Breastfeeding is an incredible bonding experience that provides a host of physical, mental, and emotional benefits (for you and your little one). That said, the positions you breastfeed in can place a great deal of stress on your body. While you may not feel it immediately after a session, the cumulative stress that accrues at your joints and soft tissues from sitting in these positions over weeks and months can eventually add up to significant pains and movement compensations.
While this information is primarily geared towards those of you who are breastfeeding, bottle feeders can benefit as well since the stresses on the body are similar. In that same vein, anyone who feeds the baby can benefit from these tips, not just birthing bodies.
We’ll begin by looking at the most common nursing position, and its effect on the body. Then, we’ll explore four different strategies to alleviate some of the stresses and resulting aches and pains.
The Typical Breastfeeding Position
First, let’s take a look at the typical breastfeeding position below:
While your position may vary slightly, in general most bodies are aligned in a seated position with arms cradling the baby. This means that:
- Your shoulders, elbows, and wrists are chronically flexed, which could be the cause of the pain in your neck, shoulders, or wrists/thumbs.
- Your head is often looking down at the baby (who can resist that face?). However, repeated cervical flexion is a pattern that gets reinforced even more because of the time we spend looking down at our phones, contributing to your neck pain and stiffness.
- Your hips are flexed, which is contributing to tightness in the front of your upper thighs. And prolonged sitting can be a reason why your glutes need some extra attention to engage more effectively.
Note that every body part mentioned is in some degree of flexion. This means that the joints spend a lot of time bent towards each other. Now, let’s discuss some strategies to help pull your body out of flexion.
Strategy 1: Improve Your Alignment
The first step is to improve your alignment during your feeding sessions to minimize the degree of flexion your body is in. Watch the video below for some tips on how to align your body when in the seated nursing position.
Strategy #2: Release Tension With These Stretches
These stretches emphasize extension, or the opening and expansion at your joints. You can perform the stretches after a couple of your daily nursing sessions, aiming for 4-6 reps for each.
Hip Flexor Stretch: To counteract the flexion at your hip joint from sitting.
Chest Stretch: To open up the chest and front of your shoulders from cradling your baby.
Shoulder & Bicep Stretch: To open your chest and release the tension in your arms and front of your shoulders.
Wrist Opener: To counteract the flexion at your wrists from holding your baby.
Strategy #3: Strengthen Underutilized Muscles
These moves target the muscles that help counteract the flexion based patterns that breastfeeding pulls you into. In other words, they are extension-based movements. Try to perform them at least 2 days per week, aiming for 8-10 reps for each.
Ground Pickup: This move targets your glutes to help counteract the hip flexion from long periods of sitting. Start with a light object to master the movement mechanics. Then progress to heavier objects as you get stronger.
Bridge: Like the Ground Pickup, this also targets your glutes to help counteract the hip flexion from sitting.
Rows: Pulling movements like rows help counteract the forward flexed upper body position. We use these Therabands, and if needed, you can use this door anchor as well.
Reverse Flyes: This is another pulling movement that can help counteract the forward flexed upper body position. You can use the same Therabands above.
Neck Care Routine: This routine provides both a stretch and strengthening move to help counteract the forward flexed neck position. The stretch helps to open up the front of the neck and the strengthening move helps to strengthen the muscles that pull your head upright.
Strategy #4: Vary Your Position
The fourth strategy that can help is varying the positions you nurse in to help decrease the amount of time your body spends in one repetitive position. While some positions may feel more challenging to successfully nurse in, experiment with different ones to provide variety to your body. Variation in alignment and position is key to avoiding the accumulation of stresses at the joints that can cause discomfort. For some ideas, check out this Breastfeeding Positions Chart, but there are many other positions not listed here as well.
A Final Tip
Besides breastfeeding, there are many common new-parenthood activities that can place added stress on your body when performed sub-optimally (lifting, bending over, picking up your little one, carrying, pushing, bath time, etc).
For help in rebuilding your strength most effectively after birth — in a manner that helps you carry out your daily activities with minimal stress to your body — explore our postpartum self-guided training program. Want more personalized support? Consider working with one of our PROnatal Personal Trainers.
Or, if you’re a health & fitness professional interested in coaching prenatal and postpartum clients, explore our Pre/Postnatal Professional Education.