Breastfeeding is one of those things you're told is great for baby.
It improves your bond, it increases baby's immunity, it provides nourishment and nutrients, it helps with baby's gut health and so much more.
Breastfeeding isn't always easy though.
It can take a while for baby to figure out how to latch, causing nipple pain.
You may worry if baby is getting enough to eat.
Your breasts may become engorged leading to blocked ducts or mastitis.
These are things that are typically mentioned if you see a lactation consultant or at least chat with a friend whose breastfed.
But what about how breastfeeding affects the rest of your body?
Yes, breastfeeding can help you slim down from the pregnancy weight. And it can prolong the return of your period.
What you may not have known is it also keeps estrogen and progesterone circulating in your body longer, which means your tissues are softer longer and more susceptible to injury or dysfunction.
- your pelvic floor muscles may be strong but you still leak when running.
- your sacroiliac joint (that joint that connects your sacrum and your pelvis) may continue to be problematic because it's hasn't regained it's support.
What breastfeeding also means for your body is neck and back aches and pains. Holding your baby to breastfeed can take a lot of effort. For a healing body that is already weak, this means compensations and bad habits form.
You may slouch to bring the breast to baby instead of propping up with a pillow.
You may twist or cross your legs.
You're sitting more.
If you nurse lying down you may jut out your ribs to bring your breast to baby.
You're constantly looking down at baby. Because really who doesn't want to stare at baby 24/7?
All this adds up to pain.
So how can you avoid getting a pain in your neck or back while breastfeeding?
Be mindful of your posture. First you need to make sure you are in good posture alignment. This means finding pelvic neutral, where your sitting on your sit bones , your ribs are centered over your pelvis and your spine is long with the natural curves. If the surface you are sitting on is inhibiting this then change where you are sitting or use props. Put pillows behind your, sit on a harder surface, anything that will help. Then use pillows, cushions, blankets, anything except your body to prop baby up to reach your breast.
When you nurse on your side you want to consider the same thing. You want to make sure your body is in a neutral position. If you twist, make sure it's more of a log roll twist and put a pillow behind you. Make sure your head is supported and your shoulders are away from your ears.
Stretching tight muscles after nursing is a great way to reduce aches and pains. And over time you'll maintain soft supple tissues rather than dehydrated tissue that will cause even more problems.
Doing simple stretches like:
- neck rolls
- reaching your head up and away to the side as you reach your opposite arm down and away
- looking down to your arm pit
- bringing your arms up and behind your head to open your chest
- clasping your hands low behind your chest and reaching back
- lying on your back and doing snow angles with your arms
- rib twists
- side bending
- lunge stretches
- taylor sit (criss cross applesauce) and bending forward from the hips then switching legs
These are all super simple stretches that you can hold for 30 seconds after nursing. And mix it up, you don't need to do all of them each time.
3. Strengthen Your Core
Reconnecting with your core after birth can take a while. But breastfeeding is a great time to start. Taking a moment to focus on your breathing and tuning in to the movement of the pelvic floor - out on inhale, in on exhale - is the first step. Then start to energize the pelvic floor on exhale, zippering up through the abs, while keeping your bony structure soft and in good posture.
Then when you start to feel up to doing more exercise, starting with basic core connecting exercises is the safest. This is where seeing a maternal health PT is helpful, so you can make sure you are doing the exercises correctly, and there isn't anything else going on that may become problematic.
Breastfeeding is a magical experience that can do wonders for your baby's health. Let it be a time you focus on yourself too!