By Dr. Ashley Wozniak, PT, DPT
Over the past decade or so, there’s been a movement toward normalizing breastfeeding in the U.S. More mothers are trying breastfeeding and learning more about it during pregnancy to set themselves up for success. Also, there are more mothers who are breastfeeding and pumping, as well as choosing to breastfeed their babies for longer durations of time.
With breastfeeding can come some physical challenges during postpartum in addition to the physical impact of recently giving birth. Because of the way we often hold our babies in a seated position while breastfeeding, moms can start to develop pain in the neck and mid-back, as well as the shoulders, as they can start to habitually round their upper body while feeding.
Much of this “rounded” postural change actually begins during pregnancy. As the baby grows, mothers naturally develop a posture with the head more forward than usual and the shoulders more rounded, which creates stiffness in the back. These posture changes lead to muscle imbalances that can negatively impact postpartum healing of the core and pelvic floor.
Get the latch right first
The best way to prevent these issues for moms is to make sure the baby’s latch is addressed very early on. Physical Therapists often work with mom-baby breastfeeding pairs in collaboration with other professionals such as lactation consultants, cranio-sacral therapists and dentists in the early days of the baby’s life to ensure that the baby’s latch and any tongue or lip tie issues are addressed promptly.
Lactation consultants also work with breastfeeding moms to provide techniques to always bring the baby to the breast, not vice versa. If moms are having nipple pain or other latch-related issues, they often start putting themselves into a “head forward, shoulders rounded” posture and bring their breast toward the baby when latching – which can create additional latch problems and pain.
Doing this can cause neck, mid-back and shoulder pain. It also impacts healing and pressure management issues in the core, pelvic floor and abdomen in a negative way.
Back to the breath
To help moms relax and get into a good position and posture while breastfeeding, I find it often starts with breathing techniques. Physical Therapists can help breastfeeding moms address mobility issues in the spine and muscle imbalances in the back, as well as stretching and strengthening of the chest muscles.
I also like to discuss different breastfeeding positions with my clients – and one I often mention is the side-lying breastfeeding position. This position is one of the best because it creates a way for you to work on your own breathing and mobility while breastfeeding your baby. It also helps you avoid the rounding forward of neck and shoulders that can become habitual when breastfeeding in a sitting position.
3 tips for positioning
Knowing good positioning for breastfeeding can help moms avoid neck and back pain and stiffness that might otherwise start to happen if poor positioning becomes habitual. The bottom line is: If you’re having latch issues or nipple pain, definitely get the baby’s latch evaluated right away with a lactation consultant. Otherwise it’s going to be very difficult to focus on sitting in a neutral, supported position while breastfeeding!
Once the latch is addressed, then you can bring more focus to your body posture. Make sure you’re seated in a supported way – forward on your sit bones rather than back on your tailbone. Support your upper body by rolling your shoulders back and squeezing your shoulder blades back. Relax your neck by tucking your chin up and down a couple times.
Consider switching positions if seated positions just aren’t working or are causing pain. Move to a side-lying position and see if that works better. Many moms find they are able to better relax during breastfeeding when side-lying because their body has more support.
A Physical Therapist can help by doing a postpartum assessment and evaluation to uncover the muscle imbalances you’re experiencing due to postural changes from pregnancy. Therapists provide specific exercises and stretching to target any imbalances or back, chest, shoulder or neck stiffness – and help you begin working to heal your core and pelvic floor from birth.
What are your goals?
Inspired Maternity is a one of a kind Pregnancy and Postnatal Health, Wellness and Fitness Studio located in Peoria, Ill. We offer in-studio prenatal and postpartum fitness programs and Physical Therapy assessments throughout the calendar year, as well as virtual options and telehealth visits.