March 15 2021
How can we minimize back pain and improve posture while breastfeeding?
This is a guest post written by Véronique Brouillette, Coach des mamans, B.Sc. Kinésiologue en périnatalité and founder of Maman ActivePost was originally written in French and has been translated.
You may have already searched for the optimal positions to give your baby a drink (by breastfeeding or by bottle-feeding): side-lying, cradle, cross cradle, football, etc. While trying a variety of positions can help, neck pain, back pain and muscle fatigue can wear us down even more than the sleepless nights.
My expertise is helping mothers avoid physical strain and pain that can come with the repetitive motion of nursing babies.
My reality was that, throughout breastfeeding my two children for a little over a year each, I had lots of back pain and muscle fatigue which did not always allow me to appreciate and enjoy breastfeeding as I wanted to.
So I decided to look into the issue to help other moms like me, who want to be comfortable while feeding their babies (both from a bottle and from the breast).
- Preparation - one or more predefined spaces
After giving birth, feeding the baby is repeated at least 8 times over a 24 hour period. We quickly understand that this activity will take a lot of our time as a new mother during our day… and our nights.
This is the reason why I advise to prepare a dedicated place: a space on the couch, a reclining rocking chair, a comfortable semi-firm chair (not too soft, you will quickly be uncomfortable) provided for this purpose, etc.
It is desirable that this dedicated corner be calm so that you and your baby are in a positive and serene state.
Discuss with the other people in the house that it is important for you to keep a space accessible without having to move everything each time to the left and to the right so as not to waste precious minutes of your time before nursing (and for those who already have a child, you will understand what I am talking about here, i.e. an impatient baby, a more irritated and impatient mother, tensions that appear and a moment becoming more unpleasant than peaceful) .
I recommend a dedicated space on each floor of your house. The following tips explain in detail how to organize your space in advance and to optimize your posture.
- Positioning and support of your back
To prepare your space, first think about providing your back with adequate support according to the depth of your seat. Try to feel your lower back keeping its natural curve (so a slight hollow) so that you don't end up with a rounded back when you cuddle your baby.
A postpartum tip is to activate at the same time your muscles of the back and buttocks (often inhibited after childbirth due to the great fatigue created):
Remember to push the buttocks (more precisely the 2 small bones that you feel deposited on your chair) slightly towards the back legs of your chair.
To place the baby more on the side and even a little prone (of the baby), you can even try to find a semi-sitting position (for you) that is comfortable. Some studies report that babies drink better in this position in the first few weeks of life.
If you are giving the drink lying down on your side, feel free to put pillows on your back and lower abdomen to support your core in this position as well. If you have had a cesarean, for example, it can help you support the trunk properly and relieve it during this time.
- The comfort of your feet
I advise you to lift your feet off the ground by placing them on an object in front of you (a small stool that will be useful for your child a little later when he wants to brush his teeth or help you with the kitchen; the living room table , a stack of books, etc.). This then brings you several benefits:
- This avoids leaning towards the baby (and rounding your back as seen in the previous point);
- It helps to remove tensions that build up in your legs and feet;
- This allows muscle relaxation in parts of your body that are usually contracted in traditional sitting.
- The alignment of your head
I know our babies are adorable! But don't forget to keep your postural alignment during this beautiful time! The target alignment is based on the following points:
✅ Rotate your head and then lower your chin towards your baby to look at him. So you will still have an imaginary line passing from the earlobe to your shoulder to your pelvis, without a break in the fictitious line.
❌As opposed to projecting your head forward then also bringing your lower neck forward when looking at baby creating a lot of neck strain.
5. The support of your arms and the placement of your wrists
Our babies are so light but so heavy after a few minutes in our arms! Cushions are your best ally. You have many choices on the market. There is the nursing pillow, for which it is desirable to have a certain rigidity, because too soft will quickly make you fall into awkward postures or positions. Some moms do very well at seating themselves with a few simple (albeit rather soft) pillows depending on the seating they have at home.
Many new mothers develop pain in their wrists. To help prevent or reduce the sensations, observe your wrist positions and the use of your hands (and fingers). The ideal is to maintain a slight extension (about 15-30 degrees) of your wrist while your fingers are flexed (to decrease the natural tensions in the hands that appear in other positions:
6. A variety of positions
Whether you take your baby in the cradle position or lying on your side, I invite you to vary your nursing positions during the day to allow you to use different parts of your body in this recurring daily activity. You will probably be sitting at other times during the day, so try to vary the positions, the height of the feet, the position of the baby and do not hesitate to rock your pelvis forward and back. This gives flexibility to the pelvis and can reduce lumbar tension.
- Alternatives to sitting
To continue in the same vein, it is possible for you breastfeed while baby is in a sling. If this interests you, I invite you to consult a lactation consultant to properly position your baby sling, among other things, to ensure that your baby's airways are cleared and for proper alignment.
- Posture and its blind spots: hydration, diet, physical activity
Maybe you regularly feel thirsty? Maybe you have a constant feeling of hunger? The year after you give birth is a time of healing. Water and a healthy diet are great help in keeping your body awake and allowing good circulation of everything it needs to carry to meet postpartum demand. So try to drink 1-2 L of water per day including the regular intake of fruits and vegetables in addition to complete proteins such as white meat or a combination of legumes-nuts (almonds, etc.) or legumes-starch ( bread, rice, couscous, etc.). Complete protein gives you enough strength and energy to support the physical demands of your daily activities, including breastfeeding.
As for physical activity, it increases your heart rate, at the same time allowing a more efficient circulation of all bodily fluids generating, let's put it this way, a natural cleaning. Applying different muscles than those used during your more sedentary activities is enough to allow the body to maintain certain capacities, such as taking a 5 to 15 minute walk a day for the first few weeks after birth.
- Posture and rest: sleep, an ally
Days and nights can sometimes get mixed up. I therefore recommend that you rest at the same time as your baby. Delegate tasks that cause you stress if you feel overwhelmed. Your sleep is important, even essential. While you sleep, your postural battery recharges, allowing you to have enough energy for the next feed. Do not underestimate your sleep in your posture management while breastfeeding… you will even be surprised at the benefits felt if you tackle this aspect!
- A healthy posture requires relaxation: massage, stretching, mobility
I, myself, have underestimated this aspect of relaxation for (far too) a long time. As an active mom and with a (more than) busy schedule, I realized that my body suffered. So I'm still learning today to sometimes replace my weight training sessions with an hour of massage or a stretching session. I even went to specialize in pre and postnatal yoga because I am so convinced that my body also needs to relax to be able to achieve a certain well-being and take care of my happy children.
A healthy posture while breastfeeding also requires a healthy overall posture, deep breathing, an appreciation of our body, for what it is and what it offers us.
In short, feeding your baby remains a unique moment in our lives. Trying to connect with your baby from the first hours of life is sometimes easy for some moms, sometimes difficult for others.
So remember its 3 key words: preparation - comfort - relaxation.
Remember that you are in a moment of healing from the adventure of your pregnancy and childbirth. So be kind to yourself and your baby. Follow your mutual rhythm and return as soon as you can to the present moment.
Learn more about guest author Véronique Brouillette aka Maman Active here