During my pregnancy, I knew I wanted to breastfeed my son. I read the books and bought the supplies (check out this list of my favorite nursing bras), had the breastfeeding pillows and salves and shirts, and had the pump and the rocking chair and ice packs. I was ready for sore nipples and sleepless nights. However, I was not prepared for breastfeeding back pain. You may have residual back pain from pregnancy and delivery or you may experience lower back pain from spending so much time sitting while nursing and snuggling your new little squish. You may even have pain in your upper back and shoulders.
Read on for some tips, positions, and exercises to keep your breastfeeding back pain at bay or even better, prevent it from happening in the first place.
Tips to Avoid Breastfeeding Back Pain
Bring Baby to Your Breast
Try to avoid slouching or leaning forward to nurse as this can cause back pain when breastfeeding. Instead, bring your baby up to you. Nursing pillows work well, but if you have a long torso, like me, you might need more than one to make sure your baby is right at your breast. I love the My Breast Friend pillow for the very early newborn days and the Boppy Pillow as baby starts to get a bit bigger. Plus, you can leave one pillow in your bedroom or nursery and one in a main area – you can never have too many nursing pillows! Placing more pillows under your knees or a stool under your feet can help as well with back pain.
Change Positions Regularly
After your baby is done nursing (until 10 minutes from now), try to move around for a few minutes. Going for a walk outside always helped my breastfeeding back pain and oftentimes, my mood as well! Plus, most babies love to go for walks, too!
It’s important to stay hydrated while breastfeeding and you’ll likely need more water than normal. Keep a water jug or cup nearby your feeding station and, if you have a partner, make it their duty to make sure it stays filled up at home. There are also apps these days that will periodically remind you to take a sip.
Choose the Right Chair
Those deep, comfy gliders may look like the perfect place to spend hours nursing, but firm, upright chairs are actually much better for the back. I learned that a little too late, but was able to compensate by making sure I had a lumbar support pillow behind my back and a little stool so that my feet were supported, and not dangling or barely touching the ground. Back support when breastfeeding is crucial so if able, keep both feet firmly on the floor. Your back should also be flush with the back of the chair. If it’s not, try adding a pillow for extra back support. If the pain is too much and you’re thinking of taking medicine, remember to first check with your doctor to make sure it’s safe for you and baby.
Is Your Back Pain Worse at Night When Breastfeeding?
If so, read on for the best positions to breastfeed. Exercises and stretches will also be helpful as well as massage. You can do the stretches before, during and after breastfeeding as needed. Our top three stretches to relieve breastfeeding back pain are below. If you can, sleep when the baby sleeps (easier said than done, we know) and take breaks in between when switching sides if you can, as mentioned above. Heat packs or hot compresses may temporarily relieve pain as well.
The best positions to reduce breastfeeding back pain
- Sitting – Like I mentioned above, make sure you are sitting with your back supported and your feet on the ground or a stool. Again, make sure that you aren’t leaning forward to nurse. Bring baby up to you with the support of pillows.
- Side-lying – Lay on your side facing your baby with your bellies close to each other and baby’s head at the level of your breast. You can lay your head on a pillow with your bottom arm resting on the bed, extended above the baby’s head. Make sure that no pillows or blankets are near your baby.
- Upright baby – Once your baby sits up, you can use that to your advantage! I frequently nursed my son with him sitting on my lap facing me. I could even recline a little, which took even more stress off my back.
- Standing with baby in a carrier – Nursing while baby-wearing is not only for times when you are on the go! Nursing with your baby in a sling, wrap or soft structured carrier while standing is a great way to give your back a break from sitting so much. Check out Babywearing International for local meet-ups to try out different carriers or get help with one you already own.
Exercises to help relieve breastfeeding back pain
Below are my top three exercises to help relieve breastfeeding back pain. Read on for how to perform them.
- Shoulder blade squeezes
- Transverse abdominus contractions
- Child’s pose
Shoulder blade squeezes
Sit up in your chair and gently bring your shoulder blades together while keeping your shoulders down. Hold for 5 seconds and relax. Repeat 10-15 times, 2-3 times per day.
Transverse abdominus contractions
Lie down on your back with your knees bent. Gently pull in your lower belly like you are buttoning a pair of pants that are a little bit too tight. Hold for 5 seconds and relax completely. Repeat 10-20 times per day.
Start in a kneeling position with your knees at least hip-width apart and your big toes touching. Bring your butt down onto your heels as your stretch the rest of your body down and forward. Bring your arms forward as you rest your stomach on top of your thighs and your forehead on the floor or mat.
Are you currently pregnant or planning to conceive? If so, make sure to download my FREE resource — 5 Myths We’ve Been Told About Pregnant Bodies! I correct common pregnancy myths and give you tons of tips to help you feel strong and healthy for 40 weeks and beyond.
P.S. Did you know breastfeeding impacts your pelvic floor, too? Check out this post where I detail how breastfeeding impacts your pelvic floor.
Janelle Trippany PT, DPT, PRPC, CLT is pelvic floor physical therapist in Seattle, WA where she lives and works with her husband and little boy. She is passionate about providing personalized care through every stage of a woman’s life, whether that’s during pregnancy or the postpartum period and beyond. She aims to make every treatment session friendly and comfortable and works to empower women in their healthcare journey. When not working, she loves hiking, camping and exploring the beautiful beaches of the PNW.
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