Do you have any other advice for new moms to protect their back and neck?

Dr. Ammerman: Regardless if you’re breastfeeding, lumbar support is key for protecting your back when you’re a new mother. Bending over a high crib bar or leaning way into the middle of a car to clip in a car seat can be murder on your back. Ask for an assist from your significant other whenever possible. When lifting, make every effort to do so with a straight back and bend with the knees and hips.

Updated on: 08/27/19
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Back Pain and Stretching Exercises
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Back Pain and Stretching Exercises

For people with back pain, stretching exercises are especially important because they can help reduce back pain and may even help prevent future episodes of pain or injury.
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