The trials and tribulations of new motherhood are wide-ranging but one particular problem that is often overlooked is shoulder and neck pain when breastfeeding. For some women this can be so intensely painful that they end up in the emergency room, are prescribed strong analgesics and anti-inflammatories, and often give up on breastfeeding because it becomes impossible. Luckily, there are chiropractors and breastfeeding specialists who can offer good advice to mothers struggling with neck and shoulder pain related to feeding their infant.
Find a Breastfeeding Position that Works for You
A key piece of advice is to find a comfortable position in which to breastfeed your child and to remember that this is not the same for all women. Try out a few different positions, be that sitting, leaning back on plenty of cushions, or even lying on your side. Your preferred position when your child is just a few weeks old is likely to be different from that when your child is bigger and more difficult to hold comfortably for any length of time so don’t be afraid to change how you breastfeed as the months go by.
Bring the Baby to You
A second key piece of advice is to always bring your baby to your breast, never the breast to the baby. This helps ensure that you are both comfortable and so able to feed for as long as is necessary. Leaning over your baby can quickly result in strained muscles in the neck, back and shoulders and may hinder your attempts to breastfeed in future. Breasts that are engorged with milk are also a lot heavier than the body is used to and so it is important to wear a supportive nursing bra and to nurse regularly to prevent that painful accumulation of milk in the breast.
Use Pillows to Support You and Baby when Breastfeeding
Using a large and dense pillow to help hold up your baby when breastfeeding can ensure that you are not straining your arms and upper body muscles to keep your child supported. A boppy pillow can be perfect for some but any other set-up that brings your baby to your breast with little strain on your part is ideal. If you find that your hand and arm are elevated in an unnatural position while supporting your baby during feeding try propping your arm up with another pillow in order to allow it to relax. Without such support your arm can quickly tire and the muscles across the back of the shoulders and neck may become fatigued leading to pain. If you are sitting in a stiff chair to breastfeed then it can be a good idea to place a small pillow behind your lower back so as to support the lumbar spine, and some people also find that raising their feet by using a pillow or small footstool can help them avoid back pain, neck pain, and shoulder pain when breastfeeding.
Be Sensible About Eye Contact
It is great to have eye contact with your baby as they feed, especially as this can help them when they are first latching onto the nipple. However, some positions simply don’t allow for comfortable eye contact over a long period of time so be sensible and make sure you are not straining your neck to peer down at your child. Once your baby has latched on it is fine to look elsewhere and prevent your neck from become over-flexed. For every inch of forward projection of your head there is an extra ten pounds of force placed on your neck, so give it a rest and avoid staring dotingly at your baby for hours on end.
Stretching Out and Warming Up to Breastfeed
Sitting in any position for a prolonged period can be difficult on the spine and muscles and breastfeeding is no different. Some women find it helpful to stretch out their arms and warm up their shoulders and neck before sitting down for feeding. Doing the same afterwards can help relax the muscles and loosen them up so that strains, aches and neck pains do not become a problem.
Try Lying Down to Breastfeed with Neck Pain
Sitting upright to breastfeed can be really difficult for those with neck pain so don’t be afraid to try to feed your baby while lying down on your side. This places the least amount of strain on your neck and back and can feel very natural and great for bonding with baby. If you place a pillow beneath your head and one between your knees, or use a full body pillow with structured padding, this can be a really comfortable way to breastfeed. Lying on your back may be better if you have hip or lower back pain rather than neck pain, however, and the use of a small pillow in the lumbar spine area, beneath your knees and to support your head and neck can help reduce strain in such cases.
Get Breastfeeding Help from a Chiropractor
Anyone really struggling to breastfeed their baby because of neck pain should seek help from a chiropractor or their healthcare advisor. This is a common problem but it is important to realize that what may have worked for friends and relatives may not be the right thing for you. Getting help early on can help you to continue breastfeeding so see if you can bring your baby with you to a chiropractic appointment in order to demonstrate how you are holding them as you feed. Without addressing the problem and finding a good position (or several good positions) in which to breastfeed, it is likely that neck and shoulder tension will arise, leading to symptoms such as headaches, tingling and numbness in the arms, aching muscles and fatigue. Even the use of breast-pumps can cause strain in the neck and shoulders as it can be difficult to set these up and may involve continually looking down at the breast to ensure the pump is properly attached.
Gazing down at your baby is tempting, of course, but it is in both their best interests and yours to keep your neck and back healthy so you can continue feeding them successfully as they grow. It’s OK to look around at the rest of the world and stretch out your limbs and neck once in a while and, that way you are much less likely to experience neck pain from breastfeeding.