Did anyone else feel like they were hit by a truck after giving birth? Seriously, the cramps and fatigue afterward are the worst.
If growing a baby and delivering it isn’t brutal enough on our bodies, we then carry and feed this child around the clock, which is also labor-intensive.
Neck and back pain is one of the most common complaints from mothers of newborns, and a lot of it is associated with breastfeeding.
Personally, I can’t speak much to bottle feeding. I have mainly breastfed my babies. But I have heard that bottle feeding has similar effects on your neck and back. You are still leaning over a child for countless hours a day, resulting in significant pain.
I went through excruciating back pain while breastfeeding my first baby. After much blood, sweat, and tears 2+ years of nursing my children, I think it’s sufficient to say that I have learned a lot.
Let’s dive in!
*This post contains affiliate links. You can see my full disclosure here.
You might be surprised to learn that much of the pain surrounding breastfeeding stems from having a weak core.
Your core is the band of muscles that wrap around your abdomen- not just your abs. This band of muscles is responsible for stabilizing your entire body and keeping you safe from injuries.
Without good core strength, we are prone to back pain, abdominal weakness, poor balance, loss of bladder control, pelvic weakness, and sexual dysfunction.
Have you ever heard of diastasis recti? Diastasis recti is a condition in which your abdominal muscles split apart, weakening your core.
It is caused by excessive pressure on the abdominal wall (like…um, a growing baby). So unsurprisingly, it is most common among pregnant women. In fact, about two thirds of all pregnant women will develop it.
I first learned about diastasis recti from Beth Learn over at Fit2B Studios. She is a mamma, fitness instructor, and powerhouse of knowledge.
Beth and a team of physical therapists are dedicated to creating “tummy safe” workouts for moms.
She explains that a lot of the exercises we typically think of for strengthening our cores, such as crunches, can actually weaken our core if we have diastasis recti.
A key element to relieving back pain is to restore your core.
If you have a weak core, it is difficult to maintain good posture. And likewise, if you have poor posture it is difficult to maintain a strong core. It’s a vicious cycle.
Both are essential to alleviate back pain that comes from nursing babies.
Here are my top 9 tips on how to break the cycle, strengthen your core and correct your posture so you can finally breastfeed without pain.
#1 Bring Baby Up to You
If at all possible, don’t hunch over when nursing your baby! This is the golden rule of breastfeeding. When you hunch over to put your breast in Baby’s mouth, you are forcing your back into a compromised position for hours a day.
The #1 way to reduce back pain from nursing is to bring baby up to you. You should be bringing your baby up high enough to keep your back straight while nursing. Ideally, good posture should be maintained at all times.
You can do this by supporting your gaby with your arms, pillows, or a specific nursing pillow.
But, this is easier said than done, especially in the early days of nursing when it’s often difficult to establish a good latch.
Both of my daughters demanded that I dangle and drop my boob into their mouth to get them to hold on.
If your baby refuses to latch when being held up to you, a helpful trick is to bring them up to you after latching them onto the breast.
That brings me to tip #2.
#2 Use a Proper Nursing Pillow
Having the right nursing pillow can make or break your back. There are a lot of nursing pillows on the market. Popular nursing pillows include the Boppy, My Brest Friend, and the Infantino Elevate.
Personally, I’ve tried all three, and I would only recommend My Brest Friend.
The Boppy does not enable you to adjust the height. I constantly found myself leaning over my baby for the entire nursing session, or shoving extra pillows under her head. Sometimes both.
It was a pain in the butt to get set up with a boppy and additional pillows for every single nursing session.
That experience lead me to buying the Infantino Elevate. At first glance, it looks great because of how adjustable the height is. After all, that was my number one frustration with the Boppy.
But it has a huge flaw- it doesn’t fit snugly to the mother, so Baby easily rolls between Mom and pillow! I didn’t even know that could be a problem until I bought it.
I tried using it after bringing my second daughter home from the hospital, and found it incredibly frustrating. It is currently gathering dust in a dark corner of my house.
Then I tried My Brest Friend.
My Brest Friend snaps around your waist securely, enabling you to choose how high or low you want to position your baby, while the lower back support helps you maintain good posture.
This keeps you from hunching over, and keeps the baby from rolling around.
It can even be tightened securely enough to walk around the house while supporting the weight of a newborn.
An added bonus is a pocket to stash your water or snacks!
This nursing pillow is hands-down the best one on the market right now.
#3 Mind Your Posture
After growing and carrying a baby for 9 months, your body is going through significant adjustments that affect your posture.
Your center of balance has been thrown off, your ligaments have been stretched beyond belief, and the hormone relaxin is still coursing through your veins.
It’s HARD to maintain good posture when you’re nursing a baby for hours a day, every day.
Beth Learn created a whole course dedicated to learning basic movements that protect and strengthen your core in your day-to-day activities. She calls this course the “Foundational 5.” I highly recommend it.
There are all sorts of movements that we make subconsciously that affect our back, neck, and core in negative ways. Did you know that the way you sit up from a lying position can worsen your diastasis recti if done incorrectly?!
A few pro tips that I have picked up along the way are:
- Keep your shoulder blades together as much as possible.
- As hard as it is to look away from your precious baby, take a few moments to tilt your head back and stretch out your neck while nursing.
- Keep your back straight as much as humanly possible. Squat and bend at the knees instead of bending your back.
- Stretch in small increments throughout the day.
If you’re anything like me, during the last months of pregnancy (and the first, and maybe even the middle), exercise is just not going to happen.
And those days with a newborn? Hahaha. That’s cute. You can find me sleeping every chance I get. No way in hell will I be found doing any form of exercise beyond walking the halls with a screaming baby.
But exercise is essential to alleviate back pain. And exercising correctly is crucial.
Remember all that stuff about diastasis recti? Yea, it’s going to affect your workout routine significantly.
If you don’t exercise correctly, you can put more pressure on your abdominal muscles, resulting in a bigger abdominal split, a weaker core, and a bigger “mommy pooch.”
That is why some moms find their bellies growing rather than shrinking when they exercise. Talk about discouraging.
Beth has over 200 videos designed specifically for pregnant women and mothers. They range from 10 minutes to an hour, and can be done in your living room.
I have personally done a lot of the workouts and really love them. If I’m low on time and energy, there are tons to choose from. And if I want to get my butt kicked, there are options galore.
Kimmy Smith also has a great video with 5 exercises that she has hand picked to help alleviate back pain for nursing mothers. It is definitely worth checking out.
Doing yoga in the morning is a great way to prime your body to maintain good posture throughout the day.
I highly recommend taking a look at this article by Ann Pizer, a yoga teacher in NYC.
Ann has amazing tutorials on 8 poses that she suggests specifically for breastfeeding mothers. Poses include cat-cow, sphinx, bridge, and extended triangle. Trust me, you will want to check it out.
#6 Belly Binding
Belly binding, or splinting, has multiple benefits. By belly binding alone, I brought my baby belly almost completely back to normal in 2 weeks! But that’s a story for a different day.
In regards to relieving back pain, belly binding offers phenomenal back support, which keeps you from slouching. It also helps you pull in your core, which is essential for good posture and increasing core strength.
There are several items that you can use for belly binding: a bengkung, velcro wrap, and corset.
I find that the bengkung looks intimidating and bulky. I haven’t tried it, so I can’t give an honest review, but I mainly see women wearing them over their clothes, which is not really my thing.
I have used a velcro wrap, but I’m not a big fan. The main reason that I don’t like using a velcro wrap is because it always looks funny under my t-shirts. That being said, I DO use them immediately after having a baby. They offer more flexibility in size before I can fit into a corset.
Then there is the corset. These are great because you can wear them under your clothes, and nobody can tell. They help you look great, shrink your belly, and stand up straight. It’s a win-win-win.
A nice little bonus is that they make your bust look amazing.
#7 Chiropractic Care
Chiropractic care is like country music- you either love it or you hate it. Personally, I love it, but my husband hates it. We both have our reasons, and both are valid.
If you love going to the chiropractor, or are at least open to it, it can do wonders to ease your back pain.
On more than one occasion I have called my chiropractor in tears, begging to be seen that day. And he has never let me down. I have gone from crippling pain to floating on clouds in a matter of seconds.
If you aren’t working on the root issues- a weak core and poor posture, you will forever be going back to the chiropractor.
But if you are in a lot of pain, I suggest giving it a shot.
#8 Get a Massage
This is the most desirable way to relieve back pain from breastfeeding. Who doesn’t like a good massage?
But relying on your partner to give you a massage will only go so far. Maybe your hubs has to travel for work, leaving you in pain for days. Or maybe he has lame excuses, making you resentful.
If and when you can get a massage, go for it! When you’re sacrificing your body for hours a day to feed a child, you deserve a massage.
But when that’s not an option, rolling on a tennis ball or lacrosse ball can be extremely helpful. Personally, I favor lacrosse balls because they are firmer, providing a more deep-tissue massage than a tennis ball.
I even sleep on a lacrosse ball when my muscles are especially tight or bothersome.
#9 Use an Inversion Table
An inversion table lets you recline securely to relieve pressure on your back. You are in control of how much you want to recline, and for how long.
You can start out with a slight tilt, or go completely upside down!
If you are interested in buying one, I recommend trying one out first to know if it will be helpful for you. Some people experience significant pain relief. Others experience very little, if any.
Using an inversion table provided me with so much pain relief when I was nursing my first daughter, that I refused to fly back to Thailand without one. We looked more than a little ridiculous carting it through the airport.
But after my daughter began sitting up to nurse, the inversion table didn’t make as big of a difference.
Now that I am nursing another newborn, I find it to be extremely useful again.
Well, there you have it! Those are my top 9 tips to relieve back pain for breastfeeding mothers. What works for you? Do you have any other tips? Comment below to share!