Some women seem to have no trouble breastfeeding their newborn child. They could breastfeed doing a handstand and never claim discomfort even for a minute. That wasn’t me. I had bad back problems before, during, and after my pregnancy.
Sitting to breastfeed a newborn, as awesome as the experience itself was, seemed to aggravate my back repeatedly in all of the suggested breastfeeding positions. To add to it, I had to hold my baby’s head and body up closer just to get to my breast over and over again where I started getting aches and pains like carpel tunnel in my hands and wrists and even shoulder, neck, and back pain from leaning over to get closer to my baby. I thought there had to be an easier, more comfortable way to breastfeed. I was very committed to making breastfeeding work and didn’t want to quit, so I did every possible thing to be creative to make the experience more comfortable for me and my baby. I went to many lactation consultants, physical therapists and various other specialists and tried absolutely anything that could possibly help in breastfeeding more comfortably.
During this time, I was also spending quite a bit of time with other new breastfeeding mothers. Being new moms, we would often breastfeed our babies together and I noticed it wasn’t only me – my new mother friends were breastfeeding in similar awkward positions contorting their bodies especially by leaning over to get closer to the baby and I often heard them complain of their own aches and pains. I was also taking a “Mommy and Me” Yoga class where women would do yoga together when the babies were newborns and we would all need to sit on the floor against the wall and take breaks during the yoga class to breastfeed our babies. Again, I noticed lots of leaning over and slouching and no breastfeeding mother of a newborn in that yoga class ever looked comfortable.
I quickly began to realize that breastfeeding a newborn 10-12 hours a day involved quite a bit of sitting for long periods of time. Here are some tips that helped me along the way to modify my body aches and pains from breastfeeding my newborn baby and hopefully they can help you breastfeed more comfortably too:
- Try changing your breastfeeding position frequently. Give your body’s muscles a rest from the same repetitive position. If you have a “go-to” breastfeeding position and place you always like to breastfeed, step out of your comfort zone and try something new! For example, lay on the bed or even on the floor on top of a blanket with your newborn. Look up the “side-lying” position, “football hold”, “laid back”, and “cross-cradle” nursing positions. Try out each one to see which works the best for you! Seek the support of a lactation counselor and/or your local La Leche League to help you in learning the different breastfeeding positions.
- Make sure you are breastfeeding in the right kind of chair. Sitting is one of the most strenuous activities for the lower back. A deep cushioned couch or chair can contribute to poor posture habits causing you extra pain when breastfeeding. Be sure to sit in an upright, firm chair. This helps in making sure the bones in which you sit on are grounded evenly and will better support healthier postures helping to alleviate your lower back pain.
- Try breastfeeding standing up by using a baby carrier or a wrap. Standing up and moving around while breastfeeding can give your back a needed break from the constant sitting. Find a local “Baby-Wearing” organization in your area to help you learn how to breastfeed easily standing up with an infant carrier. These organizations will often let you borrow different kinds of infant carriers for free!
- Get a massage. When you are busy with caring for a newborn, it is easy to forget about yourself. Jump at the opportunity to get a massage at a spa, from your partner, or another family member or friend. If anyone asks what you would like for a gift – do not hesitate to ask for the gift of a massage! The benefits of reducing pain from breastfeeding with a massage are priceless and will leave you feeling renewed and refreshed! Remember to drink a lot of water afterward!
- Leave your seat to stand and walk as often as possible. Get up and go for a walk between feedings even if you can only manage to do it in five minute increments. If you feel you don’t have the time or the weather doesn’t permit to go outside, walk around your house for at least ten minutes, twice a day. Pace back and forth in a couple of rooms and/or walk up and down the stairs a few times. If you have the opportunity to get outside, try to walk for at least 30 minutes a day. Take frequent breaks and always stay hydrated by drinking a lot of water.
- Begin exercising soon after the birth of your baby to restore muscle tone to the abdominal and back muscles. While the baby is napping, take ten minutes to do stretching exercises each day. Lie on the floor on your back, bring each knee to your chest and hold for 20 seconds. Straighten your leg up while laying on your back and hold a belt over your foot on top of your straightened leg and slowly move your leg closer to you with the belt for 20 seconds. Do a “wall sit” three times starting at 30 seconds and up the time every few days by a few extra seconds as your muscles strengthen. Join a “Mommy and Me” yoga class! It’s a great way to help modify your discomfort, get back into shape, and get out into the world with your new baby, as well enjoy yourself and meet other new moms!
- Sleep when the baby sleeps. It may seem near impossible to ever get any sleep with a newborn in tow. The first time I heard this advice it seemed silly to be taking frequent naps at odd points throughout the day. I learned quickly though that if I did not sleep when the baby slept, I never got any sleep at all! Take it when you can get it! Rest is one of the most important factors in helping your body to heal and repair itself.
- Try alternating with ice and heat to alleviate your back and shoulder pain from breastfeeding. As simple as it sounds, cold alternated with heat compresses are excellent ways to alleviate pain anywhere on your body. Take an ice pack and hold it to the area that is in discomfort for about 20 minutes and then remove the ice pack for about ten minutes. Then try applying heat to the same area for another 20 minutes. Vary this treatment back and forth as many times as you like throughout the day until you feel desired relief.
- Stay hydrated! Try to drink at least eight cups of water a day. When you are involved with caring for your newborn, it is easy to forget to drink enough water. Dehydration can lead to exhaustion as well as aggravated body aches and pains. An easy way to remember is to take a 64 ounce pitcher, fill it up to the top with water each morning, and make sure by the end of the day the pitcher is empty. Make it a goal to fill the same pitcher and drink this much water every day.
- Ask for help from your partner or other loved ones. If you are experiencing uncomfortable pain, don’t continue to do everything yourself. Ask for help with the constant lifting of the baby from a loved one until you feel better enough to handle the task on your own. Many other women are going through the same experiences as you. Join a local breastfeeding support group where you can meet other women like you to speak with in person at meetings such as La Leche League or any other new moms support groups held in your area. There is great value in listening to other’s shared experiences and offered support!
- Bring the baby to your breast rather than bending over to the baby. Since you will be sitting for extended periods, try not to let the lower portion of your spine curve forward excessively. Put a pillow or couch cushion behind your back to keep it straight, but still comfortable while you breastfeed your baby. Bringing the baby to your breast rather than bending over the baby will help you avoid upper back pain. Try any items that can provide you with additional support like pillows on your lap or in bed to help you bring your baby closer to your breast while breastfeeding.
- Do your best to maintain a positive outlook. Breathe deeply throughout the day. Meditate. Enjoy breastfeeding your new baby! Make the most of the sit-down time. You deserve it! Turn the television on, put your feet up, and relax. Keep your motivation up by having things around that help keep you comfortable and entertain you while breastfeeding.
Congratulations with your new baby and happy breastfeeding your baby comfortably!