BCA Chiropractor shares her insight on how to look after your back health whilst breastfeeding
This World Breastfeeding Week (1-7 August 2023), Jennifer Hudson, chiropractor, member of the British Chiropractic Association and International Board Certified Lactation Consultant, shares her insight on how to look after your back health whilst breastfeeding:
Position and posture
Breastfeeding is an incredible way of providing tailored nutrition to your baby and has positive impacts on bonding and attachment with your little one. In the early days, it may feel like you’re having to feed frequently as your baby promotes your supply and grows. During this time, keeping your baby close helps both of you as skin-to-skin contact promotes breastmilk supply and bonding, and helps your baby get used to life outside of the uterus. Families can often report upper back and neck pain during this time as they may be sitting more often and holding their baby for longer periods of time. Moving as often as you can, staying hydrated and trying out an age-appropriate sling / baby carrier can really make a difference to any musculoskeletal symptoms. I love to see the bond that develops in infant feeding; eye contact and gazing are part of this. To ease any muscle stiffness that may be present, looking up occasionally from your baby, relaxing your shoulders, listening to music that you enjoy and switching your baby to your other arm can be ways of helping.
Flexible seating arrangements
Try out different seats in your home, be flexible and find the best one that works for you and your little one. Often, we hear from families that trying out different chairs to see which supports you and your baby the best, and popping a small stool under your foot on the same side as your baby is feeding, is well worth a try and helps improve your balance and posture. Try to ensure that your little one is able to stay close and keep their tummy towards you.
It’s ok to ask for help
It’s absolutely fine to ask for support and help from your healthcare professionals and infant feeding support groups. Musculoskeletal symptoms are common postnatally and often being able to talk through these problems and share experiences can make a huge difference to how you’re feeling. Many groups and help lines also offer hire of equipment, which can also assist you as needs be. Breastfeeding looks different for everyone, whether you are directly feeding, expressing or combination feeding it’s important to get the support you need.
Variation is your friend
When you find a feeding position that works, it’s easy to keep repeating the same posture, but this can cause strain or tension building up in one part of your back or shoulders. Experiment with different ways of holding your baby during feeding, such as relaxing your back whilst feeding, trying the cradle or football hold, or having a go at feeding when lying on your side. The most important thing to remember is finding what feels right for you, is sustainable, and helps you and your baby feed comfortably and effectively. Pillows between your knees when you lie on your side, stretching your legs frequently and playing with positions of cushions can make a big difference. As your baby gets bigger, adapting and changing positions even during a feed can be a great way of being more comfortable. Older babies love to feed in any position that they can!
Out and about
When you’re out with your little one, a well fitted sling or age-appropriate baby carrier can be a lovely way to feed on the move, look after your back and stay close to your baby. In the UK there are lots of sling libraries where you can borrow and try out slings and baby carriers with support to make sure you’re both comfortable, safe and happy. Baby wearing has lots of benefits for you both and can really be a lovely way of helping you on your feeding journey.
Exercise can be started when you feel ready after birth. Because everyone is different, following the advice of your GP or midwife is essential. Your body has adapted a lot during pregnancy and postpartum. Rest and recovery are important but with support from your healthcare professional exercise can be resumed safely and effectively. Generally light exercise can be started within days and getting out and about can help you both. Exercise can be a lovely way to ease musculoskeletal symptoms and often exercise classes can be found locally that are aimed at new families.
If you have any concerns about back or shoulder discomfort postpartum, please always speak to your healthcare professionals for support.