I was so relieved after I had my eldest. Now I could function like a normal person. Or could I?
It wasn’t long after that I’d begun experiencing pain in my upper back and the shoulder blades and in my neck. I remember we’d gone to Shanghai and was in so much pain; my husband took me to a masseuse, which helped tremendously.
But again, the pain would continue throughout much of that first year. And it only got worse. Now I still have back and neck troubles from toting my little cherubs around, and physical therapy exercises, swimming, and stretching all help me out.
Several things are going on here, and if you’re experiencing pain in your neck or back or both, it’s time to take it seriously so you feel better later on and don’t cause permanent problems.
Why Am I Having Back and Neck Pain While Breastfeeding?
If your back or neck is in pain while breastfeeding, you are not alone. This is a widespread problem. You might feel a sore neck from breastfeeding or upper back pain when breastfeeding. It might even be lower back pain during breastfeeding too. I’m going to cover the most common reasons I was told by the La Leche League that could be causing you to experience these troubles.
Weight gain from pregnancy
Even for mamas that gained just the right amount of weight during pregnancy, that extra weight does take its toll. You should be keeping active by your doctor’s orders and eating nutritiously to help that excess weight come off. It is by far the most common cause of back pain during nursing. Here is a decent read on how Linda lost 30lbs in just 5 months after her second C-section.
Post-partum delivery pains
Right after heading home from the hospital, you may have started feeling back pain during nursing. Even though your baby is still so little, your body has gone through so much. All that pushing was rough on it, and if you had a c-section, that surgery is harsh too. It forces your body to engage different muscles, which is why you will experience nursing neck pain.
How you hold that sweet little bundle when nursing her also plays a role in back pain. Right out of the hospital, and for several weeks, it hurt too much all over for me to try other positions besides the side-lying breastfeeding position. It was always my favorite for the snuggles too. You can read about all the breastfeeding positions such as cradle hold, football hold, laid back, dangle, Australian hold, etc.
Anyway, when you hold a newborn for nursing, they take a LONG time to eat. Usually, it’s 45 minutes per feeding. So, they might not be heavy, but hold them long enough in the same position and you’re going to have breastfeeding neck pain and headache too. Oh, man, it’s rough.
My upper back ached, and so did my neck, so I would use side-lying all the time.
Except when I went out. It’s kind of hard to lie down in random places in public. In China, people stared because I was foreign, but they’d have stared all the more if I had laid down on a park bench to nurse my baby. So I had to learn how to hold the baby and get her latched in other positions.
I was successful, but the cost was upper back, lower back, and neck pains. I had frequent headaches too, a result of the lingering effects of anesthesia right after birth, or further on out, Dr. Lawrence discusses the possibility of lactation headaches in the book Breastfeeding: A Guide for the Medical Profession.
Fortunately, correcting position is one of the easiest things to do, something I’ll detail further below.
Lifting heavy items
My friend Alanna is a single mom. Her parents came to visit her after the baby was born though they lamented they should have come sooner. Alanna had tried to be supermom and hurt her back, attempting to lift and move the baby furniture around the nursery to a different configuration.
She delivered naturally, but even still, this is not a good idea to lift heavy objects after birth. And if you have a c-section, you should never lift anything heavier than the baby until you get clearance from your doctor at your postpartum checkup.
When my friend Vanessa had her twins, she complained of severe back pain. After going to the doctor, they discovered that the birth process had aggravated a previously herniated disc that she’d had from when a drunk driver ran into her car nearly 7 years earlier.
Sometimes, giving birth will aggravate any severe injuries from the past. ?
If you were in an accident years ago, you should talk to your doctor about your concerns and make a plan to manage the pain, should it arise.
How to Relieve Pain in the Back and Neck While Breastfeeding
Many people have asked me if breastfeeding can make your body ache, and the answer is yes. It can cause neck and back pain, quite often together. But you don’t have to suffer through it.
Take the power back from neck pain while breastfeeding, and that troublesome back pain too!
- Practice proper breastfeeding positioning
Remember what I said earlier? The position you choose to breastfeed your baby is crucial. You need to use good posture and bring your baby to your breast. Do NOT hunch over to your baby. When you lean forward and slouch, that’s when you get breastfeeding back pain.
It’s wise to try out a bunch of different positions. I’ve written about them, so check them out. If you must sit up, consider a nursing pillow to help you.
If you’re still weak from the c-section and sitting for too long hurts, try side-lying while nursing your baby at home. I’d also recommend a breastfeeding pillow to help you maintain proper form when sitting. If you use it, you shouldn’t get a sore neck from breastfeeding.
- Get yourself a pillow too
If you’re reading this while still pregnant, I hope you got a pregnancy pillow. This thing will help you when you’re sitting up and nursing your baby too. It helps you sit up in a good position without slouching. Coupled with a nursing pillow, you can avoid many of the aches and pains I went through because I couldn’t find them in China.
- Make proper seating a priority
Many of my friends were blessed with having enough room to have a rocker or glider. In China, that wasn’t an option for me. Sitting while nursing was a tough one to manage until I healed from my c-section.
Wherever you sit, though, avoid any chairs without backings. I know this can be tough if you are out somewhere with the baby, and all you can find is a picnic bench, but don’t make a habit of sitting in those types of chairs. Your back needs support. And again, don’t hunch forward. Sit back and bring the baby to you!
- Go for those massages
When my back and neck pain from breastfeeding, my husband got me a massage. It was divine. I know you might feel selfish for taking the time to indulge, but it is so important. A masseuse can help get the blood flowing throughout your body and unwind those painful kinks. Try to get a professional one as often as you can, and if money is a factor, enlist hubby’s help in massaging you. ?♀️
- Walk more
I know I felt so cooped up sometimes right after my eldest was born. It didn’t help to be in China, and the air not being very clear or fresh. But the more you move around, the better it will be for your back, neck, and all your muscles. If I’d had a treadmill, I’d have used it, so if you’re blessed with one, put it on a low pace and just walk for 30 minutes while baby naps. You’ll prevent a lot of that strain on your other parts.
- Know when to take it easy
Neck pain from breastfeeding and back pains manifest more deeply when your sleep and rest is out of balance. I know, I know. It is so hard to get enough sleep in those newborn days, but please try. You don’t have to do too much all at once. Tell your partner what you need so you can get some more rest. It will help your sore neck and back recuperate too.
- Get into an exercise routine
For lower back pain during breastfeeding, once your doctor tells you you’re healed enough to start doing more than just walking, get back into your exercise routine. Try yoga and strengthening exercises. I found that walking backward also helped with my lumbar area, something I still do to this day when my back acts up on me.
- Water is also the answer
Believe it or not, dehydration could be making things worse. While you may have drunk your water religiously while pregnant, you still need to keep up that habit postpartum. Without enough hydration, your blood isn’t passing oxygen around to your body as efficiently as possible, which can lead to even more pains.
- A little heat therapy goes a long way
When you need relief like ASAP, use a hot compress. You shouldn’t leave it for more than 20 minutes at a time, but you can do so throughout the day as needed. It can really help lower back pain from breastfeeding though if your neck and upper back are bothering you, you can put it there too.
- Stretch it out
As you ease back into exercises, getting into stretching is excellent for preventing and relieving pain while also avoiding muscle strains. Yoga poses like the cat-cow where you get on all fours and arch your back can alleviate lower back pain from breastfeeding.
The child pose is another one that can really decompress your back. Plus, it just feels so incredibly good. If you can find a postnatal yoga class to join, that will help you get into the moves or find a ton of them on YouTube. My friend Tanya loves this video for breastfeeding mamas.
Other Concerns about Back and Neck Pain While Breastfeeding
As you know, you can ask me anything about being a mom and things about babies and children. I often get asked, “What can I take for back pain while breastfeeding?”
Particularly if you have breastfeeding neck pain and headache along with it, you should first talk to your doctor. It’s generally safe for you to take OTC pain relief like Tylenol or Motrin, but again, I’m not a doctor. Ask yours to make sure they recommend it for your particular situation.
Another mom wrote to me and told me she felt like the Hunchback of Notre Dame and wanted to know, “How can I improve my posture while breastfeeding?” This all relates to chairs and pillows both for you and nursing pillows that can help you sit upright without putting unnecessary strain on your neck and back.
When you hunch for 20 to 45 minutes multiple times a day, it can really do a number on your back. Getting a comfortable and supportive place to sit will help keep this from happening. You can also practice exercises that will help you stand up straight.
How long does postpartum back pain last?
For most women, back and neck pains from breastfeeding go away before the 6-month mark. Your hormone level off, your body recovers from delivery, and you start losing that extra weight to take more strain off.
On top of that, babies begin to nurse more quickly at this point, so you’re not stuck cradling them in your arms for feeding time for long periods anymore. Try the above tactics to get some relief, and be sure to tell your doctor about them during your checkup just in case!
Leslie Berry lives with her husband and two young daughters in Los Altos, California, where she loves helping other moms get comfortable with motherhood and embracing the insanity with facts peppered with laughs.
She loves eating too much sushi, exercising, and jamming out on her Fender. Read more about Leslie here.