Relieving Pain and Stress for Nursing Moms
As a new mom, you spend lots of time gazing into your sweet little one’s face. Studying every nook and cranny, taking in every coo and cry learning your little one. Unfortunately this can take a toll on your neck and upper back, leading to soreness and pain! Read below for some tips on how to prevent neck and back pain while nursing, bottle feeding, or holding a baby as well as some stretches and strengthening exercises you can do to relieve some pain.
- When nursing, bottle feeding, or holding your baby for a prolonged period, be sure to sit in a supportive chair or sit fully up against the back of the couch. If you have a deep couch, you may need to put some pillows behind your back to keep yourself from slouching.
- Utilize a nursing pillow, such as a Boppy or MyBreastFriend, or just lots of pillows to help prop your arms so as to bring the baby to your breast. You may feel rushed to get a hungry baby nursing, but take your time to get yourself upright and bring baby to you instead of bringing your breast to the baby. Similarly, if you are bottle feeding you will want to support the arm that is holding the baby to be supported. This will help prevent your shoulders from rounding and putting strain on your neck and upper back.
- Try changing nursing positions so that you are not always gazing in the same direction. Especially after a c-section, you may find a slightly reclined position to be comfortable. You can also try side-lying position to give your neck and upper back some rest. Just be sure you are able to stay awake and alert while feeding baby!
Even if you follow all of these suggestions, you still may find yourself getting tense in your neck, shoulders, and upper back. Try completing the exercises below at least once a day (ideally 2-3 times a day) to get some relief.
- Upper trapezius stretch: gently bring your ear down to your shoulder, feeling a stretch through the side of your neck. Hold this stretch for 20-30 seconds before repeating on the other side. Aim for 2-3 repetitions of 20-30 seconds. This can be done even while nursing!
- Levator scapula stretch: look to the side and then down towards your armpit. This stretch will be felt closer to the spine. Hold this stretch for 20-30 seconds before repeating on the other side. Aim for 2-3 repetitions of 20-30 seconds. This can also be done while nursing your baby.
- Shoulder blade squeezes: gently pull your shoulders blades down and back, as if you were trying to squeeze a pencil between your shoulder blades. Hold for 3 seconds and relax. Be careful not to shrug your shoulders; you should feel very relaxed in the neck while doing this exercise. Repeat the 3 second squeeze 10-15 times.
- Open book stretch: Start by lying on your side in the fetal position with both arms straight out in front of you. Gently bring the top arm up towards the ceiling and open up towards the opposite wall. Your eyes should follow your opening arm. You should be in a small spinal twist and feel a nice stretch in the front of the shoulder and chest. Hold 10 seconds and return to the starting position. Repeat 5-10 times before rolling over and completing on the opposite side.
- Foam roller: if you happen to have a foam roller, you can use this to help open your chest and upper back. If not, try putting two bath towels on top of one another and rolling up lengthwise. Lying with your head and spine on the roll, keep your knees bent. Gently bring your arms from resting at your sides into a T position, stopping when you feel a stretch across your chest. You can also lie on the roll with it placed horizontally (perpendicular to your spine) at any level in your upper back where you feel some tension. Gently relax over the roller. You can hold these stretches for 2-3 minutes, or until you feel your muscles relax.
Whenever you are completing a stretch, be sure to go TO the stretch, not THROUGH the stretch. When you first start to feel some pulling and discomfort, that is where you want to start relaxing into your stretch.
And always remember, even though some discomfort may be common as a new mom, if your symptoms persist after trying some gentle stretching and strengthening at home, it may be time to call and schedule for a physical therapy appointment. This should not become your new normal as a new mom!
-Amanda Collins, DPT