There is loads of advice out there about how to breastfeed, though none of which provides a specialists view on the do’s and don'ts of breastfeeding positioning taking your neck and back into consideration. From a chiropractors perspective I have come up with some great tips to help you wonderful mothers and mothers-to-be avoid back and neck pain whilst breastfeeding.
Making yourself as comfortable as possible during breastfeeding may mean trying out a few different positions, it is worth giving them all a go and seeing what works best for you. It is very common for mothers to change their preferred breast-feeding position as their baby gets bigger, so make sure you read the tips for each position as you may find yourself changing your favourite later on!.
Firstly, some crucial basics to bear in mind; bringing the baby to your breast, not the breast to your baby is so important in preventing neck and back discomfort. Next, always remember your comfort is priority! if you are not comfortable then the baby won’t be either as you may find yourself shifting about, which may interrupt the baby’s suckling.
The ‘Cradle hold’, ‘Cross cradle hold’ and ‘Football hold’
Keep referring to the pictures above as a visual aide as I explain the main problems to look out for during these common seated breastfeeding positions.
Using a large dense pillow, such as a ‘boppy pillow’, to boost the baby higher up is a great way of taking strain off the upper back and neck muscles in these positions. This is because you lean forward less by bringing the baby to you rather than the other way round.
Eye contact with the baby is great when attempting to get the baby to latch but if possible try not crane your neck over too much. Try looking elsewhere once latched so as to give your neck muscles a nice rest. Having your neck in a constantly flexed position for prolonged periods of time is a sure way to get neck pain, our necks are not designed to take loads in a flexed position for extended periods of time.
Look at the hiked shoulder of the hand supporting the breast, it may have to remain in this position for some time. Try to relax the upper shoulder muscle by supporting the elbow with a cushion or arm rest. Otherwise this can lead to very tight painful upper back muscles that may even cause headaches over time.
Try to sit in a chair where your feet are touching the ground and shift your centre of gravity so that it is forwards slightly. This is so that your body weight is distributed nicely through your feet. This helps take the strain off the lower back joints ligaments and muscles by loading some of your body weight onto the lower limb joints rather than your lower back.
Placing a pillow at the base of the spine to encourage the natural concave curve is a great way to relax the lower back muscles and prevent lower back pain.
Regularly stretching out your neck musculature after breastfeeding in these positions is highly recommended, this is so as to prevent neck and upper back tightness which can lead to pain and headaches.
Lying on your back or side are the positions that will put the least stress on your neck and lower back, so if you suffer from neck pain or lower back pain I would highly recommend trying this position to see if it works for you.
The pillow takes your head weight preventing any strain on your neck, which is a common problem found in the seated positions. This therefore, is a great position if you have neck pain.
Placing a pillow between your legs is a great way to improve comfort in the side lying position by taking stress off your upper hip and knee. The side lying position is also great if you suffer from lower back pain.
However, be careful lying on your side if you have shoulder or hip problems as this position may aggravate them. try to lie on a bed or some cushions to try to decrease the stress on the shoulder, knee and hip joints.
If lying flat on your back rather than on your side, lay on a comfortable surface and use a suitable pillow to support your neck. Also, place a couple of pillows under your knees to encourage them to bend and so they can relax. Also, place a small pillow under the base of your spine to encourage the curve a little.
These tips should take a lot of stress off the lower spine and neck and should give you and your baby some much appreciated extra comfort.
If you are already experiencing neck or back pain then I would recommend visiting your chiropractor. Ask if it is ok to bring your baby with you to show the chiropractor the way you breast feed. Showing the reason behind your problem is easier than explaining and can really help you in showing how your problem first came about.