Congratulations new mom! Whether this baby is your first, or you could field your own baseball team, you are amazing! You carried your baby to term, and you want to make sure you nurture your precious newborn. You recognize how special the bond is between you and baby, and it is especially wonderful during breastfeeding. Your little one coos as he looks into your eyes, grinning just enough that he stays latched, and it melts your heart. In that moment your world is almost perfect, except that one little thing, it’s not the other kids running around, it’s not the pile of laundry, you get that nagging, miserable low back pain every time you breastfeed. Maybe your lactation consultant gave you a few tips, maybe your mom had some pain when she tried to breastfeed you, but its there and it is making this special time slightly less magical.
Pain is never something you have to live with, not even to spend time with your beautiful baby. Pain is a signal from our body that we might be in a situation that could be harmful to our health, and back pain during breastfeeding is no different. It doesn’t help that you just carried another human in you for 9 months, you jump into motherhood immediately, whether your muscles are back on board or not. When it comes to low back pain, up to 95% of women have concerns about their pelvic floor muscles, and you just had a baby. Your pelvic floor went through a lot and it may need some more time to recover and help support your back, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get some relief and get it now.
How Often Do Women Get Back Pain While Breastfeeding?
Because back pain during breastfeeding is so common, and it is often dismissed as one of the annoyances of motherhood, there aren’t great data on the number of women who experience back pain while breastfeeding. However, research has shown that it is nearly three times more common for a breastfeeding mother to have low back or pelvic pain compared to new moms who don’t breastfeed.1 Additionally, the longer the breastfeeding mother feeds, the greater the risk became. Remember, your body just became yours again, you have been sharing it with that beautiful baby all of these months and you need to allow your muscles to do their job. That doesn’t mean you can’t make the experience better, more enjoyable, and pain-free.
What Can I Do to Relieve My Back Pain During Breastfeeding?
Unfortunately, like with most challenges, sitting around is not going to improve your situation. In fact, in most cases of musculoskeletal pain, sitting around doing nothing seems like a great idea, but ultimately you are going to end up worse off than before. Here are my top 4 tips to relieve back pain while nursing.
Your Position, your baby’s position, your posture, they all matter and they can all be contributing to your back pain. Posture and feeding position are the most common cause of low back pain during breastfeeding. Remember that your core (your pelvic floor, back, and stomach muscles) is not as strong as before you were pregnant, your muscles have stretched and you lack the stability to support good posture, let alone compensate for being hunched over your baby or slouching. But just because you are rocking that amazing mom bod, you can nurse free from back pain.
Let’s start with your location: If you are going to breastfeed sitting up, you need to make sure to have a chair with plenty of support. If you are using Grandma’s old rocker and the cushions aren’t as supportive as they once were that is going to contribute to your slouching. You really want a seat with a supportive cushion and one with lumbar support. That doesn’t mean ugly or uncomfortable, but the seat of the chair shouldn’t sink down, and the chair back should allow you to remain in an upright position.
If you are going to breastfeed lying down, you need to make sure that your bed is providing sufficient support. Lying down with your baby can take pressure off your back, shoulders, and neck because you aren’t holding your sweet baby in your arms. But a bed that lacks the support you need for sleep isn’t going to be any better for breastfeeding, it will not help you keep your back stable and may make the experience worse for your child.
When it comes to support don’t be afraid to seek some help. A supportive pillow for you or your baby can go a long way toward improving the experience for both of you and reducing the low back pain you are experiencing.
Motion is Lotion, Rest is Rust
This is a common saying for physical therapists. The idea is that the more you move the more your joints get lubricated with synovial fluid and the less inflammation your body will have. The more you stay still the more your joints lose synovial fluid and the harder it becomes to move. Either way it becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy. If you are struggling to move, find an activity you enjoy especially if you can involve your new baby. Maybe there is a mommy and me yoga or Pilates class near you. Maybe your local health club does a water aerobics class or an introductory swim class. Or maybe you get together with a group of girlfriends and walk around your local park. Movement is beneficial throughout the lifespan, but is especially important for your recovery after childbirth.
While you were pregnant, your back, abdominal, and pelvic floor muscles were stretched to their limits. These muscles make up your core and they go a long way toward supporting all of your everyday functions including postural stability. By engaging your core muscles and working toward regaining abdominal and back strength you will reduce the likelihood that back pain starts in the first place.
Seek Out Women’s Health Physical Therapy
A women’s health physical therapist is trained to deal with concerns related to your pelvic floor muscles and the challenges associated with being a woman. In particular, your Oklahoma pelvic floor physical therapist recognizes that back pain commonly occurs with pelvic floor dysfunction (up to 95% of women with low back pain also have pelvic floor dysfunction) and that solely treating the symptoms of back pain, will leave you vulnerable to pain again in the future. A pelvic floor physical therapist will be able to assess your body mechanics, she can help you identify proper posture for your needs and the needs of your baby, and she can recommend exercises and provide feedback to make sure that you are doing them properly. Only then can you really look at getting to your optimal physical performance.
If you have questions, we are here to help. We've lived it and we understand what you are going through.
-Dr. Lauren Collier Peterson, PT, DPT
FYZICAL Therapy & Balance Centers of Oklahoma City provides physical therapy in Lakeside, The Village, Nichols Hills and surrounding NW Oklahoma City. Our women's health physical therapists are specially trained to treat all types of women's health and pelvic floor dysfunction including incontinence and pain. Our practitioners take a patient-centered individualized approach that focuses on your pelvic health needs. If you are unsure about your pelvic health, or you want to see the FYZICAL Difference for yourself, schedule a free consultation today.